Course Syllabus

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This will be a graduate seminar about norms for belief and partial belief.  Beliefs are attitudes that represent the world to their holders in a certain way.  I might believe that it's rain, disbelieve that the Mets will win the world series, and withhold belief about whether my future child will be a politician.  Intuitively, there are collections of beliefs that are irrational, by their very nature, to hold. For example, it is irrational to believe both that it will rain tomorrow and that rain is physically impossible. In this case, we think the collection of beliefs is irrational because it is inconsistent.  Intuitively, there is a norm that tells us not to believe inconsistent contents.  There are probably lots of other norms that govern our beliefs, including norms of evidence, justification, and abductive connections between our beliefs.  One question we will investigate is how we can systematically account for these norms of belief.  In doing so, we'll read John Gibbon's recent book on this topic: The Norm of Belief.  For more information on that book, see a review by Errol Lord here.  

Some folks think that talk of belief, disbelief, and suspension of belief is too simplistic.  For one, our real attitudes seem to be more sophisticated than that: It's not that I believe that Alexa will get the job and Bruno won't.  I have no idea who will get the job, but I do think Alexa is much smarter than Bruno, so I think she is twice as likely to get the job as Bruno is.  Similarly, I don't believe my ticket will lose the million-ticket lottery, I just think it's nearly a million times more likely to lose than to win.  What these examples suggest is that the tripartite way of representing belief as on, off, or suspended is too simple.  Instead, we should represent beliefs as degreed or partial.  This is one of the main claims of Bayesianism.  In the seminar, along with the simpler beliefs discussed above, we'll consider these partial beliefs or credences and their norms.

The seminar will be structured like this: we'll begin by distinguishing the notions of full and partial belief.  We'll consider whether we can make sense of full belief in terms of partial belief or vice versa.  There is a very large literature on this topic, so we'll only touch on it here.  We'll then consider how to make sense of norms for partial beliefs.  In the literature on this topic, a dominate view has recently emerged, that of accuracy-centered epistemology.  Again, there is a large literature on that topic, so we'll only start to get into the current research on it.  Finally, we'll turn to norms of full belief by looking at Gibbons's book in which he argues that the analogue of accuracy-centered epistemology doesn't work in the full belief case.  More information about the course content can be found on the schedule below.

A warning: because much of the literature on partial belief is quite mathematically sophisticated, some of the course content will be more formal than most philosophy classes.  I've designed the class to include the least amount of formalism necessary to consider the points under discussion.  I've also tried to choose readings such that a (graduate) student with no special formal training beyond a simple introductory logic class will be able to participate.  That said, I expect that some students might feel frustrated by the formal material anyway.  To help with that, I'm happy to help students both inside and outside of class understand the material.  Please consult with me about the best way to approach the material for you.


Instructor: Prof. Daniel J. Singer,
Location (in Space and Time): Wednesdays 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM in Williams 215 (watch out for a possible change to be announced!)
Office Hours: by appointment in Cohen 461 (Mondays 12-1 preferred)

Requirements for Participants

What makes any graduate seminar work well is that the participants are actively engaged with each other and the material. I expect you to have read and thoroughly considered the material before each session. Then come to the seminar prepared to engage with the ideas. Each participant should come prepared with a question or idea to discuss each week.

Here are some tips to help you prepare to participate fully in the seminar:  Make sure to do the reading in a way that works for you.  Many people will do each reading twice.  Consider preparing short, written summaries of the readings that flag the central claims, arguments, and examples.  It is also helpful to organize informal meetings outside of the regular class sessions to discuss the material.  I also encourage you to talk to other people in the seminar about the material outside of class.

Lead Discussion!
Each participant in the seminar will be expected to lead the seminar at least twice (time allowing). This will require you to thoroughly digest the material well before the seminar, create a detailed handout about the material, and foster discussion about it. Handouts should include the major arguments you wish to discuss, preferably reformulated in premise-conclusion format. They should also include some potential topics for discussion. The Monday before the first time you lead discussion, you should try to meet with me in office hours with a draft of your handout.

Each student will also present their argument for the final paper during the final meeting of the seminar.  This will require each student to give a 15-20 minute presentation and respond to questions.  Students are expected to produce and use some kind of visual element in their presentations as well (more details will be given about this in class).

Each enrolled participant is expected to write 10-12 pages at about 350 words per page (and not more). This is a low quantity of writing, but the goal is to produce high quality, research-level, to-the-point arguments (think Analysis-style writing). You can also write two short pieces, if you prefer (and if you have two good, but smaller, ideas). Final papers are due May 12 (the last day allowable by the registrar), in my email as a PDF. If you're writing two papers, you must turn one in before May 1.  

Special Note

My main goal is helping you understand the material of the course and advance as a professional philosopher. If you think some aspect of the course or my instruction is hindering those ends, please let me know in person or anonymously here. I will try my best to accommodate your individual needs to help you advance in the class.

If you think you may need an accommodation because of a disability or other special circumstance, you should contact me privately to discuss your specific needs either in office hours or via email. You can also contact Student Disabilities Services at the SDS website or (215) 573-9235. Aspects of the course can be modified to suit your individual needs, so please let me know about your needs as soon as possible. Of course, all communication about personal matters will remain private and confidential.


Topics and Readings


Here is a tentative schedule of the topics and readings.  Please check back often for changes.  Readings marked with "*" are optional.  Readings marked with "**" are optional and aimed at a quite advanced reader.


Topic and Presenter

To Read Before Class



Introduction to Belief

Formal Background


Presenter: Dan

Foley, "Beliefs, Degrees of Belief, and the Lockean Thesis"

Christensen, "Two Models of Belief"


Totally New to Professional Philosophy? Also read:
Pryor, James. "Guidelines on Reading Philosophy"
Pryor, James. "Guidelines on Writing a Philosophy Paper"


New to Formal Talk about Probability and Logic?  Also read:

Hacking, "Introduction to Probability and Inductive Logic" Chs 1-7 (includes some baby logic background in chs 1-3)

Titelbaum and Hájek, "Some Handy Probability Facts"


Varieties of Belief and Pragmatic Encroachment

Presenter: Dan

Frankish, "Partial Belief and Flat-out Belief"

Ross & Schroeder, "Belief, Credence, and Pragmatic Encroachment"


Varieties of Beliefs and Norms



Buchak, "Belief, Credence, and Norms"

Moss, "Epistemology Formalized"




Ramsey, "Truth and Probability"

Hájek, "A Philosopher's Guide to Probability"

**Hájek, "Interpretations of Probability" (for more details on the views discussed by "A Philosopher's ...")


Dutch Book Arguments


Skyrms, "Coherence"

Christensen, "Dutch Books Depragmatized"

Maher, "Depragmatized Dutch Book Arguments"


More DBAs, Representation Theorems, and Accuracy Arguments

Presenter: Dan

Hájek, "Dutch Book Arguments"

Christensen, "Preference-Based Arguments for Probabilism"

Vineberg, "The Notion of Consistency for Partial Belief"


No class 3/11 

Accuracy-Centered Epistemology

Presenter: Dan

Joyce, "A Non-Pragmatic Vindication of Probabilism" (just get the point; skip the proofs)

Hájek, "Arguments for-or against-Probabilism"

Gibbard, "Rational Credence and the Value of Truth"

**Carr,"Epistemic Utility Theory and the Aim of Belief"

**Joyce, "Accuracy and Coherence"



Gibbons, The Puzzle

Presenter: Sam

Gibbons, Preface

Gibbons, Chapter 1


Can we have both?

Presenter: Kevin

Gibbons, Chapter 2

Gibbons, Chapter 3



Presenter: Eric

Gibbons, Chapter 4

Gibbons, Chapter 5



Gibbons on Ought and Reasons

Presenter: Kaibo

Gibbons, Chapter 6

Gibbons, Chapter 7



Making Sense of the Truth Norm for Gibbons


Gibbons, Chapter 8

Gibbons, Chapter 9

Gibbons, Chapter 10


Special Guest TBA

Presenter: Guest




No Reading - Prep your presentation and papers!

May 12 - Final Papers due by email as a PDF



Course Summary:

Date Details Due