PHL 230 S (winter)





Prof. Fred Wilson

Room 285, University College

Phone: Office: (416) 978-8155

             Home: (416) 975-2617

             E-MAIL: fwilson@chass.utoronto.ca

            web page: http://individual.utoronto.ca/wilson



We all aim to know various things, whether we are physicists or gossips. Some of us even want to know what it is to know. If we have this latter cognitive interest then we are philosophers. Trying to answer the question, what is it to know something? is the task of that branch of philosophy known as epistemology. But as we shall see in this lecture/discussion course, this branch of philosophy cannot easily be separated from others.

            Thus, to know is to grasp the truth, and if we are to study what it is to know we had better have a sense of what it is for something to be true. Pilate asked, “What is truth?” but he did not stay for an answer. Philosophers are not so fortunate: we must try to give an answer. However, what we say about truth is in good part dependent upon the metaphysics that we defend. So we are led back from epistemology to truth to metaphysics, and only then can we return to knowledge. In the end, epistemology and metaphysics cannot be separated. That means in this course in epistemology will also being doing a good deal of metaphysics.

            A central figure in our discussions will be Descartes who, in his Meditations on First Philosophy raised the problem of knowledge –  how can we possibly know anything at all? And more specifically, how can we know that there are, as one says, things external to us? – explicitly in a metaphysical context. But our explorations will range backwards and forwards from Descartes – backwards to Plato (this is where we will start), and forwards to Russell and Wittgenstein


Textbooks:            R. Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. D. Cress

                        G. Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge, ed. Winkler (Hackett)

                        F. Wilson, PHL230 Reprotext (Canadian Scholars Press, 180 Bloor St., W., 8th floor)


Crucial dates: classes start: Jan. 3

                        Reading week: Feb. 14-18

                        drop day: Mar. 6

                        classes end: Apr. 8

                        exam period: Apr. 18-May 6


Course requirements: There will be two essays, and a final examination during the exam period. Class participation will also be relevant.


The two essays will be a shorter first essay, and a longer second essay.


The first essay, about 5 pages long, will be on an assigned topic.


The second essay will be on a topic that you select. The only requirement is that it be relevant to the course. They will provide you with an opportunity to show off your philosophical talents in a context where you feel you can do best. Whether you have got a grip on the other material in the course will be revealed on the exam. In due course a list of suggested essay topics will be provided.


There will also be a two hour final.


First essay: about 5 pages: due Feb. 10

Second essay: 10-12 pages: due Apr. 7


Marking scheme:            first essay: 25%

                                    second essay: 35%

                                    final exam: 40%



This scheme is not rigid. In particular, if work later in the term is markedly improved over that from earlier in the term, then that improvement will count in the student’s favour. For, after all, it will show that the student has learned something, and the point of taking a course is to learn! But the converse does not hold: while improved grades will up to a certain extent be rewarded, apparently declining grades will not be penalized.

            Furthermore, the lecturer will assume that an absolutely disastrous grade on an essay is a mark of the student not having understood the assignment. Under those circumstances the student will have the opportunity of re-writing the essay.






Jan. 4-6, Reprotext, Part I


Jan. 11-13: Reprotext, Part II

                                    Being and Knowledge (scientia): Top Half of the Divided Line

Jan. 18-20: ditto

Jan. 25-27: Descartes, Meditations; Reprotext, Part III, secs. 13-17

                                    Montaigne and the Cartesian defence of knowledge as scientia

Feb. 1-3:            ditto

Feb. 8-10: Berkeley, Principles, Reprotext, Part III, secs. 19-21

                                    Bayle and Berkeley’s response

Feb. 10: First Essay Due

[ Feb. 15-17 – reading week ]

Feb. 22-24: more Berkeley

Mar. 1-3: Reprotext, Part IV, secs., 29-34

                                    Who/what thinks?

Mar. 6, Drop day

Mar. 8-10:             ditto

Mar. 15-17: Reprotext, Part V

            Justified true belief: Opinion and knowledge on the bottom half of the divided line

Mar. 22-24:    Ditto

Mar. 29-31:  Reprotext, Part VI

                                    Is it required that we prove we are sitting in chairs?

Apr. 5 -7:     Ditto – review

[ Apr. 7: Second essay due ]

[ Apr. 18-May 6: Exam period ]