derose_review - An edited version of this review should be...

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An edited version of this review should be appearing in an upcoming issue of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science . Please do not quote or cite page numbers from this draft, as it may differ from the published version. TIMOTHY WILLIAMSON Knowledge and its Limits Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000 Keith DeRose Department of Philosophy Yale University Though he’s perhaps best known for his work on vagueness, Timothy Williamson also produced a series of outstanding papers in epistemology in the late 1980's and the 1990's. Knowledge and its Limits brings this work together. The result is, in my opinion, the best book in epistemology to come out since 1975. Those familiar with Williamson’s articles will not find anything startlingly new here. Still, the book is not just a thinly disguised collection of old papers. Much of the material is significantly improved, with important new substantive points added. Beyond those new substantive contributions, Williamson does a good job of drawing his earlier work together into a coherent whole, both by means of explanations of the interconnections between his claims and arguments and by some rearrangement of material: Some of the old papers are broken up and interspersed with material from other papers. The resulting picture is rich and complicated, reaching into important regions of philosophy of mind and philosophy of language, in addition to epistemology, but in his Preface, Williamson volunteers: “If I had to summarize this book in two words, they would be: knowledge first” (p. v). A key to
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2 Williamson’s approach is that he does not take knowledge to be something to be analyzed, in anything like the traditional way, but something to be used in the elucidation of other concepts. Thus, Williamson argues impressively for important knowledge-based accounts of evidence, evidential probability, and assertion: one’s total evidence is just one’s total knowledge (Chapter 9), the evidential probability of a hypothesis for a subject is its probability conditional on the subject’s knowledge (Chapter 10), and the fundamental constitutive rule of assertion is that one should assert only what one knows (Chapter 11). Another theme is that of knowledge as a mental state (Chapter 1, ff.). This is related to the “knowledge first” theme because the thought that knowledge is not itself a mental state, but is to be factored into a mental state (perhaps belief) together with some external, non-mental conditions (including truth) is one of the root causes of the attempt to analyze knowledge. Williamson argues that knowledge itself has as good a claim to being a mental state as does believing. A third theme, closely related to the above two, is that knowledge is
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