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 from 11 am - 1 pm in the NYU Philosophy Department (5 Washington Place), on the 2nd floor.

The course is open to NYU PhD and MA students in philosophy, and satisfies the PhD distribution requirement for Metaphysics/Epistemology. Others who would like to enroll in or audit the course should get the instructor's permission.

Anyone who is planning to take or audit the seminar: it'd help if you emailed me at so that I can include you on announcements.


4 May

Today we discussed Chapters 9-10 in Weatherson. Next week we'll discuss the final chapters.

Here is a Zoom link for today's office hours.

20 Apr

Today we discussed through the end of Chapter 6 in Weatherson. Next week we'll discuss Chapters 7-9, though read ahead if you're able to.

Here is a link for my office hours today (1:30-3 pm): Zoom meeting.

6 Apr

Next Monday, we'll begin discussing Weatherson's book Normative Externalism (amazon, local copy). We're aiming to discuss through until the end of Chapter 4.

Here again is (the same) link for our seminar Zoom meeting.

As I did in past weeks, I'll hold office hours again shortly after class, from 1:30-3. Here is a link for that: Join Zoom Meeting

As we discussed at the start of today's meeting, if you're taking the class for credit, I ask you to email me this week saying what you're aiming for in terms of getting the paper in on time for a grade recorded for this semester (due by last seminar meeting on May 11 or shortly after that), or for an incomplete. As discussed here, for MA and PhD students in NYU's Philosophy Department, incompletes must be submitted at latest by the start of fall term 2020. Students from other programs may be required by their programs to discharge incompletes earlier; you'll have to research your own program's policies. (That start-of-fall deadline can only be exended by a formal request, submitted at least a week before the deadline. But everyone should be aiming to complete the coursework before that start-of-fall deadline.)

5 Apr

Tomorrow, we'll continue our discussion of Broome's book, with chapters 8-11, and perhaps some of the later material. In the weeks after that, we're planning to turn to Weatherson's book. All the links from last week are still active, including the one for our seminar Zoom meeting.

As I did in past weeks, I'll hold office hours again shortly after class, from 1:30-3. Here is a link for that: Join Zoom Meeting

27 Mar

On Monday, we'll continue our discussion of Broome's book. We're aiming to talk about Chapters 5-8, though if you're able to read ahead (for example to the end of Chapter 10 or 11), by all means do so. Repeating some links from before:

As I did last week, I'll hold office hours again shortly after class, from 1:30-3. Here is a link for that: Join Zoom Meeting

After last week's seminar meeting, Dan Fogal sent me some helpful comments and a manuscript that he and Alex Worsnip wrote, that engages with some of the issues we were and will be discussing. Here is their paper, and here an abstract:

The slogan that rationality is about responding to reasons has a turbulent history: once taken for granted; then widely rejected; now enjoying a resurgence. The slogan is made harder to assess by an ever-increasing plethora of distinctions pertaining to reasons and rationality. Here we are occupied with two such distinctions: that between subjective and objective reasons, and that between structural rationality (a.k.a. coherence) and substantive rationality (a.k.a. reasonableness). Our paper has two main aims. The first is to defend dualism about rationality – the view that affirms a deep distinction between structural and substantive rationality – against a prominent line of criticism. According to this criticism, once we get clear about what kind of reasons rationality requires us to respond to, the structural/substantive distinction becomes otiose. We will argue that this is not so. The second aim is to answer the question: with the two distinctions drawn, what becomes of the slogan that rationality is about responding to reasons? We’ll argue that structural rationality cannot be understood in terms of responsiveness to any kind of reasons – a claim that reinforces the depth of our dualism. As for substantive rationality, we join others in thinking that the most promising reasons-responsiveness account of substantive rationality will involve an “evidence-relative” understanding of reasons. But we also pose a challenge for making this idea precise – a challenge that ultimately, surprisingly, calls into question the fundamentality of the notion of a reason even with respect to the analysis of substantive rationality.
I recommend it as optional further reading for the class.

Here are Dan's comments prompted by our seminar discussion:

The main thing I wanted to do was flag the fact that although Broome considers (and recognizes the importance of) an evidence-relative notion of 'ought', he never does so with respect to 'reason(s)' in Chapters 5-6, which is odd (especially since the most promising interpretation of the slogan that rationality requires responding correctly to one's reasons is one that employs an evidence-relative notion of 'reason(s)'). I also wanted to emphasize the fact that Broome says very little about what he means by 'evidence', despite repeatedly employing the notion (it appears about 100 times in the book) and despite its obvious affinity with the epistemically relevant notion of 'reason(s) to believe'. Indeed, he explicitly grants that the existence of rational requirements connecting one's beliefs with one's evidence, only to immediately put them to the side (p. 140). All of this will be relevant next time, though...
One other thing I was going to mention during the discussion but the moment passed: Broome's characterization of pro tanto reasons essentially involves the notion of the '(normative) weight', and yet he says almost nothing to explain it. A (pro tanto) reason is defined as "something that has a weight, where the weights of reasons combine in some way to determine whether or not you ought to F" (p. 54), and Broome's overall picture suggests whenever there is a weighing explanation of an ought-fact, that fact will obtain in virtue of normative weight-facts. Broome never attempts to provide a definition of normative weight, however, and so even if his official view is incompatible with taking the notion of a normative reason as primitive, it doesn't appear to be incompatible with taking the notion of normative weight (or significance) as primitive, and as being on a par with the "central" ought (where neither is defined in terms of the other). (For what it's worth, I myself don't like the weighing/weight metaphor--I prefer talking in terms of normative support (a force-like notion), rather than normative weight, but an analogous point can be made in terms of support.)
19 Mar

So as most of you will by now know, NYU has moved all of its classes to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester. We will be conducting our seminar meetings by Zoom. Since there will no longer be pressure on us to vacate the classroom by 1 pm, let's move back to our original timeslot of 11 am - 1 pm. That worked better for some of you, and if we have any guests visiting the seminar during the next weeks, it may be less confusing for them.

To participate in the seminars, you'll need to have a Zoom client installed on your computer/phone/tablet, or use the Zoom client in your browser.

Here is the "invitation" to the seminar teleconfering session:

Jim Pryor is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: NYU Epistemology Seminar
Time: Monday Mar 23, 2020 11:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada). Every week on Mon, until May 11, 2020, 8 occurrence(s)

Please download and import the following iCalendar (.ics) files to your calendar system.

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 724 740 690

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+16465588656,,724740690# US (New York)
Find your local number:

Here's some advice on preparing for Zoom meetings.

  1. Here is a Getting started page for Zoom.
  2. Review the NYU Zoom Guide for Students.
  3. The links to the Zoom meetings will either be given on this website. Or if we move to NYU Classes: find the "Zoom" link in the left sidebar of their site for this course, and click the Join link for the appropriate meeting.
  4. If you don't have the Zoom app installed on your device, then you'll be prompted to install it when you first clink one of these links.
  5. Normally, you'll use the audio and video capabilities of your device. It may work better if you use headphones. If there are audio problems, it's also possible to phone into the meeting (either with or without video from your computer).
  6. Aim to join our meeting a few minutes early to get used to the interface.
  7. When you join, you'll probably be muted, and will have to click the Unmute button if you want to talk to the group. There's also a Chat pane where you can type messages, either to the whole group or just to me. And there are buttons to indicate that you want to raise your hand, and so on.
  8. Be sure to re-mute your audio whenever you're not speaking to the group, so that we don't hear lots of background noise from different sources.

Our topic for the upcoming meeting will still be the early parts of Broome's book (linked below). We'll aim to discuss through until the end of Chapter 6. This page (from an earlier iteration of this seminar) has a summary of Broome's book, which may be helpful, but it won't substitute for reading the original text. If we only manage to discuss a smaller portion of the book, for example chapters 2 through 4, that's fine. Read and come ready to discuss what you can.

After the seminar, I'll also be available for virtual office hours. From 1:30-3 on Mon March 23. On some weeks it'll have to be scheduled differently because we'll have departmental meetings. Here is the "invitation" to the office hours for this coming Monday:

Jim Pryor is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: NYU Office hours
Time: Monday Mar 23, 2020 01:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 371 365 425

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+16465588656,,371365425# US (New York)
Find your local number:
2 Mar

I've replaced the link to Becker in the next item to a somewhat larger portion of her book.

For next week, Monday 9 March, our discussion will focus on Niko Kolodny's 2005 paper "Why Be Rational? (local copy). In class I mentioned an earlier paper of Mark Schroeder's (earlier than the one we looked at, it's from roughly the same time as Kolodny's paper) that has some points of overlap with Kolodny. That paper is "The Scope of Instrumental Reason" (local copy). Other papers that might be useful to look at if you're digging into these issues further are this subsequent exchange between Broome (local copy) and Kolodny (local copy). But the central piece for next week's discussion will just be Kolodny's 2005 paper. Warning: it's a long paper with lots going on in it.

The following Monday 16 March is NYU's spring break, and classes don't meet. When we reconvene on 23 March, we'll start discussing Broome's 2013 book Rationality Through Reasoning (amazon, local copy). When you have time, you might start reading ahead in it.

24 Feb

For next week, March 2, our main reading will be Mark Schroeder's Oughts, Agents, Actions (local copy). Optional background reading is this survey chapter by the syntactician Misha Becker.

20 Feb

As we discussed in our previous meeting, we're going to shift the seminar meeting time a half-hour earlier, so that henceforth we'll meet from 10:30 am - 12:30 pm. This gives us a bit of breathing room at the end, so that we don't have to vacate the room immediately at the end of our allotted two hours.

The topic for our next meeting, on Monday 24 Feb, will be deontic logic. Especially for those who haven't worked with modal logic before, some of these resources might be helpful background reading:

The main readings covering what we'll be discussing are these: Some further reading for those who want it:

As I said in seminar, don't be intimidated if some or most of this material is more technical than you're ready for. Our aim is to familiarize you with some of the basic technical options, not to get buried in the details. But there aren't presentations available that hide the details. Also, different participants in the seminar will find different amounts of detail accessible. So we'll do the best we can to talk through it and focus on what's fundamental.

5 Feb

As I said in class on Monday, we're going to delay the schedule below by a week to interpose another warm-up article. (So now we're aiming to do deontic logic etc on 24 Feb, linguistic challenges on 2 Mar, and so on.) In our upcoming class on 10 Feb, we still have a bit of unfinished business with the Christensen article to wrap up. (I'll try to post a summary of our discuss of that, and of the first week introductory material, soon.) But the main topic for 10 Feb will be Sophie Horowitz's paper Epistemic Akrasia (local copy).

27 Jan

I just now set out an email to test the mailing list. If you didn't get that message, please send me your name and email and intentions (whether to audit or take the course for credit). As I've told some of you, I have to get permission for those without NYU (or Consortium) affiliations to attend the meetings. The administration is having us tighten access to our seminars.

For next week, please be prepared to discuss Christensen's paper Higher-order Evidence (local copy).

26 Jan

The first seminar meeting is tomorrow. There is no assigned reading for this meeting. Here is my plan for the meetings after that:

Monday 3 Feb. Participants should have read Christensen's paper Higher-order Evidence, which we'll discuss.

Monday 10 Feb. We'll discuss deontic logic and Kratzer on modality.

Monday 17 Feb. No meeting (President's Day)

Monday 24 Feb. We'll discuss linguistic challenges to the view that "ought" is a sentential, scope-taking operator. The main reading for this meeting will be Schroeder's paper Oughts, Agents, Actions.

Monday 2 Mar. We'll discuss Kolodny's paper Why Be Rational?, which has some points of contact with Schroeder's.

Next we'll discuss John Broome's view, which Kolodny was opposing, as Broome developed and presented the view in his 2013 book Rationality Through Reasoning. This will take at least the meetings on 9 Mar and 23 March. (On 16 March is NYU's spring break; class doesn't meet.)

After that, seven meetings remain. I haven't scheduled these yet. I plan for us to discuss some parts of Brian Weatherson's recent book, as well as papers by Sophie Horowitz, Alex Worsnip, Maria Lasonen-Aarnio, and others.