Spring 2016, NYU Abu Dhabi

Second Paper

Answer one of the following questions:
  1. In his Case 4, BonJour discusses Norman, a person who is in fact a reliable clairvoyant, but has no evidence either for or against this fact. According to the reliabilist, Norman's reliable, clairvoyance-induced beliefs are justified; but according to BonJour, Norman's beliefs are irrational and unjustified. Explain BonJour's argument for the claim that Norman's beliefs are unjustified. Who is right: BonJour or the reliabilist? Defend your answer. Be specific about how you're thinking clairvoyance works. What consequences, if any, does your account of Norman have for the epistemology of ordinary perceptual belief?

  2. Goldman's example of the "barn facades" is supposed to demonstrate that whether a subject has knowledge is sensitive not only to whether his belief is true and how well it is justified, but also to additional factors about the subject's environment. (Dretske's Gadwell ducks/grebe examples is supposed to make the same point.) The possibility that you are viewing a barn facade is normally an irrelevant alternative, but Goldman thinks that, if there happen to be many barn facades in the area---regardles of whether you know about them---then this makes the barn facade possibility a greater threat to your having knowledge that the barn you see is a barn.

    Goldman goes on to offer a theory about how we eliminate alternatives: by being able to "discriminate" them from the situations we believe we're really in. But for this question, don't concern yourself with how alternatives are to be eliminated. Just focus on the question: can facts about the mere presence of barn facades (or grebes) in your environment---by themselves, even if you don't know about them---make a difference to whether you know?

  3. Consider a brain in a vat whose inner mental life has always been the same as yours. It has the same experiences that you have when you look at your hands. It would cite the same reasons for its beliefs that you cite. It has no more evidence that it's a brain in a vat than you have that you are. And so on. The internalist claims that this brain's perceptual beliefs are just as justified as yours, even though most of the brain's beliefs are false. Present arguments in support of that view. Your arguments should not begin by assuming internalism; they should rather try to persuade a reader that internalism is correct. This is an ambitious and difficult task.

    Be specific about what you're assuming about justification and belief. For example: Are you assuming we choose our beliefs voluntarily? Are you assuming that any subject who is "justified by her own lights" is justified in fact---no matter how good the reasons she's relying on objectively are?

  4. In the past weeks, we've discussed a bunch of subtle distinctions. Among them are these:

    Choose one of these contrasts, explain it and illustrate it with examples, and present an argument for the contrast having some "cash value": that is, choose one of the arguments or thought-experiments we've considered and show how paying careful attention to the contrast you've chosen can help us get clearer about, and make philosophical progress with, that argument or thought-experiment.

  5. Russell, and some of the other theorists Dicker describes, argued that when we think about cases of perceptual illusion and hallucination, we're led to the view that there's always something that really does have certain properties that we're thereby gaining knowledge about---even if the external objects we're perceiving have different properties and we might be making mistakes about them. Explain in detail one of the arguments for this view. (There are several overlapping arguments in the texts we looked at.) Criticize that argument, or describe some criticisms and defend the argument against them.

Your paper should be about 3000 words (which comes out to 9-10 standard double-spaced pages).

Please double-space your papers, use wide margins, number the pages, and put your name on them. If you're giving me a hard copy, then staple them.

I recommend you again read the Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper, before you begin writing.

As before, don't try to write everything you know, or every thought you have, about any of these topics. Nine or ten pages is still not much space, and you should stay roughly within those limits. You need to concentrate on what's central to the question you're trying to answer; and leave peripheral issues out of your paper.

You know by now that 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. This time around you'll be sharing outlines and drafts with each other. Of course you can also talk to me about the ideas you want to defend. But I'm serious about assigning you the responsibility to help each other write good papers. This is an important learning exercise. You may find that giving each other constructive editorial feedback improves your writing more noticeably than getting feedback on your own writing does! I did, when I was learning how to write philosophy.

The final versions of your papers are due on Tuesday 26 April, by the end of the day. No papers will be accepted late, unless you have arranged an extension beforehand.

Between now and then, there are a number of intermediate deadlines you need to meet, too:

Past experience tells me that I need to ask for this evidence to make sure that everyone cooperates and honors the intermediate deadlines. Your final grade will be penalized if you miss the intermediate deadlines. Work out scheduling with the other members of your group in advance: I'm sure you have work due for multiple classes around this time, so you'll need to plan carefully around when you'll each best be able to do work on this paper. The intermediate deadlines I'm proposing are the latest dates you should meet, not the earliest.