Review: Timothy WIlliamson’s ‘The Philosophy of Philosophy’



There are a lot of books and articles about the Philosophy of Science and how Science works. But intrestingly enough there is not much written about the Philosophy of Philosophy. What are philosophers doing the whole day? Timothy Williamson’s “The Philosophy of Philosophy” investigates the methods and processes that are at work in philosophy nowadays.

First of all he makes clear that there is not THE method of philosophy just as there is not THE method of science. But is philosophy not the a priori armchair investigation into very general questions? There is a lot of armchair reasoning in science for example in mathematics which is also thought a priori. You may say “Hold on, mathematics is not a hard science!” I will answer: “But theoretical physics is and I don’t see any reason why mathematics is not.” There is no clean cut border between science and philosophy. Some say cosmology is just bad science and some say good philosophy of mind is cognitive science. We have just no criteria to distinguish science from philosophy.

But is philosophy not the investigation in conceptual issues? Williamson says no and I think the is right. After the so called “linguistic turn” it was a common place that philosophy is conceptual analysis. Nowadays the enterprise of conceptual analysis is not very promising. Like Williamson makes clear there is just no good theory of analyticity that enables us to say that we have to search for analytic truths. So if we ask what the mind is, we do not ask about the concept MIND but about the mind, the thing in the world whatever it is.

There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in Williamsons book. He talks about the analysis of contrafactuals and that our ability to estimate the truth value of a contrafactual conditional for example of a thought experiment is just a more developed skill for judging counterfactuals in general. He also talks about thought experiments and evidence in philosophy. But the most interesting thing for me was the last chapter where he introduces a new principle of charity. Not charity of interpretation but the maximization of knowledge. If we have a referential semantics and a metaphysical conception of knowledge we get a argument for the claim that most of our believes are true. Knowledge and reference are seen as natural properties and they are first in the explenatory order of reference/knowledge and justification. So we get some anti-skeptical ammunition that is not internalist and anti-naturalist. I think that is one of the most interesting chapters in the book. (Maybe there will be a more detailed discusssion later.)

All in all it is a thought provoking book that reflects on a lot of issues that are current problems in philosophy. It gives an outlook for philosophy that emphasizes logic and detailed analysis while giving philosophers the selfesteem back to say that they are talking about things themselves and not only concepts.


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