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Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology 1st Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0192892560
ISBN-10: 0192892568
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Editorial Reviews

Review

A masterly introduction to epistemology and an original contribution, this book succeeds on both levels. Those who know Michael Williams's earlier work will not be surprised by the rich texture of his writing and by how well it conveys the history and geography of the land of epistemology, while staking out a position of his own within it. Without piling on references, never woodenly didactic, Williams's manuscript still shows his mastery of the subject, in both its historical length and its contemporary breadth. Ernest Sosa, Brown University

Review in Italian appeared in Iride September 03.

About the Author

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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 23, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192892568
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192892560
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 0.6 x 5.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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