Course Description

We'll be looking mostly at literature in epistemology (but some in ethics, or straddling these fields) from the past decade, addressing higher-order norms, defeaters, akrasia, and disagreement.

Questions we look at will include:

Meetings and Preparation

The seminar meets on Mondays at 6 PM in the NYU Philosophy Department (5 Washington Place), on the 2nd floor. We'll generally meet for 2 hours, but when there is sufficient interest and energy we can carry on discussions later at a cafe or bar.

Because of NYU calendar weirdness, the first seminar meeting is not until Monday 14 Sept. On Monday 12 Oct, there is no school, but the following day Tuesday 13 Oct, runs on a Monday schedule, so we meet that evening.

The first couple of meetings will walk through my own understanding and approach to the issues. Afterwards, we will work through different clusters of recent work by others, in exhaustive critical detail that we kept suppressed in the first weeks. :-)

A specific schedule of readngs is not yet available. There will be a substantial chunk of reading encouraged before the first meeting; it will be posted soon.

Faculty, post-docs, students from other philosophy departments, and the like, are all welcome to participate.

If you're interested in taking or auditing the seminar, it'd help if you emailed me at ahead of time so I have some sense of the group before the first meeting. Also, I can then include you on announcements I'm likely to want to send out before then.



On Monday Dec 14, we'll meet at the usual time (6:15-8:15). We'll hold the makeup session on Wednesday Dec 16, starting at 11:30 AM in the usual place.


Here is a summary of some Feldman papers and some Kelly papers on disagreement.


I'll post summaries of the Feldman and Kelly (and early Christensen?) papers soon. Here is a good paper that interacts with the Kelly view, but which we won't have time to discuss:

For upcoming weeks, here is the schedule (this is tweaked a bit from what I emailed you yesterday).

We still need to schedule the makeup session. I'm hoping we can do it mid-day on Wednesday Dec 16. Please let me know ASAP if you have any constraints on when we hold this, either on that day or on the Thursday or Friday that follow it.

updated 12/3

I will try to post some remarks about Horowitz, Lasonen-Aarnio, and Worsnip later. But I don't have the ambition to try to summarize everything we discussed about these papers, the discussion was too rich. For now, I'll just add a few extra links for further reading. I mentioned that this 2014 paper by Lasonen-Aarnio has close connections with the paper we focused on in class. She also has two papers (1 2) arguing that some things often counted as defeaters for knowledge shouldn't be so counted. (As I said in class, I haven't seen her come out and explicitly endorse the claim that when you know, additions to your evidence can never defeat that knowledge. But that is the direction in which her sympathies trend.) A useful companion paper to the Worsnip paper we focused on in class is this paper in PQ. It documents the field's tendency to be more open in the practical domain than the epistemic to the idea that rationality is a matter of coherence, rather than conforming to reasons. It then supplements the arguments we looked at in the other paper for thinking of the epistemic domain as more like the practical domain in this respect.

(Updated) Our next topic will be the disagreement debate specifically. (Of course, many of the issues we have been discussing about higher-order evidence or beliefs are crucially important to that debate.) We'll begin by surveying the basic components in Feldman's and Kelly's views, and some early work of Christensen. Then we'll use that as a background to look at some recent work by others. I nominated the Kelly paper in bold below for us to focus attention on in seminar. I'll post summaries of these papers soon.


For next meeting, on 11/16, we'll read a new paper by Maria Lasonen-Aarnio. The following week, on 11/23, we'll read a new paper by Alex Worsnip. If you need the username and/or password to access these, email Jim.


It turns out that our plans to shift the seminar earlier aren't so easily implementable after all. On two of the remaining Mondays, the seminar room will be used from 4-6 for practice job talks, and this coming Monday is used for other placement activity so wouldn't be available until 5:30 then. Also, Friederike Moltmann has announced a mini-seminar that she'll be giving in Linguistics about act-based views of propositions and her own view (using what she calls "attitudinal objects"). That will also be in the Monday 4-6 slot, and some members of our seminar want to attend it. So we will stick to our current schedule for the rest of term, running from 6:15-8:15. I will still attempt to find a time for a make-up session after the last day of classes.


The results of our voting about future scheduling were: to meet earlier on Mondays when the room is available, but to continue meeting for only two hours each time, and to have an extra session, but held sometime during the week starting Mon 14 Dec. If you have scheduling constraints during that week, let me know about them. Once the practice job talk schedule for NYU's job candidates has been settled, I'll know about the room's availability. I do know now that we can meet next week, Monday 9 Nov, starting at 5:30 PM, so let's do that. The reading for our next meeting will be Sophie Horowitz on akrasia (Nous 2014). We'll spend about three weeks on recent work on akrasia, coherence, and higher-order defeaters; and then about three weeks on disagreement; and then decide what to do with the extra session.

The majority will was to budget our remaining time that way, rather than to also devote a section to the Kolodny and MacFarlane paper; but I do recommend everyone interested in these issues to familiarize themselves with that paper, and some of the work in semantics responding to it. The linked page gives you some starting points for reading.

Here is a paper by Matthew Chrisman on the semantics of "ought" that engages with other issues, in the same neighborhood as the Schroeder Phil Review 2011 paper I linked to before. I haven't read the Chrisman paper yet but it looks interesting.

I've now posted a summary of Broome's book, up through Chapter 11. This is more detailed and careful than I presented in seminar; but I wasn't able to reconstruct from memory all of our in-class discussions. Still, maybe this summary will be help you see some of the structural arcs or repeating themes that got lost when reading the details of the text. In our last class, we got up to Chapter 7. On Monday, we'll pick up briefly with Chapters 8 and 11, then focus on the discussion of reasoning in the last part of the book.

I tweaked the summary for Week 2's session, and expanded and revised the summary for Week 3's session. I'll be posting the summaries for Weeks 4-6 later today. Here are all the summaries now available. (Try refreshing your browser to see if I've posted more.)

Here is the Schroeder paper I mentioned. I hope to post summaries of the past two weeks discussion soon, Remember, for our next meeting you should read up through Chapter 10 (or 11 if you can) of Broome's book.
Here is a summary of week 3's discussion.
Read this page for a summary of week 2's discussion.

I suggested in class last time that you have a look at the SEP article on deontic logic. That's still a good idea, but I've summarized the key things I want us to focus on, so you could have a look at this much briefer summary instead. I also made up an overview of normal and some subnormal modal logics; it'd be best to have a look at that first, and then read this overview of deontic logic and some puzzles they face. We'll discuss these in class, but best if you have a look at these documents before we meet. You shouldn't try to memorize all of the survey of modal logic; it's just to give you an overview and perhaps for reference.

Also, read the other notes posted here, especially the version of the miner's puzzle described below. I posted a summary of our first week's discussion last week. I'll try to also post a summary of our second week's discussion, but may not be able to do so right away.

My tentative schedule is to survey the material in the deontic logic handout on 9/28; also to discuss the miner's puzzle and why notions like "subjective" and "objective" oughts aren't great tools for describing even somewhat complex normative scenarios; also to summarize the space of positions laid out in the early chapters of Fogal's thesis, which I've already asked you to read. The following week, 10/5, I'm hoping to quickly present my strategy for dealing with these issues, which overlaps somewhat with Fogal's. Part of that story is sketched in a draft available here, which you can look at in advance of that meeting. That draft has many holes, some of which I'll be able to fill in when we discuss, but I expect not all. I'll be glad to get your criticisms.

The following week (when we meet on Tuesday 10/13 instead of Monday 10/12, because of a holiday and NYU scheduling), I hope we'll be able to begin working through other literature. I'm inclined now to have us begin with Broome's 2013 book. That will take a few weeks, then we'll look at a range of papers, including some by other members of our seminar.

Even if we don't keep to that schedule, I encourage you to begin now on the upcoming reading (my draft and Broome's book).


For the handful of you taking the class for credit, here is my thinking about how you can fulfill the course requirements: I strongly recommend writing two shorter papers, one due in mid-November, the other due at the end of term, though I don't mind giving an incomplete if there's a plan to finish the paper soon. I'm glad to discuss ideas for these papers before you write them. If appropriate, then the second paper might be a very substantial revision and expansion of the first one. (Call this option 2.) But I like to start people on the track of thinking they'll write two shorter papers on different issues. Option 3: In some cases, you might have ideas early on for a single, seminar-sized paper. In that case, I'd tolerate you starting to work on that directly, so that what you show me in mid-November would be a kind of abstract and detailed (but drafty) outline for the paper, that we might discuss. I think in many cases it'd work best to try to write some smaller part of the paper as a full draft in mid-November, and then expand it, as described in option 2. So that is three different ways you can proceed. In all cases, you should be on a definite trajectory, and be ready to show me stuff and discuss, in mid-November.

Read this page about the miner's puzzle.
I sent out an email this morning to everyone whose names and emails I've collected as being interested in the course. If you didn't receive it, but do want to be included on such mailings in the future, let me know.
Since it suits some people's schedules better, and there were no complaints, we will in future weeks meet starting at 6:15.
Read this page for a summary of last night's discussion.
I expect that our first meeting on Monday 9/14 will be mostly or entirely devoted to surveying and coordinating about some key vocabulary, distinctions, what often is but should not be taken for granted, and so on. We'll only briefly touch on the issues explored in Fogal's thesis. The second meeting will then begin to survey those issues in depth. So in terms of timing, aim to have read that thesis quickly at least by Monday 9/21. (If you get through it sooner, all the better, more time for you to think about the phenomena, and it will be useful background for our stage-setting discussion at the first meeting.)
The first reading will be Dan Fogal's just-submitted dissertation. This nicely surveys many of the core issues our seminar will be exploring, and the lines he pursues are for the most part the same ones I'm sympathetic to myself. Where I want to diverge from him, I'll say so. But you can begin by presuming that I'll want to defend the same views he does. I won't rely on people to have read this all before the seminar meets, but I encourage you to do so. Plus it's a whole dissertation, so you won't get through it in an hour or two. Give yourself some time and start your reading early.