Course Syllabus

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This will be a graduate seminar focusing some questions about normativity and value in epistemology.  Quine basically thought there was no such thing.  He told us in the 60s that "Epistemology, or something like it, simply falls into place as a chapter of psychology and hence of natural science."  Kim famously (and Davidson less famously) points out that Quine's conception of epistemology seems to abandon the traditional normative conceptions of epistemological notions including justification, rationality, and knowledge. Recently, there's been a resurgence of looking at the role of normativity in epistemology, especially in light of the developments in metaethics in the last half century.

We'll read some metaethical work that will serve as a background for the discussion, and we'll discuss some of the well-covered topics in this literature, including the debate over the value of true belief, whether epistemic normativity is distinct from practical and moral normativity, and the newer normative accounts of belief.  We'll then focus on some cutting-edge topics that have occupied this niche of literature recently, including whether a constructivist or constitutivist account of epistemic normativity can be made to work (I suspect it's actually easier than the ethical analogue) and whether consequentialists' view of epistemic normativity can overcome the many objections recently leveled against them.


Instructor: Prof. Daniel J. Singer,
Location (in Space and Time): Mondays, 4:00 to 6:30 PM in Cohen 493 (with some exceptions/changes; see below)
Office Hours: Wednesdays, 12 to 1 PM in Cohen 461 (please let me know you're coming) or by appointment

Requirements for Participants

What makes a graduate seminar work well is that the participants are actively engaged with each other and the material. I expect you to have read and considered the material before each session and come to the seminar prepared to engage with the ideas. Each participant should come prepared with a question or idea to discuss each week.

Lead Discussion!
Each enrolled participant in the seminar will be expected to lead the seminar at least twice (time allowing). This will require you to thoroughly digest the material well before the seminar, create a detailed handout about the material, and foster discussion about it. Handouts should include the major arguments you wish to discuss, preferably reformulated in premise-conclusion format. They should also include some potential topics for discussion. The Monday before the first time you lead discussion, you should meet with me in office hours with a draft of your handout.

Each enrolled participant is expected to write 10-12 pages at about 350 words per page (and not more). This is a low quantity of writing, but the goal is to produce high quality, research-level, to-the-point arguments (think Analysis-style writing). You can also write two short pieces, if you prefer (and if you have two good, but smaller, ideas). Final papers are due May 13 (the last day allowable by the registrar), in my email as a PDF. If you're writing two papers, you must turn one in before May 1.

Special Note

My main goal is helping you understand the material of the course and advance as a professional philosopher. If you think some aspect of the course or my instruction is hindering those ends, please let me know in person or anonymously here. I will try my best to accommodate your individual needs to help you advance in the class.

If you think you may need an accommodation because of a disability or other special circumstance, you should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs either in office hours or via email. You can also contact Student Disabilities Services at the SDS website or (215) 573-9235. Aspects of the course can be modified to suit your individual needs, so please let me know about your needs as soon as possible. Of course, all communication about personal matters will remain private and confidential.

Topics and Readings

Here is a tentative schedule of the topics and readings.  Please check back often for changes.  Readings marked with "*" are optional.  Readings marked with "**" are optional and aimed at a quite advanced reader.


Topic and Presenter

To Read Before Class


Starting at 4 PM!

(Note: No class on 1/20)

Metaethics, an Overview

Presenter: Dan Singer



Miller, Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics, Ch 1

Gibbard, Thinking How to Live, Chapter 2

Chignell, "The Ethics of Belief," (SEP) Only Sections 1 and 2

**Darwall, Gibbard, Railton. "Toward Fin de siecle Ethics"

New to Philosophy? Also read:
Pryor, James. "Guidelines on Reading Philosophy"
Pryor, James. "Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper"


Are there Practical Reasons for Belief?

Presenter: Pierce

Marušić, "The Ethics of Belief"

Kelly, "The Rationality of Belief and Some Other Propositional Attitudes"

*Zagzebski, "The Search for the Source of Epistemic Good"


The Value of True Belief

Presenter: Emlen

Sosa, "For the Love of Truth?"

Kornblith, "Epistemic Normativity"

*Lynch, "The Values of Truth and the Truth of Values"


Does Belief Have an Aim?

Presenter: Victoria

Velleman, "On the Aim of Belief"

Owens, "Does Belief Have an Aim?"

*Wedgwood, "The Aim of Belief"


Belief's Aim of Truth

Presenter: Marianna

Shah, "How Truth Governs Belief"

Shah and Velleman, "Doxastic Deliberation"

*Gibbard, "Truth and Correct Belief"

*Bykvist & Hattiangadi, "Does Thought Imply Ought?"

*Gibbard, Note on B & H

*Steglich-Petersen, "No Norm needed: On the aim of belief"


Constructing Norms

Presenter: Pierce

Railton, "On the Hypothetical and Non-Hypothetical in Reasoning about Belief and Action"

Enoch, "Agency, Shmagency: Why Normativity Won't Come from What is Constitutive of Agency"

*Bagnoli, "Constructivism in Metaethics" (SEP)


(Note: No class on 3/10)

Constructing Epistemic Norms

Guest: Kate Nolfi

Singer, "How to Ignore the Schmagency Objection"

Nolfi, "Why We Ought to Care About the Epistemic Status of Our Beliefs"

*Ferrero, "Constitutivism and the Inescapability of Agency"

*Enoch, "Schmagency Revisited"


Truth as the Primary Goal (whether constructively or not)

Presenter: Kurt

David, "Truth as the Epistemic Goal"

Maitzen, "Our Errant Epistemic Aim"

*DePaul, "Value Monism in Epistemology"

*Kvanvig, "Truth is not the Primary Epistemic Goal"

*Elgin, "True Enough"

*DePaul, "Value Monism in Epistemology"


Truth and Degreed Belief

Presenter: Victoria

Weisberg and Easwaran on PhilosTV on Full and Partial Belief (Video)

*Joyce, "A Nonpragmatic Vindication of Probabilism"

Gibbard, "Rational Credence and the Value of Truth"

Joyce, "Accuracy and Coherence: Prospects for an Alethic Epistemology of Partial Belief"

*Joyce, "Why Evidentialists Need not Worry About the Accuracy Argument for Probabilism"


Against Epistemic Teleology

Presenter: Emlen

*Goldman, Epistemology and Cognition, Ch 5 (For an example real epistemic teleology) (Or Thagard's Quick Review)

Kelly, "Epistemic Rationality as Instrumental Rationality: A Critique"

Grimm, "Epistemic Normativity"

*Littlejohn, Justification and the Truth-Connection, Ch 2


Supposed Problems with Epistemic Consequentialism

Presenter: Kurt

Berker, "The Rejection of Epistemic Consequentialism"

Greaves, "Epistemic Decision Theory"

Goldman, Intro to Reliabilism and Contemporary Epistemology (Selection)

*Berker, "Epistemic Teleology and the Separateness of Propositions"

*Easwaran and Fitelson, "An 'Evidentialist' Worry About Joyce’s Argument for Probabilism"


The Normativity of Coherence Requirements

Guest: Kurt Sylvan

Kolodny, "Why Be Rational?"

*Broome, "Is Rationality Normative?"

*Sylvan, "Rationality and Justification: Reasons to Divorce?"

Sylvan, "The Objective Significance of the Subjective"


How to be an Epistemic Consequentalist

Presenter: Dan Singer

"Rule Consequentialism" (SEP) (Sections 4 - 6)

Railton, "Alienation, Consequentialism, and the Demands of Morality"
"Moral Responsibility" (SEP) (Read intro and Section 2, Skim 1)

Singer, "How to be an Epistemic Consequentialist" (Probably not going to be available - We'll talk it out in class)


Epistemic Reasons

Guest: Errol Lord

Schroeder, "Knowledge is Belief for Sufficient (Objective and Subjective) Reason"

Lord, "Epistemic Reasons, Evidence, and Defeaters"



Additional Readings (Optional)

Epistemic Expressivism

Chrisman, "Epistemic Expressivism"

Yalcin, "Epistemic Modals"

*Gibbard, "Meaning and Probability" on YouTube

**Moss, "Epistemology Formalized"

*Field, "Epistemology without metaphysics"

May 13 - Final Papers due by email as a PDF



Course Summary:

Date Details Due