PHI 340 Theory of Knowledge

PHI 340 Theory of Knowledge, Exam 2


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For this exam you are expected to write four essays, each responding to one question from each of the below groups of questions. Each essay should be 1 ½ to 2 pages (or about 450 to 600 words) in length, double-spaced. You should respond to each of your chosen questions completely and thoroughly, being sure to address every part of the question.


Make sure to clearly indicate in your exam document which questions you are responding to. The text of questions or other identifying information will not be counted toward the word-count.


Your answers will be graded for clarity and quality of the development of your ideas as well as accuracy. This means that when it comes to writing style you should treat the writing of each essay as like writing a short philosophical paper. However, none of this means that you should do additional outside research. Your essays should be your own words, showing what you have understood from the material covered in the class.


Due to the shortness of the essays, it is EXTREMELY important that you NOTwaste space with long introductions or other extraneous material!


Your essays should be submitted to the Dropbox on Blackboard in a single Microsoft Word file no later than 11:59 PM on Monday, October 26. The file you upload to the Dropbox should include your name in the file title.


Below are all the questions which you may choose to respond to for Exam 2. They are divided into four groups in accordance with the chapters from O’Brien from which they are drawn. You may choose only one question from each group (chapter). There are no substitutions; if you answer two questions from one group, I will choose one to grade and the other will not contribute any points to your exam grade.


Group 1, O’Brien Chapter 4

  1. 1. To which theory of perception are the following limericks relevant, and why?

There was a young man who said, ‘God,

I find it exceedingly odd,

That the willow oak tree

Continues to be

When there’s no one about in the Quad.’

‘Dear Sir, your astonishment’s odd

For I’m always about in the Quad;

And that’s why the tree

Continues to be.’

Signed ‘Yours faithfully, GOD.’

  1. What is the argument from illusion? What, if anything, does it tell us about the kinds of objects we perceive?
  2. What is phenomenalism, and can it provide a plausible account of perception?
  3. What is intentional content, and what role does it play in perception and thought?
  4. Is perception representational? If so, how?
  5. Can a wasp see that the jam jar is open; can it see the jar as full; and can it see the jam?


Group 2, O’Brien Chapter 6

  1. What is the regress argument for foundationalism? Is it persuasive?
  2. My belief that there’s an apple in front of me is justified by the indubitable fact that I’m now experiencing a round green shape in my visual field. Is this right?
  3. Is the Given a myth?
  4. The chef, Heston Blumenthal, used to serve frozen crab ice-cream at his restaurant The Fat Duck. It met with a lukewarm reception – guests weren’t sure about it. He decided to change the name to frozen crab bisque and after he did the dish was a hit – everyone loved it (Spense and Piqueras-Fiszman, 2014, xiii-xv). How is this relevant to foundationalism?
  5. What do traditional and modest foundationalists have in common, and how do their approaches differ?

Group 3, O’Brien Chapter 7

  1. Critically evaluate the claim that ‘Beliefs are only justified in virtue of their inferential relations within a system of beliefs.’
  2. Compare and contrast the linear and non-linear conceptions of justification.
  3. According to the coherentist and the foundationalist, why is my belief that the sky is blue justified?
  4. The novel The Lord of the Rings (Tolkein, 1954-5) provides a coherent and comprehensive description of a fantasy world. Would the coherentist claim that we are justified in believing that this story is true?
  5. A murder has been committed in an apartment on Rue Morgue. A horrifically mutilated body was found there; strange-sounding screams were heard, screams in an unrecognizable language; and the murderer does not seem to have had any means of escape: the door to the apartment was locked from the inside and the outside walls of the building are too precipitous to climb. The investigating detective claims to have solved the crime. He believes that it was committed by a gorilla and not by a person (see Edgar Allen Poe’s story, ‘Murder in the Rue Morgue’, 1992b). First, consider how his theory provides an explanation of the circumstantial evidence; second, how would the foundationalist and the coherentist argue that the detective’s belief is justified?

Group 4, O’Brien Chapter 8

  1. What is the relationship between reliability and empirical knowledge? (Remember, both internalists and externalists make use of some notion of reliability.)
  2. Can you think of any non-reflective knowledge that you might have, knowledge for which you cannot provide rational justification? And, how might the internalist respond to such examples?
  3. What would the internalist and externalist have to say about the following two scenarios?
    1. Peter claims to know the birth sign of everyone he first meets, and he almost always gets it right. He does not know how he does this, and neither does anybody else.
    2. Mary is frequently ill. However, when she believes that she will recover quickly, she does. There is a reason for this: when she is thinking positively her brain produces chemicals that boost her immune system. Beliefs in a quick recovery are reliably self-fulfilling; but does she know that she will recover quickly?
  4. Identifying the sex of young chicks is essential to the poultry industry and skilled chicken-sexers are employed to do this. They claim that they can see the difference between the male and female chicks and sort them accordingly. Imagine, though, if this were not the case and that there were no visible differences between the sexes at the age they are sorted. The chicken-sexers are reliable, though, because it is a distinctive smell that differentiates the sexes, one to which they are sensitive. Do the chicken-sexers know the sex of the chickens they sort?

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