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Members' Day, 4 September 2010


Links in the below time-table activate MP3 audio recordings of the corresponding talks.

1.30 pm Registration
1.45 pm Tom Fisher: Introduction
2.00 pm Peter Gibson: Sidestepping the Problem of Knowledge
2.45 pm Frank Brierley: Perception: how we know the world
3.30 pm Tea/Coffee
4.00 pm Jonathan Beale: Wittgenstein's Religious Epistemology
4.45 pm Christian Michel: Vagueness, Inexact Knowledge and Ignorance
5.30 pm Panel discussion
6.30 pm Bar
7.00 pm Dinner
8.00 pm Open discussion
9.00 pm Course disperses
Bar open till 10:30 pm

The Talks in chronological order.

1) The yearning for unquestionable knowledge, and the dream that we can attain it, may be due to a misunderstanding.  Peter Gibson argues that we should make sure we are not ensnared by a grand word, but focus on the epistemological issues that really matter. By examining each of the necessary conditions for knowledge in turn, we find that 'truth' and 'belief' deserve their lofty status, but that 'justification' should be treated much less sympathetically.
MP3 recording
PDF format text of the talk

2) Perception is our means of contacting the world through our 5 (or 23?) senses.  But so many theories.  Frank Brierley will outline four and make a case for the last one.  They are Naïve or Direct Realism, Sense Data Theory, Intentionalism and Disjunctivism. Naïve Realism is the commonsense theory of 'the vulgar' rejected by Hume. He outlined a version of The Argument from Illusion which, along with the Argument from Hallucination, motivated Indirect Realism.  Sense data theories and Intentionalism are versions of Indirect Realism.  Then recently, full turn of the wheel to Disjunctivism, a realist theory which says Naïve Realism OR Misperception (i.e. hallucination and maybe illusion) explain perception.
MP3 recording
Word format text of the talk

3) Debates concerning Wittgenstein's elusive views on the epistemic content of religious belief have grown in recent years. Does he propound a 'fideism' that removes all 'cognitive' content from religious belief, or does he maintain that religious belief involves the same epistemic content we usually ascribe to it – e.g. belief in God, a Last Judgment, etc. – but with these understood in a very different way? Jonathan Beale argues that Wittgenstein offers an enriched way of understanding religious belief, though not one that is free from problems.
Presentation not available.
Word format handout

4) Vagueness is ubiquitous in natural language. For vague predicates, like 'red' or 'bald', there are borderline cases that we cannot classify clearly. The so-called Sorites Paradox can be used to argue that human minds inevitably suffer from a sort of fundamental ignorance or have 'blind spots' in those cases. Christian Michel will argue against such a view.
MP3 recording
Powerpoint slides
Word format text of the presentation

Suggested websites and reading:

On vagueness:

On perception, including disjunctivism:

On Religious Epistemology:
       http://www.iep.utm.edu/relig-ep/ (Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)


ContemporaryDebates in Epistemology, ed. Matthias Steup and Ernest Sosa, Blackwell 2005

Epistemology: An Anthology, ed. Ernest Sosa and Jaegwon Kim, Blackwell 2000

Perceptual Knowledge, ed. Jonathan Dancy, OUP 1988. (An anthology of papers on Perception.)

Wittgenstein and Religion, D. Z. Phillips, (London: Macmillan, 1$

A Confusion of the Spheres: Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein on Philosophy and Religion, Genia Schönbaumsfeld, OUP 2007

Vagueness, Timothy Williamson, (Routledge), 1994.

Vagueness and Contradiction, Roy Sorensen, (Oxford, Clarendon Press),$

The Speakers

JonathanBeale is a Ph.D. philosophy student at the University of Reading. His doctoral thesis is a Wittgensteinian analysis of the central question of Heidegger's philosophy: the question of the meaning of being. He has published on Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and has given conference presentations all over the world, particularly on Wittgenstein.

Frank Brierley returned to philosophy ten years ago after 40 years post first degree in the commercial world. Attended numerous Oxford adult education philosophy classes. Joined Philsoc and found a welcome home at Rewley House. Twice winner of Chadwick Prize, Philsoc chairman 2007-2009. Currently struggling with philosophy MA at London University.

Peter Gibson originally graduated in English Literature, but ended up spending 24 years teaching Philosophy to sixth formers in High Wycombe. His main current interest is in metaphysics, which he is researching at Birkbeck in London.  He is the Secretary of the Philosophical Society, and runs a website which catalogues philosophical ideas.

Christian Michel is German and holds a MS in Industrial Engineering from the University of Stuttgart and an MBA from Erasmus University (Netherlands). Currently he works in a general management position in industry. Christian's interests in analytical philosophy are broad, but he is especially attracted by problems arising from paradoxes and puzzles.

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