PHI 313 final exam information

There will be a comprehensive closed-book final examination. The exact time limit is to be determined, but it will not exceed 3 hours.

The exam date and location is listed at the registrar’s exam schedule page.

There will be an open Q&A session on Wednesday Jan 10 2:30-4pm in McCosh Hall room 4 (our regular lecture room).

The Q&A session is optional, but it will be your primary remaining chance to ask questions about the exam and about the material of the class. We strongly encourage you to start your exam preparation well before the Q&A session so that you can get your questions answered then. We make no guarantees about answering last-minute questions, but do promise to answer all questions asked at the Q&A session as fully as possible.

1 Examples to illustrate question-types from which the exam questions will be drawn

Exhibit your understanding of arguments we’ve covered

  • According to Evidentialism, when is it rational to hold a given belief? [1 sentence]
  • According to ET, when is it rational to hold a given belief? [1 sentence]
  • Keller argues that being a good friend sometimes requires violating epistemic norms. He gave the poetry reading case.
    • Outline this case (or a similar one), and explain how it can be used to argue for Keller’s conclusion. [1 paragraph]
    • Would Keller’s argument be strengthened or weakened by adopting ET, and why? [1 paragraph]
  • What view is the pill-popping argument against? Briefly explain how the pill-popping argument is supposed to work. [1 paragraph]
  • The argument from Disagreement and horse races is intended to rule out the “stubborn view” of peer disagreement (according to which both disputants in a peer disagreement should hold their ground). [True or false]
  • The argument from Disagreement and horse races is intended to rule out the “right reasons” of peer disagreement (the one defended by Kelly in “The epistemic significance of disagreement”). [True or false]
  • What is the Ratio Principle? [1 sentence] What role does it play in the Superbaby in a vat argument? [2-3 sentences]
  • In Skepticism about induction: a dialogue (a) When the Skeptic confronted the Victim about his belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, the Victim tried to appeal to the “uniformity principle”. What is the uniformity principle and how is it relevant to the sun rising? (b) The Victim tried to justify the uniformity principle using a piece of reasoning that the Skeptic argued was circular. What was this piece of reasoning, and why might someone judge it to be circular?

Create and evaluate argument maps

  • Consider the following passage: [A short (1 or 2 paragraph) argument] Map the above passage.
  • Consider the following passage: [A longer argument]. Fill in the blanks in the following map skeleton: [Skeleton goes here].
  • Consider the following passage: [Passage goes here.] Consider the following proposed map of that passage: [Map with imperfections goes here.] Suggest one or two ways that map might be improved. For example, if there are needed premises missing, add them.

Analyze and make progress on arguments covered in the course

Questions in this category allow you to exhibit your understanding of arguments we’ve covered, and also go beyond what we covered.

  • Briefly explain Bostrom’s argument from The simulation argument that there is a significant probability that you are living in a simulation. [1 paragraph]
    • Either give the strongest objection you can to the argument, or defend the argument from what you think is the strongest objection to it. [1-3 paragraphs]
    • Suppose that you came to have a 33% probability that you are living in a simulation. How much, if at all, should that change how you live your life? In your answer, consider how (if at all) your attitude toward your (apparent) friends and family should change, and also how (if at all) your confidence in various regularities should change, such as (apparent) gravity operating the same way tomorrow as it operates today. [1-3 paragraphs]

2 Example topics

The following is a partial list of topics/readings/claims we have covered. Much of the exam can be thought of as slotting in one or more of the topics below into the question formats above. Another way to remind yourself of some claims we have covered in the course is to review the list of suggested paper prompts (included for your convenience below).

3 Reminder of paper prompts

To further jog your memory, here is a list of paper prompts from the final paper assignment:

  1. (ET) A belief of yours is rational if and only if it serves your interests to hold it.
  2. Suppose that you have a device that operates as follows. You type some claims into it and press a button. Instantly you believe the claims you typed in. How would it be in your best interests to use the device? (Pay attention to your later beliefs about where your device-created beliefs came from.) Use your answer to construct an argument either in favor of ET or against it.
  3. It is possible to decide to believe a claim.
  4. Being a good friend sometimes requires you to believe something not supported by your total evidence.
  5. In cases of peer disagreement, if one party initially correctly assesses the force of her evidence, that party should not change her view upon finding out about the disagreement.
  6. “In responding to disagreement, one should assess the epistemic credentials of the parties involved in a way that’s independent of one’s own initial reasoning about the matter in question. One should moderate one’s (pre-disagreement) belief to the extent that one has epistemically strong, dispute-independent reason to think that those who disagree are well-informed and likely to have reasoned correctly from their evidence, as compared with those who agree.” (Christensen)
  7. The clustering of contemporary political views on seemingly independent topics shows that most of us should become less confident in our political views.
  8. Suppose you have strong convictions about whether there is a God. Then you find out the following: You are one of two twins; it was decided by a coin flip which twin would be raised in which of two very different households; and if the coin had landed the other way you would have had the opposite opinion about whether there is a God (based on the same relevant evidence). Claim: finding this out should make you much less confident about whether there is a God.
  9. Evolutionary considerations should make us doubt deontological intuitions about the trolley problem.
  10. “There are possible cases in which you rationally believe P, yet it is consistent with your being fully rational and possessing your current evidence that you believe not-P instead.” (White)
  11. The following is possible: Alice and Bob are each perfectly rational and have the same evidence relevant to some claim. Alice believes the claim and Bob disbelieves it.
  12. You shouldn’t believe that you are not a brain in a vat.

4 Additions/revisions

We may revise this guide. But we won’t change things in a way that will penalize anyone for starting to study right away, according to the existing guide.

Date: December 13, 2017

Author: Adam Elga


Created: 2017-12-15 Fri 10:47