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180140 SE Social Epistemology (2016W)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Continuous assessment of course work

Many have complained that 20-21st century epistemology in the analytic tradition has focused excessively on individuals and the kinds of knowledge that can be obtained in isolation from the wider social environment in which they are embedded. This course is about social epistemology, which aims to rectify this failing. We will look at four topics in social epistemology: the epistemology of testimony (e.g. which experts should we trust?), the epistemology of disagreement (e.g. what does widespread religious disagreement tell us about the rationality of religious belief?), the epistemology of ignorance (e.g. is ignorance just the lack of knowledge or can it be wilfully cultivated, e.g. by powerful social groups) and epistemic oppression (e.g. when someone's testimony is discarded on the basis of their gender, is this an epistemic injustice, over and above a moral injustice?). While these topics certainly don't exhaust the rich variety of work being done in social epistemology, they will (hopefully) show you that analytic epistemology doesn't have to be individualistic or ignorant of the wider world.


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first serve).


max. 45 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Friday 14.10. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 21.10. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 11.11. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 18.11. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 25.11. 16:45 - 20:00 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 02.12. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 09.12. 16:45 - 20:00 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 16.12. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 13.01. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 20.01. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock
Friday 27.01. 16:45 - 18:15 Hörsaal 3F NIG 3.Stock


Aims, contents and method of the course

Aims: By the end of the course students will have acquired and developed:

1. An understanding of what social epistemology is.
2. An appreciation how epistemology could be of relevance to social and political concerns.
3. A range of valuable analytical skills and abilities (how to evaluate an argument; how to construct a valid argument; how to read a complicated text).
4. The ability to express philosophical ideas and views orally and in writing, with an emphasis on clarity, structure, precision, concision and dialectical effectiveness.
5. A range of transferable skills, including the skills mentioned above, but also the ability to work to a deadline, prepare a group presentation and conduct one's own research (e.g. find and consult a range of primary sources).

Contents: This course looks at three areas in social epistemology. The first area is the epistemology of testimony. Most of our beliefs are based on what others have told us. Take, for instance, our scientific beliefs. While we consider ourselves aware of developments in modern science, most of us lack the expertise to properly evaluate or even understand much scientific work. In this part of the course we look at questions like: Are we entitled to just believe what we are told by experts? How should we figure out who the experts are? Can groups testify?

The second area is the epistemology of disagreement. Even experts disagree sometimes; for instance, take debates about politics, religion and science. Given the ubiquity of expert disagreement, perhaps we should be less confident in our views about controversial topics than we in fact are. In this part of the course we look at questions like: Should disagreement affect our confidence in general? What about in particular cases, like the case of religious disagreement?

The third area is the epistemology of ignorance. Is ignorance just a lack of knowledge, or is it at least sometimes wilful and cultivated on behalf of the powerful? What kinds of ignorance are there?

The fourth area is epistemic (as opposed to social and political) oppression. Is epistemic oppression distinct from, or does it reduce to, these other more familiar forms of oppression? Why might arrogance be a form of epistemic oppression? What is the distinctively epistemic harm in being silenced?

Teaching Methods: Each seminar will be based on a text, which will be read in advance. For each seminar, students will prepare two points for discussion, which will be sent to me beforehand. The seminar will begin with a short presentation by a small group of students. If necessary, I will provide some broader context for our discussion. Otherwise, the remaining time will be used to discuss the substantive philosophical issues raised by the text.

Assessment and permitted materials

This course will use four methods of assessment, each of which will count towards the final grade:

1. Participation in a group presentation: 10%.
2. Weekly discussion points: 10%.
3. Two mini-essays (4-5 pages, with 1.5 spacing): 30%.
4. An essay on a topic from the course (15-20 pages, with 1.5 spacing): 50%.

To pass the course, it is necessary to satisfy all four components (i.e. submit all the work and participate in a presentation) and achieve 50% or more overall.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria

The group presentation will not be assessed; participation in a presentation is sufficient to get full marks for this component. I will meet with students prior to class to discuss their presentations.

The weekly discussion points are personal reflections on the text. Students should write down two points for each text. Each point should be accompanied by a justification. For instance, students shouldn't say 'I think the author is wrong'. They should say 'I think the author is wrong that ... because ...'. The discussion points will be marked in terms of whether they provide justifications.

The mini-essays will be written and submitted during the course. They should be focused on a single argument or view discussed in a text they have read. A good essay (i.e. one that gets a 2) will give an accurate summary of that argument or view. An excellent essay (i.e. one that gets a 1) will also critically discuss that argument or view in an intelligent way. I will provide constructive feedback on each essay.

The longer essay will be written at the end of the course. It could focus on a particular text, draw connections between different texts, or discuss a general issue raised by the texts we have read. A good essay will demonstrate a sound understanding of the relevant material and place it in its broader context. An excellent essay will also demonstrate an ability to develop a sustained line of independent thought.

Examination topics

While I will provide a list of possible topics for both the mini-essays and the longer essay, students will be encouraged to suggest their own topics. I am happy to supervise bachelor theses; just come and talk to me during the course.

Reading list

Here is a provisional reading list. This is subject to change.

The Epistemology of Testimony

Elizabeth Fricker: Against Gullibility
Peter Graham: Liberal Fundamentalism and its Rivals
Alvin Goldman: Experts: Which Ones Should You Trust?
Deborah Tollefsen: Group Testimony

The Epistemology of Disagreement

Richard Feldman: Reasonable Religious Disagreements
Roger White: You Just Believe that Because...

The Epistemology of Ignorance

Charles Mills: White Ignorance
Linda Martin Alcoff: Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types

Epistemic Oppression

Miranda Fricker: Selections from her book 'Epistemic Injustice'
Kristie Dotson: Tracking Epistemic Violence, Tracking Practices of Silencing
Alessandra Tanesini: 'Calm down dear': intellectual arrogance, silencing and ignorance

Association in the course directory

BA M 5.3, PP 57.3.3, UF PP 08, HPS M1.1, M1.3

Last modified: Mo 07.09.2020 15:36