PHIL 440: Topics in Epistemology

Knowledge and Its Limits: January Term 2018–19

Draft syllabus in progress. (This URL — — updates live.) Details are still subject to change.

Course Meetings:         Tuesdays, 2–5, BUCH B307

Instructor:                Jonathan Ichikawa —

Office Hours:                Wednesdays, 12:30–2:30 and by appointment


This is an upper-level undergraduate philosophy seminar in epistemology. This is an advanced course; prior familiarity with academic philosophical investigation into epistemology will be assumed. A previous course in epistemology (PHIL 240 at UBC or the equivalent) is a prerequisite. Because this is a discussion-heavy seminar, enrolment is capped at 25.

The course will be centred primarily around one book: Timothy Williamson’s (2000) Knowledge and Its Limits. Williamson’s book has been extremely influential—it is one of the most important philosophy books of the past several decades. The central theme of the book, as Williamson puts it, is “knowledge first”. Instead of taking knowledge to be something to be explained, Williamson suggests that it is something with which we should explain other interesting phenomena. The result is a particularly externalist approach to epistemology, according to which we know a lot of things, but we don’t — indeed, in a deep sense we couldn’t — always know what we know.

Questions we’ll focus on include:


The main text for this seminar is Timothy Williamson’s Knowledge and Its Limits. The ebook is available via the UBC library, but some students may wish to purchase their own copy as well. Additional readings will be made available via Canvas. Two good sources for secondary literature on Williamson are Williamson on Knowledge (2009), edited by Duncan Pritchard and Patrick Greenough, and Knowledge First: Approaches in Epistemology and Mind (2018), edited by J. Adam Carter, Emma Gordon, and Benjamin Jarvis. (The latter is available electronically via the UBC library.)

“Am I ready for this course?”

One common question from undergraduate students, especially in their second or third year, is whether it makes sense to take a fourth-year course. In my opinion, if you have at least a couple of philosophy courses under your belt, including PHIL 240, it is worth considering it, even if you’re in your second or third year. Expect a lot more student-driven discussion than you’ve seen in lower-level courses, and more difficult readings, with higher expectations for students to engage them on their own. The writing expectations are also higher—you should be comfortable writing philosophy papers by the time you take this course. Hopefully you are getting As on your 200 and 300-level philosophy term papers. If this describes you and you are interested in taking the next step, I’d encourage you to give 440 a try.

If you haven’t taken 240 or the equivalent somewhere else, this is probably not the course for you.

If you have particular questions about whether it you’d be a good candidate for the course, feel free to get in touch.

Background Readings:

Here are readings which you may have studied in your previous work, that will be helpful background. They are not required readings for this course, but you may find it helpful to look at them if you don’t know them already:

Course Expectations:

This is a discussion-driven upper-level seminar. All students are expected to attend all courses, to read all required readings, and to come prepared to discuss them. The seminars will be structured primarily around student discussions, so it is essential that you come prepared and ready to participate. Don’t expect to merely listen and learn. See below for coursework expectations.

Grad Seminar:

This course will also be offered, with additional assignments and expectations, as PHIL 540 for graduate students. Students interested in this option should contact me directly.


This seminar should be in significant part a student-driven discussion; high levels of participation are expected. Attendance is mandatory. All students should come prepared to discuss the week’s readings every week; there will also be regular presentations and brief written reactions to readings. Expect a significant amount of reading—a chapter of Williamson’s book and one or more additional required readings each week.

PHIL 440 students will be assessed according to the following criteria:


Each week has a list of required readings and supplemental readings. Only required readings are required for all students, but students are encouraged to engage with at least some of the supplemental readings over the course of the semester as well. The reading list is work in progress—sections shaded grey are still under consideration and may change.


Before our first meeting:

Strongly recommended:

Jan 8:



Presentations: Charlotte, Archie

Jan 15



Presentations: Jordan

Jan 22



Presentations: Jordan, Shoshana

Jan 29



Presentations: Archie, Scarlett

Feb 5



Presentations: Vergil, Shuguo

Feb 12



Presentations: Shoshana, Micah


Feb 26



Presentations: Bryce, Vergil, Shuguo

Mar 5



Presentations: Charlotte, Jarrod, Jia Huah

Mar 12


Presentations: Melanie, Scarlett

Mar 19



Presentations: Jarrod, Melanie

Mar 26



Presentations: Bryce, Micah

March 29: Paper Preliminaries Due

Apr 2



Presentations: Jia Huah

April 5: Peer Feedback Due

April 12: Final Paper Due