In this exciting and original introduction to epistemology, Michael Williams explains and criticizes traditional philosophical theories of the nature, limits, methods, possibility, and value of knowing. All the main contemporary perspectives are explored and questioned, and the author's own theories put forward, making this new book essential reading for anyone, beginner or specialist, concerned with the philosophy of knowledge.
Inspired by the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Michael Williams launches an all-out attack on what he calls "phenomenalism," the idea that our knowledge of the world rests on a perceptual or experiential foundation.
Pragmatists have traditionally been enemies of representationalism but friends of naturalism, when naturalism is understood to pertain to human subjects, in the sense of Hume and Nietzsche. In this volume Huw Price presents his distinctive version of this traditional combination, as delivered in his René Descartes Lectures at Tilburg University in 2008. Price contrasts his view with other contemporary forms of philosophical naturalism, comparing it with other pragmatist and neo-pragmatist views such as those of Robert Brandom and Simon Blackburn. Linking (...) their different 'expressivist' programmes, Price argues for a radical global expressivism that combines key elements from both. With Paul Horwich and Michael Williams, Brandom and Blackburn respond to Price in new essays. Price replies in the closing essay, emphasising links between his views and those of Wilfrid Sellars. The volume will be of great interest to advanced students of philosophy of language and metaphysics. (shrink)
This article distinguishes Wittgensteinian contextualism from epistemic relativism. The latter involves the view that a belief ’s status as justified depends on the believer’s epistemic system, as well as the view that no system is superior to another. It emerges from the thought that we must rely, circularly, on our epistemic system to determine whether any belief is justified. Contextualism, by contrast, emerges from the thought that we need not answer a skeptical challenge to a belief unless there is good (...) reason to doubt the belief; so we need not rely on our epistemic system to determine whether a belief is justified. Accordingly contextualism is not committed to the view that a belief ’s status depends on the believer’s epistemic system, nor to the view that no system is superior to another. The contextualist is not committed to epistemic relativism. (shrink)
‘Responsibilist' approaches to epistemology link knowledge and justification with epistemically responsible belief management, where responsible management is understood to involve an essential element of guidance by recognized epistemic norms. By contrast, reliabilist approaches stress the de facto reliability of cognitive processes, rendering epistemic self-consciousness as inessential. I argue that, although an adequate understanding of human knowledge must make room for both responsibility and reliability, philosophers have had a hard time putting them together, largely owing to a tendency, on the part (...) of responsibilists, to adopt an overly demanding, hyperintellectualized conception of what epistemic responsibility demands. I trace this tendency towards hyper-intellectualism to a wish to meet scepticism head on, a wish that enforces adherence to a particular model of the structure of epistemic justification. I argue that a more humanly reasonable conception of epistemic justification suggests an alternative model. With this model in hand, we can both deflect sceptical problems and combine responsibility with reliability in a satisfying way. Philosophical Papers Vol. 37 (1) 2008: pp. 1-26. (shrink)
I want to discuss an approach to knowledge that I shall call simple conversational contextualism or SCC for short. Proponents of SCC think that it offers an illuminating account of both why scepti- cism is wrong and why arguments for scepticism are so intuitively appealing. I have my doubts.
When it first appeared in 1979, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature hit the philosophical world like a bombshell. In it, Richard Rorty argued that, beginning in the seventeenth century, philosophers developed an unhealthy obsession with the notion of representation: comparing the mind to a mirror that reflects reality. Rorty's book is a powerful critique of this imagery and the tradition of thought that it spawned. Thirty years later, the book remains a must-read and stands as a classic of twentieth-century (...) philosophy. Its influence on the academy, both within philosophy and across a wide array of disciplines, continues unabated. This edition includes new essays by philosopher Michael Williams and literary scholar David Bromwich, as well as Rorty's previously unpublished essay "The Philosopher as Expert.". (shrink)
In his Reflective Knowledge, Ernest Sosa offers a theory of knowledge, broadly virtue-theoretic in character, that is meant to transcend simple ways of contrasting "internalist" with "externalist" or "foundationalist" with "coherentist" approaches to knowledge and justification. Getting beyond such simplifications, Sosa thinks, is the key to finding an exit from "the Pyrrhonian Problematic": the ancient and profound skeptical problem concerning the apparent impossibility of validating the reliability of our basic epistemic faculties and procedures in a way that escapes vicious circularity. (...) Central to Sosa's anti-skeptical strategy is the claim that there are two kinds of knowledge. His thought is that animal knowledge, which can be understood in purely reliabilist terms, can ground justified trust in the reliability of our basic cognitive faculties, thus elevating us to the level of reflective knowledge. I offer a sketch of an alternative approach, linking knowledge and justification with epistemic accountability and responsible belief-management, which casts doubt on the idea that "animal" knowledge is knowledge properly so-called. However, it turns out that this approach is close in spirit to Sosa's. I suggest that the differences between us may rest on a disagreement over the possibility of providing a direct answer to the Pyrrhonian challenge. (shrink)
This essay argues that the Pyrrhonian regress argument presupposes a Prior Grounding conception of justification. This is contrasted with a Default and Challenge structure, which leads to a contextualist picture of justification. Contextualism is said to incorporate the best features of its traditionalist rivals — foundationalism and coherentism — and also to avoid skepticism. It is argued that we should not ask which conception is really true, but instead give up epistemological realism.
[Michael Williams] A response to Sosa's criticisms of Sellars's account of the relation between knowledge and experience, noting that Sellars excludes merely animal knowledge, and hopes to bypass epistemology by an adequate philosophy of mind and language. /// [Ernest Sosa] I give an exposition and critical discussion of Sellars's Myth of the Given, and especially of its epistemic side. In later writings Sellars takes a pragmatist turn in his epistemology. This is explored and compared with his earlier critique of givenist (...) mythology. In response to Michael Williams, it is argued that these issues are importantly independent of philosophy of language or mind, and that my own take on them does not commit me to any absurd radical foundationalism on language or mind. My own take is in line with Descartes' two-level epistemology of cognitio and scientia, a bifurcation that protects him from vicious circularity, and is adaptable for an epistemology naturalized (not supernaturalized), whether in the way of Quine, or Moore, or Davidson. (shrink)
Realism is commonly portrayed as theory that reduces international relations to pure power politics. Michael Williams provides an important reexamination of the Realist tradition and its relevance for contemporary international relations. Examining three thinkers commonly invoked as Realism's foremost proponents - Hobbes, Rousseau, and Morgenthau - the book shows that, far from advocating a crude realpolitik, Realism's most famous classical proponents actually stressed the need for a restrained exercise of power and a politics with ethics at its core. These ideas (...) are more relevant than ever at a time when the nature of responsible responses to international problems are at the centre of contemporary political debate. This original interpretation of major thinkers will interest scholars of international relations and the history of ideas. (shrink)