Knowing and Seeing: Groundwork for a new empiricism

ISBN : 9780198833567

Michael Ayers
256 ページ
153 x 234 mm

What is knowledge? What, if anything, can we know? In Knowing and Seeing, Michael Ayers recovers the insight in the traditional distinction between knowledge and belief, according to which 'knowledge' stems from direct and perspicuous cognitive contact with ('seeing') its object, whereas 'belief' relies on 'extraneous' justification. He conducts a careful phenomenological analysis of what it is to perceive one's environment as one's environment, the result of which is not only direct realism, but recognition that in being perceptually aware of anything we are at the same time perceptually aware of how we are aware of it. Perceptual knowing comes with knowing how you know. Some other forms of knowledge are similarly direct and perspicuous, but not all; a distinction is accordingly drawn between primary and secondary knowledge, and Ayers argues that no secondary knowledge is possible without some primary knowledge. Perceptual knowledge supplies the paradigm to which other cases of knowledge are diversely analogous - hence the notorious difficulty of defining knowledge. These conclusions, supported by a detailed examination of the relations between different grammatical constructions in which 'know', 'believe' and 'see' occur, fuel extended critiques of two lines of thought influential in contemporary epistemology: John McDowell's conceptualist and intellectualist account of perceptual knowledge, and Fred Dretske's 'externalist' employment of sceptical argument. Ayers unpicks the arguments for these other views, explains the failure of recent attempts at a comprehensive definition of knowledge, explores the tight relation between knowledge and certainty, and gives an account of how 'defeasibility' should and should not be understood in epistemology.


Part I: Knowledge, Belief and Perception
1 Michael Ayers and Maria Rosa Antognazza: Knowledge and belief from Plato to Locke
2 Perception and primary knowledge.
3 Conceptualism and perceptual knowledge
4 Internal and external objects of cognition
Part II: Philosophical Scepticism
5 Scepticism, certainty and defeasibility
6 Scepticism and Externalism
7 Conclusions


Michael Ayers is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of the British Academy, and a member of Academia Europea. He was elected as Tutorial Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, in 1965, and remained there, later as Reader and Professor, until retiring in 2002. Over the course of his career, Ayers has also had several visiting appointments at universities in the USA, including Berkeley. He has published widely on the history and historiography of philosophy, especially of epistemology.