Academic Year 2023/2024 - Teacher: EMANUELE GIUSEPPE COCO

Expected Learning Outcomes

The course offers a historical and critical overview of the problems inherent in the Theory of Knowledge. It has three general educational objectives: to illustrate the key themes and authors in the history of epistemology; to provide critical tools for a better understanding of the work and results of scientific practices; and to stimulate critical reflection on epistemological approaches, the dialogue between scientific practices and the humanities, and knowledge of 'inner reality' (psychic dimension).

The course is divided into three sections: 1. the key problems of epistemology; 2. the twentieth-century debate around science; 3. the dialogue between epistemology and psychology.

The first section will illustrate the reasons why objective knowledge of reality may constitute a theoretical problem that is not easy to solve. It will discuss the fallacy of the senses, empiricist psychology, idealism, the opposition between appearance and reality, and the answers offered by some philosophers to the problem of the senses (Galileo and English empiricism). The rationalist alternative and the problem of the mind/body opposition will be illustrated. The section concludes with Kant's proposed synthesis and some references to non-Euclidean geometries, theories of truth and fallibilist realism. This will enable students to acquire theoretical tools that will enable them to make a conscious and critical use of scientific methodologies and results.

The second part is devoted to the most recent topics in the epistemological debate. The aims are the same as in the previous section, but the discourse is extended to the protagonists of the critique of knowledge who have worked throughout the 20th century, in many cases in connection with psychological research. The tradition of the 'recived view' and the arguments against it, Kuhn's turning point and Fleck's 'styles of thought', Lakatos' theoretical positions, Feyerabend's farewell to reason, constructivism and the dissolution of reality, science as social practice, and the relationship between science and society will be illustrated.

The third section addresses some specific problems in the relationship between science and psychology. The examples of these reciprocal exchanges will change from year to year, so as to make the teaching more lively and topical. The following topics are planned for the current year: Kant's influence on Freud's thought; Wilhelm Reich's naturalism; Bateson's ecology of the mind. The section concludes with an in-depth study of Dream, Myth and Symbolism in the knowledge of inner reality. This section, in harmony with the previous ones, aims both to provide specific knowledge on the topics covered and to reinforce critical reflection on knowledge of the person, of oneself and of the patient.

In terms of training, the course aims to develop knowledge and understanding of authors, problems and theories within their historical contexts. By proposing a critical analysis of problems and a careful treatment of Psychology, the course will solicit the ability to apply the epistemological debate to the contemporary context. The course also aims to develop transversal skills with particular reference to autonomy of judgement, communication and teamwork skills, self-analysis and personal development.

The latter objectives will be pursued through three main channels: 1. the general approach of the lectures aimed at showing, among the filigree of the topics dealt with, elements useful for the development of the skills listed above; 2. classroom activities (active participation of students during the lectures and exposure by them of some topics in the programme, shared discussion); 3. development of a specific part - within the monographic course - dedicated to the knowledge of oneself and of others.

Course Structure

1. Lectures with slide projections; 2. Interactive work with students during lectures; 3. Summary and evaluation of learning (the latter are not 'in itinere tests' but only colloquial comparisons that take place at the beginning of each lecture and are used by the lecturer to check the progress of learning and by the students to assess their attunement with the programme already carried out and their ability to act on it). 4. Group work in the classroom in the presence of the lecturer. 5. IN ITINERE TESTS. There will be two in itinere tests (one mid-course and one towards the end of the course) devoted to specific parts of the programme. Students who take part in the in itinere comparison and verification activities during the lessons may be exempted from presenting certain parts of the programme, in accordance with procedures that will be communicated in class. This solution is optional and will be confirmed at the beginning of the course in relation to the number of participants. It is in any case only valid for those who will take the examination by September. If the course is taught in mixed or distance mode, due to the Covid emergency, the necessary changes may be made with respect to what was previously stated, in order to comply with the syllabus set out in the syllabus.

Required Prerequisites

No prerequisites are required 

Attendance of Lessons

Attendance is recommended. Lectures make it easier to grasp the deeper meaning of the topics covered and the general ideas that hold them together. Lectures provoke moments of dialogue between the participants that make studying easier and more profitable.

Detailed Course Content

The course is divided into three sections: 1. the key problems of epistemology; 2. the twentieth-century debate around science; 3. the dialogue between epistemology and psychology.

The first section is devoted to an introduction to the founding problems of epistemology. TOPICS: The problem of knowledge; Scepticism under attack; Scepticism and the senses; Empiricist psychology; Idea-ism, appearance and reality; Primary and secondary qualities; Berkeley: idea-ism becomes idealism; Hume: Idea-ism becomes irrationalism; Responses to Hume on induction; The rationalist alternative; Descartes' defence of rationalism; Kant and the synthetic a priori; Non-Euclidean geometries; Truth and theories of truth; Fallibilist realism.

The second section is devoted to the 20th century epistemological debate and the most recent acquisitions in the field of theory of knowledge. 

The third part deals with examples of the relationship between epistemology, psychology and psychoanalysis. The following THEMES are planned for the current year: Kant's influence on Freud's thought; Wilhelm Reich's naturalism; Bateson's ecology of the mind; Dream, myth and symbolism in the knowledge of inner reality.

Textbook Information

  1. A. Musgrave, Senso comune, scienza e scetticismo. Un’introduzione storica alla teoria della conoscenza, Raffaello Cortina editore, 1995 [360 pp.]
  2. L. Fleck, Stili di pensiero. La conoscenza scientifica come creazione sociale, a cura di F. Coniglione, Mimesis 2019 [also in ebook format; introduzione + capp. 2, 5, 7, 10, 11, circa 170 pp.] 
  3. E. Coco, Dal cosmo al mare. La naturalizzazione del mito e la funzione filosofica, Olschki, 2017 [130 pp.]

Course Planning

 SubjectsText References
1The problem of knowledgeMusgrave, cap. 1
2Scepticism under attackMusgrave, cap. 2
3Scepticism and the sensesMusgrave, cap. 3
4Empiricist psychologyMusgrave, cap. 4
5Idea-ism, appearance and realityMusgrave, cap. 5
6Primary and secondary qualitiesMusgrave, cap. 6
7Berkeley: idea-ism becomes idealismMusgrave, cap. 7
8Hume: idea-ism becomes irrationalismMusgrave, cap. 8
9Hume's answers on inductionMusgrave, cap. 9
10The rationalist alternativeMusgrave, cap. 10
11The defence of rationalism: DescartesMusgrave, cap. 11
12Kant and the synthetic a prioriMusgrave, cap. 12
13Alternative geometriesMusgrave, cap. 13
14Truth and theories of truthMusgrave, cap. 14
15Fallibilist realismMusgrave, cap. 15
16The epistemology of the 20th centuryL. Fleck, Stili di pensiero: introduzione (pp. 7-81) 
17Epistemology and society: Ludwik Fleck's point of view L. Fleck, Stili di pensiero: capp. 2, 5, 7, 10, 11 
18Kant's influence on Freud's thinkingDispense, pdf 1
19The Naturalism of Wilhelm ReichDispense, pdf 2
20Bateson's Ecology of MindDispense, pdf 3
21Dream, myth and symbolism in the knowledge of inner realityE. Coco, Dal cosmo al mare. 

Learning Assessment

Learning Assessment Procedures

The final assessment of learning takes place in oral form (interview) and is accompanied by two in itinere (optional) tests to be carried out during the lessons. Students who take part in the in itinere comparison and verification activities during the lessons may be exempted from presenting some parts of the programme during the final exam, according to procedures that will be communicated at the beginning of the course in relation to the number of students attending. As a general guideline, the assessment criteria adopted are set out below: Adequacy of expression and clarity of exposition Ability to rework knowledge Ability to organise knowledge thematically and to make connections between different authors and/or problems, correctly arguing the reasons for any proposed connections Breadth of thematic awareness and lexical correctness Capacity for critical investigation Ability to make interdisciplinary connections Verification of learning may also be carried out electronically, should conditions require it.

Examples of frequently asked questions and / or exercises

1. What problems does the use of the senses pose when constructing objective knowledge?

2. What are the differences and commonalities between rationalism and empiricism?

3. Are there any reciprocal influences between science and society? 

4. What value can dreams have within a theory of knowledge?

5. Why was Freud interested in Kant's work?

NB: These questions are for illustrative purposes and are therefore not binding. The examination will be carried out in the manner of an open conversion aimed at assessing not only the candidate's knowledge, but also her/his critical and expository capacity, language property, familiarity with technical jargon and ability to express functional and creative intellectual performance. In this regard, it should be noted that the lectures include moments of exchange between the lecturer and the participants that prepare them to intervene critically in the manner listed above.