24.211 | Spring 2014 | Undergraduate

Theory of Knowledge


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


Students must have previously taken one philosophy subject

Course Description

This course is an introduction to epistemology: the theory of knowledge. We will focus on skepticism—that is, the thesis that we know nothing at all. Skepticism is hard to believe. It is common sense that we know a great deal about the external world through science and through ordinary observation. As G.E. Moore once argued, I know that I have hands because I can see them. However, there are some powerful arguments for skepticism that threaten to undermine this common sense assumption. What if I am dreaming, or being deceived by an evil demon, or being stimulated by a neuroscientist in a laboratory, or imprisoned in the Matrix? These skeptical scenarios may seem far–fetched, but how can I know they are not actually true? And if I can’t know this, then how can I know anything at all, even something as seemingly obvious as the fact that I have two hands?

Grading Policy

Attendance and participation 20
A series of short writing assignments 20
One (1) 4–5 page mid term paper 20
One (1) 6–8 page final paper 40

For further details, see the Assignments section.

Course Attendance and Participation

This is a discussion–based class and so a significant portion of your final grade will be based up on attendance and participation. Students are expected to attend all classes, to complete the assigned readings in advance, and to participate regularly in class discussion.


Please read James Pryor’s Guidelines on reading and writing a philosophy paper.

Academic Misconduct

There will be no tolerance for plagiarism and other academic misconduct. Please see the MIT Policies and Procedures.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2014
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples