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Timothy Williamson Discusses His Own Philosophy
Date:2021-10-09  Clicks:13

Speaker: Prof. Timothy Williamson (University of Oxford, UK)

Date and Time: 2021.10.30—2021.12.18, on Saturdays, 6:30pm-9:00pm Beijing Time

Host: Prof. Bo CHEN (Wuhan University, China)

Prof. Yong CHENG (Wuhan University, China)

Platform: Zoom, 学术志网站

Language: English


School of Philosophy, Wuhan University

About the speaker:

Prof. Timothy Williamson has been the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford since 2000. He is a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a foreign member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, a member of the Academia Europaea, an Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Institut International de Philosophie, and an Honorary Fellow of Balliol College Oxford.

Prof. Timothy Williamson is the author of Identity and Discrimination (Blackwell 1990, updated edition 2013), Vagueness (Routledge 1994), Knowledge and its Limits (Oxford 2000), The Philosophy of Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell 2007), Modal Logic as Metaphysics (Oxford 2013), Tetralogue: I’m Right, You’re Wrong (Oxford 2015), Doing Philosophy: From Common Curiosity to Logical Reasoning (Oxford 2018, paperback Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction 2020), Suppose and Tell: The Semantics and Heuristics of Conditionals (Oxford 2020), (with Paul Boghossian) Debating the A Priori (Oxford 2020), and more than two hundred articles. Williamson on Knowledge, edited by Patrick Greenough and Duncan Pritchard (Oxford 2009) and Williamson on Modality, edited by Mark McCullagh and Juhani Yli-Vakkuri (Routledge 2017) contain essays on his work with his replies. His work has been translated into Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Chinese, Croatian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Turkish, and Ukrainian.

Lecture 1: My Preparation for Doing Philosophy

Interlocutor: Huilan ZHU (PhD Candidate, Wuhan University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.10.30, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: In the opening part of the lecture, I will describe how I first became interested in philosophy, my time as a computer programmer (1972-3), my studies as an undergraduate in mathematics and philosophy (1973-6) and as a doctoral student in philosophy (1976-80) at Oxford University, my teachers (especially Michael Dummett, but also A.J. Ayer and Peter Strawson) and my first years as a teacher of philosophy at Trinity College Dublin (1980-88). In the latter part of the lecture, I will discuss on the basis of those experiences some more general questions about philosophical education, including relations between students and teachers at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, the relation between philosophy and other disciplines from a pedagogical perspective, the role of the history of philosophy in philosophical education, and the choice of dissertation topic.

Lecture 2: Identity and Discrimination

Interlocutor: Prof. Xiaofei LIU (Wuhan University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.11.06, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: In this lecture, I will discuss how I came to write my first book, Identity and Discrimination (1990). I will describe my early interest in the non-transitivity of perceptual indiscriminability and its relation to criteria of identity (for example, for perceived qualities, persons, and species) and philosophical programmes of logical construction in the work of Bertrand Russell, Rudolf Carnap, and Nelson Goodman. I will explain how I used epistemic logic to explain formal features of indiscriminability, including its non-transitivity, and how this explanation helped to get me interested in a ‘knowledge first’ approach to epistemology. On the basis of this work I will make some comments on the use of mathematical methods in philosophy. Finally, I will explain the relation of the non-transitivity of perceptual indiscriminability to sorites paradoxes (which go back to the ancient Greeks) and the problem of vagueness.

Lecture 3: Epistemicism

Interlocutor: Prof. Wenfang WANG (Shandong University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.11.13, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: This lecture is related to my second book, Vagueness (1994). I will explain the problem of vagueness in all thought and talk and why it is significant for logic, semantics, the philosophy of language, and even computer science. I will explain two popular approaches to the problem, known as ‘fuzzy logic’ and ‘supervaluationism’, which both involve revisions of classical logic, and why they do not provide satisfactory solutions. In particular, I will discuss the difficulties raised by the phenomenon of higher-order vagueness. I will then explain how my own approach, epistemicism, solves the problem while preserving classical logic by predicting and explaining the phenomena of vagueness on epistemological grounds, in terms of a safety condition on knowledge. In the final part of the lecture, I will discuss some of my more recent work on vagueness, concerning the ‘tolerance principles’ which generate sorites paradoxes, and explain their apparent plausibility by their role as efficient but imperfectly reliable heuristics for applying vague terms.

Lecture 4: Knowledge the First

Interlocutor: Prof. Ru YE (Wuhan University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.11.20, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: This lecture concerns my general ‘knowledge first’ approach to epistemology, especially as developed in my book Knowledge and its Limits (2000), but also in subsequent articles. I will situate the approach historically, as both coming out of an older tradition of Oxford realism and as a ‘second wave’ of externalism—while the first wave was externalist about the contents of mental attitudes, the second wave was externalist about the attitudes themselves, especially factive (truth-entailing) attitudes such as knowledge (as contrasted with belief). Thus knowing is just as much a mental state as believing. Indeed, knowing is explanatorily more basic than believing, because the function of the cognitive system is to generate knowledge to act on, and belief which fails to constitute knowledge is to be understood as pseudo-knowledge, a case where the cognitive system didn’t do what it is meant to do. I will explain why ‘belief first’ and internalist approaches fail to have the advantages their proponents think, because they too cannot make mental life self-transparent, since the safety condition applies to them too (this is in effect the anti-luminosity argument).

Lecture 5: Reflection on Philosophy

Interlocutor: Prof. Yong LI (Wuhan University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.11.27, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: This lecture concerns my methodological reflections on philosophy in The Philosophy of Philosophy (2007, enlarged edition 2021) and in Doing Philosophy: From Common Curiosity to Logical Reasoning (2018). I will briefly discuss my dissatisfaction with some 20th century views of philosophy as concerned with ‘linguistic analysis’ or ‘conceptual clarification’. The most general theme is anti-exceptionalism about philosophy, that (contrary to what philosophers such as Carnap and Wittgenstein thought) philosophy is not radically different from other disciplines in its methods, epistemology, or semantics. It is a science, but not a natural science. Natural sciences are those for which observation, measurement, and experiment are central, such as physics, chemistry, and biology. Mathematics is a non-natural science, as is history based on written documents. I will briefly discuss the role of thought experiments, model-building, and abductive theory-choice in philosophy. Finally, I will discuss the nature and existence of progress in philosophy, and its relation to progress in other disciplines.

Lecture 6: Necessitism

Interlocutor: Prof. Peter Finocchiaro (Wuhan University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.12.04, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: This lecture concerns the ideas in my book Modal Logic as Metaphysics (2013). I will explain the doctrine of necessitism which it defends, and the doctrine of permanentism which stands to necessitism as time stands to possibility, and why they do not contradict common sense in the way they might seem to. I will also explain my dissatisfaction with alternative theories of modal metaphysics such as David Lewis’s modal realism and contingentism based on the variable-domain possible worlds model theory developed by Saul Kripke. I will discuss the book’s methodology as an instance of the abductive method of theory choice sketched in lecture 5. Finally, I will talk about the framework of higher-order logic used in the book and its philosophical advantages even in a non-modal setting, in terms both of avoiding paradoxes and of providing an elegant and powerful framework for theorizing in effect about properties, relations, and states of affairs (closely related to the value of higher-order logic as a framework for mathematics).

Lecture 7: Counterfactuals

Interlocutor: Prof. Qinghui SU (Shandong University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.12.11, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: In this lecture, I will explain the approach to counterfactual conditionals developed in my book Suppose and Tell: The Semantics and Heuristics of Conditionals (2020). I will first discuss our primary heuristic (‘Suppose’) for assessing plain conditional statements of the form ‘If A, C’, which is based on supposing ‘A’ and then assessing ‘C’ on that supposition, how it enables us to extract propositional knowledge from our experience-calibrated imaginative capacities, but is ultimately inconsistent and so cannot be fully reliable. Thus the literature on conditionals may have been sent off in wrong directions by its reliance on judgments of conditionals made on the basis of the primary heuristic. I also explain how the primary heuristic can conflict with our secondary heuristic (‘Tell’) for assessing simple conditional statements, which is based on communication and testimony. I explain how this permits the revival of the simple material (truth-conditional) interpretation of the plain conditional. I then explain how a term like ‘would’ (literally, the past tense of ‘will’) has a non-temporal reading as a contextually restricted necessity operator, and how it combines with the material interpretation of plain ‘if’ to determine a reading of counterfactual conditionals as contextually restricted strict conditionals. This gives a more flexible pragmatic explanation of the flexibility which Lewis and Stalnaker attempted to capture in partly semantic terms in their accounts of counterfactual conditionals. The final result is a counterfactual conditional well-adapted for use in thought experiments.

Lecture 8: On the A Priori

Interlocutor: Prof. Matt Lutz (Wuhan University, China)

Date and Time: 2021.12.18, 18:30-21:00 Beijing Time

Abstract: In the final lecture, I explain my approach to the distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge or justification discussed in my co-authored book with Paul Boghossian (NYU), Debating the A Priori (2020), though I will also draw on some of my more recent work. Although I accept that some knowledge is a priori (roughly, independent of sense experience) while other knowledge is a posteriori (roughly, dependent on sense experience), because the terms ‘a priori’ and ‘a posteriori’ may simply be defined by examples, I argue that the distinction does not go very deep, because applying the very same cognitive capacities can lead to either a posteriori knowledge or to a priori knowledge, depending on whether the application is online (in sense perception) or offline (in imagination). I will illustrate this point by considering the process of checking a mathematical proof either on paper or in the imagination, and the role of abstract pattern recognition in both cases.