University of South Alabama, Department of Philosophy, Fall 2012

Syllabus | Schedule | Professor

General Information


Professor Ted Poston
Email me


(or by appointment)
Humanities Building124


T,R 12:30-1:45pm
Humanities Building 136
8/20/2012 - 12/7/2012



Epistemology studies the nature, structure, and extent of knowledge. This course is structured around three questions. First, is knowledge possible? Second, what is the structure of knowledge? Third, what is the nature of knowledge? The first question focuses on the issue of skepticism. Skeptics argue that we lack knowledge because knowledge is inconsistent with some actuality; our evidence is underdetermined, our evidence doesn’t logically imply the truth of our belief, we can’t rule out possibilities inconsistent with our purported knowledge. Responses to skepticism raise interesting and difficult questions about successful human cognition. We shall carefully evaluate these responses. The second question focuses on the structure of knowledge. Does knowledge require reasons? What structure must those reasons form? Is there basic knowledge? The issues in this context usually focus on questions about the nature of justification. The third question focuses on the nature of knowledge. Knowledge is more than true belief, but what turns true belief into knowledge? We will investigate issues that arise from the Gettier problem in epistemology, the move to knowledge-first approaches, and the development of naturalism in epistemology.


Although this course does not have any official prerequisites, it does presuppose an acquaintance with both elementary logic and some basic philosophical concepts. This class is one of the most advanced philosophy courses in our curriculum. Students are expected to be able identify the thesis and main argument of a professional philosophical paper. Additionally, students are expected to be able to summarize a philosophical paper in both written and oral form. Students who are unprepared to do this sort of work will not earn a passing grade and are strongly urged to take some other course.

Course Materials


Sosa, Kim, Fantl, McGrath (eds), Epistemology: An Anthology, 2nd edition (Blackwell, 2008).



Course Homepage: http://www.southalabama.edu/philosophy/poston/courses/441/F12/index.html

COURSE Requirements


(10% of final grade)

Attendance is required in this course. By not coming to class, students will be hurting their own final course grades in several ways. First, I won't take attendance, but I will keep track of who is in class and actively, regularly participating. At the end of the course, I will give each student a percentage grade that will be worth 10% of his or her final course grade. Second, less directly, students who miss classes will thereby miss important course content; as a consequence, students who miss class will not do as well on tests, homework, or in class discussion.


(40% of final grade)

A reading summary consists of (i) a statement of the author’s thesis, that is, what he is arguing for or against. Occasionally this may include more than one statement. Also, sometimes you will have to paraphrase the author’s thesis. Reading summaries also include (ii) a sketch of the author’s main argument for his thesis. In the remainder of the summary (you have at most 500 words) explain the rationale of the major premises and any problems you see with the author’s argument.

Many of our readings will be difficult. However, it should be fairly easy to get the main gist of the article. For instance, if an article is on skepticism you should be able to determine whether the author argues for skepticism or against it. In cases where you don’t know what the article is getting at, just say that and try to explain some of the reasons for your bafflement. These summaries are intended to encourage you to wrestle with these readings. Each essay is central to the development of epistemology and deserves careful scrutiny. Writing on an article forces you to be clear about your reaction to the article and your sense of what the author has accomplished (or failed to accomplish). These summaries are also intended to improve your ability to write about and explain complicated issues.

Reading summaries will be graded as follows:


(Midterm=10% of final grade and Final=20% of final grade)

Students will take a midterm and final exam. The final will be cumulative. The midterm exam will be an oral exam. You will make an appointment to come to my office and we will discuss the topics we have covered thus far. You will be graded on your comprehension of the material and on your ability to answer questions I pose. I will announce the format of the final exam later.


(20% of final grade)

You shall formulate a thesis statement, argue for it, and defend it from possible objections. Your discussion should manifest a good understanding of the relevant literature—you’ll gain this understanding from our readings and class discussion. I will give you a list of topics. Before you begin writing confirm your topic with me. If you would like to pursue a different topic than one I have given then discuss it with me. The paper shall be no more than 2000 words. Use footnotes with standard documentation practices (e.g., MLA).

Statement of Grading Criteria:


Final letter grades will follow a standard 10-point scale: 90-100 A, 80-89 B, 70-79 C, 60-69 D, 0-59 F. I will not be using a curve when calculating your grades.

Policies, etc.


In general, I do not allow students to make up missing homework or missed exams. I also generally don't allow students to turn in late work. Some exceptions might be made in cases where students have a valid reason excusing them and evidence of that reason (e.g., sickness and a doctor’s note).


Please turn off your electronic devices during class. This very much includes your cell phones! If you absolutely feel like you have to have your tablet or laptop with you to take notes during class, please talk to me outside of class to argue your case.


Student Academic Conduct Policy (Adopted 1988; Revised 2004, 2007) “As a community of students and scholars, the University strives to maintain the highest standards of academic integrity. All members of the community are expected to exhibit honesty and competence in academic work. This responsibility can be met only through earnest and continuing effort on the part of all students and faculty. Any dishonesty related to academic work or records constitutes academic misconduct including, but not limited to, activities such as giving or receiving unauthorized aid in tests and examinations, improperly obtaining a copy of an examination, plagiarism, misrepresentation of information, or altering transcripts or university records. Academic misconduct is incompatible with the standards of the academic community. Such acts are viewed as moral and intellectual offenses and are subject to investigation and disciplinary action through appropriate university procedures. Penalties may range from the loss of credit for a particular assignment to dismissal from the University. Note that dismissal from any University of South Alabama college or school for reasons of academic misconduct will also result in permanent dismissal from the University. Faculty, students, and staff are responsible for acquainting themselves with, adhering to, and promoting policies governing academic conduct.” From The Lowdown


The University of South Alabama seeks to provide equal access to its programs, services and activities for people with disabilities. If you have a specific disability that qualifies you for academic accommodations, please notify the instructors and provide certification from Disability Services (Office of Special Students Services). The Office of Special Students Services is directed by Ms. Andrea Agnew and is located in the Student Center, Room 270, Phone 460-7212.