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Epistemology syllabus

Syllabus and other course information for Kirk McDermid's Knowledge, Belief & Truth / Ways of Knowing course

Kirk McDermid

on 7 September 2011

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Transcript of Epistemology syllabus

(cc) photo by Metro Centric on Flickr
Your promise
My promise
"Effort" = deliberate writing, reading & thinking
Ask for help before you're screwed
Come to class ready
Leave class with goals
Always ask "why?"
Be transparent
Work at least as hard as you do
Come to class ready
Be available for help
No grudges
Be motivating
What is this course all about
It's about
exploring knowledge
not 'knowledge',
as in "things to know"...
I mean, knowing what knowledge is...
of knowledge
(from the greek episteme
[eh-pih-stem-ay], which means 'knowledge')
How are we going to investigate what knowledge is?
Talk abstractly
"knowledge is justified true belief"
"knowledge is a system of mutually consistent behavioural dispositions"
one way...
Learning curve: steep!
not very useful or relevant to everyday life
The specific, concrete approach
Pick specific knowledge-claims, to investigate
Bring in the abstract stuff, but *applied* to examples
Which 'claims'?
the ones you thought up in our first class (or ones like those)
important beliefs you think you really know
crazy things other people believe, and think are "facts"
claims you don't understand how anyone could know
You pick the claims to explore
stuff you (not me) care about!
are they "knowledge", or something else?
every course is about exploring a bunch of knowledge!
Your project:
Analyze the nature of two knowledge-claims
A statement (you think) you know
A statement others claim to know, that you think should not count as knowledge
Is this really knowledge?
Are they mistaken? Why?
Can you really say that your claim should count as real knowledge, but theirs shouldn't?
That's your job for the course.
Simple, eh?
No common text??
Your dictionary of philosophical terms
A textbook from me, handed out in class
(Nearly) everyone gets a different text?!?
Most cover the same core stuff, with different 'extras'
Some are not traditional 'cover the basics' intro texts
It's an experiment.
We're here to explore the nature of knowledge...
It will give a range of perspectives (when you & your classmates share what your texts say)
The differences among texts will give us a lot of stuff to explore
But... won't I learn different stuff than everyone else?
I have a way for us to share effectively, so you'll be "in the loop" about everyone's projects and readings.
(I'll talk about this soon...)
And of course, we won't *just* be looking at the (many) course texts... we can all find & add new readings to our virtual library.
So what will we be doing in class?
Lectures are passive learning
the texts, etc. already give you that!
Lectures are "one size fits all" solutions
but you & your projects are all different!
(it's a teaching term...)
...with useful feedback as you go
(This is negotiable, if your project changes, but this is the sequence I'm expecting most of you to travel...)
(helpful for reference & learning a bit of jargon)
Yay! Free!!
The last thing we should do is take what a text says as knowledge without questioning it!!
(Is that a problem?)
It means building your project...
...in manageable steps...
Because you can't make great things by just
slapping them
together at the
last minute.
Establish a specific, detailed thesis about your 2 knowledge-claims
Defend it using all you've learned!
Establish your project
Apply "the big picture"
Zero in
Zero in, again
Bring it all together
Clearly state your 2 knowledge-claims
Present your opinion as best you can
Use fundamental epistemology to categorize your claims
Identify key issues relevant to your claims that need exploring
Use a specific theory of knowledge or epistemological view
Refine your position on your claims
Use the view to discuss some key issues
Find another (contrasting? complementary?) view or theory
How does it deal with your challenges? Better? Worse?
You'll have to complete every step satisfactorily, before you get to move on to the next
I'll give you consistent feedback on your progress, so you'll know what needs doing
Here's the rubric...
How well has the paper’s project & goal been described?
(Topic & thesis)
How well has the goal been supported?
How careful, clear and relevant is the discussion of ideas?
(Presentation of philosophical concepts)
Difficult to tell what the project is, or focus apparently changes throughout the paper.
The project and/or goal is clearly described, but broadly and/or not well distinguished from related projects or issues.
The project and goal are stated with some specificity, and with some awareness of context or related issues.
Project & goal are specifically & precisely described, placed in context and distinguished from related issues.
Scant support is evident; claimed support appears largely irrelevant or misapplied; many elements of the argument are assumed without needed support.
Support is present but generally insufficient; some core elements are assumed; relevant rival views or counterarguments are ignored
Support is generally sufficient – most core elements are adequately supported and rival views or objections are responded to.
Core claims are multiply defended, anticipating the needs of neutral readers or rival views. The goal has been tailored to the available support.
Ideas are not explained much beyond naming them; views, concepts or ideas are generally oversimplified or misunderstood. Vague or incomplete discussions are pervasive.
Ideas are presented fairly clearly, but gaps, oversimplifications or irrelevant tangents are common. Moderately complex ideas remain unclear; jargon or other vocabulary is inaccurately used.
Most philosophical concepts are presented clearly, with relevant and accurate detail, but there are some gaps or errors. References are relevant but generally not used to enhance presentation.
Ideas are presented efficiently, accessibly and accurately, in detail appropriate to their uses. References are used to substantiate and supplement presentations, as appropriate.
(You can check it out in more detail later. I'll also hand it out in class & explain it more.)
So... how are we going to do that?
This is where things get a bit complicated...
...because we can't do individualized projects like this in a normal course
(...and also cuz I'm .)
A bunch of weird
things about this course

1) Most courses have a single, shared text...
not this one.

2) Most courses are lecture-based, directed towards "content coverage"...
not this one.

3) Most courses have high-stakes, one-shot testing...
not this one.
(We will have short lectures, from time to time. I do love to talk...)
Various kinds of discussion groups
Connecting to classmates to borrow what they've learned
Experiments/activities (real and gedanken) to explore knowledge & knowing
Learning skills (writing, argument, etc.) relevant to where you are in your investigation
...all focused on advancing your investigation
Scaffolded learning
Consistent expectations
Transparent progress
Cumulative credit
No high stakes testing
progress in distinct, manageable steps
Improve by responding to feedback
same criteria for all activities, no moving goalposts
no arbitrary deadlines (except one...)
more work means more feedback & progress
you know where you stand all the time
No grade backsliding or false sense of progress
no final, no midterm
multiple chances to perform well
How is the Evaluation weird?
I'll be giving feedback based on a "rubric"
"Rubric": a 'scorecard' of categories with descriptions of good & bad performances

Every stage uses the same criteria

Helpful feedback to focus your revisions
Completing each stage earns Grade Points. Doing better (than 'good enough') earns more:
Stage 1: 0.3 GPs (+0.3 'bonus')
Stage 2: 0.6 GPs (+0.3 'bonus')
Stage 3: 0.7 GPs (+0.3 'bonus')
Stage 4: 0.7 GPs (+0.3 'bonus')
Stage 5: 0.6 GPs (+0.3 'bonus')
You can revise papers
to earn more 'bonus' points
Deadlines? Only one...
December 22:
Last date to submit papers
("exam" session)
Of course, there are probably some 'unofficial' deadlines that you'll have to set...
BTW: you can pause this any time, browse around, ask me questions...
You are in charge of what we do.
(Yes, it's the same building...)
The categories...
I know that's a lot of info...
Replay this on your own time, ask me questions, discuss in class!
Well OK, maybe a small one...
Stage One:
Stage Two:
Stage Three:
Stage Four:
Stage Five:
And now... the last thing:
To help you collaborate (share work!)
To help you find resources
To help you explore things
To help you find answers
...on your own time, at your own pace
The Wiki!
A database of stuff - easily* searchable & browsable

Minimal* effort from you

Helps organize & connect classmate projects
* Oh man, I'm hoping...
Time to check it out...

go to !
“I think this is knowledge, and that is not. But I'm not really sure why.”
“I have philosophically-sophisticated ideas about the nature of knowledge, and I can apply these abstract ideas to concrete examples. I have a much better idea why I think this counts as knowledge, and that shouldn’t.”
Full transcript