BA Philosophy, Vassar College 2015
Ancient Philosophy (primarily Plato and his epistemology), Philosophy of Mind (primarily issues of self-knowledge), Epistemology
Title: "Models of Knowledge in Plato's Theaetetus: Cognition & Excellence"
Committee: Gabriel Richardson Lear (chair), Agnes Callard, Jason Bridges
PHIL 29200-03/29300-03 Junior/Senior Tutorial
Topic: Plato’s Theaetetus
Plato’s Theaetetus asks the question “What is knowledge?” and examines three definitions, none of which survives Socrates’ refutation. In this class, we will be reading Plato’s text closely, aiming to understand what those definitions propose and why they fail. This text is a crucial source for Platonic epistemology and has been central in debates about the development of Plato’s thought on issues that range from the Theory of Forms to the philosophy of mind. The dialogue’s focus on our perceptual faculty gives it a place in contemporary philosophical debates about the role perception plays in the intellectual life of a human being. Some such debates that we will touch on in this class pertain to the rationality of the body, the nature of empirical cognition, and the possibility of objectivity. The dialogue’s discussion of propositional unity recalls the philosophy of logical atomism prevalent in the early 20th ce., a comparison which we will explore directly. The Theaetetus is also home to Plato’s infamous argument on the impossibility of false judgment and the comparison of the Socratic method to the craft of midwifery, as well as the image of the mind as aviary. Readings in secondary literature will draw from the philosophy of perception, particularly in its relation to judgment in the 20th and 21st centuries and, more generally, from topics in the philosophy of mind (include: McDowell, Stroud, Anscombe, Kern, Ryle); and from scholarship in ancient philosophy (include: Burnyeat, Fine, Cooper, McDowell, Lee, Nussbaum, Owen, Ryle). Interestingly, some of our authors belong in both categories. Officially about knowledge, in substance about human reason, a little bit about mathematics, and – perhaps – ultimately about ethics, the Theaetetus is one of Plato’s most puzzling and fascinating dialogues!
Meets with Jr/Sr section. Open only to intensive-track and philosophy majors. No more than two tutorials may be used to meet program requirements.