Teach Yourself Epistemology

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy devoted especially to study of the concepts of knowledge and justified belief. The name for this discipline, epistemology, comes from the Greek word episteme, signifying “knowledge.” This is why epistemology is sometimes called “the theory of knowledge.” Unfortunately, this designation leads to a truncated view of a complex subject matter ranging over a wide variety of issues having to do with the status of belief.

The study of epistemology is notoriously difficult. It is also difficult to teach. Most university professors in the Anglo-American analytic tradition present the subject as a series of problem-solving ventures. The most persistent theories addressing these problems are presented and compared. Sometimes the teacher favors a general approach in epistemology and gives special attention to explaining and defending that approach and spelling out its implications.

One of the great problems of epistemology is how to think about the subject matter. This is the most fundamental problem for the enterprise of epistemology (which I distinguish from the enterprise of knowing and responsible believing). And yet this problem is often passed over, not only in the classroom, but by epistemologists in their own systematic work.

In my view, this places the student at risk. The student new to epistemology is liable to learn epistemology second-hand, taking as given the various problems and their proposed solutions, arranged in whatever order suits the professor or textbook writer. One very common approach is to begin with the threat of skepticism, which hangs as an ominous spectre over the whole enterprise—and is perhaps never completely exorcised.

A proper approach to “doing epistemology” would have to be delineated with great care and in more space than I have here. But there is a sense in which the self-educated have an advantage when coming to this subject matter. They are more likely to embark upon the enterprise of epistemology with that sense of wonder that is characteristically Aristotelian. In this case, the wonder is that we are capable of knowing so many things in such diverse areas of investigation, and that we move confidently through the world believing much that we do not know or would claim to know.

Still, the student needs a guide to such a complex subject. And while no text can serve in place of careful reflection on aspects of knowing and believing as they present themselves, there are a few very good books to guide the student and prompt examination of long-standing issues in epistemology.

In my own teaching, I have favored three books on the subject:

These books complement each other nicely. The book by Robert Audi will require a tutor for most who are new to the subject. It is rich and comprehensive, and, most important, very sensible about the topics it addresses. Better than any other book I know of, this book presents the subject in a natural order that is conducive to proper progress through to thorny issues it addresses.

To anchor a course in epistemology, I’ve found that the books by Feldman and Bon Jour complement each other neatly. They are concise and readable surveys of major topics. Laurence Bon Jour adopts a method of presentation that he explains clearly at the outset. While I think the method he adopts is unfortunate, it does give readers a sense of the rootedness of trends in contemporary epistemology in the influential work of the great 17th-century philosopher René Descartes. Of special value is Bon Jour’s treatment of the contest between foundationalists and coherentists in epistemology. A convert from coherentism to foundationalism, Bon Jour excels in his exposition of this debate; yet he is also realistic about the persistent philosophical challenges raised by foundationalism.

Richard Feldman demonstrates the exacting technique of analytic philosophy in a way that is accessible and interesting to newcomers. His book is a pleasure to recommend for that reason alone. But it is strong in many other respects. Feldman selects only the most fundamental issues in epistemology, and his book is a natural choice for someone with my anti-skeptical predilections for foundationalism and internalism in epistemology. His juxtaposition of evidentialism on the one hand and internalism and externalism on the other hand is initially puzzling. The presentation of evidentialism is a model of exposition at the introductory level.

Neither Feldman nor Bon Jour does justice to the problems associated with sensory perception. This large area of study in epistemology is set aside by Feldman, perhaps in the interests of conserving space. I think the decision to postpone consideration of the theory of perception can be defended. Feldman simply ignores the topic. Bon Jour, on the other hand, takes pains to explore the theory of perception. He defends a position called indirect or representative realism. As a direct realist, I believe this is a mistake. The presentation is well-organized and focused. And, in my judgment, Bon Jour’s development and defense of indirect realism creates opportunities to indicate significant problems for his position, which is part of any thorough defense of direct realism.

Several other books make useful companions to the ones I’ve recommended above:

The student also needs a collection, or anthology, of readings in epistemology. The best anthologies include selections from influential thinkers going back to Plato, as well as seminal essays by more recent philosophers. Among the best are:

Epistemology, like all professional philosophy, is “trendy.” The serious student of the discipline must understand these trends, even at the risk of being misled about their importance or being distracted from the real business of epistemology. The books I’ve described and recommended here contribute greatly to that task.

Postscript

While I strongly recommend the books by Rober Audi, Richard Feldman, and Laurence Bon Jour as places to begin the systematic study of contemporary analytic epistemology, several other introductory texts make excellent ancillary reading:

A Plan for the Study of Epistemology

  1. Read the three introductory texts recommended at the beginning, by Robert Audi, Richard Feldman, and Bon Jour. Sketch a plan to read them simultaneously, following the topical sequence in Audi.
  2. Read a sample of classic and contemporary essays from one of the anthologies listed above. Read according to interest and accessibility and note those authors who are mentioned in Audi, Feldman, and Bon Jour. Follow the order of coverage by topic in your reading of Audi and the others.
  3. Use Jonathan Dancy’s Companion to Epistemology as a quick reference on sundry topics in epistemology.
  4. Consult the other companion volumes for more detail and discussion.
  5. Survey several other introductions listed in the Postscript above. Especially deserving of careful study are Chisholm, Lehrer, and Pollock.
  6. Begin reading on topics of special interest to you, in books and essays that focus especially on those topics.
  7. Think about issues in meta-epistemology, or the study of the proper study of epistemology. On this topic I especially recommend Chisholm, Theory of Knowledge (already listed) and his essay on “The Problem of the Criterion,” George Chatalian, Epistemology and Skepticism: An Enquiry into the Nature of Epistemology, and P. Coffey, Epistemology, or the Theory of Knowledge (1917).
  8. For a realist approach to epistemology, I suggest reading seminal essays by the so-called “New Realists” in 20-century American philosophy.
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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

16 Responses to Teach Yourself Epistemology

  1. Travis Dickinson says:

    On my view, the moral of the Problem of the Criterion is not where one should actually start when one decides to do epistemology. Almost no one has actually started purely with answering Chisholm’s A or B:

    A) What do we know?
    B) What are the criteria of knowledge?

    Instead I think it is best thought of as asking which of these is more fundamental, which of these is logically prior? Do we adjust the criteria or the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge to capture what we take as clear cases of knowledge (this makes A prior, the particularist) or do we adjust the cases that satisfy what we take to be the conditions for knowledge (B is prior, the methodist)?

    The way you are applying the intension/extension distinction in your previous post (in #5) looks to me to be making B prior. Although I doubt that any particularist would agree to MERELY preserving the extension of the concept of knowledge, if some set of answers to A (that I have hands, etc.) is prior, then I am not sure why any thoroughgoing particularism isn’t doing just this. Maybe this is my confusion though?!?

    In answer to #1, “inchoate” seems a far cry from “unanalyzable” (from a couple of posts ago). The latter makes a modal claim, which I took to mean one may wield a concept without any possible way of surfacing conditions being satisfied by the concept so wielded.

    For #2, our intuitions about the concept of knowledge are being tested by whether or not a hypothetical situation seems to embody the concept given to us by our intuitive grasp of that concept. Again, it is the grasp on the concept that is logically prior not the commitment to the particular case as knowledge (or failing to be knowledge as in a Gettier case in response to #3).

    For #4, I would love to hear more of why you think that there is NO evidence for the skeptical thesis. Why is the skeptic delusional in thinking that he has evidence for his thesis by arguing the evidence of our senses equally confirms both the existence of the external world and some other alternative hypothesis.

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  2. Pingback: Dr. Doug Geivett’s Recommendations for Learning Epistemology « Cloud of Witnesses

  3. Doug Geivett says:

    Travis,

    (1) We do have what I call “an inchoate grasp” of the concept of knowledge when we wield the concept.

    (2) The proposed methodist reply is problematic. What is being tested? Our intuitions about what knowledge is? So how are they being tested?

    (3) I think Gettier was counting on readers to agree that the cases he described were not instances of knowledge. He was not just attempting to show that JTB fails on its own terms. In fact, I don’t think his examples show anything of the kind. Why not simply insist on JTB and say that what is not known, by Gettier’s lights, is known—with due apologies to Gettier? Because we know that his cases, which satisfy the JTB conditions, are not bona fide cases of knowledge. And how do we know that? Our knowledge of that is secure without the prospect of an alternative analysis of knowledge.

    (4) Part of what I’m saying is that the skeptic runs short on evidence, has no evidence at all, in fact, that his thesis is true. So there isn’t parity of evidence for skepticism.

    (5) The sort of externalist you describe—who, whether deliberately or inadvertently, affirms a form of particularism—is, necessarily, what (in my weak moments) I call a “half-baked” particularist. The externalist particularist seems interested only in capturing or preserving the extension of the concept of “knowledge,” however much the model he ends with may controvert the intension of the concept latent in our ordinary knowledge-ascriptions. If the intension of our original concept of knowledge is lost, then that the externalist model protects the extension of the concept is merely accidental and uninteresting—except insofar as it is misleading—since it completely misses the intension. This will be a problem for Bergmann no less than any other externalist. And it is the Achilles’ heel of any externalist theory.

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  4. Travis Dickinson says:

    I guess I am not at all sure that we have the ability to wield a concept without *any* idea as to the nature of that concept. Another way to understand what is going here is that we have some idea of the nature of knowledge but fail to always grasp everything there is for an item to be knowledge. In other words, we may be aware of some necessary conditions but fail to be aware of all that would make the individually necessary conditions jointly sufficient as an analysis.

    “Most epistemologists test their theories or models against supposed instances of knowledge, whether they freely admit to being particularists or not. If they do not, then what exactly is their project?” The methodist might just say that what she is doing is testing a criterion against a hypothetical scenario (this is to say, not a supposed instance of knowledge). In effect, one is testing whether the criterion is a necessary truth given one’s a priori intuitions with respect to the hypothetical situation. So, Gettier makes the following conditional “If JTB was the proper analysis of K, then x (absurdly) turns out to be K”. This is not an intuition about some empirical claim but would be to gain insight on one’s grasp of a conceptual truth. This is to say that one has the intuition that one has due to one’s a priori grasp of the concept of knowledge not due to presupposing any particular (contingent) instances as knowledge. (You and I have gone back and forth on this issue in previous venues, so I don’t mean to keep hammering on it but, as I know you agree, it is such a crucial issue).

    I am no traditional skeptic (I assume we are here switching to something like an external world skeptic rather than a skeptic about knowledge itself) but I think what the skeptic would say is that the evidence equally confirms both the ordinary case and the extraordinary. I believe it was Stroud that argued that if one judges a bird exhibiting properties x, y and z to be a goldfinch (due to the fact that goldfinches do in fact exhibit these properties) but were to later find out that x, y, and z are exactly the properties that a yellow canary exhibits (that is, the evidence one possesses is equally confirming for the goldfinch hypothesis as well as the canary hypothesis), then the rational thing to do would be to suspend judgment, be a skeptic as to the species of the bird. One would need some evidence that would tip the scales one way or another and this is precisely what the skeptic says we do not have. Every bit of evidence that one would list for the ordinary claim would equally be evidence for the extraordinary (so says the skeptic). So when you say “But we should like to know what evidence there is that the skeptical scenario is more or less correct. For this there is no evidence.” I think that the skeptic would agree but say being ‘more’ or ‘less’ are not the only options. The skeptic’s position is established so long as the evidence is equal confirming.

    I think that the connection between particularism and externalism is that many externalists are particuarlists. That is, the particularist thinks that our ordinary claims to knowledge are indeed knowledge (that we have hands, etc.) and that any surfaced criterion should be measured against whether we come out having these ordinary claims as knoweldge. If the particularist thinks that internalism inevitably leads to skepticism (that is, we don’t know that we have hands), then the particularist will be forced to turn to an externalism to underwrite these ordinary claims. So, skepticism is not an option for the externalist precisely because they are particularists. Externalists rewrite the concept of knowledge precisely because they are particularists. Goldman proceeded this way in “What is Justified Belief?”. He begins by considering various internalist analyses of justification and finds them all wanting. As I recall, Goldman does not explicitly claim particularism but (again, as I recall) does not seriously consider reneging on the ordinary claims. Instead, he thinks that there must be some external property that renders a belief justified, namely, being produced by a reliable belief forming process. Someone who is more explicit about this move is Michael Bergmann in his recent book. He gives his Sellarsian dilemma that he thinks is fatal for all (!) internalists. But he is a particularist, so skepticism cannot be right. Thus, he proffers his version of proper functionalism.

    TD

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  5. Doug Geivett says:

    Yes, Travis, I think that the externalist response to skepticism says, in effect, “Skepticism is only a problem if you think of knowledge in the way most people do before they come to philosophy. But we philosophers can conceive of knowledge differently and thereby circumvent the skeptical problem.”

    I want to say that the concept of knowledge that ought to be of most interest to philosophers is the concept that we wield quite comfortably—and, I believe, successfully—though with concessions to our (experienced) fallibility, in our characteristic knowledge ascriptions. In the ordinary case, when we claim to know some proposition to be true, we apply a concept. We do so even if we are unable to specify necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, indeed, even if the concept is, under such a strict requirement, unanalyzable. It is this concept of knowledge that interests me as an epistemologist. Something is given in experience, namely, the fact that we have some concept which we call knowledge, and which we confidently apply under various conditions—rightly or wrongly. (I would go further and say that we know what it’s like to be in the know. But I’m not developing that point here.) And we can frame interesting philosophical questions about this experience.

    In this I believe I’m saying pretty much what Roderick Chisholm had in mind when he said that externalists are “changing the subject.”

    I think I differ with Chisholm about how best to do epistemology (and why that is best) in light of the problem of the criterion. In some contexts, at least, he appears to be taking a dogmatic stand for particularism, as if there is something unavoidably arbitrary about any choice in procedure (whether it be particularism or methodism, or the failure of neither and a lapse into skepticism). I deny that the “choice” for particularism is arbitrary. First, there isn’t much choice in the matter. Most epistemologists test their theories or models against supposed instances of knowledge, whether they freely admit to being particularists or not. If they do not, then what exactly is their project? Second, as suggested above, if epistemology includes close inspection of knowledge ascriptions, then why not begin with ordinary knowledge ascriptions and consider the conditions under which those ascriptions may be accurate?

    I believe that traditional skeptical arguments assume that some version of internalism is correct. In the method I envision, however, the default position from which the epistemologist begins is one of optimism about our cognitive endeavors. So the skeptic—fictive or real—bears the burden of showing that we do not know what we think we know (whether globally or locally doesn’t matter). I’m not particularly moved by the claim that we may not know what we think we know. Against that, for many of the things we think we know, there is overwhelming evidence against the skeptic. How so? The skeptic might simply say that that is just how things will seem in the hypothetical skeptical scenarios according to which we do not know what we think we know. Fine. But we should like to know what evidence there is that the skeptical scenario is more or less correct. For this there is no evidence. And if the skeptic says that it begs the question to appeal to evidence in this way, then I wonder what the skeptical scenarios are supposed to be if not evidence of the possibility that we do not know what we think we know.

    An internalist, beginning confidently about our successfully wielding the concept of knowledge (for that is how things seem, and is what we believe, in any case), will naturally wish to rebut skeptical arguments. In this respect, he takes them seriously (and in a way the externalist does not). But this optimist need not demonstrate that the skeptic is mistaken. Possibilities are to be weighed against each other, on the basis of evidence. If no probabilifying evidence for the skeptical hypothesis is forthcoming, the default position of the optimistic internalist is the stronger of the two.

    You’ve got me puzzled about that last statement of yours, “that there is a clear connection between particularism (Chisholm’s) and externalism.” What connection is that?

    -Doug

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  6. Travis says:

    I completely agree with you on your well-stated critique of externalism. If one takes the challenge of skepticism the least bit seriously, then it is difficult to see the externalist “solution” as anything but cheap.

    When you say “internalism does not let the skeptical challenge subvert the effort to grasp concepts of knowledge and such in the fashion of externalism” are you referring to the sort of skepticism that Chisholm was worried about in the ‘Problem of the Critierion’? This is a skepticism with respect to the concept of knowledge itself. Most people seem more worried about skepticism with respect to some particular domain of propositions (e.g., the external world) and fashion an externalism to meet this worry. I guess I am not sure how internalism allows one to grasp the concepts of knowledge in the face of the skeptical challenge any better than externalism.

    If this is the skepticism that is in view, then now I am wondering how you see what the Chisholmian particularist is up to as something different from the externalist since the particularist starts with knowledge and, by virtue of this, rules skepticism out of the picture. I actually think that there is a clear connection between particularism (Chisholm’s) and externalism.

    TD

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  7. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Travis,

    I’m glad you found this post, too. It wouldn’t be hard for me to post the information I’ve written to help my students with the task of writing precis, and I wouldn’t mind it getting used by you or anyone else for courses.

    In addition to your insightful note about the sensationalisation of philosophy for undergraduate students, and using skeptical arguments to induce that peculiar mixture of terror and intellectual pleasure, there is the way in which major topics in epistemology have emerged in the effort to deal adequately with skepticism. So it isn’t that philosophers are enamored with skepticism, or are prone to be skeptics, but they frame their problems and forge methods haunted by the spectre of skepticism. I think that externalism is attractive in part because it makes things so easy for the non-skeptic. Externalists, in a certain sense, don’t take the problem seriously enough because they’ve got a model of knowledge-making that isn’t susceptible to its challenge. It’s one of the virtues of internalism that it does not let the skeptical challenge subvert the effort to grasp concepts of knowledge and such in the fashion of externalism.

    There’s more to say about all this, of course.

    -Doug

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  8. Travis Dickinson says:

    Hi Doug, I am not sure how I found this post but I am really glad that I did. I am one whose philosophical writing was completely changed after writing a precis for you in your epistemology class. It actually helped me understand what it is to think philosophically. I would encourage a separate post for a fuller treatment on this issue (especially because I would co-opt for my own classes (with proper attribution, of course)).

    I am unconvinced by Conee and Feldman’s evidentialism. I think that Michael Bergmann’s treatment in Justification Without Awareness is a devastating critique of their view, as it stands. I am anxious for a response from them.

    I was wondering in what way you see the threat of skepticism overshadowing the discipline. In my experience, most epistemologists do not take skepticism all that seriously. If anything, it is used as the absurd result that serves to produce a reductio argument against any view that led to it. I do admit that philosophers will give it perhaps undeserved time in undergraduate introductory classes but I think that this might be because philosophers get a kick out of scaring the bejesus out of undergrads by the prospects of being brains in vats or the product of the Matrix.

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  9. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Lucas,

    Thanks! Do you still have that same pencil?

    -Doug

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  10. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Alex,

    I’m glad you noticed the post and have raised these questions. In short:

    (1) Yes, the third edition of Chisholm is inferior to the second edition. Ask me why I think this and I’ll oblige.

    (2) What’s most dangerously trendy is the way the subject is taught. Also, the threat of skepticism overshadows the discipline in ways it need not.

    (3) I haven’t settled on the details of a worthy evidentialism. Feldman’s arguments are convincing, but the issues are tricky.

    How would you answer these questions?

    -Doug

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  11. Doug Geivett says:

    Hi Zach,

    These are great questions. I see your point about texts by individual philosophers and the possibility of bias. I actually advocate for written textbooks that favor the author’s own viewpoint. That’s because the alternative approach can foster or reinforce the attitude that all perspective are equally plausible. Students need to be wary of that notion. And it’s especially easy to assume that when studying philosophy from a “neutral” textbook.

    Still, you make a good point. The “starter books” that I recommend in this post (by Audi, Feldman, and BonJour) do reflect the authors’ own perspective. But they are (a) frank about this, (b) respectful and fair-handed in their treatment of other positions, and (c) careful to include sources for further study from other points of view. These are among the reasons I use their books as course texts.

    I’ve listed The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy. But it needs to be said that handbooks like this one do not always succeed in preserving neutrality of exposition. In fact, I’d say they generally fail in that regard. Individual contributors have their own perspectives and are often commissioned to write for a book because of their expertise and point of view. This is probably not noticed so much by newcomers to the field. But I know it to be true from my own study of and writing for books of this kind.

    It’s inevitable to a certain degree. Choices have to be made about what to include in an essay, and how to organize the material. This relates directly to my comments about meta-epistemology and the basic question of how best to “do epistemology.” Even the arrangement of previously published essays by various individuals can been seen to convey a point of view. The book I edited with Brendan Sweetman, Contemporary Perspectives on Religious Epistemology, I heartily acknowledge, is a case in point. I won’t explain here what “agenda” may be detected in our book. I know of only one philosopher who, when we met, said he was using the book for courses and had noticed something about the arrangement of articles that was striking and actually revolutionary for him. In general, I think, it’s better to be intentional about such things than to be oblivious to the implications latent in the organization of material.

    I’ve digressed.

    “Bias” may not be the best word for what we’re thinking about here. We’re talking about an individual perspective, which may or may not be reflected in an established or growing tradition in the field. It is possible to give an objective exposition of positions that are not your own, even when challenging those perspectives. That should be a goal for the careful philosopher.

    I don’t know what to say about which single book to buy to begin your study of epistemology. I’d be less concerned about bias and go with an introductory text that is more systematic than a handbook or reference work, and provides broad coverage. Embrace the “bias” of the author, and learn from the author what it’s like to reason on behalf of a position while recognizing the allure of alternative views and interacting critically with them. All three intro texts I’ve mentioned in this comment do this effectively. The coverage is broadest in Audi. Feldman’s book focuses more than the others on a few fundamental issues in the field. Bon Jour’s book stand in the middle on this spectrum. With that in mind, for one book only, Audi is my recommendation. But of the three, I’d say Audi may be the most difficult to work through on your own. (But then, any reading you do in or about epistemology that actually puts you in touch with what’s going on is probably going to be that way to some degree or other.)

    Note-taking. I should blog about this in a separate post. It comes up often. Here are some basic guidelines:

    Notes Written in Books

    (1) Write in pencil.
    (2) Write outline headers in brief phrases in the margins adjacent to the points in the outline.
    (3) Number points that appear in lists or in series, where that matters.
    (4) Underline and circle selectively, concentrating on those phrases, sentences, or passages you wish to return to or will want to find easily in the future.
    (5) Write summary notes in the blank space on the first or last page of each chapter, including a brief outline and your general impressions.
    (6) Create your own index to the book, one that complements the published index (if there is one) by customizing it to your needs and interests.

    Extensive Notes Written While Reading

    (1) If you use paper, use full size sheets (8.5″ x 11″ if you live in the U.S.) and number the pages. On the top of the first page, include a clear header for subject or source. You may want to use a template like one I have students use for some of my classes while taking notes in class.
    (2) At the very least, write out an outline of what you’re reading, placing things in the proper order and in the right hierarchical arrangement.
    (3) Consider writing an Analytical Outline, which seeks to include every individual substantive point, for material you wish to master.
    (4) Using your Analytical Outline, write a Précis of the material in 900 words or less, in essay form, with the aim of summarizing (in your own words) the thesis and line of argument in the material. My students are fond of these assignments . . . after they’ve gotten used to them and are working through difficult material in their PhD programs. Otherwise, they (and I) are notorious among students while they are enrolled where I teach.
    (4) Use software that you find helpful. I have moved away from traditional word processors, like Microsoft Word, for this sort of thing. Your software should have functions that make it easy for you to keep your work organized and ready to use for any purpose. If you use a Mac, I recommend Scrivener.

    These are not hard and fast rules. I don’t use them all every time I read. They’re simply tools to be used when they will be helpful. They’re also very general. I have more specific guidelines for several of the points. But in a post comment, this may be a useful start.

    I wish you well. Please use the comment button again to let me know what your choice is. Then come back to this post to share your process and what you’re learning!

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  12. Lucas Mather says:

    Hey Doug,

    Wonderful entry. I hope you post a few more along the same lines. Some of my best memories are thinking about the pencil having the relational property of appearing to be bent to me, in your Epistemology I class in Fall of 2002. The fact that I am serious about that is either cause for sympathy or delight on your part, I’m not sure which.

    I am going to pass this entry on to my undergraduate students at Pepperdine University, Malibu.

    Lucas

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  13. Alex says:

    Doug,

    I appreciate this well-thought out run down of your how-to study of or approach to epistemology. I still hold out hope you shall do your own distinctive introductory text.

    Do you think that Chisholm’s theory of knowledge ed. 3 is deficient?
    Which problems in the contemporary discussion do you see as largely ‘trendy’ and to avoid else one become misled?

    Regarding evidentialism a la Feldman: Do you think his bid for mentalism, rather than some accessibilism, and justification, rather than well-foundedness, is a wise maneuver?

    A

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  14. Zach Blaesi says:

    Thanks for the informative post. (Someone on an internet forum gave me this link after I asked about some epistemology reading recommendations.)

    To better ground myself in philosophy, my plan for this summer was to study philosophy in general, symbolic logic (I bought Harry Gensler’s book), and probability (Ian Hacking). For an overview of the various philosophical fields, a friend of mine recommended _The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy_. However, I’m particularly interested in epistemology and would like to spend some of my free time learning about it in more depth. As a result, I considered buying _The Oxford Handbook of Epistemology_, but I’ve been warned that it is very difficult to work through. On the other hand, I worry that a single individual (e.g. Audi) might sketch a more biased picture of the various fields he personally opposes, which is why I prefer introductions like the _Oxford Handbooks_, which have multiple contributors. What do you think I should do? I probably can only afford one book for now – and I don’t really have the time to read more than that right now anyway since I have other reading commitments (as I mentioned above).

    I have another question. What note taking techniques do you think would be best for personal study? What else can I do to make sure I’m retaining the material, and can apply it to actual issues? It seems like test taking and class room interaction helps me in these regards, but I’m not planning on taking a course in epistemology for a while – I want to get a head start in the mean time.

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  15. Doug Geivett says:

    Believe me, kapeka, when I say that this is a very typical experience. It helps to realize that when you begin to study analytic philosophy, it is like learning a new language. Actually, it’s like learning a new language and learning a new subject matter at the same time and in the same class. To make things worse for you, English isn’t your primary language, and it was an English-language course you were taking. I admire you for that!

    I truly believe that a proper study of epistemology is especially useful for work in all the disciplines, including theology.

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  16. kapeka says:

    I made the mistake in taking a course in epistemology in my first semester as a German guest student at Biola, being primarily a theologian and not a philosopher. It nearly caused a brain crash, not knowing if I don’t get the language or if I don’t get the subject nearly all the time. And I guess it was both to a certain degree. 😉

    Right now I am not really sure if I dare to touch the subject ever again. But thanks for this entry. Maybe I will come back to your entry one day and take a look at some of the books and advices.

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