Nate Meyvis, Ph.D.
Boston College, Fall 2021
What is it to have an open mind? Why could an open mind be an ideal? We will address these questions by looking at a broad variety of historical and contemporary ways of thinking about epistemology.
With thinkers from classical Greece through the American pragmatists, and by examining practices in contemporary fields including medicine and artificial intelligence, we will aim at a better understanding of epistemic ideals: When we are in our best cognitive states, what exactly do we achieve? What barriers must we overcome to get there? Different candidate answers to this question will lead to different understandings of open-mindedness and different motivations for achieving it (or not).
In each case, after studying ideas in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, we will examine how they notions play out in the world of contemporary data and media. In particular, we will examine their manifestations in media and communication platforms and texts.
Plato will be our guide: we will read his Theaetetus over the course of the seminar. This wide-ranging and lively text is also essential intellectual background (more and less directly) for our other readings. The course will be conducted entirely in English. Students with training in Greek and/or epistemology can use the assignments and my office hours to apply and extend that training. Students more interested in contemporary issues will be expected to read the text carefully but will be able to focus their coursework less historically.
A few of our readings are long; many are short. Where we sacrifice depth for breadth, notes and other guidance will be available.
- 10%: Attendance and participation
- 20%: Quizzes (see below)
- 45%: Three short response papers
- 25%: One longer final paper
8 to 10 classes will begin with very short quizzes evaluating retention of fundamentals of assigned readings. They are intended to reward proper preparation of the material and to allow for immediate correction of common errors. They will consist of roughly 5 questions and should take 5 minutes or less to complete.
Low scores will be dropped. Quizzes for which a student has an excused absence will be dropped without penalty.
Quizzes will be available online for students who are forced to participate remotely.
Short response papers
Students will write three short papers in which the task is to clearly explain some aspect of the assigned material. Topics will be available every week. Students must turn in at least one of these papers by the fourth week of class and at least two by the eighth week of class.
Masks: Please wear masks.
Late work: Unexcused late work will be graded to a higher standard during its grading. The increase in standard will be roughly proportional to how late the work is.
Academic integrity: Please refer to University and Communication Department policies. When you submit work, you submit that it is your work. Do not let confusion about university policy or citation procedure lead you into a breach of academic integrity. You will not be marked down for using the wrong format for a citation.
Zoom: As per University policy, this is an in-person and not a hybrid course. A Zoom link will be provided for students who must attend remotely. The meeting ID is 453 323 1682. Students attending remotely must submit documentation of its necessity.
Week 1: The project of defining knowledge
- Theaetetus 142a-148e6
- G.E. Moore, Proof of an External World
- William James, 'The Will to Believe'
- Agnes Callard, What Was the Socratic Method?
Week 2: Socrates the epistemic midwife
- Theaetetus, 148a6-151d3
- Ancient Skepticism (SEP), sections 1 and 4 only
- Rene Descartes, First Meditation (only)
- Bayes' Theorem, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sections 1-2 only
- Agnes Callard on knowing oneself to be wrong: first ten minutes only
- Wikipedia: Differential Diagnosis
- Optional: A short description about the reception of Emily Dickinson
- Optional: Wikipedia's list of software bugs
Week 3: The claim that knowledge is perception
- Theaetetus, 151d3-160e4
- Agnes Callard, Anger Management
- Agnes Callard, The Philosophy of Anger
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations 199–243.
- Clark and Chalmers, The Extended Mind
Week 4: The claim that knowledge is perception, continued
- What do we want from knowledge? What should we get from knowledge? And what does this have to do with open-mindedness?
- Theaetetus 160e4-164c2
- Agnes Callard, The Emotion Police
- Agnes Callard, Thoughts and Prayers
- Rene Descartes, Second Meditation
- Rene Girard, "The Plague in Literature and Myth"
Week 5: The claim that knowledge is perception and the public sphere
- Theaetetus 164c2-172b9
- John Locke, "Essay Concerning Human Understanding", Book 2, Chapter 27, sections 23 ("Consciousness alone unites remote existences into one Person") through 29 (the end of the chapter).
- L.A. Paul, Transformative Experience (Chapter 1 and the first section of Chapter 2)
- Recommended podcast episode: L.A. Paul being interviewed about this book.
- Podcast episode: Agnes Callard on aspiration: only 38:35 and following
Week 6: The inquisitive temperament
- Theaetetus 172b9 - 177c4
- David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, sections 6-7
- Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction"
- Facebook's Widely Viewed Content Report
- Wikipedia's List of most-retweeted tweets
Week 7: The existence of authority and socially embedded knowledge
- Theaetetus 177c4 - 179d2
- Podcast episode: "Agnes Callard on Complaint"
- J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words, Lectures I and II only
- "The Scapegoating Machine"
- "How Social Media Shapes our Identity"
Week 8: Open-mindedness and rationality in a world of flux:
- Theaetetus 179d2 - 191a5
- Agnes Callard, "Persuade or Be Persuaded"
- Agnes Callard, "Against Persuasion"
Week 9: Applications to current events
- Theaetetus 191a5 - 195b8
- Ben Thompson, "An interview with Mark Zuckerberg about the Metaverse"
- Ben Thompson, "Social Networking 2.0"
- Ben Thompson, "Facebook Political Problems" (leaked memo only; search for "leaked memo")
In case it's useful, Wikipedia has a useful overview of the idea of a metaverse.
Week 10: Applications to current events, continued
- Theaetetus 195b8 - 200d4
- Matthew Ball, "The Metaverse"
- Ben Thompson, "The End of the Beginning
- Byrne Hobart, "Meta"
Week 11: Negotiating over meaning
- Theaetetus 200d4 - 201c7
- Plato, Apology, 39e to the end of the dialogue (with particular attention to the way Socrates attempts to demonstrate "the meaning of what has happened to [him]").
Week 12: Socratic politics
- Theaetetus 201c7 - 210d3
- Agnes Callard, Socratic Politics
- David Foster Wallace, "Deciderization 2007: A Special Report"