The best books on contemporary epistemology and metaphysics

Timothy Williamson Author Of Philosophical Method: A Very Short Introduction
By Timothy Williamson

The Books I Picked & Why

Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction

By Jennifer Nagel

Book cover of Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction

Why 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.

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Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics

By Theodore Sider, Earl Conee

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

Why 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.

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Naming and Necessity

By Saul A Kripke

Book cover of Naming and Necessity

Why 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.

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Plurality of Worlds

By David Lewis

Book cover of Plurality of Worlds

Why 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.

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Knowledge and Lotteries

By John Hawthorne

Book cover of Knowledge and Lotteries

Why 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.

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