Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Roy Sorensen


ProfessorPh.D. Philosophy, Michigan State University

Roy Sorensen

Contact

Interests


Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Language

Biography


Roy

Roy Sorensen is the author of seven books: Blindspots, Thought Experiments, Pseudo-Problems, Vagueness and Contradiction, Seeing Dark Things, and A Cabinet of Philosophical Curiosities. Prior to joining the UT Austin faculty in 2019, he taught at University of Delaware, New York University, Dartmouth College, and Washington University in St. Louis. Starting in 2020, he will be a Professorial Fellow at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

Courses


PHL 321K • Theory Of Knowledge

41234 • Spring 2022
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM WAG 308
Wr

Epistemologists ask: What is knowledge? What principles govern it? Is knowing a truth any better than merely believing it? Just what is the value of knowledge? Is everything knowable in principle? Does science give us knowledge or merely useful fictions to predict and control phenomena? What are the sources of knowledge? Is testimony good enough for knowledge? Or must I check it out firsthand through observation or experiment? Is perception the most basic source of knowledge? 

            Skepticism and the Veil of Perception is an opinionated introduction to issues of perceptual knowledge. Chapters from this accessible book will be interleaved with readings in the anthology Human Knowledge. This historical section begins with ancient Greeks and Romans (Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus) proceeds through medieval philosophy (Augustine, Aquinas); then early modern philosophy (Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume, Reid, Kant); classical pragmatism and Anglo-American empiricism (James, Russell, Ayer, Lewis, Carnap, Quine, Rorty); and other influential Anglo-American philosophers (Chisholm, Kripke, Moore, Wittgenstein, Strawson, Putnam). The anthology has expanded selections on contemporary epistemology. This will be supplemented with articles suggested by students.  

PHL 358 • Philosophical Logic

41370 • Spring 2022
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM
QR

The textbook, R. M. Sainsbury’s Logical Forms, patiently covers all of the standard topics of philosophy of logic – with an ear out for ordinary language. The emphasis is on understanding and motivating logical concepts and issues, not honing technical proficiency. The survey will be deepened with articles. Some of these will be chosen by students, in accordance with their interests.  

            Bertrand Russell advised logician to keep a stock of paradoxes; they play the role of experiments in testing theories of inference. Accordingly, the instructor will illustrate the issues with paradoxes such as the surprise test, Aristotle’s sea battle, the problem of negative existentials, puzzles of identity, the sorites paradox, and the liar. For more details on paradox, see Sainsbury’s classic Paradoxes or the instructor’s A Brief History of the Paradox (both available on-line through the PCL web site). 

            These riddles motivate supplemental logics that expand the range of valid inferences beyond classical logic (the modern “Symbolic Logic” widely taught at universities such as ours, specifically first order predicate logic with identity). More destructively, the paradoxes also motivate deviant logics that challenge the classical laws of logic: many-valued logic, supervaluationism, paraconsistent logic, intuitionism, and so on. 

PHL 383 • Epistemology

41470 • Spring 2022
Meets TH 3:30PM-6:30PM WAG 310

Argue with Me! 

The Uses, Misuses, and Excuses of Arguments in Philosophy, Math, Science, Psychology, and Politics

Prerequisites

Graduate Standing and Consent of Graduate Advisor or instructor required.

Course Description

Description: The seminar will examine many different ways arguments play a role in philosophy, life, and social organization. General themes may include:
  • arguments and persuasiveness in human psychology
  • the relationship between arguments, testimony, trust, and reputation
  • the social effects of arguments, the usefulness of arguments
  • the relationship between arguments and logic, validity, conditionals, credences
  • circular arguments, closure principles and warrant transmission, Wittgensteinian hinges and cornerstones, skepticism

Grading Policy

Grading is based on one term paper and a required class presentation.

Texts:

Potential Texts/Authors: articles and excerpts by many authors including Frank Jackson, Kenny Easwaran, Cailin O'Connor and Jim Weatherall, Michael Strevens, Julia Staffel, Hugo Mercier, Crispin Wright, Annalisa Coliva, and Sinan Dogramaci and Roy Sorensen.

PHL 321K • Theory Of Knowledge

42390 • Fall 2021
Meets TTH 2:00PM-3:30PM WAG 210
Wr

Course Description: Epistemologists ask: What is knowledge? What principles govern it? Is knowing a truth any better than merely believing it? Just what is the value of knowledge? Is everything knowable in principle? Does science give us knowledge or merely useful fictions to predict and control phenomena? What are the sources of knowledge? Is testimony good enough for knowledge? Or must I check it out first hand through observation or experiment? Is perception the most basic source of knowledge?

PHL 332 • Philosophy Of Language

42485 • Fall 2021
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM WAG 308

The course focuses on various philosophical issues concerning language. Topics to be discussed include, but are not limited to, the following: speaker-meaning, conversational implicature, sentence/expression-meaning, reference, modality, and propositional attitude ascriptions. 

PHL 321K • Theory Of Knowledge-Wb

42050 • Spring 2021
Meets T 2:00PM-3:30PM
Internet; Synchronous
Wr

What is knowledge? What are the principal types of knowledge, and what does a person's knowing a claim or proposition p amount to? Philosophers have commonly supposed that a person's having justification, or warrant, for believing that p is a necessary condition of his/her knowing that p. Accordingly, this course will be concerned with theories of justification as well as of knowledge, along with the question of whether there can be knowledge without what is called epistemic justification. Views in ancient, early modern, and contemporary philosophy—also one Eastern view—will be surveyed.

PHL 383 • Social Epistemology-Wb

42280 • Spring 2021
Meets TH 3:30PM-6:30PM
Internet; Synchronous

Course Description: 

The focus of this seminar will be social epistemology. Whereas traditional epistemology focuses on the individual learner, social epistemology focuses on the social problems that learners confront. To what extent should we rely on testimonial evidence? Which experts should we rely on? How can beliefs be aggregated into a more reliable collective judgment? These questions bear on free speech, prediction markets, and academic appointments. The traditional approach to social epistemology is intended to promote knowledge. We will also consider practices designed to prevent knowledge: censorship, propaganda, conspiracies, and lying.  

Grading Policy:  

Grades will be based on two essays (3000 words each) and two presentations (which can be coordinated with the essays). Each of the four assignments is weighted equally.


Texts: 

The readings will be drawn from an anthology, Social Epistemology: Essential Readings ed. Alvin Goldman and Dennis Whitcomb, and articles available on-line through the UT library site.

These articles will be influenced by student preferences for their essay assignments and presentations.  

 

PHL 323K • Metaphysics

41305 • Spring 2020
Meets TTH 3:30PM-5:00PM WAG 308
Wr

Metaphysics

Instructor: Professor Roy Sorensen roy.sorensen@austin.utexas.edu

Office: Waggener Hall 405      (WAG)                       

Phone: Office 512-471-6755  Office hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 5 to 6 or by appointment          

Course Description: This course with survey the main issues of contemporary metaphysics and also cover the historical development of metaphysical puzzles emanating from nothingness (non-existence, omissions, and more specific absences such as holes, silence, shadows, and darkness). For the modern survey, we will average a chapter a week from Metaphysics: The Fundamentals. The topics will follow the chapter headings.

            The readings for the history of nothingness, will be chapters from the instructor’s manuscript A Brief History of Nothing (which will be made available on Canvas). We will begin in China with Lao Tzu’s interest in omissions (“doing nothing”), pass on to Buddha in India, linger with the Ancient Greeks, and proceed all the way to the present. Chapters of the instructor’s book will be distributed for the historical aspect. The strategy will be to approach standard metaphysical topics through the lens of nothingness.

            The primary focus of the course is metaphysics rather than history. So we will frequently flash forward to contemporary articles. Students are encouraged to recommend articles.

PHL 310 • Knowledge And Reality

40814 • Fall 2019
Meets MWF 3:00PM-4:00PM GDC 5.304

Instructor:  Professor Roy Sorensen sorensen@wustl.edu

Office: Waggener Hall 405      (WAG)                       

Office hours: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 2:10 to 2:40 or by appointment

 

Textbook: Elliott Sober’s Core Questions in Philosophy Fifth Edition

 

Course Description:

The central question of this course is `How do we learn about the world?’. The textbook’s author, Elliott Sober, answers: Through inference to the best explanation. For instance, Aristotle learned that the earth is round by the curved shadow cast on the moon during a lunar eclipse. Although more complicated shapes could fit the observation, the most elegant hypothesis is that the earth is round. According to Sober inference to the best explanation is itself the best explanation of how philosophical questions arise and are resolved. These questions include: Does the universe have a designer? Or is it all a meaningless accident? Are my experiences caused by an external world that corresponds to these representations? Does consciousness show that I have a mind independent of my body – and that might persist after my body is destroyed? And would this independence show that I sometimes act freely?  Or are all my future actions determined by the state of the world a century ago? If I am free, are there any moral facts that ought to guide my choices? Sober believes that past philosophers were too narrowly focused on deduction and induction (the two forms of reasoning that dominate logic textbooks). We shall consider whether inference to the best explanation (sometimes called `abduction’) lives up to its contemporary popularity among philosophers.

 

Grading and Assignments: Your grade will be based on performance on a mid-term, two papers (2000-3000 words) and a final examination.  Each is worth 100 points for a total of 400 points. The grading scale is listed below. Students are encouraged but not required to submit a draft of each paper. Each paper should be between 2000 and 3000 words long. Topic questions will be provided.

Here is the format for the mid-term and the final examination. Before the test you will be given a long list of preparation questions. On test day you will be given a list of eight questions. You will choose five to answer. At least two of these questions will be from the preparation list.  Each answer will be worth twenty points. During the class session before the test, I will set aside some time to answer clarificatory questions about the items on the list.  That is, I will disambiguate, precisify, and in general respond to worries about misunderstanding the questions.  Of course, I do not intend to provide substantive answers.  On exam day, you need only bring a pen. 

PHL 321K • Theory Of Knowledge

40940 • Fall 2019
Meets MWF 1:00PM-2:00PM WAG 208
Wr

*This course will be taught by Professor Roy Sorensen

 

Instructor:  Professor Roy Sorensen sorensen@wustl.edu

Office: Waggener Hall 405      (WAG)                       

Office hours: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 2:10 to 2:40 or by appointment

 

Textbooks:

Human Knowledge Classical and Contemporary Approaches, Third Edition

Edited by Paul K. Moser and Arnold Vander Nat, Oxford University Press

        A copy of a this text is on reserve in the PCL.

A Brief History of the Paradox by Roy Sorensen

Text available electronically through the UT Library System.

Skepticism and the Veil of Perception, by Michael Huemer Rowman and Littlefield

There will also be articles assigned as the course progresses. They will be posted on Canvas.

           

Course Description: Epistemologists ask: What is knowledge? What principles govern it? Is knowing a truth any better than merely believing it? Just what is the value of knowledge? Is everything knowable in principle? Does science give us knowledge or merely useful fictions to predict and control phenomena? What are the sources of knowledge? Is testimony good enough for knowledge? Or must I check it out first hand through observation or experiment? Is perception the most basic source of knowledge?

            Skepticism and the Veil of Perception is an opinionated introduction to issues of perceptual knowledge. Chapters from this accessible book will be interleaved with readings in the anthology Human Knowledge. This historical begins with ancient Greeks and Romans (Plato, Aristotle, Sextus Empiricus) proceeds through medieval philosophy (Augustine, Aquinas); then early modern philosophy (Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, Hume, Reid, Kant); classical pragmatism and Anglo-American empiricism (James, Russell, Ayer, Lewis, Carnap, Quine, Rorty); and other influential Anglo-American philosophers (Chisholm, Kripke, Moore, Wittgenstein, Strawson, Putnam). The anthology has expanded selections on contemporary epistemology. This will be supplemented with articles suggested by students.

 

Grading and Assignments: Your grade will be based on performance on a mid-term, two papers (2000-3000 words) and a final examination.  Each is worth 100 points for a total of 400 points. The grading scale is listed below. Students are encouraged but not required to submit a draft of each paper. Each paper should be between 2000 and 3000 words long. Topic questions will be provided.

Here is the format for the mid-term and the final examination. Before the test you will be given a long list of preparation questions. On test day you will be given a list of eight questions. You will choose five to answer. At least two of these questions will be from the preparation list.  Each answer will be worth twenty points. During the class session before the test, I will set aside some time to answer clarificatory questions about the items on the list.  That is, I will disambiguate, precisify, and in general respond to worries about misunderstanding the questions.  Of course, I do not intend to provide substantive answers.  On exam day, you need only bring a pen. 

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