Course syllabus



PHIL 218: Problems in Epistemology

SEMESTER 2, 2018

15 points

Course Director:  John Bishop 

Teacher: John Bishop

Student class representative:

Cody Yang Liu

Tuakana mentor for Stage II/III Philosophy:

Nate Rew


 Course delivery format:  One 2-hour lecture and one discussion hour per week

(Timetable and room details can be viewed on Student Services Online)

This is a course on epistemology, or the ‘theory of knowledge’. We shall investigate a variety of issues, including the concepts of knowledge, truth and justification, the ‘Gettier problem’, theories of epistemic justification, and the problem of skepticism. Our aim is to get a good sense of the range of topics discussed in contemporary epistemology, making sure that we grasp what those problems are, how they are thought to arise, the kinds of solutions that have been proposed, and the debates arising from these proposals. As always in Philosophy, in developing our own critical understanding, we will be alert to ways in which we might make our own contributions to the continuing debates. 

To achieve this aim, we will use the framework of topics set out in Noah Lemos, An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 2007 (the textbook for the course). Lectures will follow the themes of the Chapters of this book, and suggestions will be made for further readings. Students are encouraged to undertake their own search for literature on the topics covered in Lemos - especially on topics chosen for the Assignment or in preparation for the Final Examination. We will complete the course by discussing a classic text in epistemology, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s On Certainty. An electronic version of this text may be accessed through the Library:

The Collected Works of Ludwig Wittgenstein [electronic resource] / edited by G.E.M. Anscombe, G.H. von Wright, Rush Rhees, Heikki Nyman.
Charlottesville, VA : InteLex Corporation, 1998. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958-1998.

Basic Course Programme:

The plan is for ten lectures on the topics of the Chapters in Lemos. In each case, the basic required reading is the relevant Chapter. The format will be a presentation of the topic, followed by inter-active discussion. 

Lecture 1 (16 July): An Introduction to Epistemology and the Concepts of Knowledge, Truth & Justification

Lecture 2 (23 July): The Traditional Analysis of Knowledge and the Gettier Problem

Lecture 3 (30 July): Foundationalism

Lecture 4 (6 August): The Coherence Theory of Justification

Lecture 5 (13 August): Reliabilism and Virtue Epistemology

Lecture 6 (20 August: Internalism, Externalism and Epistemic Circularity

Mid-semester break

Lecture 7 (10 September): Skepticism

Lecture 8 (17 September): The Problem of the Criterion

Lecture 9 (24 September): The A Priori

Lecture 10 (1 October): Naturalized Epistemology

Lecture 11 (8 October): Wittgenstein’s ‘On Certainty’

Lecture 12 (15 October): Wittgenstein’s ‘On Certainty’


Assessment: Assignment and Final Examination:

Your assessment will be determined as follows:
Your overall mark will be 50% of your coursework mark and 50% of your final examination mark
Your coursework mark will be the mark achieved on your essay assignment (a 2,000 word essay).  The final examination will be a 3-hour examination. 

Essay assignment

Write an essay of not more than 2,000 words on one of the following topics.

The due date is Friday, 21st September at 3:00p.m.

 Essay Topics:

1. What does the Gettier problem show? How should we respond to it?

2. Compare the relative merits of foundationalism and coherentism as accounts of justification. Is either successful?

3.  Briefly set out and critically evaluate a version of reliabilism as an account of justification.

4.  What is at issue between externalists and internalists about justification? Which side is correct, or has the more plausible position?

5.  Explain how the problem of skepticism arises in epistemology by focusing on what you consider to be the most powerful argument in its favour. Can the force of this argument be rationally resisted?

Doing coursework assists your learning and your development of philosophical skills. We expect that all your submitted work will conform to the requirements of academic integrity: you should properly reference all your sources, acknowledge the work of others, and avoid plagiarism. Students are advised to make sure they understand what academic integrity requires by taking the course available through the Library website:

It is also important that you submit coursework in case you are ill or otherwise unable to sit the examination. If you make an application for an aegrotat or compassionate consideration we cannot make any recommendation unless there is good evidence, provided by coursework results, of your achievements in the course concerned.

 Final examination

The final examination will be a 3-hour examination, in which you will be asked to answer THREE unseen essay questions, chosen from a list of questions covering all the topics of the course. You should not write answer an examination question on your coursework topic unless you avoid substantially repeating the content of your essay. 

Workload and deadlines for submission of coursework:           

The University of Auckland's expectation is that students spend 10 hours per week on a 15-point course, including time in class and personal study. Students should manage their academic workload and other commitments accordingly. Deadlines for coursework are set by course convenors and will be advertised in course material. You should submit your work on time. In extreme circumstances, such as illness, you may seek an extension but you may be required to provide supporting information before the assignment is due. Late assignments without a pre-approved extension may be penalised by loss of marks – check course information for details.

Course summary:

Date Details