Spring 2016, NYU Abu Dhabi


What is Epistemology?

At a first pass, epistemology is the study of the questions: "What is knowledge?" And "Do I have any?"

As you'll see, there are close connections between these questions and questions about what we have good evidence or reasons to believe. So epistemology is also the study of questions about evidence and reasons.

Some Arguments that You Don't Have Much Knowledge

There are several philosophical arguments that purport to show that you don't have any knowledge--or at any rate, that you don't have very much knowledge.

A skeptic is someone who doubts whether we have knowledge of a certain sort. For instance, a skeptic about the external world is someone who doubts whether we have knowledge of the external world. That's the kind of skeptical challenge that we'll be focusing on in this class.

There are also skeptical challenges to your knowledge of the past, the future, mathematical facts, and unobserved scientific phenomena; challenges to your knowledge that other people have minds, and to whether you can ever rely on their testimony; and more. There are even challenges to whether you can know what your own words mean.

Above we described three kinds of skeptical argument: from lotteries, from scenarios like dreaming, from the fact that our evidence falls short of proving or conclusively establishing our beliefs. We will discuss all of these this term, but especially the argument from dreaming.