Spring 2016, NYU Abu Dhabi


This course will be a survey of central issues in contemporary epistemology. We'll examine a variety of skeptical arguments that tell us we can't know whether the world is as it appears to us, and major strategies for resisting them. Along the way, we'll wrestle with foundational questions including:

Prerequisite: One prior course in philosophy (such as PHIL-AD 101-119), or equivalent background. This course is not intended as an introduction to philosophy. I'll assume you have prior experience writing philosophical papers, reading texts critically, analyzing and responding to philosophical arguments, and so on. If you've already taken a prior course in philosophy, that will be adequate preparation. If you've just "read and thought a lot" about the issues this course covers, that is in most cases not adequate preparation. It won't have given you practice and feedback on writing philosophy papers, and it won't have given you experience analyzing and discussing arguments in the way we'll be doing in this class.

If you're unsure whether you're prepared for the course, you are welcome to write to me about it. You can also take a look at the handouts linked in the Methodologies section below, to see how much of them seem familiar to you.

Credit hours: 4

This course counts toward the following NYUAD degree requirements:

Meetings: The course will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 9:15 - 10:30 AM, in a location to be determined.

Instructor: The course is taught by Prof. Jim Pryor <jim.pryor@nyu.edu>. Phone, office, and office hours to be determined.

Learning Outcomes

Goals for the course include:

Teaching and Learning Methodologies

Our class meetings will be a mix of structured presentation and seminar-style discussion. My expectations for the latter are explained in the Requirements section.

Here are detailed explanations of how you'll be expected to read philosophy papers, and how you'll be expected to write them. An explanation of what different grades mean for written work is linked below.


It is essential that you attend the class meetings. Much material not in the readings will be presented in class.

There will be a reading assignment for most meetings. These readings are often short, but they all require close study. You should read them carefully before we discuss them in class, and you will need to read them more than once. For most of the readings, you won't understand the material sufficiently with just a single reading. A good strategy would be to read the assignment once before we discuss it, and then go back and read it again after we've discussed it.

I expect our class meetings to have lots of discussion, and for all students to participate. Talking about philosophy is one of the best ways to learn how to do it. Your participation in these discussions will make up 10% of your grade for the course. See this page on participation for more details (though this class won't have separate "discussion sections" as that page assumes; we'll integrate discussion into the main meetings).

The rest of your grade will be based on:

Grades and Academic Integrity

Here is an explanation of what different grades mean for written work. (See also the "How you'll be graded" section of the writing guidelines.)

Plagiarism is a serious offense and will result in failed assignments, failed courses, and worse. You should be familiar with the NYUAD page on academic integrity. This community expects fairness, respect, and honesty.

Your papers may be submitted to turnitin.com for review; if there is some special reason you don't want your work to be reviewed by that website, discuss this with me at the start of term.


If you have good reason for being unable to submit work for a deadline, discuss this with me well in advance of the deadline (at least one week before), and we will make different arrangements. You will not be able to contact me about this at the last minute. The only other cases in which late work will be accepted will be for serious and well-documented emergencies.

If things aren't going well for you in some way (physically, emotionally, or otherwise) during the term, and you think this is impacting or will impact your work, please let me know as soon as you can, or have someone at the university who knows what is going on contact me.


Other readings will be made available on the course website.


The reading assignements are posted in the Handouts, Readings, and Lecture Notes section of the website.

Please check that space regularly, as things may sometimes be reorganized, and the schedule will be adjusted, based on how our discussions in class are proceeding.

Thu 28 Jan: Introduction
Week 2 (2-4 Feb): Appearance vs reality
Topics include: does knowledge require certainty?, fallibilism, different kinds of skeptical argument, discussion of The Matrix, knowledge and facts, realism and objectivity
Week 3 (9-11 Feb): Knowledge, belief, and reasons; Decartes' First Meditation
Topics include: relation between knowing and believing, relation between knowing and having reasons; Descartes' dreaming argument; Stroud's analysis of the dreaming argument
Week 4 (16-18 Feb): Continuing analysis of Descartes' dreaming argument; "Evidentialist" responses to skepticism
Topics include: David and Jean Blumenfeld's analysis of the dreaming argument, and of different responses to it
Week 5 (23-25 Feb): Continuing with "evidentialist" responses; Begin "relevant alternatives" responses
Topics include: is this all just a terminological dispute about the word "know"? Stroud's discussion of relevant alternatives
Week 6 (1-3 Mar): Continuing with "relevant alternatives" responses; Begin Gettier Problem for defining knowledge
Topics include: does justified true belief suffice for knowledge?
Week 7 (8-10 Mar): Extra-evidential theories of knowledge
Topics include: Dretske's relevant alternatives theory, Goldman and perceptual discrimination
Week 8 (Tue 15 Mar): the Regress argument for foundational justification
Topics include: sense-data
Sat 26 Mar: Continuing with regress argument
Week 9 (29-31 Mar): Reliabilist theories of justification
Topics include: Goldman on justified belief, challenges for reliabilism (generality, range, and regulating our beliefs)
Week 10 (5-7 Apr): Continuing with reliabilism
Topics include: BonJour's critique of reliabilism, conservativism about justification
Week 11 (12-14 Apr): Foundationalist versus coherentist theories of justification
Topics include: the regress argument again, immediate justification, reasons on which you base your belief, classical versus modest foundationalism, BonJour's critique of foundationalism, different epistemic levels
Week 12 (19-21 Apr): Introducing the issue of epistemic disagreement
Topics include: higher-order evidence, epistemic peers
Week 13 (26-28 Apr): Refining the debate about epistemic disagreement
Topics include: different areas of disagreement, what counts as responding to disagreement
Tue 3 May: Continuing with disagreement
Topics include: should we "conciliate" or demote our estimate of our peer's abilities?
Last week (10-12 May): Continuing with disagreement
Topics include: is there always a uniquely correct way to respond to a given body of evidence? can we rely on our disputed judgments in assessing our peer's abilities?


Your Second Paper is due on Friday 12/18.
It may be helpful to look at some sample papers and how they can be successively refined (these were for other courses, but the process of refining a philosophy paper is the same: from me, from David Barnett, from Joe Cruz
Practice Writing Exercise is due on Monday 10/12.
At end of class today, we were discussing whether a subject could Kp, K(if p then q), but fail to Kq. I suggested he might fail to Kq because he hadn't yet put his belief(p) and his belief(if p then q) together, and so doesn't yet Bq. An even more convincing case might be this: You Kp, and K(if p then q). And you do believe(q), however you don't base this belief on your knowledge of p and if p then q. Instead, you base it on a palm reader's telling you that q. This would be a case where you had good evidence or propositional justification to believe q, however your belief(q) isn't based on that evidence, it's instead based on reasons which don't really support q. So plausibly in this case also you'd fail to Kq: even though you Kp, K(if p then q), and Bq.
The Rosenberg book is now available at the bookstore.
Prof. Pryor's office hours are every Wednesday afternoon. Eli's office hours for this week will also be on Wednesday afternoon; afterwards, he will regularly hold office hours on Monday after class.
For Wednesday, read again the lecture notes on Knowledge, Belief, and Reasons, and also read Descartes' First Meditation. Please bring a copy of the Descartes reading to class, so that we can refer to the text during our discussion.
To my knowledge, the movies aren't yet available on reserve at Bobst. I'll post a notice here when Bobst tells me they are available.
We will be able to screen Twelve Angry Men twice: tonight as scheduled, and also tomorrow night, Thursday Sept 10 at 7 pm, in Silver 518. This room is a bit tricky to find: it's in a hallway between the Silver Building and the adjoining Waverly Building (or Brown Building, I'm not sure which).
This course website is at http://epistemology.jimpryor.net/, not on Blackboard.
Sections will meet starting on Thursday Sept 17.
We'll be showing two movies right at the beginning of the course. It's essential that you watch them, either with the class or on your own, as discussion of them will be the focus of our first weeks of the course. The movies will be shown tonight and next Wednesday: If you can't watch the movies with the class, they'll be on reserve in the Avery Fisher Center at Bobst Library (you need to watch them there), or you can find some way to watch them on your own.
Book for the course: Richard Feldman, Epistemology (available at NYU Bookstore, also Amazon link)
Also many readings for the course will be put online.