Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Knowing Nothing


Our beliefs are subject to multiple sources of error: a traveler's perception of an oasis in the desert may turn out to be a mirage; the key witness in a criminal trial may turn out to be lying; a fluke in the data may mislead a research team into believing a false hypothesis; or a miscalculating math student may end up with the wrong answer. Philosophers often characterize knowledge as belief that is safe from error—but is knowledge possible? This course uses the philosophical arguments and thought experiments to assess the question of how much we can hope to know.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Ray Briggs

Ray Briggs got their Ph.D. in philosophy at MIT, and spent the next eight years teaching and doing research in Australia before coming to Stanford. Their research interests include what makes a person's life go well for them; whether time's passage is an illusion or part of fundamental reality; and the nature of the probabilities that appear in both statistical predictions and causal explanations in a variety of sciences. In addition to over 20 philosophy articles, Ray has published two poetry collections and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.