Knowledge, Reality, and Truth

Open to students entering grades 9 through 12 or freshman year of college in the fall
III - August 10th – August 14th, 2020
Days & Time:
Monday–Friday, 10:10 a.m.–12:00 p.m. and 2:10–4:00 p.m.
Alex Rigas

“I most liked the class discussion that we had throughout the week. I enjoyed being able to hear other people’s opinions and bounce ideas off of the other students.” — From a program course evaluation 

Course Description

Is it possible that how things “really” or “truly” are is very different from how they appear to us? Could it be, for example, that the “real world” in which we believe ourselves to live is actually a computer program, á la The Matrix? If not, then how can we know that this is not the case – what is our evidence or justification for ruling out, with certainty, such a scenario? What, if any, are the implications of skeptical scenarios for more ordinary knowledge – what, if anything, can we, as believers aiming at knowledge, learn from such apparently fantastic and improbable hypotheses? And would it make any ethical difference – would our lives be better or worse off, and in what ways – if we actually are living in the Matrix?

In attempting to answer these questions, we read selections from philosophical classics such as Plato’s Republic and René Descartes’ Meditations, as well as articles by contemporary philosophers David Mitsuo Nixon and Jim Pryor.

This course has three aims: 1) to introduce students to key themes in philosophy, particularly metaphysics and epistemology, and in so doing to show how an apparently abstruse discipline is of surprising relevance to our lives; 2) to provide students with essential tools for understanding the nature of logical reasoning and evaluating arguments; 3) to sharpen students’ abilities to express themselves clearly and cogently, in writing and especially in speaking.

Beyond thoughtful reading and active participation, students are expected to complete several short and informal writing exercises, in part as a warm-up for a longer concluding reflection on key course themes.


Alex Rigas

Alex Rigas holds an M.A. and an M.Phil. in philosophy from Columbia University. His research has been mainly in 19th- and 20th-century European philosophy, especially Martin Heidegger. He has taught at Columbia and New York University, and his teaching interests include political and social philosophy, ethics, and metaphysics and epistemology. Alex believes that philosophy matters to and is for everyone, and he continues to facilitate philosophical discussions with non-academic audiences as a participant in the Columbia Department of Philosophy’s outreach program, Rethink.   

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Specific course detail such as hours and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.