Contextualism in Context: Interview with Michael Williams

Avant, Vol. XI, No. 2, doi: 10.26913/avant.2020.02.03
published under license CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Luca Corti
University of Porto
MLAG – Mind, Language, and Action Group (Institute of Philosophy, U.Porto)
luca.corti @

Diana Couto
University of Barcelona
BIAP/LOGOS Research Group in Analytic Philosophy
MLAG – Mind, Language, and Action Group (Institute of Philosophy, U.Porto)
dpcouto @

Received 4 October 2019; accepted 5 October 2019; published Online First 10 January 2020

Download full text

This interview was carried out on 13 December 2018 as Michael Williams was in Porto for a meeting of the Contextualism Network organised by the MLAG – Mind, Language, and Action Research Group (Institute of Philosophy of the University of Porto). We would like to thank him for his willingness to reply to our questions.

Michael Williams, British philosopher, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2007, and Krieger-Eisenhower Professor at Johns Hopkins University, can be considered as one of the founding fathers of these views, and one of the most prominent opponents of the so-called “epistemological realism”. In his books Unnatural Doubts (1991) and Problems of Knowledge (2001) he carried out a “theoretical diagnosis” of skepticism and put forward a groundbreaking response to it by suggesting that the skeptic is committed to an unsustainable form of epistemological realism which, therefore, should be rejected. This realism, roughly, is not meant to deny that we have knowledge of an objective, mind-independent reality, but rather that the entities of the epistemological inquiry are context-invariant. Alongside with other renowned contemporary epistemologists such as Stewart Cohen and Keith DeRose, Williams’ work has been path-breaking for “contextualism”, especially when it comes to his positions on skepticism that have been prompted discussion ever since he first advanced them. […]


Austin, J. L. (1962). Sense and Sensibilia. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Burnyeat, M. (1982). Idealism and Greek Philosophy. What Descartes Saw and Berkeley Missed. Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, 13, 19-50.
Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and Time (trans. by J. Macquarrie & E. Robinson). Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962 (first published in 1927).
Moore, G. E. (1925). A Defense of Common Sense. In J. H. Muirhead (ed.), Contemporary British Philosophy (second series). London: George Allen & Unwin.
Moore, G. E. (1939). Proof of an External World. Proceedings of the British Academy, 25, 273-300.
Moore, G. E. (1942). Reply to My Critics. In Paul Arthur Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of G. E. Moore. The Library of Living Philosophers, Vol. 4 (pp. 535-677). Evanston: Northwestern University.
Pritchard, D. (2015). Epistemic Angst: Radical Skepticism Groundlessness of Our Believing. Princeton: Princeton University press.
Rorty, R. (1979). Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sellars, W. (1956). Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind. In H. Feigl & M. Scriven (eds.), Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Vol. I (pp. 253-329). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Travis, C. (2008). Occasion Sensitivity: Selected Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Williams, M. (1977). Groundless Belief: An Essay on the Possibility of Epistemology. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Williams, M. (1991). Unnatural Doubts. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Williams, M. (2001). Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright (eds.); trans. by D. Paul & G. E. M. Anscombe). Oxford: Blackwell.

“Avant” journal – the task financed under the contract 711/P-DUN/2019 from the funds of the Minister of Science and Higher Education for the dissemination of science.
Czasopismo „Avant” – zadanie finansowane w ramach umowy 711/P-DUN/2019 ze środków Ministra Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego przeznaczonych na działalność upowszechniającą naukę.

Comments are closed.