Response Questions

Frequently Asked Questions:

Wait, what?

Everyday on which there is assigned reading, there will be response questions posted at least a week ahead of time. The questions will be about the reading for that day. Students are to choose one of these questions and write a 1-page response to it.

When are the responses due?

On the days when the responses are collected, the responses from the previous class will be due. So, for instance, if I collect responses on a Monday, then you will be turning in your writing about the reading that was assigned and discussed the previous Friday.

What do you mean, “on the days when the responses are collected”? 

The responses will be collected randomly. At the beginning of every class, I will let a student pick a number between 1 and 6 and roll a 6-sided die. If the die matches the chosen number, the responses will be collected.

Is this some kind of joke? 


But doesn’t that mean that we won’t get credit for five-sixths of the responses we write?

I whole-heartedly reject the idea that something is only valuable or worth doing as a student if the student “gets credit” for it. I’m only collecting and grading the responses at all in order to (1) give you additional feedback on your progress in the course, and (2) provide an incentive for you to stay on top of the reading schedule and to read actively.

Your progress in the course (and your education generally) is valuable in its own right. The work you put into your uncollected responses will be worthwhile even if they don’t lead to an approving nod from your wizened old professor. (But you voluntarily signed up for an upper division philosophy class, so I probably don’t need to convince you of that!)

What is this “active reading” you mentioned? 

Believe it or not, you didn’t learn to read back in first grade (or whenever) when you “learned to read.” You’re still learning to read. It’s something that takes a long time and a lot of work, and it’s something that you can get better and better at. One important reading skill that every philosophy student should strive to master is “active reading,” in which you interrogate a text, ask questions of it. It’s all too easy to let your eyes glide over each word in a text without really thinking about what’s being said. If you approach a text with determinate questions that you want it to answer (“what is the author’s position?”, “what reasons does the author give for this position?”, “are those good reasons?”), you’ll be more likely to resist the tendency to read the text without really processing it. This is one reason why I think these response assignments are pedagogically useful.

Alright, I’m convinced, let’s do this. Do you have any other suggestions?

In line with what I just said about interrogating the text, I’d highly encourage you to read the questions before you start reading. This will give you something tangible and concrete to be on the lookout for as your work through the reading assignment.

In general, and as with all philosophical writing, you should strive to be as clear and precise as possible. Aim for close analyses of details rather than sweeping generalizations. You want to show me that you are comfortable explaining complicated philosophical ideas in your own terms.

Where can I find the response questions? 

Scroll down, my friend, your journey awaits you.

Choose one question to respond to each day:


Aug 28: Descartes – “Meditation 1”

Aug 30: Descartes – “Meditation 2”


Sept 4: Putnam – “Brains in Vats”

Sept 6: Huemer – “Direct Realism and the Brain-in-a-Vat Argument”


Sept 9: Dretske – “The Pragmatic Dimension of Knowledge”

Sept 11: Moore – “Proof of an External World”

Sept 13: Locke – Essay Concerning Human Understanding; Hume – “Of the Academical or Skeptical Philosophy”


Sept 16: Berkeley – Principles of Human Knowledge

Sept 18: Austin – “Sense and Sensibilia”

Sept 20: Plato – Meno


Sept 23: Russell – The Problems of Philosophy

Sept 25: Ayer – “The Elimination of Metaphysics”

Sept 27: Hume – “Of Miracles”


Sept 30: Carroll – “What the Tortoise said to Achilles”; Hume – “Of Skepticism with Regard to Reason”

Oct 2: Kornblith – “Distrusting Reason”

Oct 4: Hume – Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding


Oct 7: Goodman – “The New Riddle of Induction”

Oct 9: Bon Jour – “The Structure of Empirical Knowledge”

Oct 11: Haack – “A Foundherentist Theory of Empirical Justification”


Oct 14: Ayer – “Knowing as Having the Right to be Sure”; Gettier – “Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?”; Clark – “Knowledge and Grounds”

Oct 16: Quine – “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”

Oct 18: Quine – “Two Dogmas of Empiricism”


Oct 23: Grice and Strawson – “In Defense of a Dogma”

Oct 25: Davidson – “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme”


Oct 28: Quine – “Epistemology Naturalized”

Oct 30: Quine – “Epistemology Naturalized”

Nov 1: Kim – “What is Naturalized Epistemology?”


Nov 4: Churchland – “Epistemology in the Age of Neuroscience”

Nov 6: Sellars – Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

Nov 8: Sellars – Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind


Nov 11: Sellars – Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

Nov 13: Sellars – Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind

Nov 15: Alston – “Sellars and the Myth of the Given”


Nov 18: Alston – “Sellars and the Myth of the Given”

Nov 20: Burge – “Perceptual Entitlement”

Nov 22: Burge – “Perceptual Entitlement”


Nov 25: Burge – “Perceptual Entitlement”


Dec 2: McDowell – Perception as a Capacity for Knowledge

Dec 4: McDowell – Perception as a Capacity for Knowledge