Teaching‎ > ‎2010 Spring‎ > ‎

Phil 285

Knowledge, Explanation, and the Cosmos

Time: Tuesday/Thursday 2:00-3:15
Location: THH 202

Instructor: Kenny Easwaran - easwaran AT usc DOT edu
Office: STO 227
Office Hours: My office hours are Thursday 3:30-5:00.  You can also feel free to ask me questions immediately after class on Tuesdays, though I may not have as much time, since I'm teaching again later that afternoon.  I can also be available at other times if you e-mail me for an appointment.  TAs will not have office hours beyond the times listed for their sections, except by appointment.

Justin Snedegar - snedegar AT usc DOT edu
Daniel Kwon - dkwon AT usc DOT edu
Luka Yovetich - yovetich AT usc DOT edu
Sections: Discussion sections (listed as "lab" on the course schedule) will not run for the full 110 minutes listed.  Instead, they will only run for 75 minutes, and the TAs will be available for office hours for the rest of the time.  Thus, a section listed as running from 8:00 to 9:50 will actually run from 8:00 to 9:15, and the TA will be available for further discussion or questions from 9:15 to 9:50.


For every week, there will be required readings, and an assignment to hand in for it.  The list of readings is available below, and most of the readings will be available as links here.  Any exceptions will be mentioned in lecture the week before.

In the first two weeks, the readings will be about logic and probability, which teach some important formal tools for reasoning.  In these two weeks, the assignment is to work out all the exercises in the relevant reading.  These assignments should be handed in to your TA at the beginning of lecture the week after.

In all later weeks, the assignment will be to write a brief summary of the reading (approximately 500 words), and to write at least a paragraph more (about 100 words) with some further questions and comments.  This might either be something that confused you about the reading or something you think you might not have understood.  Or it might raise points that you think are relevant to the topic at hand, which the author failed to address.  Or it might suggest some further extension or application of the author's ideas.  Each week's assignment should be e-mailed to your TA by noon on Tuesday.  You are not required to read things marked "supplementary" or "further interest", but feel free to discuss points raised by these other readings in your further questions and comments.

Approximately 20% of the final grade will be based on these exercises and summaries/questions/comments.
Attendance at discussion sections is mandatory.  If there is any need for you to miss a section, please let your TA know in advance.  Approximately 10% of the final grade will be based on participation.  In addition to attendance, this will include participating in discussions and/or asking questions both in section and in lecture.
At two points during the semester, and again at the end, you will be required to write somewhat longer papers, of about 2000-2500 words.  Suggested topics, and guidelines for writing papers are available here.  You are welcome to write about another topic if you discuss it with me or your TA at least a week in advance.

Papers are due by e-mail to your TA at 5 pm on Fridays, February 19, April 2, and May 7.

Each of the two papers during the semester will be worth approximately 20% of the final grade, and the final paper will be worth approximately 30% of the final grade.


Readings marked "required" will be the central point of discussion for that week.  Readings marked "supplementary" are other papers or book chapters that might be helpful in understanding the main reading(s) for the week, or may help clarify the importance of some of the individual arguments in that reading.  Readings marked "further interest" are related to the main ones - you might want to read some of them if you want to learn more about the particular topic for that week, but they will often diverge somewhat from the main topics we are covering.  In almost every case, there is at least one article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that I recommend - this is an excellent source that you should browse if you are interested in any topic in philosophy (and it has good articles about related areas of math, science, history, and other topics as well).

Most of these readings are available as links below, or at least will be at least two weeks before the reading is due.  Any exceptions will be mentioned in lecture the week before.  Some of these links are to external sites, and others are to .pdf files I have stored here.  You may be able to view the .pdf files directly in your browser, but it is probably better to download them and save them in some convenient location on your computer.  Your computer most likely already has some program that will automatically be used to display these files, but if not then you should get Adobe Reader.  To save trees, I recommend just reading these files directly on your computer screen, but I understand that many people will find it more convenient to print them out. 

Basic Reasoning

January 12, 14 - Basic logic (lecture 1, lecture 2)
Required: Brian Skyrms, "The Basics of Logic", Chapter 1 of Choice and Chance: an Introduction to Inductive Logic.  Do all exercises.
Required: Ian Hacking, "Logic", Chapter 1 of An Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic. Do exercises 2-6.
Exercises due at beginning of lecture on January 19
Further interest: "You Fail Logic Forever" at TVTropes.org
January 19, 21 - Basic probability (lecture 3, lecture 4)
Required: Brian Skyrms, "The Probability Calculus", Chapter 6 of Choice and Chance: an Introduction to Inductive Logic.  Do all odd-numbered exercises in all sections except last.  Do exercises 1 and 2 of the last section.
Exercises due at beginning of lecture on January 26
Supplementary: Ian Hacking, "The Basic Rules of Probability", Chapter 6 of  An Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic


January 26, 28 - Descartes (lecture 5, lecture 6)
Required: René Descartes, "Meditations on First Philosophy", (a very clear translation by Jonathan Bennett is available here, though you might also look at the 1901 translation by John Veitch here), Synopsis and Meditations 1, 2, and 4
Supplementary: Meditations 3 and 5; Lex Newman, "Descartes' Epistemology" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Further interest: Meditation 6
February 2, 4 - Plato (lecture 7, lecture 8)
Required: Plato, "Meno" (a good translation by Belle Waring is available as pages 213-279 of Reason and Persuasion, but any translation is acceptable)
Supplementary: Chapters 1 and 6 of Reason and Persuasion, commentary by John Holbo
Further interest: Other chapters of Reason and Persuasion; Richard Kraut, "Plato" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Duncan Pritchard, "The Value of Knowledge" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
February 9, 11 - The Gettier problem (lecture 9, lecture 10)
Further interest: Matthias Steup, "The Analysis of Knowedge" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Duncan Pritchard, "The Value of Knowledge" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Scientific Knowledge

February 16 (I will be gone February 18) - The problem of induction (lecture 11)
Required: David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 4, and Part I of Section 5 (original text available here among other places; a modern "translation" by Jonathan Bennett is here)
Supplementary: John Vickers, "The Problem of Induction" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
February 23, 25 - The new riddle of induction (lecture 12, lecture 13)
Required: Nelson Goodman, "The New Riddle of Induction", from Fact, Fiction, and Forecast
Supplementary: John Vickers, "The Problem of Induction" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
March 2, 4 - Popper on science (lecture 14, lecture 15)
Required: Karl Popper, "Conjectural Knowledge: My Solution of the Problem of Induction", from Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach
Supplementary: Stephen Thornton, "Karl Popper" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Further interest: Sven Ove Hansson, "Science and Pseudo-science" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


March 9, 11 - Inference to the best explanation (lecture 16, lecture 17)
Required: Gilbert Harman, "Inference to the Best Explanation"
Required: Sections 1 and 2 of James Woodward, "Scientific Explanation" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Only summarize Harman, not the encyclopedia entry

March 16, 18 - Spring Break

March 23, 25 (lecture 18, lecture 19)
Required: Peter Lipton, "Inference to the Best Explanation", Chapter 4 of Inference to the Best Explanation
Required: Sections 3 and 4 of James Woodward, "Scientific Explanation" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Only summarize Lipton, not the encyclopedia entry
March 30 (I will be gone April 1) (lecture 20)
Required: Sections 5 and 6 James Woodward, "Scientific Explanation" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
No summary needed; second paper due by e-mail at 5 pm on Friday, April 2

The Cosmos - God

April 6, 8 - The fine-tuning argument for God (lecture 21, lecture 22)
Required: Richard Swinburne, "The Argument to God from Fine-Tuning Reassessed"
Supplementary: Bruce Reichenbach, "Cosmological Argument" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Further interest: Descartes, Meditation 3 (link to translations above)
April 13, 15 - The design argument for God (lecture 23, lecture 24)
Required: Elliott Sober, "The Design Argument"
Supplementary: Michael Tooley, "The Problem of Evil" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Cosmos - Contemporary Science

April 20, 22 - The anthropic principle (lecture 25, lecture 26)
Required: Nick Bostrom, Chapter 2 of Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy (complete book available here)
April 27, 29 - The multiverse (lecture 27, lecture 28)
Required: Lee Smolin, Chapter 11 of The Trouble with Physics

Final paper due by e-mail at 5 pm on Friday, May 7