90066 - Epistemology (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2022/2023

  • Docente: Giorgio Volpe
  • Credits:: 6
  • SSD: M-FIL/01
  • Language: English
  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Philosophical Sciences (cod. 8773)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course you will have a clear understanding of the main problems of contemporary epistemology and a detailed knowledge of some of the views that shape current debates on the structure of epistemic justification, the sceptical paradoxes and the interplay between evidential and pragmatic factors in ascriptions of knowledge. Besides, you will have built up an ability to reconstruct and critically evaluate the arguments offered in support of competing epistemological views.

Course contents

You will be introduced to the 'genealogical' approach to the concept of knowledge, starting from the 'conceptual synthesis' expounded in Edward Craig's seminal work, Knowledge and the State of Nature, which has been variously developed in recent epistemology. Craig's 'synthetic' methodology will be contrasted with the usual 'analytic' methodology of mainstream epistemology (5 hours). The role of the concept of a 'state of nature' within Craig's conceptual synthesis will then be addressed (5 hours), discussing the claim that its use can shed new light on the various aspects of the concept of knowledge thata are unilaterally stressed by the classical analyses of knowledge (5 hours). The main objections to the genealogical approach to knowledge wil then be reviewed (5 hours), together with the more promigisng responses (5 hours). Finally, Craig's conceptual synthesis will be compared with other forms of genealogical thought, in particular with the project of devising a 'pragmatic genealogy' of our conceptual practices (5 hours).


Compulsory reading:

Craig E., Knowledge and the State of Nature: An Essay in Conceptual Synthesis, Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.

Kusch M. & McKenna R, 'The Genealogical Method in Epistemology', Synthese 197 (2020): 1057-1076

Queloz M., The Practical Origins of Ideas: Genealogy as Conceptual Reverse-Engineering, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021, chaps. 1, 2, 3, and 6.


Suggested reading:

Craig E., 'Genealogies and the State of Nature', in A. Thomas (ed.), Bernard Williams, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, pp. 181-200.

Kornblith H., 'What Should We Care About the Concept of Knowledge?', Episteme 8 (2011): 38-52.


Students not attending lectures:

Required readings are the same for both students attending and not attending lectures.  

Teaching methods

Three two hours lectures per week in the fourth term. The course is divided in six teaching units, one for each topic listed in the Course contents section. (A Q&A session on the basic notions of epistemology is also planned.) Students will be encouraged to contribute to whole class discussions.

Attendance to lectures is warmly recommended: it is the best way to become familiar with the background and tools that are necessary to understand the texts and the only way to contribute to whole class discussions. However, the lectures' recordings will be made available for download on Virtuale.

Epistemology (1) (LM) implements a Supplementary Digital Teaching project: a series of 'epistemology pills' (videos) will be made available for download through Virtuale. In these videos Dr Neri Marsili addresses the basic notions of epistemology: they can be used to refresh your memory or fill gaps in your knowledge of the fundamentals of epistemology. A Q&A session will complete your watching the videos.

Assessment methods

Oral examination. The viva will assess whether you have achieved the learning outcomes of the course. You will need to show that you are familiar with the genealogical approach to the concept of knowledge and can evaluate its pros and cons, as well as that you have acquired the terminological and conceptual competence required to understand contemporary debates on the notion of knowledge and on the proper methodology of epistemology.

Grade assessment criteria

Grade range below 18 – Fail. Poor knowledge of core material, a significant inability to engage with the discipline. Very poor presentation.

Grade range 18-21 – Pass. Limited and superficial knowledge of the subject, a significant inability to follow the thread of the discussion. Presentation with many inadequacies.

Grade range 21-23 – Adequate. The knowledge is superficial, but the thread of the discussion has been consistently grasped. Presentation with some inadequacies.

Grade range 24-26 – Acceptable. Elementary knowledge of the key principles and concepts. The presentation is occasionally weak.

Grade range 27-29 – Good. Comprehensive knowledge. Good presentation.

30 – Very Good. Detailed knowledge with hints of critical thinking. Very good presentation.

30 cum laude – Outstanding. Excellent knowledge and depth of understanding. Excellent presentation.

During the viva you will not be allowed to use any written material, either on paper or in electronic format.

Teaching tools

The teacher will occasionally distribute handouts and project slides. The material will then be made available through Virtuale.

Office hours

See the website of Giorgio Volpe