Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Philosophy

Academics

Philosophy 298. Experimental Courses

Unacceptable Conclusions: Arguments Against Common Sense

Consider three claims:
(1) Plants obtain energy from sunlight.
(2) The earth will remain in orbit tomorrow.
(3) Hurting people for fun is morally wrong.

Probably, we take these claims to be objectively true. And probably, we take ourselves to know them to be true. According to both the relativist and the skeptic, we are wrong.

The relativist holds that there is no such thing as objective truth. The skeptic admits taht there may be objective truth but thinks that we lack knowledge of it.

This course introduces students to these two most fundamental challenges to views widely taken to be core tenets of ‘common sense. We will first consider the challenges in their most general forms and then examine domain-specific challenges, with special regard to the domains of science and morality.

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Theories of Knowledge: History and Problems of Epistemology

The purpose of this course is to provide an introduction to one of the most enduring and significant fields of philosophy, epistemology or the study of knowledge. Why would we want to know about knowledge itself? And does it even make sense to ask whether we can know that we know something, or know what knowledge is? Are such questions inherently circular? Despite these difficulties, it is clearly of critical importance to be able to distinguish knowledge from various forms of beliefs, prejudices, and illusions. We rely upon these distinctions all the time: when we criticize injustice and intolerance we believe ourselves to have less biased views than others; when we fall in love we think we are genuinely getting to know someone; and when we consume food or medicine we rely on the testimony of scientists and other experts. Are these assumptions habits that we fall into because we have no better options, or something more? How can we distinguish different forms of knowledge from one another and from false pretensions to knowledge? In order to clarify these questions we will examine historical and contemporary debates concerning whether knowledge is possible, its nature and limits, and the extent to which we can trust our own judgment as well as the judgment of others.

Michael Smith