Item description for Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology by Michael Williams...
What is epistemology or 'the theory of knowledge'? What is it really about? Why does it matter? What makes theorising about knowledge 'philosophical'? Why do some philosophers argue that epistemology - perhaps even philosophy itself - is dead? In this exciting and original introduction, Michael Williams shows how epistemological theorizing is sensitive to a range of questions about the nature, limits, methods, and value of knowing. He pays special attention to the challenge of philosophical scepticism: does our 'knowledge' rest on brute assumptions? Does the rational outlook undermine itself? Williams explains and criticises all the main contemporary philopsophical perspectives on human knowledge, such as foundationalism, the coherence theory, and 'naturalistic' theories. As an alternative to all of them, he defends his distinctive contextualist approach. While accessible to the undergraduate and general reader, this book contains Williams' own original ideas and is essential reading for all philosophers concerned with the theory of knowledge.
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Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.62" Width: 5.88" Height: 0.59" Weight: 0.9 lbs.
Release Date Aug 23, 2001
Publisher Oxford University Press
ISBN 0192892568 ISBN13 9780192892560
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More About Michael Williams
Michael Williams is the Charles and Emma Morrison Professor of Humanities, and Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University. He has previously held positions at Yale and the University of Maryland.
Reviews - What do customers think about Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology?
More than a first rate introduction Oct 21, 2007
It is amazing how much one can learn and clarify with this remarkable book. At the same time it delivers a lesson on the historical setting that shape the discussion about knowledge as a problematic issue -thus conveying with accuracy that body of concerns called epistemology- it also manages to establish a lucid position (contextualism) so to iluminate the whole of the discussion in all its relevant angles. More than a mere lesson the reader gets a bright example of critical thinking in action that, at the end, is what western philosophy is all about: a search for a self understanding of our human conundrums.
In the same extent the book demanded a lot of writing skills on behalf of the author (which no doubt is quite up to the task) it also requires a careful reading. The latter it is not because the book is not written in a fine clear prose but because the author proceeds as chess player and he seems to be a master of the game. However this does not mean that Williams see the enterprise as a setting of knock-down refutations (nothing more far away of his own philosophy) rather he manage to find a lucid perspective from where to launch critical insights and in order to do so he planned a thoughtful architecture that makes the book a solid one piece of argumentation almost seamless welded.
Williams brightly outlines how scepticism has shaped most of the current epistemological positions. As an overreaction to error -that shadow attached to everything that stems from human action and thinking- scepticism also set up the standards of the discussion to the extent that philosophical enterprises to refute it such as foundationalism or coherentism are doomed efforts insofar they are playing the game under the sceptical terms: looking after what Williams calls a Prior Grounding Requirement (either understood as a sort of an arquimedian point that links human thought with the world or as a perfect fabric where everything is interwoven with everything else in order to make sense) these attempts implicitly commit themselves to a hierarchical structured reasons only conceivable as a metaphysical object. The Cartesian influence on western philosophy didn't help either because the methodological demand it set up front contributed a lot to forget that challenges to knowledge -far from being holistic and wholly abstract- actually came from an interplay of giving reasons and answers, social structured and historically allocated, thus giving way to an overblown demand on certainty that deflect the understanding on the phenomenology of the very human knowledge enterprise and the context that enables a given challenge or refutation to become a meaningful one.
Despite this Williams thinking on epistemology doesn't quit to its normative character or suggests it ought to be a mere history of knowledge nor reduces it to a philosophy of science for his position is that knowledge is all about justified belief, thus rejecting the so called externalist approach which only concern is that a statement is linked with the state of affairs of the world no matter how this "match" was reached. Because knowledge has a propositional content which implies concepts and invites to refutations (the very game of giving questions and answers as Wittgenstein may say) Williams remind us that knowledge is a human activity in a human setting. That's why it cannot also be naturalized in terms of cognitive psychology concerned only with processes described between entities (mind and world). At the end Williams safe the epistemological undertake in showing that is tenable in a more humble but not less sharp and intelligent terms. He truly makes good philosophy by humanizing what at some point became a blind Golem.
Beautifully written Mar 14, 2007
This is a superb introduction to epistemology, simply beautifully written, a real model of clarity and concision. Williams well achieves his goal of an introduction suitable for the non-specialist.
de riguer for prospective philosophers Aug 6, 2006
Like the phoenix or the many-headed hydra (depending on your figurative orientation) the epistemic project, despite its detractors, remains front and center in the philosophic enterprise. While most contemporary philosophers claim to be doing semantics or logic to get at the truth, the Truth is that they all seem engaged, however obliquely, in the venerable epistemic quest of the ages. However constraining the ongoing malaise of skeptical reservation seems to be (Williams neatly divies it up into two "families": Agrippan and Cartesian), we would like to believe that we have a a right, if not a claim, to know. Williams tells us that the question of epistemic value is the most generative, if not fruitful, one we can ask at this point, and I would not challenge his expertise, which is considerable and informative. What I like most about this rich, demanding, and yet accessible, work, is the balance between economy and comprehensiveness. While not, in my opinion, a basic primer (the subtitle 'introduction' might mislead - one really must have read a bit of philosophy the appreciate the depths which are measured), the text should be required reading for every ambitious first year philosophy grad student. Virtually every argument your instructors will discuss re: epistemology is deftly, and coherently, detailed in its relevant essentials as Williams builds his position. Williams gets to heart of every major epistemic view, without cant, confusion, and difficult citations (the book is blessedly free of them - unlike most introductory epistemology texts)- and gives you the stuff that most counts. As we are dealing with a normative science here, what "counts" is of the utmost importance. The reader must often dig to follow Williams as he elegantly connects the dots, but when done, a very useful overview of this often dizzyingly complex field emerges "ready-to-hand", with a grasp of the critical issues. As the strength of William's position has been discussed by other reviewers here, I will only reiterate that the philosophy student will be hard pressed to find as comprehensive an "ubersicht" as deftly crafted in as slender a volume. Learn at the feet of a contemporary master.
Epistemological optimism critically defended. Mar 18, 2005
The subtitle, "a critical introduction to epistemology," is precisely descriptive of this volume. I'd say it is somewhat beyond an introduction -- and it is nothing if not critical (but of course any serious consideration of epistemology must be). The discourse throughout tackles the problem of skepticism, both classical (Agrippan) and modern (Cartesian). As Williams states in the introduction, "Once we become aware that even our most cherished views can be challenged, there is no going back to a pre-critical, traditionalist outlook. This is why concern with knowledge is no longer optional. . . Scepticism is the skeleton in Western rationalism's closet: an argumentatively sophisticated attack on rationalism itself. It represents the extreme case of a tradition of critical inquiry reflexively applied. From the very beginnings of Western philosophy, there has been a counter-tradition arguing that the limits of reason are much more confining than epistemological optimists like to think. . . If scepticism cannot be refuted, the rational outlook undermines itself." Once familiar with the arguments of philosophical skepticism, it seems they are but modestly more "sophisticated" than those of mere practical, I might say "methodological", skepticism. All skepticism, practical or philosophical, is rather highly intuitive; one needn't be a stark, raving genius to understand Descartes' description of the problem of external ('objective') knowledge. As it turns out, skepticism is built on the same foundational assumptions as is the most pervasive model of epistemological theory -- Foundationalism. At first blush, the "foundational" theory of knowledge might seem like the appropriate model with which to defend knowledge from philosophical skepticism. But Foundationalism fails on two levels; it neither overcomes skepticism nor can allow for epistemological risk-taking (which can have obvious merit). It can be argued that the difficulty of foundationalism may be that it is atomistic -- might a holistic theory fare better? A holistic line of attack is the so-called Coherence theory, but this approach, while conceived as being less vulnerable than Foundationalism, appeals to the same rational underpinnings as Foundationalism and, yes, Philosophical Skepticism. The problems, in all cases, are analyzed in the first 12 chapters. After a diagnostic treatment of the foundational assumptions of Philosophical Skepticism, the epistemology (theory of knowledge) for which Williams finally argues is the so-called Contextual theory. While Contextualism rejects the assumptions of Foundationalism and its quarreling cousins, it allows, within a "default and challenge" framework, for: immediate knowledge, a methodology of fallibilism (i.e., falsification), and epistemological risk-taking. A deflationist approach to knowledge, contextualism is neither atomistic nor strictly holistic. It is critical to notice that Contextualism is not mere epistemological Relativism, as Williams says, "the relativist, like the sceptic, is a disappointed foundationalist."
The author finally cautions that he has not offered the final word on these problems. But the treatment is obviously much more thorough than it appears in my brief review, and while I question a few of Williams assertions (very few actually), as an epistemological optimist (and a 'practical' rather than 'philosophical' skeptic), I suggest that he's pretty much gotten it right. The book is well worth your time if you are interested in the theory of knowledge (and if you have any interest in defending your beliefs/judgments, you should be).
Excellent introduction to epistemology Sep 5, 2003
As a doctoral candidate in philosophy specializing in epistemology I am familiar with many inductory books in the field. In my opinion, William's "Problems of Knowledge" is one of the best. The book is especially insightful on the issue of skepticism and argues for a sophisticated contextualism.