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Knowledge, Skepticism and Science


The concern with knowledge is deeply embedded in our Western intellectual tradition. This tradition is on the whole and in a broad sense a rationalist and critical one: science and philosophy begin when ideas about the origin and nature of the universe are decoupled from myth and religion and treated as theories to be argued about, i.e., subjected to on-going rational scrutiny and assessment in the light of later theories. Given this account of the tradition it is easy to why a concern with knowledge is so central, but it is also easy to see why skepticism has been a constant preoccupation. Skepticism is the skeleton in Western rationalism’s closet: a rationally sophisticated attack on rational argumentation itself. This class explores the inter-relations between knowledge, skepticism and science. We begin by considering the question of what we can know (if anything), i.e., engage the question of philosophical skepticism as it arises in Descartes and Hume. In order to respond to the challenge posed by skepticism we need to first come to an understanding of what knowledge is, for only after we have identified what it is can we tackle the question of whether we actually do, or even possibly could, have any of it. As such, in the second part of the course we examine various recent attempts to define knowledge and how it is (or should be) distinguished from mere opinion. Many think that modern natural science constitutes knowledge such that if philosophers want an account of knowledge and protection against skepticism, they should attend to how science goes about justifying its claims. However it is unclear whether science is immune to skeptical attack; Thomas Kuhn, for example, seems to argue that scientific reasoning and theory-change are far from rational. We end by considering the merits of his apparent critique of the rationality of science.

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Indexes and Databases

Grinnell College Libraries: Find It!
Access the following resources here: library catalog, reserves, JournalFinder, WorldCat, interlibrary loan, subject and course guides, special collections catalog, and the Center for Research Libraries catalog.
Philosopher's Index Restricted Resource
1940–present. Indexes books and journals in all areas of philosophy, including aesthetics, bioethics, epistemology, ethics, logic, metaphysics, social & political philosophy, and the philosophy of education, history, language, law, religion, and science.

Reference Resources

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
10 volumes (1998): "Depth and breadth of coverage, clarity of presentation, impressive bibliographies, excellent use of cross references, and an extensive index ...” --Outstanding Reference Sources : the 1999 Selection Sources Committee, RUSA [Reference and User Service’s Association], ALA [American Library Association].
Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Print Location: Burling 1st Floor B51 .R68 1998
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Resource is highly recommended
Impressive for its depth, scope and authority; open access.

Style and Citation Guides

Purdue University Online Writing Lab Style Guides: APA
APA (American Psychological Association) style is most commonly used to cite sources within the social sciences. This resource, revised according to the 6th edition, second printing of the APA manual, offers examples for the general format of APA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the reference page. For more information, please consult the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, second printing.
Purdue University Online Writing Lab (OWL) Style Guides: Chicago/Turabian Style
This style guide contains information on the Chicago Manual of Style method of document formatting and citation. These resources follow the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, which was issued in September 2010.
Purdue University Online Writing Lab Style Guides: MLA
MLA (Modern Language Association) style is most commonly used to write papers and cite sources within the liberal arts and humanities. This resource, updated to reflect the MLA Handbook (8th ed.), offers examples for the general format of MLA research papers, in-text citations, endnotes/footnotes, and the Works Cited page.
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