Knowledge and Its Limits by Timothy Williams - ISBN 9780199256563 - OUP 2002



  • Preface
    • "The book suggests a way of doing epistemology in which the distinction between knowledge and ignorance is central and irreducible, and we can still aspire to systematicity and rigour" (p.v)
  • Introduction
    • "Epistemological theories are not usually susceptible of proof. This book shows how to understand cognitive phenomena on the basis of some simple but generally overlooked ideas. The reader will judge those ideas by their fruit" (p2)
    • "It will be assumed, not quite uncontroversially, that the upshot of that debate is that no currently available analysis of knowledge in terms of belief is adequat" (p4)
    • "Consequently, the supposed conceptual priority of knowledge over belief is not to be defended by appeal to a particular analysis of knowledge in terms of belief" (p4)
    • "The possibility of approximating knowledge in terms of belief and other concepts is not good evidence for the conceptual priority of belief over knowledge" (p4)
    • "A chief aim of this book is to develop a rigorous way of doing epistemology in which knowledge is central, and not subordinate to belief" (p5)
    • "by abandoning that fruitless search we can gain insight into epistemological problems, because we are freed to use the notion of knowledge as an instrument of understanding in ways that its subordination to belief would not permit" (p5)
  • 1 A State of Mind
    • "Given that the concept knows is mental, every analysis of it of the standard kind is therefore incorrect as a claim of concept identity, for the analysing concept is distinct from the concept to be analysed" (p30)
    • "unsophisticated curiosity is a desire to know" (p31)
    • "A propositional attitude is factive if and only if, necessarily, one has it only to truths." (p34)
    • "Examples include the attitudes of seeing, knowing, and remembering. Not all factive attitudes constitute states; forgetting is a process. Call those attitudes which do constitute states stative." (p34)
    • "The proposal is that knowing is the most general factive stative attitude, that which one has to a proposition if one has any factive stative attitude to it at all" (p34)
    • "The point of the conjecture is to illuminate the central role of the concept of knowing in our thought. It matters to us because factive stative attitudes matter to us" (p34)
    • "The characteristic expression of a factive stative attitude in language is a factive mental state operator (FMSO)" (p34)
    • "FMSOs are stative: they are used to denote states, not processes" (p35)
    • "'know' is the most general FMSO, the one that applies if any FMSO at all applies" (p39)
    • "While belief aims at knowledge, various mental processes aim at more specific factive mental states. Perception aims at perceiving that something is so; memory aims at remembering that something is so. Since knowing is the most general factive state, all such processes aim at kinds of knowledge" (p48)
  • 2 Broadness
    • "This chapter has stated a preliminary case for externalism about both mental contents and factive mental attitudes to those contents" (p64)
  • 3 Primeness
    • "internalism is false and [...], on the externalist alternative, knowing is a genuine mental state. " (p65)
    • "High correlations are an indispensable though fallible guide to causal structure. Where a high correlation misleads us into falsely postulating a causal connection, more detailed information about further correlations should correct our mistake" (p88)
    • "The high correlations between prime mental conditions and conditions on subsequent action constitute defeasible evidence for the causal effectiveness of the prime conditions. Higher correlations constituting a genuinely rival explanation would be needed to defeat that evidence" (p88)
  • 4 Anty-Luminosity
    • (p93)
    • "in our cognitive home [...] mistakes are always rectifiable. Similarly, we are not omniscient about our cognitive home. We may not know the answer to a question simply because the question has never occurred to us. Even if something is open to view, we may not have glanced in that direction. Again, the point is that such ignorance is always removable. " (p94)
    • "The aim of this chapter is to argue that we are cognitively homeless." (p94)
  • 5 Margins and Iterations
    • (p114)
  • 6 An Application
    • mention of the iterated prisoner dilemna to compare it with the glimpse paradox (p142)
      • classical dilemna already study earlier in game theory, in particular with the Evolution of Cooperation (Axelrod) and Game Theory at Work
  • 7 Sensitivity
    • "There is also a counterfactual notion of sensitivity to the truth, the simplest version of which requires that if the proposition were false, one would not believe it." (p147)
    • "This chapter will examine attempts to draw limited sceptical consequences from such counterfactual conditions on knowledge." (p148)
  • 8 Scepticism
    • "rationality requires one to respect one's evidence, which one cannot expect to do without knowing what it is." (p170)
    • "we must use methods to reach the truth. Rationality is a method. We can follow rules of rationality because we are always in a position to know what they require." (p179)
    • "paradoxes throw our very standards of rationality into doubt, and we fall back still further on what workable methods we can find. Cognition is irremediably opportunistic." (p180)
    • "There is a pragmatist and subjective Bayesian project to operationalize epistemology by working only with concepts whose application is always accessible to the agent. The argument of this chapter implies that the project is doomed to failure." (p180)
  • 9 Evidence
    • "Once Gettier showed in 1963 that justified true belief is insufficient for knowledge, and therefore that knowledge is unnecessary for justified true belief, it became natural to ask: if you can have justified true beliefs, why bother with knowledge?" (p184)
    • "The best way of comparing the conditional probabilities of two hypotheses h and h* on evidence e, P(h| e) and P(h*| e), is often by calculating the inverse probabilities of e on h and h*, P(e| h), and P(e| h*). " (p195)
    • "Knowing is a state, not an activity. In that sense, one can know without consideration that things appear to be some way" (p199)
    • "Belief does not aim merely at truth; it aims at knowledge. The more it is justified by knowledge, the closer it comes to knowledge itself. If evidence and knowledge are one, then the more a belief is justified by evidence, the closer it comes to its aim" (p208)
  • 10 Evidential Probability
    • "This chapter embeds the fact in a probabilistic theory of evidence. The analysis of uncertainty leads naturally to a simple theory of higher-order probabilities" (p209)
    • "Forgetting is not irrational; it is just unfortunate. MONOTONICITY is sometimes a useful idealization; it is not inherent in the nature of rationality" (p218)
    • "From our present perspective, the non-partitional structure of our future knowledge is a source of bias, similar in effect to forgetting although much subtler in its operation. " (p236-237)
    • does Popper's chapter on probability and statistics and later on, this chapter, lead together to current the Probabilistic Logic Network (PLN) movement in AI?
  • 11 Assertion
    • (p238)
  • 12 Structural Unknowability
    • "This chapter explores some limits to knowledge which are intrinsic to the propositions unknown, necessary limits embedded throughout our contingent ignorance" (p270)
    • "if something is an unknown (but perhaps knowable) truth, then that it is an unknown truth is itself an unknowable truth" (p270)
    • "strong verificationism be the insane-sounding thesis that every truth is known" (p271)
    • "weak verificationism be the sane-sounding thesis that every truth is knowable, in the sense that it is possible for it to be know" (p271)
    • "In this chapter we saw a route to knowing of various pairs of propositions that since both are unknowable and one or other of them is true, one or other of them is an unknowable truth. What we have not seen is a route to knowing that when the pair consists of a proposition and its negation. Yet we may plausibly conjecture that, in some sense of 'impossible', we can know of some propositions both that they are true or false and that it is impossible to know them to be true and impossible to know them to be false. We are only beginning to understand the deeper limits of our knowledge" (p301)

See also

Overall remarks and questions

  • can an FMSO, as definied in chapter 1 A State of Mind, be used a semantic link with my new concepts page?
  • the book is extremely difficult to read because of the number of internal references to previous chapters, previous arguments (numbered in very different ways) and even to future points to be made.


(:new_vocabulary_start:) to supervene (:new_vocabulary_end:)

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