Faculty Books

Kant's Final Synthesis

This is the first book in English devoted entirely to Kant’s Opus postumum and its place in the Kantian oeuvre. Over the last few decades, the importance of this text for our understanding of Kant’s philosophy has emerged with increasing clarity.

Although Kant began it in order to solve a relatively minor problem within his philosophy, his reflections soon forced him to readdress virtually all the key problems of his critical philosophy: the objective validity of the categories, the dynamical theory of matter, the natures of space and time, the refutation of idealism, the theory of the self and its agency, the question of living organisms, the doctrine of the practical postulates and the idea of God, the unity of theoretical and practical reason, and the idea of transcendental philosophy itself. In the end Kant was convinced that these problems, some of which had preoccupied him throughout his career, could finally be brought to a coherent and adequate solution and integrated into a single philosophical conception.

As Eckart Förster shows in his penetrating study, Kant’s conviction deserves not only our intellectual respect but also our undivided philosophical attention. Förster provides detailed analyses of the key problems of Kant’s Opus postumum and also relates them to Kant’s major published writings. In this way he provides unique insights into the extraordinary continuity and inner dynamics of Kant’s transcendental philosophy as it progresses toward its final synthesis.

Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology

What is epistemology or “the theory of knowledge?” What is it really about? Why does it matter? What makes theorizing about knowledge “philosophical?” Why do some philosophers argue that epistemology—perhaps even philosophy itself—is dead?
In this succinct, exciting, and original introduction to epistemology, Michael Williams explains and criticizes philosophical theories of the nature, limits, methods, possibility, and value of knowing. A coherent and progressive text, Problems of Knowledge covers both traditional and contemporary approaches to the subject, including foundationalism, the coherence theory, and “naturalistic” theories. As an alternative to these perspectives, Williams defends his own distinctive contextualist approach. Problems of Knowledge provides clear and engaging explanations of the theory of knowledge and why it matters, offering an excellent foundation for students in introductory epistemology courses.

Sextus Empiricus: Against the Ethicists

This volume contains a new translation of Against the Ethicists, together with an introduction and extensive commentary. Those who have discussed this work in the past have tended to underestimate it, regarding its main position as essentially the same as that of Sextus’s better-known Outlines of Pyrrhonism. Richard Bett shows that this text proposes a distinct and previously unnoticed philosophical outlook, associated with a phase of Pyrrhonian Scepticism earlier than Sextus himself.

Groundless Belief

Inspired by the work of Wilfrid Sellars, Michael Williams launches an all-out attack on what he calls “phenomenalism,” the idea that our knowledge of the world rests on a perceptual or experiential foundation. The point of this wider-than-normal usage of the term “phenomenalism,” according to which even some forms of direct realism deserve to be called phenomenalistic, is to call attention to important continuities of thought between theories often thought to be competitors. Williams’s target is not phenomenalism in its classical sense-datum and reductionist form but empiricism generally. Williams examines and rejects the idea that, unless our beliefs are answerable to a “given” element in experience, objective knowledge will be impossible.

Groundless Belief was first published in 1977. This second edition contains a new afterword in which Williams places his arguments in the context of some current discussions of coherentism versus the Myth of the Given and explains their relation to subsequent developments in his own epistemological views.

Freedom and Responsibility

Can we reconcile the idea that we are free and responsible agents with the idea that what we do is determined according to natural laws? For centuries, philosophers have tried in different ways to show that we can. Hilary Bok takes a fresh approach here, as she seeks to show that the two ideas are compatible by drawing on the distinction between practical and theoretical reasoning.

Bok argues that when we engage in practical reasoning—the kind that involves asking “what should I do?” and sifting through alternatives to find the most justifiable course of action—we have reason to hold ourselves responsible for what we do. But when we engage in theoretical reasoning–searching for causal explanations of events—we have no reason to apply concepts like freedom and responsibility. Bok contends that libertarians’ arguments against “compatibilist” justifications of moral responsibility fail because they describe human actions only from the standpoint of theoretical reasoning. To establish this claim, she examines which conceptions of freedom of the will and moral responsibility are relevant to practical reasoning and shows that these conceptions are not vulnerable to many objections that libertarians have directed against compatibilists. Bok concludes that the truth or falsity of the claim that we are free and responsible agents in the sense those conceptions spell out is ultimately independent of deterministic accounts of the causes of human actions.

Clearly written and powerfully argued, Freedom and Responsibility is a major addition to current debate about some of philosophy’s oldest and deepest questions.

Unnatural Doubts

In Unnatural Doubts, Michael Williams constructs a masterly polemic against the very idea of epistemology, as traditionally conceived. Although philosophers have often found problems in efforts to study the nature and limits of human knowledge, Williams provides the first book that systematically argues against there being such a thing as knowledge of the external world. He maintains that knowledge of the world constitutes a theoretically coherent kind of knowledge, whose possibility needs to be defended, only given a deeply problematic doctrine he calls “epistemological realism.” The only alternative to epistemological realism is a thoroughgoing contextualism.

Particles and Waves

This volume brings together 11 essays by the distinguished philosopher of science, Peter Achinstein. The unifying theme is the nature of the philosophical problems surrounding the postulation of unobservable entities such as light waves, molecules, and electrons. How, if at all, is it possible to confirm scientific hypotheses about “unobservables”? Achinstein examines this question as it arose in actual scientific practice in three nineteenth-century episodes: the debate between particle and wave theorists of light, Maxwell’s kinetic theory of gases, and J.J. Thomson’s discovery of the electron. The book contains three parts, each devoted to one of these topics, beginning with an essay presenting the historical background of the episode and an introduction to the philosophical issues. There is an illuminating evaluation of various scientific methodologies, including hypothetico-deductivism, inductivism, and the method of independent warrant which combines features of the first two. Achinstein assesses the philosophical validity of both nineteenth-century and modern answers to questions about unobservables, and presents and defends his own solutions.

Concepts of Science

While the scientist works essentially with what he observes, with the measurable properties of nature, the philosopher of science is concerned to formulate the conceptual foundations of the scientific method. In this systematic study, Professor Achinstein analyzes such concepts as definitions, theories, and models, and contrasts his view with currently held positions that he finds inadequate.