Contemporary Theory of Knowledge - PHIL5850

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


We typically value justified belief more than simple belief, for very good reasons: a justified belief is more likely to be true than a randomly selected one. Indeed, we value knowledge even more than justified belief, since, arguably, a belief that qualifies as knowledge is true. But when is a belief justified? And what is knowledge? Is any of our beliefs justified? Do we know anything at all? Do we know that it's 8 o' clock if at 8 o' clock we see a broken watch indicating 8 o' clock? Do we know that our cat is sleeping on the sofa, if we don’t know that we’re not brains in a vat? This module investigates these and other epistemological questions, mostly by looking at some deeply puzzling sceptical arguments, some of which areas old as Philosophy is, and all of which have sprung very lively debates in the recent philosophical literature.

This module is designed to introduce students to some key philosophical notions – such as belief, justification and knowledge – and to some of the most exciting and interesting literature on the subject. The module begins with a brief overview of the literature on the analysis of knowledge – this will introduce students to the main philosophical approaches to justification and knowledge: internalism and externalism. The module will then move on to consider two influential forms of Skepticism: Pyrronian skepticism and Cartesian skepticism. Students will be introduced to the main views on the structure of justification – foundationalism, coherentism and entitlement approaches – as well as to the main semantic accounts of 'know’ – contextualism, dogmatism and relevant alternatives/tracking theories. Some epistemic principles, such as the so-called KK principle, will be introduced via the presentation of epistemic paradoxes, such as the Surprise Examination Paradox.


Contact hours

1-hour lecture, 1-hour seminar and 1-hour module office hour per week, for 10 teaching weeks


Also available under code PL527 (Level 6)

Method of assessment

100% Coursework

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Michael Williams, Problems of Knowledge, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000.
S. Bernecker and F. Dretske, Knowledge. Readings in Contemporary Epistemology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.

Also recommended:

Jonathan Dancy, Contemporary Epistemology, Blackwell, London, 1985.
E. Sosa, J. Kim, G. Fantl and M. McGrath, Epistemology. An anthology, Blackwell, London, 2008 (second edition).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

By the end of this PL585 Level 5 students should be able to:

11.1 Outline the following positions, show understanding of the main reasons why one might be motivated to adopt them, and understand arguments ranged against them:

(a) Primitivism about knowledge
(b) Internalism and externalism about justification
(c) Externalist accounts of knowledge: the tracking theory, the causal theory, reliabilism
(d) Foundationalism and coherentism about justification and knowledge
(e) Pyrrhonian scepticism
(f) Cartesian scepticism
(g) Dogmatism and epistemic contextualism

11.2 Show some understanding of how different account of justification and knowledge yield different solutions to the various skeptical problems presented in the course.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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