The Quest for Knowledge (345-101-MQ)

About this class

Humanities Knowledge (345-101-MQ) course, dedicated to students registered in the Arts & Sciences (700.A0) program.

In this course, we will survey the development of philosophical and scientific thinking in the Western world. What are some of the landmarks of the Western quest for knowledge? What were the struggles of philosophers and scientists who attempted to provide a reliable way of understanding our world and finding answers to our questions? Some questions we will ponder are the following: How can one distinguish between legitimate, reliable forms of knowledge, and exciting though deceptive claims? How does one distinguish between belief, opinion, and knowledge? What kind of evidence do we have to offer in support of our knowledge claims? How do we know whether we are right? Are scientific theories simply collections of guesses? Are they true? 

Selections from the following topics:

Introduction (first 5 or 6 weeks of the term)

1.         Basics and Overview

2.         Scientific Methodology in the 21st Century (Popper lived during the 20th century, from 1902-1994, but his work is still relevant): Science vs. Pseudoscience; Confirmation & Confirmation Bias; Corroboration, Falsification, Refutation; Examples from the History of Science

History of Western Epistemology and Scientific Thinking (last 9 or 10 weeks of the term)

3.         The Pre-Socratic Philosophers

4.         Plato and Aristotle

5.         Mathematical Rigor

6.         Descartes and the British Empiricists

7.         Kant

8.         Analytic Philosophy

9.         Popper (revisited - now students are ready to read and understand the article which is the third entry under C, below)


***Required Readings:

A. Documents posted on LÉA (several documents will be posted throughout the semester, beginning with...)

  • "Science and Pseudoscience F2017" (for Introduction 1 and 2)
  • Assorted notes re films we will view (Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville; NOVA: The Mystery of Easter Island; etc.)


B. From the Main Textbook (custom made: selection of chapters from Samuel Enoch Stumpf and James Fieser's Philosophy: History and Readings, 8th ed. McGraw-Hill 2012)

1. Ancient Greek Philosophy

  • Socrates’s Predecessors: all (for History... 3)
  • Plato:  intro, Plato’s Life, Theory of Knowledge [skip Moral Philosophy, Political Philosophy, and View of the Cosmos] (for History... 4)
  • Aristotle: Aristotle’s Life, Logic, Metaphysics, The Place of Humans: Physics, Biology, and Psychology [skip Ethics, Politics, Philosophy of Art] (for History... 4)

2. Early Modern Philosophy (for History... 6)

  • Philosophy during the Renaissance: The Closing of the Middle Ages, Humanism and the Italian Renaissance [introduction only; stop at “Pico”, etc.], The Reformation [introduction only; stop at “Luther”, etc.], Skepticism and Faith [introduction only; stop at “Montaigne”, etc.], The Scientific Revolution, Bacon [skip Hobbes]
  • Rationalism on the Continent: all (although we usually end up skipping Spinoza and Leibniz)
  • Empiricism in Britain: all, except for Locke’s Moral and Political Theory and Hume’s Ethics

3. Late Modern and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy

  • Kant:   from beginning up to Practical Reason: skip Practical Reason (which deals with Kant’s ethical theory) and Aesthetics (for History... 7)

4. Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Philosophy

  • Analytic Philosophy: all (for History... 8)
  • Glossary of Key Concepts: as needed

C. From the Course Pack

  • Hempel, Carl G. Hempel, “Scope and Aim of this Book”, Chapter 1 of Philosophy of Natural Science (3 pages) (for Introduction... 1 and 2)
  • Plato, portion from “Book VII” of The Republic included in the package, up to and including “’True,’ he said, ‘I had forgotten.’” (for History... 4)
  • Popper, Sir Karl Raimund, “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” from Conjectures and Refutations. (for History... 9)

D. From René Descartes’ Discourse on Method

  • The entire Discourse on Method, although parts 1, 2, and 3 are the most important ones for our purposes. Part 4 may be of particular interest to some students. (for History... 6)


In the Course Pack you will find an outline of the Discourseen français – which may help you understand what Descartes is “up to in that book” and how he proceeds in order to achieve his goal. Reading that outline, however, is optional. That’s why it is not listed in section C.

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