Perception, Language and Reality

a group contract
Spring Qtr. 2004-2005
Faculty: Charles Pailthorp


I have postponed evaluation conferences until some later time: during the summer for those are here; early fall quarter for those who will be away until then. If there are others, we will rely entirely on email. Please see the letter I circulated last Friday, May 20 (soon to be posted), for a full account of these changes and what to expert.

See the assignment page for details on finishing up.

Perception, Language and Reality
New Program, Not in printed catalog
Spring quarter 2004-05

“Does experience or reason lie at the foundation of human knowledge?” This question has been central in Western philosophy for two and half centuries, and the discussion shows little sign of abating. A central element has been a critique of the nature of human perception, particularly vision. When we perceive the world around us, what is the actual object of our awareness? Is it things that physically exist, or is it something in our mind, and perhaps only in our mind?

These questions arose with new force as the power of natural science became increasingly evident. Modern science did not describe the world as we encounter it in our daily lives, and that disparity has grown as contemporary sciences propose increasingly unimaginable realities. This will be our central concern: how to understand, and rethink, the complex relationships between science, perception and reality.

For the first four weeks, we will develop the historical background in which these issues arose and were given new shape. Our first reading will be Descartes’
Mediatations on First Philosophy and his Discourse on Method (1637, Paris). These will be followed by selections from both Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1738, London) and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1787, Riga).

In the weeks remaining, we will turn to seminal works of the 20th century. These will include G. E. Moore’s “A Defense of Common Sense”, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, W. V. O Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” and “Ontological Relativity,” Wilfrid Sellars’ “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man” and “Being and Being Known.” These philosophers turned their attention, increasingly, from mind to language, and we will follow this shift with some care.

This short list touches only on some of the important work in this area of philosophy. In addition to our work in common, each student will be asked to complete an independent study of important work we have ignored. Students will present this independent work to their peers.

Evaluations will focus on contributions to seminar discussion, shorter written work, presentations of independent work and written work based on independent study.

(This curriculum parallels but does not presuppose or replicate "Language and Mind," which I taught in Spring quarter, 2004.)

Credit awarded in: the philosophy of language and perception, metaphysics, the history of philosophy and credit that reflects each student's individual course of study and research.

Total: 16 credits.

Program is preparatory for: careers and future studies in philosophy, the humanities and social sciences.

Evaluations will focus on the student’s presentations, contributions to seminar discussions and a paper resulting from independent study.

Credit will be awarded in: the philosophy of language and perception, metaphysics, the history of philosophy and for work accomplished independently.

Total: 16 credits.

Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in philosophy, the humanities and social sciences.


The Evergreen State College
Last Updated: 05/24/2005