Continental Epistemology Course Description: Fall 2010

PHILO 77000: 20th Century Continental Epistemology
Wednesdays 2:00 – 4:00, FALL 2010
Professor Linda Martín Alcoff,
Course Description
Philosophical work in epistemology within the twentieth century continental tradition is not as different from the analytic tradition as it is sometimes assumed to be (by both sides). Habermas defends a recognizable form of the consensus theory of truth, following Peirce; Gadamer, among others, has a coherentist theory of knowledge. Foucault’s account shares some aspects of contextualism. As with analytic philosophy, positivism is generally rejected, as well as foundationalism and traditional forms of realism (or what Putnam called ‘metaphysical realism’). But other versions of realism make their appearance in this tradition, as well as anti-realism, and there is a robust concern for the usual normative epistemic matters of truth, justification, and belief formation. It takes some work to develop bridge concepts that can meaningfully cross the traditions, to be sure, but today there is a growing body of excellent secondary literature that has begun to do so.
The main differences between continental and analytic approaches concern (1) a more overt and extensive attention to matters of power or politics in the constitution of research programs, objects of inquiry, methodologies, and (what Hacking calls) ‘styles of reasoning’; (2) a more longstanding social approach to epistemology in which socially situated groups are understood to be the agents of justification and less emphasis is put on intellectual virtues performed by individuals; and (3) a concern with the political implications of various epistemic practices in enhancing or diminishing democracy.
This course will focus mainly on three figures: Habermas, Gadamer, and Foucault. However, we will also read some related work by Adorno, Horkheimer, and some of the useful secondary sources.
Readings will include selections from the following:
Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests
Gadamer, Truth and Method
Foucault, Power/Knowledge and History of Sexuality
Horkheimer, Eclipse of Reason
Adorno, Against Epistemology