Evidence (Phil 409.02)

Phil 409.02 was a pilot project, co-taught by Dennis McKerlie and Richard Zach in Winter 2006, and will in all likelihood not be offered in this form again.

Course Description

The course will investigate the concept of evidence in a number of different contexts. It will be concerned with developing a detailed understanding of particular kinds of reasoning, and it will also search for connections across the different subject-matters to which the notion of evidence can be applied. The course’s aim is to enable you to evaluate the evidence given for various claims, from scientific thinking to moral and legal reasoning. The course will also prepare students for more advanced courses in the different branches of philosophy. The proposed course will have four main sections: the fundamentals of reasoning, epistemology, scientific reasoning, and moral and ethical reasoning.

A package of readings is available at Bound & Copied in the basement of McEwan Center. Supplementary readings will be made available in photocopy or online.


The course will not be run as a conventional lecture-style course, but rather will be conducted according to the “inquiry based” model. That means that a large part of your coursework will consist in independent research, conducted individually and in groups. Class meetings will be divided between presentations by the instructors and more open-ended meetings devoted to discussion, student presentations, and group work. The course will be accompanied by a TA-run tutorial session as well. The TA will guide you through readings, help with research assignments, and conduct other learning activities.

Group project. You will be divided into groups of 4-6 students. Each group will be assigned a topic falling under one of the topics we will cover during the semester. For each topic, you will (as a group) conduct research and prepare a webpage in which you present the results of your research. You should complete this project one week after we’re done talking about the topic in class. The project will be worth 30% of the final mark. The project will be graded as a whole (20%), and the members of the group will also evaluate the contribution of all other members of the group. The other 10 percentage points of the project mark will be assigned via this peer-review process.

Research log. You will also be asked to keep an individual reading and research log in which you record interesting things you notice in the readings assigned, in additional readings you find in the library or online, and lines of thought that arise in discussions in your group, in class, or in tutorials. This can take the form of a short summary of a paper you found, a worry you have about the arguments in the readings, a continuation or summary of a debate you were involved in or witnessed in class. This research log will be kept online, and you are encouraged to read and comment on your fellow students’ entries. This part of the course work will be worth 20% of your final mark (5% for each 3 weeks of the semester).

Final paper and presentation. You will also prepare a final project individually. This will also be a paper on the topic of the course, but there will be no set topics: you have to come up with your own. In your final project, you may wish to bring together several of the topics we’ve covered, or you may choose to focus on something small (a particular argument in a single paper you’ve read, say). You will give a short presentation on your paper in the last week of class. The project will be worth 30% of the final mark (25% for the paper, 5% for the presentation).

Participation. 20% of your final mark will be determined by your participation in the class, including your participation in discussions in class and tutorial meetings, and the number and quality of responses to other students’ research log entries.

Grading scheme

On each assignment you will receive a letter grade reflecting the level of comprehension of the readings, your ability to assess philosophical arguments, your ability to write clearly, and your engagement for the group project, as shown by the work you submit and in the evaluation of your peers. The meanings of letter grades are defined in the Calendar; for written work, they amount roughly to the following criteria:

A Excellent–superior performance, showing comprehensive understanding of subject matter. (Your writing is clear and concise; your assignments make obvious that your understanding of the issues and arguments is correct and complete; you show superior ability in representing and assessing others’ philosophical arguments; you show ability for original philosophical thinking).

B Good–clearly above average performance with knowledge of subject matter generally complete. (You show a good grasp of the assigned reading; but either your writing is not perfectly clear or your assignments are largely only expository and don’t show the critical ability required for an A).

C Satisfactory–basic understanding of the subject matter. (Your work shows that you’ve worked through the reading and attended class, but your assignments misrepresent the arguments we’re discussing, or your criticisms are off the mark.)

D Minimal pass–marginal performance. (Your work is unclear or confused; or you grossly misrepresent the arguments we’re discussing.)

F Fail–Unsatisfactory performance. (Your work fails to show that you’ve made a serious attempt at coming to grips with the material; or your writing borders on the incomprehensible.)

Note the emphasis in the above on the fact that it is not enough that you understand the issues we discuss, your written work must show this. Thus, the quality of your writing will be a major factor in which grade you’ll get. If your sentences miss subjects or verbs, your cross-references are unclear, or you use terminology ambiguously, you will receive a lower mark than if you had composed and proof-read your paper more carefully.

In computing your final grade, your marks will be converted to grade points and averaged according to the weights given above: 20% group project overall grade, 10% group project peer evaluation grade, 20% research log, 25% final paper, 5% presentation, 20% participation. The correspondence of letter grades with grade points is defined in the Calendar (A = 4, B = 3, C = 2, D = 1, F = 0; +/- adds/subtracts 0.3 grade points: A+ = 4.3).

The final grade will be the letter grade corresponding to the weighted average of your research log, group project, paper, presentation, and participation plus a margin of 0.1. In other words, a course average of 4.2 or higher receives an A+; at least 3.9 and less than 4.2, an A; at least 3.6 and less than 3.9, an A-; at least 3.2 and less than 3.6, a B+; at least 2.9 and less than 3.2, a B; and so on. There is no D- grade; to earn a D you require a course average of at least 0.9.


Late work and extensions. Assignments handed in late will be penalized by the equivalent of one grade point per calendar day, unless you can document a medical or other valid reason for why your assignment is late. If you turn a written assignment in late, you must give it to the instructor in person or put it in the department dropbox (it will then be date-stamped by department staff). Note that the dropboxes are cleared at 4 pm, the department closes at 4:30 pm on weekdays and is closed Saturdays and Sundays. If you complete an online assignment late, you must email both instructors when it is complete.

Plagiarism. You will find the University policy on plagiarism at the end of the printed version of this outline. Plagiarism is a very serious academic offense. It is not limited to copying papers wholesale from the Internet; copying and close paraphrase of the texts, of the lectures, or of anyone (other than you) without clear attribution constitutes plagiarism. Your work should only contain your own formulations. You should use direct quotes from the texts sparingly, and clearly mark them as such by using quotation marks and giving a source reference. When in doubt, consult with the instructor. Plagiarism will result in a failing grade on the assignment or in the course and a report to the Dean’s office.

Checking your grades and reappraisals of work. University policies for reappraisal of term work and final grades apply (see the Calendar section “Reappraisal of Grades and Academic Appeals”). In particular, term work will only be reappraised within 15 days of the date you are advised of your marks. Please keep track of your assignments (make sure to pick them up in lecture or in office hours) and your marks (check them on the website).

Course Website

A course website on U of C’s BlackBoard server has been set up. You will be automatically registered if you’re registered in the class. To access the BlackBoard site, you can either go directly to blackboard.ucalgary.ca and log in with your UCIT account name and password, or you can access it through the myUofC portal (my.ucalgary.ca; log in with your eID). If you don’t have an eID or UCIT account, see elearn.ucalgary.ca/help.html.

Tentative Syllabus

Topic 1: Logic and Reasoning

Week 1: Jan 10, 12

Gilbert Harman, Change in View (MIT Press, 1986), Chs 1 & 2 (pp. 1-20)

Topic 2: Scepticism

Week 2: Jan 17, 19
Week 3: Jan 24, 26

Rene Descartes, Meditations, 1 and part of 2
G. E. Moore, Proof of an External World, Four Forms of Scepticism, and Certainty (Excerpts), from Philosophical Papers, Allen & Unwin, 1959.
Barry Stroud, TheSignificance of Philosophical Skepticism, Oxford, 1984, Ch. 1: The Problem of the External World

Topic 3: Theories of Knowledge

Week 4: Jan 31, Feb 2
Week 5: Feb 7, 9

Edmund Gettier, Is justified true belief knowledge? Analysis 23 (1963): 121-123.
Richard Feldman and Earl Conee: Evidentialism. Philosophical Studies 48 (1985) 15-34
Goldman: What is justified belief? In: Justification and Knowledge, ed. George S. Pappas. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1979. pp. 1-23

Topic 4: Moral Reasoning

Week 6: Feb 14, 16
Week 7: Feb 28, Mar 2

Plato, Euthyphro
Judith Jarvis Thomson, A Defense of Abortion, in: Rights, Restitution, and Risk, Harvard, 1986, 1-19
John Rawls, Some Remarks about Moral Theory, from: A Theory of Justice, Harvard, 1971, pp. 46-53.
Jeff McMahan, Moral Intuition, in: The Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory, Blackwell, 2000, pp. 92-110.

Topic 5: Scientific Reasoning: Induction and Explanation

Week 8: Mar 7, 9
Week 9: Mar 14, 16

David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, section IV-VI
Nelson Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast (Harvard 1979) Ch. 3 pp. 59-83
Gilbert Harman, Inference to the best explanation, Philosophical Review 74 (1965): 88-95.
Carl Hempel (1965), Aspects of Scientific Explanation, in Aspects of Scientific Explanation and other Essays in the Philosophy of Science. New York: Free Press, pp. 376-386.

Topic 6: Evidence, Reasoning and the Law

Week 10: Mar 21, 23
Week 11: Mar 28, 30

Elias E. Savellos and Richard F. Galvin, Reasoning and the Law, Wadsworth, 2001, Ch. 3
Ronald Dworkin, Constitutional Cases, from: Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard, 1997, pp. 131-149
Test case: Canadian ruling on same sex marriage

Topic 7: Logic Revisited: The Justification of Deduction

Week 12: Apr 4, 6

Lewis Carroll, What the Tortoise said to Achilles, Mind 4 (1895) 278-280.
Susan Haack, The justification of deduction, Mind 85 (1976): 112-119.

Wrapup, Student Presentations

Week 13: Apr 11, 13