The best books on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics

Who am I?

Timothy Williamson is a professor of philosophy at Oxford University and a visiting professor at Yale. He writes on metaphysics and epistemology because he doesn’t know how not to care about them. Metaphysics asks fundamental questions about what reality is and how it is structured; epistemology asks fundamental questions about what and how we can know about reality.


I wrote...

Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

By Timothy Williamson,

Book cover of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

What are philosophers trying to achieve? How can they succeed? Does philosophy make progress? Is it in competition with science, or doing something completely different, or neither? Timothy Williamson tackles some of the key questions surrounding philosophy in new and provocative ways, showing how philosophy begins in common sense curiosity and develops through our capacity to dispute rationally with each other. Discussing philosophy's ability to clarify our thoughts, he explains why such clarification depends on the development of philosophical theories, and how those theories can be tested by imaginative thought experiments, and compared against each other by standards similar to those used in the natural and social sciences.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction

Timothy Williamson Why did I love this book?

This is my favourite introduction to epistemology. It relates questions about knowledge and scepticism to human psychology, human knowledge to other animals’ knowledge, and the development of Western epistemology to epistemology elsewhere, such as ancient India. Amongst leading epistemologists today, Jennifer Nagel probably has the deepest understanding of relevant work in psychology.

By Jennifer Nagel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Knowledge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What is knowledge? How does it differ from mere belief? Do you need to be able to justify a claim in order to count as knowing it? How can we know that the outer world is real and not a dream?

Questions like these are ancient ones, and the branch of philosophy dedicated to answering them - epistemology - has been active for thousands of years. In this thought-provoking Very Short Introduction, Jennifer Nagel considers these classic questions alongside new puzzles arising from recent discoveries about humanity, language, and the mind. Nagel explains the formation of major historical theories of…


Book cover of Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Why did I love this book?

This is a popular, reliable, wide-ranging introduction to metaphysics by two respected philosophers. It covers topics such as personal identity, fatalism, time, God, free will and determinism, possibility and necessity, and criticisms of metaphysics itself. It asks why there is something rather than nothing, and whether distinctions between good and evil and between right and wrong have any objective reality. Ted Sider is a leader of new developments in contemporary metaphysics.

By Theodore Sider, Earl Conee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Riddles of Existence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Riddles of Existence makes metaphysics genuinely accessible, even fun. Its lively, informal style brings the riddles to life and shows how stimulating they can be to think about. No philosophical background is required to enjoy this book. It is ideal for beginning students. Anyone wanting to think about life's most profound questions will find Riddles of Existence provocative and entertaining.

This new edition is updated throughout, and features two extra, specially written chapters: one on metaphysical questions to do with morality, and the other on questions about the nature of metaphysics itself.


Book cover of Naming and Necessity

Timothy Williamson Why did I love this book?

This book had a revolutionary impact on philosophy. It is a lightly edited transcript of three lectures and retains some of their conversational style. As the title indicates, it is about language as well as metaphysics, but it does not attempt to reduce metaphysics to language. Instead, it does the opposite: it shows how mistakes about how language works had tripped philosophers into mistakes about metaphysics, by making metaphysical questions look nonsensical. A better understanding of how language works does not answer the metaphysical questions, but it does enable us to think more clearly about them, just as astronomers need to know how their telescopes work. Saul Kripke is one of the most distinguished of all living philosophers.

By Saul A Kripke,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Naming and Necessity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Naming and Necessity' has had a great and increasing influence. It redirected philosophical attention to neglected questions of natural and metaphysical necessity and to the connections between these and theories of naming, and of identity. This seminal work, to which today's thriving essentialist metaphysics largely owes its impetus, is here reissued in a newly corrected form with a new preface by the author. If there is such a thing as essential reading in metaphysics, or in philosophy of language, this is it.


Book cover of Plurality of Worlds

Timothy Williamson Why did I love this book?

This is an accessible defence of the astonishing theory that there are infinitely many possible worlds other than our own, with just as much flesh-and-blood reality; they are systems of space and time disconnected from ours. Many of those worlds contain almost exact counterparts of you. Lewis argues that his theory is much less alien to common sense than it seems, and that it provides the best explanation of many puzzling matters, such as the distinction between what is possible and what is impossible. Although few philosophers accept Lewis’s theory, it is extraordinarily difficult to disprove. David Lewis was the most influential metaphysician of the past half-century.

By David Lewis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Plurality of Worlds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is a defense of modal realism: the thesis that our world is but one of a plurality of worlds, and that the individuals that inhabit our world are only a few out of all the inhabitants of all the worlds. Lewis argues that the philosophical utility of modal realism is a good reason for believing that it is true.After putting forward the type of modal realism he favors, Lewis answers numerous objections that have been raised against it. These include an insistence that everything must be actual: paradoxes akin to those that confront naive set theory: arguments that…


Book cover of Knowledge and Lotteries

Timothy Williamson Why did I love this book?

If you buy a lottery ticket, it is very probable that it will lose, but you do not know that it will lose, otherwise you might as well throw it away. The book uses such simple examples to think very deeply about the nature of knowledge and the way common sense knowledge is threatened by chance. It critically assesses the idea that what we mean by the word ‘know’ depends on the context in which we are speaking, and explores the subtly different idea that whether you know something can depend on how much practical difference it makes to you. John Hawthorne is one of the most acute and perceptive of contemporary epistemologists.

By John Hawthorne,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Knowledge and Lotteries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Knowledge and Lotteries is organized around an epistemological puzzle: in many cases, we seem consistently inclined to deny that we know certain propositions, while crediting ourselves with knowledge of propositions that imply them. In its starkest form, the puzzle is this: we do not think we know that a given lottery ticket will be a loser, yet we normally count ourselves as knowing all sorts of things which entail that its holder will not suddenly acquire
a large fortune. After providing a number of specific and general characterizations of the puzzle, Hawthorne carefully examines the competing merits of candidate solutions,…


You might also like...

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

Book cover of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

Michael Ruse Author Of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Teacher (professor) Author Darwin specialist Charles Dickens fanatic

Michael's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Why We Hate asks why a social animal like Homo sapiens shows such hostility to fellow species members. The invasion of the Ukraine by Russia? The antisemitism found on US campuses in the last year? The answer and solution lies in the Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection.

Being social is biology’s way of ensuring survival and reproduction. With the coming of agriculture 10,000 years ago, new conditions – primarily much-increased population numbers – meant that sociality broke down as we battled for our share of much-reduced resources. But, as cultural change brought about our troubles, so culture offers prospects of a future where our social natures can emerge and thrive again.

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

What is this book about?

An insightful and probing exploration of the contradiction between humans' enormous capacity for hatred and their evolutionary development as a social species

Why We Hate tackles a pressing issue of both longstanding interest and fresh relevance: why a social species like Homo sapiens should nevertheless be so hateful to itself. We go to war and are prejudiced against our fellow human beings. We discriminate on the basis of nationality, class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. Why are humans at once so social and so hateful to each other? In this book, prominent philosopher Michael Ruse looks at scientific
understandings…


Genres
  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in metaphysics, epistemology, and contemporary philosophy?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about metaphysics, epistemology, and contemporary philosophy.

Metaphysics Explore 85 books about metaphysics
Epistemology Explore 42 books about epistemology
Contemporary Philosophy Explore 9 books about contemporary philosophy