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University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus
I.K.Barber School of Arts and Sciences
PHIL 345 Epistemology, Winter 2015-16, Term 2
Midterm Paper Topics, aka Second Assignment
Write three short essays addressing three questions (approx. 3-4 pages each) and note that an answer to question 1 is required.  The assignment is worth 30% of the final grade.  Clearly indicate which topics you have selected.  Your essay will be judged on the three criteria: (i) the relevance of what you write to the question; (ii) the argument you set up in backing up your position; and (iii) to what extent your paper is clearly written and well-organized.  Assignment due: in class, March 10, 2016.
(1) How would you describe the rationalist position with regards to our understanding  (the truth of) Proposition 1 from Euclid’s geometry?  Use Martin’s characterization of rationalism and select from his presentation of various historical accounts for a priori knowledge, (e.g., Plato, Descartes, Kant) the one you find most appropriate to our example. Is there any possibility still left for the empiricist to challenge rationalism about our knowledge of the properties of geometrical constructions? Why (not)? Given what you believe about the prospects of an empiricist position about geometry, how does rationalism about arithmetical truths compare with rationalism about geometry, e.g., which of the two do you think is most stable in opposition to (a version of) empiricism? (For bonus points you may introduce arguments for or against rationalism about arithmetical truths presented in Audi Chapter 4 –available on Connect)
(2.1) Outline and illustrate briefly what you take to be samples of your knowledge of language (Brook and Stainton 2000, chapter 3).  Do you agree with Chomsky’s elaboration of the nature of knowledge of language as unlike other types of knowledge? If so, why (not)?
(2.2) How would a rationalist characterize knowledge of language? Would you rather support an empiricist account of knowledge of language, and if so, why (not)? Hint: it is very helpful to refer to a few samples of knowledge of language.
(3.1) What is modest foundationalism (MF) according to Martin, and how does it pacify the problem of epistemic regress? Martin suggests that MF has to answer a new type of challenges concerning the support of basic beliefs.  Do you agree? Do his challenges apply equally to both empiricism and rationalism? Why (not)?
(3.2) Define internalism and externalism about justification, and illustrate their respective limitations with examples of the kind Martin introduces in chapter 4.  Can you sketch a possible compromise between the two radical positions?  What consequences can you foresee following from your position with respect to the definition of knowledge (Martin p.36)?
Bonus topic: Outline Kant’s position on the mind’s necessary cognitive structures and illustrate it, e.g., with elements of our class discussion concerning Euclid’s Proposition 1. Present what you take to be the strongest version of Chomsky’s argument for the existence of cognitive structures which are needed for an explanation of language acquisition. Now compare and contrast the two arguments for the existence of necessary cognitive structures. Do you think the arguments Kant, and respectively, Chomsky introduce and defend, are quite similar, and if so, why? If they are not similar, where do you think the main differences lie? For those who covered once Plato’s argument from Meno, feel free to use it in your essay, if you think it helps identify and articulate the concerns of Kant’s, or respectively, Chomsky’s.
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