Spring 2016, NYU Abu Dhabi

First Paper

Answer one of the following questions:
  1. The skeptic says we lack a certain epistemic status, which he calls "knowledge." So as not to prejudge any questions, let's agree to use the word "kenning" for the epistemic status the skeptic has in mind. As we'd put it, then, the skeptic argues that we don't ken anything. Two questions:

    1. Stroud says that "the consequences of accepting Descartes' conclusion as it is meant to be understood are truly disastrous." Is he right? Is kenning a sort of thing that ordinary people ordinarily care about? If we come to accept the skeptic's conclusion, should we be disappointed?
    2. Is kenning what we're ordinarily talking about, when we ordinarily talk about "knowing" this or that?

    In answering this question, do not try to argue that the skeptic's argument is successful or unsuccessful. This question is not about whether the skeptic has a good argument. It is about what the target of the skeptic's argument is, and whether the world would be letting us down in any serious way, if the skeptic were right that nobody has the epistemic status he's talking about. (Of course, your understanding of what the skeptic's argument is will probably influence what you think his target concept kenning amounts to.)

  2. Consider the remarks by Ryle cited in the Blumenfelds' paper:
    A country which had no coinage would offer no scope to counterfeiters... There can be false coins only when there are coins made of the proper materials made by the proper authorities. In a country where there is a coinage, false coins can be manufactured and passed; and the counterfeiting might be so effective that an ordinary citizen, unable to tell which were false and which were genuine coins, might become suspicious of the genuineness of any particular coin that he received. But however general the suspicions might be, there remains one proposition which he cannot entertain, the proposition, namely, that it is possible that all coins are counterfeit. For there must be an answer to the question "Counterfeits of what?"

    Explain what bearing Ryle's analogy is supposed to have on the problem of skepticism about the external world. Do the considerations Ryle is appealing to refute the skeptic? Explain why or why not.

  3. One compelling line of skeptical thought starts with the principle that you can't know that p unless you have evidence that enables you to "rule out" all the possibilities you recognize to be incompatible with p. Explain what this principle means, using an example. What do you think of the principle? Suggest some possible objections to the principle and then either defend the principle against these objections, or explain why, in your view, the principle cannot be successfully defended. You may wish to consult Stroud's discussion (pp. 23-31 in Ch. 1, and parts of Ch. 2) and the Dretske and Cohen articles.

Your paper should be about 2000 words (which comes out to 6-7 standard double-spaced pages).

Please double-space your papers, use wide margins, and number the pages.

Read the Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper, before you begin writing.

I will grade these papers, and give you comments on what their problems are and how they might be improved. You will then rewrite the papers, and your rewrites will also be graded.

Don't try to write everything you know, or every thought you have, about any of these topics. Rather, you should aim to answer the specific questions I ask. Six or seven pages is not much space, and you should stay within those rough limits. So you will have to ask yourself: What are the most important things to say? What can you leave out? You need to concentrate on what's central to the question you're trying to answer; and leave peripheral issues out of your paper.

As I explain in the Guidelines, if you want to write a good philosophy paper, you must develop a clear plan or outline for how you want your paper to go. And you must write several drafts. I encourage you to talk to each other, and even to show your drafts to each other for feedback. I also encourage you to come talk to me about your ideas. I won't be able to read any drafts before you turn them in. But I'll be happy to talk to you about the ideas you want to defend, and also about your thoughts about how you're going to organize your papers.

You should try to write as clearly and straightforwardly as possible. Don't use any technical vocabulary without explaining it or giving an illustration of what it means. (You need to explain the technical vocabulary you're using even if I introduced and explained it in class. Philosophers often attach subtly different meanings to their technical words, so it's important that your reader knows precisely what you mean by those words.)

The papers are due by email on Tuesday 15 March, by 7 PM.

No papers will be accepted late, unless you have arranged an extension with me beforehand.