Gillian Russell

Philosophy Professor

Phil 335 : Theory of Knowledge

Class Times: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2-3.15 pm
Location: Caldwell Hall, 103
Course Website:

Instructor: Professor Gillian Russell
Office hours: Thursdays 3.15-4.15pm, Fridays 1.30-2.30pm.
Office Location: Caldwell Hall, 203
Email: gillian UNDERSCORE russell AT unc DOT edu
Final Exam: There is no final exam for this course, but we have a course meeting during the scheduled exam time: Thursday 5th May at noon.

This course will be a survey of some key problems in epistemology. Topics will include the definition of knowledge, arguments for radical skepticism, theories of knowledge, and the problem of induction. Questions considered include: What is knowledge? Can I know that I am not dreaming? Am I justified in my beliefs about the external world? Can I know that other people have minds? How can I justify my beliefs about the future? How does the scientific method work?

Prerequisite: at least 1 PHIL course.


The course textbook is Michael Huemer’s Epistemology: Contemporary Readings. Some additional readings will be posted on the course’s electronic reserve page (accessible online through UNC’s library.) Some other readings may be available on the web, in which case there will be a link on this syllabus.

Readings, Topics and Homework Assignments

(E) means that the reading is in the textbook.
(R) means that the reading is on the electronic reserves page for this course.

Tuesday 12th January – Introduction

No reading for today.

Thursday 14th January – Perception

John Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding (E)

Tuesday 19th January

George Berkeley – Of the Principles of Human Knowledge (E)

Thursday 21st January

David Hume – Of the Academical or Skeptical Philosophy (E)

First short paper is due today.

Tuesday 26th January

Jennifer Nagel – “Rationalism and Empiricism” in Knowledge (R)

Thursday 28th January

Plato – Meno (E)

Tuesday 2nd February – Reason and The A priori

Immanuel Kant – Critique of Pure Reason (E)

Thursday 4th February

Bertrand Russell – Problems of Philosophy (E) – pages 152-166.

Tuesday 9th February

A. J. Ayer – “The Elimination of Metaphysics” (E)

Thursday 11th February

Quine – “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (E)

Short paper 2 is due today.

Tuesday 16th February

Quine – “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” (this will be our second class on Quine)

Optional additional reading: “Quine on the Analytic/Synthetic Distinction” – G. Russell in A Companion to W.V.O.Quine edited by G. Harman and E. Lepore, Wiley-Blackwell (Chichester 2014). (R)

Thursday 18th February – Testimony

John Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding (E, pages 219-220)

Tuesday 23rd February

David Hume – “Of Miracles” (E)

Thursday 25th February

No class. (The next two readings were updated on 2/23/2016.)

Tuesday 1st March

“White Ignorance” – Charles Mills (R), available at this link:

Thursday 3rd March

No Class

Tuesday 8th March – Induction

Selections from Epistemic Injustice – Miranda Fricker (R)

Thursday 10th March

David Hume – An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (E)

Tuesday 15th March


Thursday 17st March


Tuesday 22nd March

Wesley Salmon – “An Encounter with David Hume” (R)

Thursday 24th March

MIDTERM EXAM (1 hour, in class)

Tuesday 29th March – Induction (cont.)

P.F Strawson – “The “Justification” of Induction” in Introduction to Logical Theory (R)

Thursday 31st March

Nelson Goodman – “The New Riddle of Induction” (E)

Tuesday 5th April

Elizabeth Anderson – “Feminist Epistemology : An Interpretation and Defence” available on Jstor here:

Thursday 7th April

No class.

Tuesday 12th April – Skepticism about the External World

Rene Descartes – Meditations on First Philosophy (E)

Thursday 14th April

O.K. Bouwsma – “Descartes’ Evil Genius” (R)

Tuesday 19th April

G.E. Moore – “Proof of an External World” (E)

Thursday 21st April

Peter Unger – “An argument for skepticism”

Tuesday 26th April

David Lewis – “Elusive Knowledge

Thursday May 5th at noon

There is no final exam for this class, but we will still meet at this time for the last session of the course. (No additional reading.)


  • 20% of your grade for this course will come from completing 20 Memos and 40 comments, (as explained below.)
  • 30% of your grade will come from two short papers (15% for the first, 15% for the 2nd.) The short papers should be 2 pages each (about 500 words.) Short paper 1 is due on Thursday 21st January. Short paper 2 is due on Thursday 11th February.
  • 25% of your grade will come from the in-class Midterm Exam on Thursday 24th March.
  • 25% of your grade will come from the final term paper, due on Wednesday April 27th. The final term paper should be 8 pages (about 2000 words.)

I will send out prompts for all the papers.

Memos and Comments

In this course, doing the assigned reading prior to each class is very important. It is vital to your understanding of the material we are covering and it improves the level of discussion in class. In order to create a class culture in which everyone does the reading, 20% of your grade for the course is for something we will call “Memos and Comments.”

A Memo is a paragraph (roughly 50-200 words) that you write in response to an assigned reading. Memos can do various things, including: outline an argument from the text, clarify a thesis, disagree with a thesis or with one of the premises, give a counterexample to a claim made in the text, question the meaning of the text, offer an interpretation of a particular paragraph, or an analogy that helps to make the author’s point, etc. Early on in the course I will provide prompts for Memos, but if things are going well I may eventually just ask you to come up with some Memo on the reading (without a particular prompt.) Memos are due by 8pm on the night before the relevant class.

A Comment is a response to another student’s Memo. It may be one or more sentences (it doesn’t have to be long.) All comments should be constructive and respectful – remember that this is a formally assessed exercise, everyone in the course will be able to see your comment, and your name is attached to it – but you ARE allowed to disagree with something from the original memo. Other things you might do in Comments include: give another example that illustrates or strengthens the student’s point, compare the paragraph they are discussing with a related one, disagree with the student’s main point, challenge a presupposition of their point, etc. Comments on other students’ memos are due before the relevant class starts.

Over the course of the semester you are required to write 20 memos, and 40 comments. If you complete your 20 memos and 40 comments in a satisfactory fashion, then you will receive the full 20% of the Memos and Comments grade. You will have completed your 20 memos and 40 comments in a satisfactory fashion if:

  • they were all on time
  • they are original to you and relevant to the text or memo in question

If you don’t complete 20 Memos and 40 Comments in a satisfactory fashion, then you will receive 0 for the Memos and Comments part of your grade. Note that Memos can be done as far ahead of time as you like – if you wanted to read all the texts next week and write your memos you could – but they cannot be “made up” after deadline. I recommend that you plan to have all your memos and comments finished a few weeks before the end of the semester, to allow for contingencies such as illness or family emergencies.

Honor Code

All students must be familiar with and abide by the Honor Code, which covers issues such as plagiarism, falsification, unauthorized assistance or collaboration, cheating, and other grievous acts of academic dishonesty. Violations of the Honor Code will not be taken lightly.

The Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling

Located in the Student Academic Services Building, the CSSAC offers support to all students through units such as the Learning Center and the Writing Center.

Reasonable Accommodations Policy

Any student in this course who has a disability that may prevent them from fully demonstrating their abilities should contact Disability Services as soon as possible to discuss accommodations.

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