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PHIL111 13/14 WEEK 14.docx

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PHIL 111
Jon Miller

January 14, 2014 What is Epistemology? - The word “epistemology” is a combination of two Greek words: episteme and logos - As a whole, epistemology attempts to provide an account of the nature of knowledge - Within the whole, a number of sub-fields address more specific problems involving different knowledge claims o Some examples:  What differentiates true knowledge from mere belief?  What can we know? Can we have genuine religious knowledge? What about moral knowledge? Can we really know the past?  What are the conditions of knowledge?  Where does knowledge come from? Candidates include perception, introspection, memory, reason, testimony, etc.  Is knowledge even possible? Can the challenge of skepticism be met?  Are there different kinds of knowledge? For example, is self-knowledge different from knowledge of other things? - We will be asking whether the external world is as it appears to be o As Bailey writes, this amounts to asking whether “any of our beliefs about the world outside our own heads [are] justified? Can we be sure that any of them at all are true?” (133rc) - The philosophers whom we will study do hold that such beliefs are justified. They differ, however, in the justifications that they offer Descartes’ Life - Credited with inaugurating the so-called “Modern” or “Early Modern” period of philosophy - Famous works include the Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy Approaching the Meditations - Descartes deliberately chose the title of this book. Called Meditation, there is a built-in emphasis on the first-person singular - Descartes always speaks in these terms; he invites his readers to do the same - Consider the situation of the meditator or inquirer. Their situation can be seen in two distinct ways: o The first perspective is historical. Here, the inquirer is considered as someone living in the 1630s/40s and seeking indubitable knowledge. The question to ask is- why? Why would such a person come to doubt the reliability of his knowledge? Different answers suggest themselves:  It might be apparent to such a person that the best scientific explanations of natural phenomena available at that time were grossly inadequate. Why?  The reintroduction of ancient texts, with radically different evaluative visions of the universe and human beings, might call into question knowledge about the normative realm  The enormous turmoil of early modern Europe might lead one to doubt the trustworthiness of authority o The second perspective is ahistorical. Here, the inquirer is considered as an epistemic agent living in any era and seeking indubitable knowledge. Why would a person so conceived come to think of her knowledge as dubitable? Again, there are different answers:  The necessary limitations on any agent’s knowledge- limitations in both extent (concerning the range of propositions that one can claim to know) and in degree or accuracy (concerning the way in which one knows what one knows)- might lead her to doubt her epistemic condition o See the first paragraph of the Synopsis of the Meditations (Bailey p.142rc) January 15, 2014 What Can Be Doubted? - Descartes is convinced of the need for certain knowledge. In the Meditations, he seeks to discover them. To do so, he sets aside all his beliefs or opinions that are open to doubt - This raises a question: What can be doubted? - There is a problem. We have so many beliefs. How can we go through them to determine which ones are dubitable and which ones are not? - Descartes is aware of this problem. He writes: o “[I]t will not be necessary for me to show that all my opinions are false… Once the foundations of a building are undermined, anything build on them collapses of its own accord; so I will go straight for the basic principles on which all my former beliefs rested” (Bailey 144rc) - Rather than go through all his beliefs or opinions individually, Descartes will place them in groups. If he finds that here is a problem with the group, then he will dispense all members of the group in one fell swoop - This leads to a question: how can our beliefs or opinions be grouped? There are different answers to this question. To see how Descartes handles it, we need to study the progress of Meditation One Meditation One: Initial Arguments - Meditation One contains a series of arguments intended to e
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