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Course Description

The past two decades have seen the rise of contrastivist positions in several areas of philosophy. For example, a recent turn in the debate about the nature of causation has been to think of causation as contrastive; that is, to hold that binary causal claims need to be relativized to implicit contrasts. Relatedly, a contrastive conception of knowledge has been steadily emerging. According to this view, there is a sense in which I have ordinary knowledge of the world around me, in that I do know that I am holding a coffee cup rather than a wine glass, but there is also a sense in which the sceptic is correct in claiming that I cannot rule out possibilities of error, such that I don’t know that I am holding a coffee cup rather than merely dreaming. Thus this contrastive view claims to explain how ordinary knowledge and sceptical doubt are compatible. Finally, one can also adopt a contrastivist view in the philosophy of language, according to which language is guided by implicit ‘questions under discussion’. This idea – that the structure of language can be cashed out in terms of question-and-answer inquiry – is radically new, and offers unique solutions to familiar puzzles of language.

This class is divided into four sections, each of which focuses on four areas in theoretical philosophy where contrastivist approaches have begun to flourish: in debates about (i) explanation, (ii) knowledge, (iii) causation, and (iv) metaphysical grounding.

Upon completion of this course, students will be well-versed in each of these debates (and thereby able to begin independent research in these areas), but will also have the requisite background to fruitfully participate in the upcoming Fifth Hamburg Summer School, led by Professor Jonathan Schaffer.

Course Materials

Further Materials

Regarding writing philosophy papers, I strongly suggest the following:

Further, the following German texts – all written by Christian Folde – are all useful: