Summer 2020 - PHIL 455W D100

Contemporary Issues in Epistemology and Metaphysics (4)

The Knowledge Argument

Class Number: 4552

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    Two 300 division PHIL courses.



May be repeated for credit. Writing.



[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 803.]

In 1982 Frank Jackson published “Epiphenomenal Qualia”. In a single paragraph, he introduced the world to the scientist Mary who knows all there is to know about all aspects of colour and colour perception but still learns something new when she is let out from her monochrome environment and sees colour for the first time. Jackson argues that she learns some new facts, ones about her conscious experience – or her qualia, as philosophers call them. And, since what she learns is something all the physical science she had did not teach her, the world contains something besides the physical facts.

Jackson himself later (1995) rejects the conclusion of the knowledge argument, as it has come to be called. But the philosophical community has found the debate about whether and how the argument works irresistible. A few months ago, yet a third anthology of papers devote to the topic has come out, and it will form the core of the readings for this course (along with Jackson’s original piece and some of the core responses).

We will be not be centrally interested in whether physicalism is true or false and whether the knowledge argument shows the latter. The debate’s real interest, I believe, is in what it we can learn from it about the nature of consciousness and of qualia in particular, as well as about the concept of colour and of red, green, blue etc. (and other sensory qualities).


This course may be applied towards the Writing Requirement (and the upper division Writing Requirement for Philosophy Majors).


  • Assigned reading and participation 10%
  • Either a presentation or a short paper (1000-1200 words) on one of the papers 25%
  • Term paper proposal 5%
  • Term paper draft 20%
  • Term paper final version 40%


The seminar will happen live, at the designated time, through Zoom connection.  



Remote learning for this semester requires a computer or tablet, camera, microphone, and internet access. Headsets are advisable but not necessary. Students have access to free Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud found here If students do not have reliable access, they should inform their instructor and contact the IT desk to see if a loaner computer can be arranged. There is one computer lab on campus for limited access. Classes will be conducted on Zoom. It is recommended that students use broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE) internet connection, with bandwidth of at least 1.5Mbps (upload and download).


The Knowledge Argument, Editor: Sam Coleman, Cambridge, 2019
ISBN: 9781316506981

Othe reading materials available through Canvas. 

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University.


Please note that all teaching at SFU in summer term 2020 will be conducted through remote methods. Enrollment in this course acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning ( or 778-782-3112) as soon as possible to ensure that they are eligible and that approved accommodations and services are implemented in a timely fashion.