PHIL 286 - Second Year Seminar in Philosophy
Winter 2016, Section 001 - Skepticism: A History
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is (see other Sections below)
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
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There is a widespread impression that skepticism is a mere academic game, that no one could seriously doubt, for instance, that there is an external world, that something existed more than 5 seconds ago, or that people aren't robots that merely mimic human behavior. However, the history of skepticism indicates that there is much more to skepticism than is commonly believed. In this seminar we will take a historical tour of skepticism that will lead us to very different forms of skeptical thought. The historical figures we will encounter on this tour include:

  • Pyrrho (360-270 BCE), as portrayed in the work of Sextus Empiricus (second or third century CE), who presented skepticism as a way of life that results in true peace of mind;
  • RenĂ© Descartes (1596-1650), who used skepticism as a philosophical device for discovering absolutely certain knowledge by means of reason;
  • Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), who used skepticism to support the "fideistic" position that the only certainty we can have concerning religious (and even practical) matters derives from faith rather than reason; and
  • David Hume (1711-1776), who considers the philosophical, religious and practical consequences of various kinds of skepticism.

Course Requirements:

Course requirements are geared toward student engagement with the readings through writing and discussion. There will be two shorter papers as well as a longer course paper and an oral presentation of the argument in that paper. I will also take class participation into account in determining the final grade.

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Class Format:

The class will meet for three hours per week. Since this is a seminar, there will be a heavy emphasis on class discussion of the historical material.


PHIL 286 - Second Year Seminar in Philosophy
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM

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