Hellenistic Epistemology

PHI 420. Writing Prompts for Unit s

There are prompts for each unit and a bibliography project.

The prompts for a unit are worth 10 points. Several have multiple parts. Be to answer all the parts, and be sure to write your answers in such a way that a reader who does not already know the material can understand what you have written. The best way to do this is to provide detailed answers.

Prompts for Unit #1

In Socratic dialectic, there is a questioner and a respondent. Explain the role of the questioner.

In response to a question from Socrates, suppose an interlocutor says P. Suppose, in subsequent questioning, Socrates shows the interlocutor that he has beliefs that commit him to not-P. These leaves the respondent with several logical possibilities. What are they? Which should the respondent take?

Prompts for Unit #2

Explain what the Stoics think knowledge is.

Explain why they think knowledge is possible.

Prompts for Unit #3

Against the Stoics, the Academics press the following argument:

1.  For every true impression, there could be a false impression "just like it."
2.  If (1) is true, then it is always necessary to withhold assent.
3.  If it is always necessary to withhold assent, then knowledge is not possible.
4.  Knowledge is not possible.

Explain how the Stoics responded to this argument.

Prompts for Unit #4

Carneades seems to have said that the Academic can assent to persuasive impressions. Explain the difference between these impressions and the cognitive impressions the Stoics think exist.

Prompts for Unit #5

Clitomachus seems to say that the Academic is permitted to assent to persuasive impressions. On Brittain's interpretation, Clitomachus endorses "radical skepticism." Explain what this is.

Prompts for Unit #6

Explain how Morison understands Frede's interpretation of Pyrrhonian Skepticism.

Bibliography Project

The bibliography project is worth 16 points. You are to summarize and assess the argument in five journal articles or book chapters from the scholarly literature on issues related to the Stoics, Academics, or Pyrrhonians. In your summary, you are to outline the argument and make a judgment about its plausibility.

Here is an example summary and assessment.

• "Carneades' Distinction Between Assent and Approval," Richard Bett. The Monist, Vol. 73, No. 1, 1990, 3-20.

Bett explicates a distinction he takes Carneades to draw between "assenting" to an impression and "approving" or "following" an impression (4). Whereas to assent "is to take a stand on the truth of the impression," to approve an impression "involves no commitment ... as to whether [the content] is really true or false" (10).

To illustrate the difference, Bett gives the following example.

"(1) A person takes a left turn, while en route to a certain house. The action is intentional, but is not the result of any conscious deliberation. (2) The person is not familiar with the route. She wonders whether to take a left turn, in light of the evidence afforded by her map, prominent landmarks, etc.; having considered the matter, she takes the left turn. In doing so, she thinks to herself 'it seems to me plausible that this is the route'; she does not think to herself 'Yes; this really is the right way to go.' (3) The same as (2), except that she does think to herself 'Yes; this really is the right way to go' (and not, or not only, 'it seems to me plausible that this is the route')" (10-11).

Bett says that the first two cases are "approval" and the last is "assent" (11).

Does the textual evidence show that Carneades distinguished between "assent" and "approval" and understood his distinction in terms of "tak[ing] a stand on truth" in the way Bett claims?

It does not show this very clearly.

Academica 103-104 does suggest that Clitomachus thought that Carneades distinguished between "assent" and "approval," but it does not very clearly show that the distinction is the one Bett attributes to him.

Nor is it very clear that Bett's example shows what he thinks it shows.

In all three cases, it seems natural to describe the agent as acting on the belief that "the left is the turn to make to get to the house" and thus as "take[ing] a stand on the truth" of the propositional content of this belief.

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