Hellenistic Epistemology

PHI 420. Writing Assignments

Each of the four writing assignments is worth 10 points. Several have multiple parts. Be sure to write your answers in such a way that a reader who does not already know the material can understand what you have written. The best way to do this is to provide detailed answers.


Assignment #1

According to the JTB analysis of knowledge, knowledge is justified, true belief. On the JTB analysis, a subject S knows a proposition P just in case S is justified in believing P, P is true, and S believes P. Does the Stoic understanding of knowledge have the consequence that what one knows is true? If so, why?

On the Stoic understanding of knowledge, all knowledge is cognition but not all cognition is knowledge. Why? In your answer, be sure to explain how the Stoics understand "cognition."

Which understanding of knowledge is more plausible, the JTB analysis or the Stoic understanding? Be sure to give reasons for your answer.

Assignment #2

Against the Stoics, the Academics press the following argument:

  1. For every true impression, there is a false impression indistinguishable from it.
  2. If (1) is true, then no impression is cognitive.
  3. If no impression is cognitive, then it is necessary to withhold assent.
 ----
  4. It is necessary to withhold assent.

The identity of indiscernibles is the thesis that if x and y are indiscernible, then x is y. The indiscernibility of identicals is the thesis that if x is y, then x and y are indiscernible. The indiscernibility of identicals is thought to be a truth of logic. The identity of indiscernibles is more controversial. The Stoics reject premise (1). What are their reasons? In your answer, explain how the identity of indiscernibles figures in the Stoic's reasons for rejecting premise (1).

Assignment #3

The Stoics replied to the Academics with an argument of their own: that life would be impossible to live if no impression were cognitive because impulse, and thus action and life itself, requires assent. So one might be Carneades did nothing more than put forward the view about "persuasive impressions" as part of a counter argument to this Stoic argument.

Alternatively, it might be that Carneades put forward the view about "persuasive impressions" as part of a counter argument but that he also could be understood to think that assenting to impressions in terms of their persuasiveness is the ordinary way to form beliefs which the Stoics wish to replace with their new method in terms of cognitive impressions.

Explain how this second interpretation of how Carneades should be understood would allow the Academics to reject a premise in the argument set out in assignment #2. In your answer, be sure to identify the premise and to explain how this interpretation saves the Academics from falling into contradiction by assenting to the view that no one should assent to any view.

Assignment #4

In the Academy, there was a controversy about how to understand Carneades and assent to "persuasive impressions." Charles Brittain attributes to Clitomachus and the Clitomachians the view that Brittain calls "radical scepticism" (xxvii). In describing this view, Brittain says the following. "[W]hen the Academics draw their notorious conclusions about the unattainability of knowledge and the irrationality of forming beliefs, they are maintaining only that these conclusions are currently 'persuasive'; they are not committed to the truth of these views or of the arguments that support them. But in that case, the Clitomachian Academics do not believe, e.g., that nothing can be known, or, at least, they do not believe it in the sense implied by Stoic assent. It is perhaps unclear how we should (or even can) make sense of this position..." (xxvii).

Words can have more than one sense. So, e.g., the word 'cape' can be used with the meaning "land jutting out to sea" or "article of clothing worn over the shoulders." There appear to be two ways to understand what Brittain has in mind. He may think the word 'believe' has more than one sense and that the Clitomachians "believe" in one sense of the word but not in another.
Kinds and senses are not the same. A kind is a type of thing. So, e.g., a Macintosh Red is a kind of apple.
Or he may think there are different kinds of belief and that the Clitomachians have one kind of belief but not another. What would these senses and kinds be?


Bibliography Project

The bibliography project is worth 20 points. It is a summary of five journal articles or book chapters from the scholarly literature on issues related to the debate between the Stoics and the Academics. In your summary, you are to outline the argument and make a judgment about its plausibility.

In this way, the bibliography project is a set of notes about what you have read and to which you can return in the future. Here is an example of what an entry might look like.


• "Carneades' Distinction Between Assent and Approval,"
Richard Bett. The Monist, Vol. 73, No. 1, 3-20.

Bett explicates what he takes to be Carneades' distinction between "assenting" to impression and "approving" or "following" an impression (4). For Carneades, according to Bett, whereas to assent "is to take a stand on the truth of the impression," to approve an impression "involves no commitment ... as to whether [it] is really true or false" (10). To illustrate the difference, Bett gives an example. "1) A person takes a left turn, while en route to a certain house. The action is intentional, but is not the result of any conscious deliberation. 2) The person is not familiar with the route. She wonders whether to take a left turn, in light of the evidence afforded by her map, prominent landmarks, etc.; having considered the matter, she takes the left turn. In doing so, she thinks to herself 'it seems to me plausible that this is the route'; she does not think to herself 'Yes; this really is the right way to go.' 3) The same as 2), except that she does think to herself 'Yes; this really is the right way to go' (and not, or not only, 'it seems to me plausible that this is the route')" (10-11). He says that for Carneades the first two cases are "approval" and the last is "assent" (11).

I do not think that Betts has made a convincing case that Carneades endorsed the distinction he attributes to him. Further, I find the distinction itself difficult to understand and do not think Bett's example does anything to clarify it. In all three cases in the example, it seems to me that the agent is acting on a belief. Further, it seems to me that to believe is "take a stand on the truth."




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