I have a couple of questions to an assignment for my bachelors course in Philosophy. It is regarding Timothy Williamsons book, 'Knowledge and its limits' that we are reading and discussion. I have posted a question according to our assignment in a forum at my school webpage, and the questions concern this, also some questions regarding my understanding of the reading of chapter 1 in the book.

But first, I have this question ,is this sentence not referring to a subject?

'X believes there are cats'

Is it not referring to x as a subject believing there are cats.

Also another question. Anyone who knows Timothy Williamson. This is a question with my response to his work:

Some of the questions for our assignment, with my replies:

1. Williamson claims if one remembers something, one knows this. Why is this claim important to Williamson and what consequences would it have for his overall project if it turned out to be false?

Within propositional attitudes there is something called factive mental states, which is something one has only to truths (p.34) and there is something within that, called factive mental state operators, FMSO (p.34), which knowledge belongs to, in fact it is the most general factive mental state operator. ‘In simple terms ‘know’ is the most general FMSO, the one that applies if any FMSO at all applies.’(p.39)

Other factive mental states are remembering and seeing. Being in a factive mental state means to know somehing. Knowing is the most general factive mental state. If one sees, one knows, if one hears one know, if one relizes one knows and so on. This holds for all factive mental state operators. Since it is all other factive stative attitudes are affected by knowing this means knowing is most general.

He summarizes the discussion of FMSOs into three principles: 1. If B is an FMSO, from ‘S Bs that A’ one may infer ‘A’ 2.’Know’ is an FMSO 3. If B is an FMSO,from ‘S Bs that A’ one may infer ‘S knows that A’(p.39)

So if to remember would not entail knowing the whole project with factive mental state operators, FSMO’s as he calls them would fall apart and thus Williamsons analysis of knowing is wrong and the whole analysis of ‘know’ described uniquely as a mental state that is the most general factive mental state will also fail.

2. Is Williamson’s claim plausible? For instance, is Williamson’s claim compatible with the existence of false or distorted memories?

I think it sounds plausible and he describes this as such: If one would try to disprove his claim by saying that we do now remember if the memory would be false. If for example I were to have high fever and hallucinate and then I would see a golden horse on my kitchen table. If this were to be the case, I might even know that I do not know it, but I need not know that I do not know it, I need not know weather it exists outside my mental or not because it really does not matter since it will still be true in relation to the proposition rather than to the object itself. I will still see the golden horse in my mind, so the proposition will be true and also having seen the golden horse gives me a memory of it, and thus I also will know that I did see it, even if it was an illusion. That is how I understand Williamson. ‘There is a distinction between seeing that A and seeing a situation in which A’.

He claims that in counter examples that are saying that a false or distorted memory is not really knowing ‘...put more preassure on the link between knowing and believing or having justification than they do on the link between percieving or remembering and knowing’(p.38)

But according to Williamson one needs to graps the concept of raining, or a golden horse or whatever to be able to have that memory, but that is another thing. If you cannot grasp it you cannot have a memory of a proposition that it is raining for example, so then you didn’t even have a memory of the proposition to start with (p.38).

If one were to remember thing falsely, for example thinking it was raining when in fact it was not, I understand Williamson as arguing that it does not matter because you will still have a memory that you know you have. The importance is the relation of memory to proposition not to the real object, thus that it really was raining, because you still remember the proposition ‘it was raining’. ‘You may not know that you know that you see that it is raining, and consequently maynot know that you know it is raining, but neither condition is necessary for knowing that it is raining’. (p.38) The two situations, either seeing a situation I do not know what it is, I do not grasp the concept of it, or a situation in which I have a false or distorted memory is a ‘...counterexample to neither the claim that remembering implies knowing nor the claim that knowing implies believing.’ (p.39)

A response I got to my post is this: The FMSO concept (his revelation-idea , that knowledge is put into us as mental presents, completely unclear how, is not something we our selves define) would not fall apart if it did not include memories. It would only mean that FMSO would be instantaneous , whom are immediately forgotten after being experienced . And knowledge with this must must be more istantaneous, rather the opposite is claimed. The impermanence of knowledge, is what I would claim.

(can someone help me understand the response better and where I went wrong? if the input is correct?)

Also I am wondering something more about Williamson and my interpretation from chapter 1. I have a problem with an interpretation of something. On page 38-39 he is talking about not knowing but still knowing. This is a bit unclear to me. In one sentence he writes: 'You may not know that you see that it is raining, and consequently may not know that you know that it is raining, but neither condition is necessary for knowing that it is raining.' - I have interpreted him as talking about memories, perhaps one has a false memory of a rain-free day when in fact it was raining. Do you then know that it was raining? I really do not understand how? I was thinking he is saying if you have a memory of something, for example rain, your memory is true and you do know that it is raining, even if it is not. For you still have this memory in your own mind and there is a relation between knowing and the proposition, not the real object of raining if you know what I mean? If this is not how to interpret him, how do I interpret him? How the h**ll would we know something even if we don't know it? I mean , if we remember sunshine and it really was raining, but we don't remember it, is Williamson saying we remember it is raining? And how would this happen then if we do not remember it?

Another thing he is writing are two examples: 1st. 'X is watching Y playing chess. He does not grasp the concept of chess, so he does not know what he is watching. ' - I think I have interpreted this correct. To have a memory of the proposition 'Y is playing chess', you need to be able to grasp what chess is. This would be false, you do not have knowledge of Y playing chess, if you do not know the word chess and how it applies. The proposition 'Y is moving pieces on a board', that would be something you remember and thus also knows. ? Am I right on this?

Here is the example I don't think I understand. 2nd. 'By looking in the right direction, you can see a situation in which it is raining. In the imagined case, moreover, you have enough concepts to grasp the proposition that it is raining. Nevertheless, you cannot see that it is raining, precisely because you do not know what you see to be a situation in which it is raining (given the unfavorable evidence).' He also continues describing this example with this: 'Nevertheless, you cannot remember that it was raining, precisely because you do not know what you remember to be a situation in which it was raining (given the unfavorable evidence). On this account the claim is a counterexample to neither the claim that remembering implies knowing nor the claim that knowing implies believing.'

I have some troubles interpreting this. But this is my try, please correct me if 'm wrong and perhaps guide me to understand his example and argument better. - I interpret it as a situation where perhaps I cannot see that it is raining because I cannot for example see the drops, it might look like it is not raining to you and therefor you o course do not remember that it was raining either. And Williamson claims that this does not matter because your memory is true and you know it in relation to the proposition, not to the real world so to speak? Or am I totally wrong here. Is he perhaps really claiming you somehow know that it is raining, even though you did not remember it as such because it did not look as such to you. How could that be? I can understand you have seen the situation and have a memory of it, but if the memory is of it not raining, you cannot know that it was raining? Right ? Confused.

Hoping for some guiding answers so that I can either better understand where I am wrong or be confirmed that I am on the right path to understanding Williamson. Also what difference is a false from a distorted memory??? Is a false memory ex. remembering it was sunshine but instead it was raining, and a distorted memory, a memory where perhaps you have an illusion because you have taken a powerful drug. You might see that it is sunshine, but in fact it was raining, you might know or not know it was an illusion, but you still remember this. 'It was sunshine on the 19th of july' and this you know because the remembering and knowing is in relation to the proposition , a state of mind, not the real object what was really going on in reality so to speak. As a true belief it would be false, but as knowledge and as remembering and this knowing as a factive mental attitude it is true? Am I right here?

Long post, I hope someone can help me get a bit smarter on this subject ;)

Thank you in advance!


3 Answers 3


There’s a lot in your question, but here are some general pointers that may help you.

Williamson promotes a philosophy that’s often called ‘Knowledge First!’. On this view, you don’t try to define knowledge – as e.g. justified true belief (plus an anti-Gettier condition). Instead, you take knowledge to be a fundamental concept and build your entire epistemology on / around it.

Part of the claim that knowledge is fundamental, is the claim that knowledge is the most general factive mental state of all: you are in the knowledge-state whenever you are in any factive mental state. To elaborate, almost everyone agrees that ‘S knows that p’ implies ‘S believes that p’. Now, on Williamson’s view, several similar implications hold, except that ‘S knows that p’ now appears as the consequent. E.g. ‘S remembers that p’ implies ‘S knows that p’. Similarly, ‘S sees that p’ and ‘S regrets that p’ also both imply ‘S knows that p’.

Because of these implications, knowledge becomes a necessary condition on remembering, seeing, regretting, … Thus, on Williamson’s view, you can’t remember, see, or regret things you don’t know to be true – even if they are true and you believe them to be true. To understand this, let’s contrast two cases.

Case 1 Jack believes, for good reasons, that Jill died in a car crash that he caused. In fact, Jill survived, however. Then in this case, it’s clear that Jack can’t regret that Jill died: she didn’t die, and ‘regret’ is factive. To be sure, he can ‘feel bad’ in some other sense; but it’s not regret he’s experiencing. Importantly, you don’t need to endorse Williamson’s view to get this result: you just need to agree that ‘regret’ is factive.

Case 2 Suppose Jill really did die in the accident that Jack caused. Further, Jack believes that she died, but for a bad reason. (E.g., suppose Jack dreamt the previous night that he’ll accidentally kill Jill.) Then although Jack correctly believes that Jill died, he does not know she died. On Williamson’s view, it follows that he doesn’t regret that Jill died, either – exactly because he doesn’t know she died.

As a third case, we could imagine that Jack starts off knowing and regretting that Jill died. Yet then he loses his knowledge again (because of undermining evidence), but goes on believing that Jill died. On Williamson’s view, Jack stops regretting that she died the moment he stops knowing she died - even though he still correctly believes she died.

One additional complication in Williamson’s view is the distinction between seeing that Olga is playing chess vs. seeing (watching) Olga playing chess. He holds that you need to have mastered the concept of chess in order to know that Olga is playing chess. In turn, you need to know that Olga is playing chess in order to see that Olga is playing chess. Of course, Williamson doesn’t think that you suddenly go blind if you don’t know Olga is playing chess: you can still see – viz. you see Olga, as she is playing chess.

Think of it this way: there’s the propositional attitude ‘seeing that p’, and then there is just ordinary seeing, as in perceiving with your eyes. On Williamson’s view, only the former requires knowing that p. The reason is that in order to have an attitude towards a proposition, you need to ‘grasp’ that proposition; and in order to do that, you need to possess all the concepts that occur in the proposition. However, while seeing that p is a propositional attitude, ordinary seeing is not.

Finally, there’s the KK-principle: if S knows that p, S knows that he knows that p. Importantly, Williamson rejects that principle! (That’s because of how he wants to reply to the Sceptic; but never mind about that now.) So, there are cases where S knows p, without knowing (realising) he knows it. Consequently, there are also cases where S sees, regrets, or remembers p without knowing that he sees, regrets, or remembers. And that’s the type of scenario he has in mind when he writes: ‘You may not know that you see that it is raining, and consequently may not know that you know that it is raining, but neither condition is necessary for knowing that it is raining.’

I know I haven’t addressed everything in your question; but perhaps what I’ve said can help you work through the chapter again and figure out some of the answers that are still missing. Or at least, perhaps it can help you post another, more specific question.


Ignore my first question:

X believes there are cats'

Is it not refering to x as a subject believing there are cats.

  • It is referring to a subject, i was rather wondering it is not mental, and yes it is but it's also non mental. Not in the same way as true belief has a component of truth that is non-mental but factive mental attitudes can be affected from the real outside world, the environment, according to Williamson and still be mental.

It may be important to note that a false memory is still known as a memory. The phrase 'false memory' immediately implies that we know of the memory, albeit that it may be false. We know we are remembering, perceiving etc., regardless of how well or accurately we are doing it. If we didn't know we had a false memory we wouldn't have one.

It may also be relevant that one expression of the Perennial epistemology/ontology is to say that 'knowing' is fundamental, which seems to be where Williamson is going.

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