PHILOSOPHY OF LANGUAGE
Learning outcomes of the course unit
Students will acquire some knowledge, at elementary level, of the main problems of contemporary epistemology – particularly those related to the notion of truth and to scepticism. Furthermore, they will get a good command of the main argumentative strategies used in the history of the discipline – among others, the counterexample strategy and thought experiments.
Mainly through writing and publicly discussing an essay (obligatory for those students who get 12 cfu at the end of the complete course), students will learn how to state a simple philosophical view and to present arguments for it. This will enhance their ability to state and defend their own views, to analyse texts written by others, and to clearly present their own arguments.
Particularly in the second half of the course, students will be asked to read some classical texts and pore over them. This will clearly improve their learning and analytic abilities.
The course is addressed to all students and no preliminary knowledge is required either of philosophy or of the history of philosophy.
Course contents summary
The first part of this course is a short introduction to the main problems of contemporary epistemology, on the basis of an elementary handbook such as Duncan Pritchard, What Is This Thing Called Knowledge? (available on the web). The topics are as follows: 1. The value of knowledge, 2. Defining knowledge, 3. The structure of knowledge, 4. Rationality, 5. Virtues and faculties, 6. Perception, 7. Testimony and memory, 8. A priori and inference, 9. The problem of induction, 10. Scepticism about other minds, 11. Radical scepticism, 12. Truth and objectivity.
Besides presenting and discussing the handbook, I shall read some classical articles on the main problems of epistemology, such as Edmund Gettier, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”.
In the second half of the course, some of the more specific problems concerning truth will be presented and discussed. In particolar, we shall examine alethic relativism and some of the main attempts at defining truth.
The first six weeks will be devoted to presenting and discussing the material in the handbook. Students who take 6 cfu only can attend this part only.
The following books and articles are only some of those used during the course. Some others – mainly articles in Italian and English – will be made available in digital form.
- Gettier Edmund, 1963, “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”, Analysis, 23, 121-3
- Marconi Diego, 2007, Per la verità, Einaudi
- Pritchard Duncan, 2006, What Is This Thing Called Knowledge?, Routledge
- Volpe Giorgio, 2012, La verità, Carocci
- Volpe Giorgio, 2005, Teorie della verità, Guerini
In the first few weeks, the course will consist of ordinary lectures. Students will be asked to take an active part, by asking questions and solving some easy problems, in written form, using the software made available by the university (e.g., at lea.unipr.it).
Subsequently, when more specific topics are discussed, students will be asked to read, besides the handbook, some classical texts. Discussion is encouraged.
In the end part of the course, students will have to pick a topic for an essay, to be written at home. Choice of the topic must be discussed with the instructor. Some students will be able to present their essays to the class.
Assessment methods and criteria
At the end of first part of the course (aproximately in the sixth week), students will have to pass a written schoolwork, consisting in a few open questions on the topics discussed so far – mainly on the handbook. Students have to provide some evidence that they have read and understood the handbook, and are able to state and defend a view on the same topics. The schoolwork is part of the final exam, which consists also in a viva, on the textbook and all the materials read during the course
Students who have not passed the written schoolwork in the sixth week, can pass it on other dates.
Students taking the complete course (12 weeks, 12 cfu), besides the schoolwork in the sixth week, must write an essay on a topic to be discussed with the instructor, who will also specify the references. The essay consists of some 10 typewritten pages, clearly stating and defending a view on one of the topics taken into account in the course. The essay is to be handed in at least one week before the date of the exam. The viva will consist in a discussion of the essay with the instructor.
Both in the written schoolwork and in the essay, students must show not only a good command of the material in the textbook and all other texts taken into account, but also some ability in arguing for and against a philosophical view, and in discussing some simple problems. Merely repeating what is to be found in the handbook and other references is not sufficient for passing the exam.
Use will be made of software, such as that available at lea.unipr.it, to communicate with students. Besides asking questions to the instructor, students will also be able to discuss among them and also to present their own essays (towards the end of the course). Through the same channel, texts not in the list above will be made available.