Course Syllabus: Truth

Philosophy 162: Truth

Spring 2005


Course Overview

Many people believe that truth telling is a virtue, a character trait that is to be admired in others and inculcated in our children.  But the importance accorded to the virtue of truthfulness goes hand in hand with the way in which truth is viewed.  Simon Blackburn thus writes that the “ideals of sincerity and accuracy do become collateral damage of the wars about the nature of truth.  The idea that our stories about the world are just transient constructions, that our perspective is just one among many, or that illusion and fiction are pervasive, undermines the seriousness with which we can regard defects of sincerity and accuracy.  If truth is thought of a goal that can never be attained, those who rather conspicuously do not care much about it will seem that much less villainous than they are.”  This course thus seeks to examine the nature of truth in light of its seeming connection to such character traits as honesty, sincerity, and accuracy as well as the putative value of phenomena such as knowledge and true belief.  Put simply, it will be our concern to investigate what truth is and whether or not we should care about it.



Michael Lych, True to Life

Plato, Theaetetus

A course packet available at The Copy Shop



Three take home exams (20% each), one 6-8 page paper (30%), regular class participation (10%).


Course of Study

1/19    Michael Lynch, True to Life, Introduction and Chapter 1


Challenges to Truth

1/24    Plato, Theaetetus

1/26    Plato, Theatetus, cont.

1/31    Simon Blackburn, Truth, Chapter 2

2/2      Blackburn, Chapter 3

2/7      Michael Lynch, True to Life, Chapters 2 and 3

2/9      Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Preface and Part I

2/14    Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Part II

2/16    Blackburn, Chapter 4

2/21    Review Session/Distribute Take Home #1


What is Truth?

2/23    F. H. Bradley, “On Truth and Copying”

2/28    J. L. Austin, “Truth” (Take Home #1 Due)

3/2      P. F. Strawson, “Truth”

3/4-3/12   Spring Break   

3/14    William James, “Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”

3/16    Bertrand Russell, “William James’s Conception of Truth” and Lynch, Chapter 5

3/21    Lynch, Chapter 6

3/23    Donald Davidson, “The Folly of Trying to Define Truth”

3/28    Review Session/Distribute Take Home #2


The Value of Truth

3/30    W. K. Clifford, “The Ethics of Belief”

4/4      William James, “The Will to Believe” (Take Home #2 Due)

4/6      Simon Blackburn, Truth, Chapter 1         

4/11    Stanley Fish, “Truth But No Consequences: Why Philosophy Doesn’t Matter”

4/13    Michael Lynch, True to Life, Chapters 8 and 9

4/18    Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness, Chapter 6

4/20    Harry Frankfurt On Bullshit

4/25    Michael Lynch, True to Life, Chapter 10 (Paper Due)

4/27    Bernard Williams, Truth and Truthfulness, Chapter 9

5/2      Review Session/Distribute Final


5/9      Final Due