Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

PHIL102 Knowledge and Truth

Can we know anything for certain? Do the senses provide such knowledge? Does reason provide it? Can we know anything about the future?

This paper will introduce fundamental questions concerning human knowledge. What is knowledge? What is the relationship between knowledge and experience? What can we know? Philosophers have produced interesting arguments about our knowledge of particular things and things of particular kinds. We will read and discuss some of these arguments about knowledge of the external world, of other minds and of moral truths. Truth is frequently thought to be a necessary condition for knowledge. We will examine this claim and investigate different theories of truth and the relationship between truth and knowledge. Are there truths that we cannot know? Can we know when we err and when we get things right?

Paper title Knowledge and Truth
Paper code PHIL102
Subject Philosophy
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Second Semester
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $851.85
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $3,585.00

^ Top of page

Schedule C
Arts and Music
Suitable for all students
Teaching staff
Convener and Lecturer: Professor Michael LeBuffe
Paper Structure
There will be two 50-minute lectures and one 50-minute tutorial each week.

The first half of the paper will be organised around a study of Descartes's attempt to tear down all human belief and start over from firm foundations in his Meditations. Descartes presents and attempts to overcome sceptical arguments against the possibility of knowledge. He attempts to give an account of knowledge, which he associates with the clarity and distinctness of ideas, and error, which he associates with obscurity and confusion. Descartes adheres closely also to his metaphor between knowledge and a building. Does knowledge have a kind of structure in which some of what we know is dependent, in some ways, on other knowledge?

The second half of the paper will be organised around a study of Berkeley's Dialogues and Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Berkeley and Hume both emphasise the importance of experience to knowledge. They find in experience an alternative to Descartes's theory of clear and distinct ideas and develop, in different ways, a theory of knowledge emphasising the importance of experience. Our study of these texts will be supplemented throughout the paper by contemporary texts on related themes. Although the historical texts are rich, we will focus on understanding theories of knowledge and their relation both to theories of truth and to the challenge of scepticism.

  • Internal assessment is worth 30% of the final mark. It will consist of two essays of up to 1,500 words each, each worth 15%
  • A final examination will be worth 70% of the final mark
Teaching Arrangements
Students should read the assignment carefully before each lecture. It is recommended that students prepare by summarising, in their own words, the meaning of each paragraph. Reading assignments will be short, so this should be possible. Each lecture will emphasise a short list of terms that will be important for the final exam.
Readings will be distributed before lectures.
Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Global perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Cultural understanding, Ethics, Research.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Students who successfully complete the paper will
  • Demonstrate understanding and correct use of central terms and concepts of epistemology
  • Present, defend and criticise prominent positions in epistemology
  • Construct clear written arguments in epistemology
  • Demonstrate familiarity with prominent texts in epistemology and their central arguments
  • Demonstrate understanding and correct use of terms used to describe and evaluate arguments

^ Top of page


Second Semester

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system


Stream Days Times Weeks
L1 Monday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41
Thursday 12:00-12:50 28-34, 36-41


Stream Days Times Weeks
Attend one stream from
T1 Monday 16:00-16:50 28-34, 36-41
T2 Tuesday 15:00-15:50 28-34, 36-41
T4 Thursday 13:00-13:50 28-34, 36-41