Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Roy Sorensen


ProfessorPh.D. Philosophy, Michigan State University

Roy Sorensen

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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 323K • Metaphysics

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