Fall 2021

Seminar on Epistemic Agency

Listed in: Education Studies, as EDST-410  |  Philosophy, as PHIL-410

Moodle site: Course


Lauren J. Leydon-Hardy (Section 01)


(Offered as PHIL 410 and EDST 410) What does it mean to be responsible for your beliefs? Here’s one idea: when we think about responsibility, we think about choice. For example, we might say that you are responsible for your misdeeds because you could have chosen otherwise; you chose to act as you did. What is the analog to this way of explaining responsibility when it comes to our mental lives? In what sense could we have believed otherwise? And in what sense ought we to know certain things? Some epistemologists—philosophers who study knowledge and belief—have argued that epistemic agency is an empty concept. Belief, as they say, “aims at the truth”. The idea is that I do not choose to believe that Milo is the best dog because I prefer to believe it, or because I have decided that the evidence is in his favor (it is!). Instead, I believe it because its truth compels me: it is evident, and in virtue of recognizing the evidence for what it is, the belief arises in me unbidden. Your beliefs smack you in the face; they happen to you, not because of you. But what, then, do we make of our widespread—and, arguably, deeply meaningful—practice of evaluating one another on the basis of our beliefs? Why do we admire one another for our good ideas, or repudiate one another for reactionary, dogmatic, or bigoted beliefs? If these practices of evaluation—which seem to presuppose that we are responsible for our beliefs—are legitimate, why are they? In what sense are our beliefs under our control? Are we free to know, and believe?

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Leydon-Hardy.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given to majors, seniors, then juniors, etc.


Attention to Speaking, Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2021