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Epistemology has to do with the study of knowledge. We'll focus on how we come to have knowledge of the world around us, and what elements of that knowledge are given, and what elements we provide. Our unit begins with our old friend Rene Descartes who (in a selection from the "Meditations") takes on a considerable project -- he wants to reconstruct his knowledge of the world such that it rests on only true beliefs. At the close of our selection, Descartes is in a bind -- he cannot definitively rule out the possibility that an evil genius (more like a purely evil God) is deceiving him about everything. O.K. Bouwsma shows Descartes why the sort of deception he (Descartes) is suggesting is conceptually impossible.

Bertrand Russell argues that our inferences from how objects appear to how they really are is riddled with problems -- why should we believe that appearance and reality are the same? John Locke (yep...him again) claims that objects possess two sorts of qualities -- primary qualities are attributes of the object itself, while secondary qualities are not in the object, but are caused in us by the object. (For example, two people can bite into an apple and have very different reactions. One might think it a bit tart, but edible; the other might regard as sweet and delicious. In each case the taste of the apple is caused by the apple, but it is not in the apple, for how can the same apple be tart AND sweet? Finally, George Berkeley attacks Locke's distinction, and argues that NOTHING EXISTS except the ideas in our minds....all else (i.e. objects that seem to exist independently of our perceiving them) are merely ideas.


Rene Descartes
O.K. Bouwsma
Bertrand Russell
John Locke
George Berkeley
Group Project #3