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Contemporary Epistemology Oral Comprehensive Examination Questions


1) Gettier offered arguments against the various attempts to state necessary and sufficient
conditions for knowing a given proposition: a) state the form of these attempts—state, as well,
Chisholm and Ayer’s formulations; b) express the merits of Gettier’s article in the form of a
syllogism: (What was his claim? What were the premises that supported his claim?).

2) State Zagzebski’s arguments in support of her claim that Gettier problems are inescapable.

3) How does Harman’s version of induction account for Gettier examples? State his arguments.

4) Why does Chisholm consider the ‘empirical given’ cognitively significant? What makes it self-
justifying? Does Sellars accept this claim (that the empirical given is self-justifying)?

5) Does Bonjour accept the foundationalist thesis that empirical beliefs are self-justifying? Explain
your answer.

6) What is Foundherentism? Discuss Haack’s assumptions and claims.

7) Why does Davidson consider it absurd to look for a justifying ground for the totality of beliefs?
Is it necessary to look for something outside the totality of beliefs to justify a belief that
belongs to it? If not, what then is the belief’s source of justification?

8) How is coherentism different from foundationalism? What is the distinction between positive
and negative coherence? What makes a belief logically consistent with other beliefs? Can two
sets of beliefs be consistent and yet differ greatly in their coherence?

9) What are the factors that contribute to, or detract from the coherence of a body of beliefs?
When is a set of beliefs logically inconsistent? When does it exhibit explanatory relationships?
When do beliefs conflict with our own principles of how we ought to form beliefs?

10) What makes the all or nothing version of coherentism problematic? What does this version
imply? What sort of problems are there for Feldman’s version of coherentism? Is there a
distinction between justifying a belief and a belief’s being epistemically justified?

11) What is Bonjour’s objection to empirically justified beliefs? What are meta-beliefs? What does
Bonjour’s objection imply about one’s introspective beliefs/perceptual beliefs/memory beliefs?
How do foundationalists respond to Bonjour’s argument? What do they find problematic with
the requirement that every justified empirical belief be supported by justified meta-beliefs?

12) What are evaluative properties? What are descriptive properties? What does it mean for an
evaluative property to supervene on a descriptive property? Supposing that justification is an
evaluative property, and evaluative properties supervene on descriptive properties, what then
does it mean for a belief to be justified?

13) What is a doxastic source of justification? What is a nondoxastic source of justification? For a
foundationalist, what justifies basic beliefs? How do sensations and perceptual experiences
differ from beliefs? Are introspective beliefs basic beliefs? If they are, what justifies them? Are
perceptual and memory beliefs basic beliefs? If they are, what justifies them? What justifies
our beliefs about the external world?

14) Explain Bonjour’s objection to the view that nondoxastic experiences can justify beliefs? What
is the dilemma of nondoxastic justification? How do foundationalists respond to this dilemma?
What is the scatter problem? How does it render the view that nondoxastic experiences can be
sources of justification problem?

15) Explain Goldman’s version of reliabilism (discuss the following concepts: process types, process
tokens, belief-dependent process, belief-independent process, and conditionally reliable
process. Why is the simple version of reliabilism unsatisfactory? What is the problem with
condition 2 (that there is no reliable process or conditionally reliable process available to S
which, had it been used by S in addition to the process actually used, would have resulted in
S’s not believing p) of Goldman’s version of reliabilism? What objections were raised against
reliabilism (discuss extensively the generality problem)? How would a reliabilist respond to
these objections?

16) Discuss Ernest Sosa’s version of virtue epistemology. What is intellectual virtue? How is virtue
epistemology different from reliabilism? When is a belief justified? When is a belief apt? What
is a distinction between animal and reflective knowledge? How does Sosa respond to the
objections raised against reliabilism (discuss extensively the generality problem)?

17) Differentiate internalism from externalism. What is the problem with assuming that there is a
connection between epistemic justification and epistemic responsibility? Is it necessary for an
internalist to assume this? What objections were raised against internalism? How does Sosa’s
virtue epistemology reconcile internalism and externalism?

18) Discuss William Alston’s “track record” argument. What is the difference between logical
circularity and epistemic circularity? Is the “track argument” logically circular? Does epistemic
circularity renders an argument epistemically useless? Why does Alston think that epistemically
circular arguments are not satisfactory ways of discriminating between reliable and unreliable
sources of belief? Discuss Alston’s “practical rationality”. What objections were raised against
this? How does Sosa respond to the problem of epistemic circularity? Discuss Vogel’s objection
to the view he calls “neighborhood reliabilism”. How would Sosa respond to the problems
raised by the ‘case of Roxanne’?

19) Demonstrate the difference between a) skepticism about knowledge and skepticism about
justification/ b) global skepticism and local skepticism. Discuss extensively the following
skeptical arguments: certainty argument, infallibility argument, the argument from error, and
the argument from ignorance. How would a relevantist/contextualist respond to skepticism?
Explain Bertrand Russell and Peter Lipton’s versions of the ‘inference to the best explanation
response to skepticism’.

20) Discuss extensively the problem of the criterion. Distinguish the three general approaches to
the questions (in the theory of knowledge) that Chisholm identified. What qualifies as a
methodist criterion of knowledge? What’s wrong with methodism? Demonstrate Alston,
Bonjour, and Moser’s objections to commonsense particularism?

21) Must beliefs that enjoy basic a priori justification be certain, indefeasible and true? When is
our knowledge or justification a priori? When is a priori justification basic or immediate/
nonbasic or mediate? Are we justified in believing some things a priori? Define the concept of a
priori justification. Demonstrate the difference between strong and modest a priori
justification. How are we to understand the analytic-synthetic distinction?

22) What is neighborhood reliabilism? What is counter-factual reliabilism? What do they imply? Is
external objective reliability enough to offset subjective irrationality? Is it subjectively
irrational to accept beliefs which one has no reason to think true?

23) Is the notion of justification intimately tied to the problem of determining what to believe? Is
externalism a naturalistic account? Is using a method of belief to show that it is reliable
epistemically problematic?

24) Why do existential epistemologists reject the billboard notion of evidence? Is truth subjective?
What is the difference between a problem and a mystery? Is the epistemological question a
problem or a mystery?

25) Why does Quine suggest that, instead of asking the traditional epistemological questions, we
focus on the psychological processes that lead us from our sensory stimulation to our belief
about the external world (discuss Quine’s replacement thesis)? How does Kornblith defend this
naturalistic approach to epistemology? Demonstrate and evaluate the Darwinian argument. Is
naturalized epistemology a posteriori epistemology? Discuss Goldman’s limited naturalism.