Course Objective

The goals of this course are:
• To familiarize the students with a set of key epistemological notions,
such as knowledge, evidence, truth, and reliability; and to understand
their role in many contemporary debates in epistemology.
• To introduce the students to a number of epistemological theories, and
to help them gauge the strengths and weaknesses of each theory.
• To enable the students to understand and respond in a productive way
to a number primary epistemological papers and the arguments for the
views exposed therein.
• To help instil in the students certain intellectual virtues, such as
how to think patiently, clearly, and critically about epistemological
• To get a firm understanding of the core philosophical disputes in
contemporary epistemology, and how they might inform contemporary social
and intellectual problems.

Course Content

This course is an introduction to epistemology or the theory of
knowledge. The course is divided into two parts: theoretical
epistemology and social epistemology. Questions to be dealt with in the
theoretical epistemology part include: what is knowledge, and how does
it relate to truth, as well as to justified or rational belief? Do we
always need to have evidence if our aim is to be rational believers? Do
we in fact have knowledge—and can we know that we have it? What is the
value of knowledge and truth? We will also be exploring challenges in
the theory of knowledge, such as the problems of radical skepticism and

Social epistemology is the study of knowledge, belief, rationality, and
evidence in a social context. Questions to be dealt with in this section
include: how should we understand and respond to conspiracy theories?
Can we rationally believe things on the basis of testimony? What is
epistemic injustice, and how does it come about? What is ignorance and
how should we understand and combat socially privileged-based ignorance
(e.g. white ignorance, class-based ignorance, and gender-based
ignorance?) Next: What's the epistemic significance of disagreements
between peers and experts? What, if any, epistemic reasons are there for
democracy? How, if at all, should we respond to so-called 'deep
disagreements'? What is or should be the role of truth in political

Teaching Methods

Lectures and seminars (active learning groups).

Method of Assessment

Evaluations rests on a writing project, an exam and seminar assignments

The writing project: The writing project consists of two writing
assignments, one early on in the course and then another one midway
through the course. The first writing assignment is a short critical
essay in which you critically engage with the ideas of a contemporary
epistemologist, clearly identifying their main argument and then
criticising it (10%). The second writing assignment is a dialectical
essay where you compose an argument of your own and defend it from
objections (30%).

The exam: The exam is a three-part written examination taken at the end
of the course (60%). Part 1: Short Answer Questions section, where you
will write short (paragraph long) answers to specific key questions from
the course. Part 2: Arguments section, where a passage will be presented
and you are to extract the argument into premise-conclusion form. Part
3: Application section, where cases will be presented in which you are
to apply a concept or theory from the course to the case and discuss it.
(Each of three parts of the exam will be sufficiently familiar to by
this time, since you will do similar activities in your seminar groups —
e.g. extracting arguments and applying key ideas to cases and discussing
them, among other activities).

Entry Requirements

Mandatory courses Track 1 Philosophy


(1) Textbook: Duncan Pritchard (2018) What is this thing called
Knowledge? 4th Edition. Routledge.

This is a compulsory text.

(2) Selected journal article readings or book chapters available in
advance on Canvas. These are also compulsory.

Target Audience

Second year PPE students

Additional Information

Please note that participation in the seminars is mandatory.

For better understanding and to facilitate discussion, the required
readings (especially the text book readings) for each lecture should be
read in advance.

Custom Course Registration

There is a slightly different enrollment procedure for this module. The standard procedure of the Faculty of Humanities has students sign up for (i) the module, (ii) the form of tuition (lecture and/or preferred seminar group), and (iii) the exam. However, for this module the instructor will assign the students to the seminar groups. Therefore, students should sign up for (i) the module, (ii) lecture and (iii) the exam, but not for the seminar groups.

Recommended background knowledge

Mandatory courses PPE specialization Track 1: Philosophy

General Information

Course Code W_JSM_210
Credits 6 EC
Period P4
Course Level 200
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinator dr. C.B. Ranalli
Examiner dr. C.B. Ranalli
Teaching Staff dr. C.B. Ranalli

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Last-minute registration is available for this course.

Teaching Methods Lecture, Seminar*

*You cannot select a group yourself for this teaching method, you will be placed in a group.

Target audiences

This course is also available as: