on December 12, 2003
Here is a great line from a review of Williamson's book by N.M.L. Nathan: "I much admired its wintry and uncompromising exactitude."
The point is partly that Williamson displays a new level of logical precision in epistemology. His ability to spell things out explicitly can be scary.
Perhaps the point is also, partly, that there is almost no humor in this book (unless you count things like, "It is at best negligent to bury someone without evidence that he is dead, even if he is in fact dead" (p. 245)).
Given the history of this subject, the leading idea, viz., that knowledge is conceptually primitive and central to the analysis of concepts like "evidence", "assertion", and maybe even "belief" itself, is novel and bold. It's remarkable to see this now, thousands of years after Plato's Theatetus.
This is mainly a work of epistemology, but philosophers of mind should read it too. Williamson's defense of broadness and the causal efficacy of knowledge is creative and, to me, persuasive.
See also Williamson's sharp defense of a knowledge norm as defining the social practice of assertion. This is a terrific object-lesson in how to relate individual mental states to social practices.
I think the much-discussed anti-luminosity argument is merely clever, and actually the weakest part of the book. But I also think that one could accept most of the rest of the book while holding that knowledge (not, of course, lack-of-knowledge) is in some relevant sense luminous.
on December 22, 2002
The last several decades have seen epistemology bogged down in various reductionist attempts to define knowledge in non-circular terms. Williamson adopts the view that knowledge is a primitive state. If he is right, epistemology cannot consist in the attempt to give a reductive analysis of knowledge. Williamson then demonstrates the interest of his brand of non-reductive epistemology, by drawing radical conclusions from his characteristically precise arguments about a host of topics from self-knowledge to the nature of evidence. This is the most important book in epistemology in decades, written by the leading living philosopher outside of normative ethics and history.
on November 3, 2002
This may well be the most important work in epistemology to have appeared in the last decade. Like its author's other works, it is precise, deep, startlingly creative and deeply thought-provoking -- a first-rate piece of analytic philosophy!