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handouts - A Hsu Philosophy 21 Skepticism and Rationality...

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A. Hsu Philosophy 21 Fall 2008 Skepticism and Rationality Instructor : Andrew Hsu Dodd 359 825-6047 [email protected] ( Please put “Philosophy 21” in the subject line .) Office hours: TBA Assistants : Michael Lopez Eileen Nutting Alexandru Radulescu Course Description : We’ll study some problems in epistemology or theory of knowledge. We’ll focus on radical forms of skepticism according to which, e.g., knowledge is generally and absolutely impossible to achieve. Few people have embraced radical forms of skepticism, but they have fascinated many philosophers (and non-philosophers). We’ll try to understand why. We’ll begin the quarter by reading from an influential 17 th century work, Meditations on First Philosophy by the French philosopher Rene Descartes. The Meditations has inspired much reflection on skepticism. Later in the term, we will look at how some of Descartes’ successors have responded to skepticism. Although this approach will, I hope, give you a sense of the history of an important philosophical problem, our principal goal will not be historical or scholarly. Our principal goal will be to get a sense of some distinctively philosophical problems and ways of thinking about those problems. Readings : There is only one book you will need to buy for this course: Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy , translated and edited by John Cottingham. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. We will also be reading some brief selections from other works that will be available on the course webpage. Course work : A midterm, final exam and term paper consisting of short essay questions to count equally towards your course grade. See the next item for an important qualification. Discussion sections : Your TA may at his/her discretion adjust the grade based on written work by up to one third of a letter grade in view of excellent contributions to discussion. 1
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A. Hsu Philosophy 21 Fall 2008 Readings—I First reading assignment : Colin McGinn, Shakespeare’s Philosophy , pp. 61-65 Rene Descartes, Meditation I, pp. 12-15 and Objections and Replies, pp. 63-67. Although the volume of reading is small, you may find it hard going at times, especially as we go further into the Meditations . You should plan on doing the readings a couple of times: once on your own before lecture and once again after lecture. You will find some questions to consider when you are doing the readings on the course web page. Other readings (optional): John Cottingham, the editor and translator of our edition of the Meditations, has provided a historical overview of Descartes life and works in the General Introduction (pp. xviii- xxxviii) And the distinguished philosopher Bernard Williams gives an interpretation of Descartes’ project in the Meditations in his Introductory Essay (pp. vii-xvii).
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