How do we know what we know? That’s the central question that animates the philosophical field known as epistemology. It’s also a problem that creative writers regularly ponder in their poetry and prose. Reading literary and philosophical texts side by side, we will discuss the nature of empirical, scientific, and poetic ways of knowing, as well as considering what it means to achieve self-knowledge and knowledge of other minds. Ought we to conceive of knowledge as perspectival or situated? If so, how might that affect how we try to obtain it? To enrich our discussion of these and other puzzling philosophical questions, we’ll read everything from a raucous eighteenth-century comic novel to a Modernist masterpiece to pulp horror stories, children’s fiction, and contemporary poems. Meanwhile, we will ask: does literature merely illustrate philosophical ideas or does it do philosophy in its own right?
Authors we will read include David Hume, Laurence Sterne, Virginia Woolf, H. P. Lovecraft, E. L. Konigsberg, Iris Murdoch, Herman Melville, and Wallace Stevens.