Timothy Williamson

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Timothy Williamson

Professor Timothy Williamson.JPG
Born (1955-08-06) 6 August 1955 (age 63)
Uppsala, Sweden
Alma materOxford University
EraContemporary philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
ThesisThe Concept of Approximation to the Truth
Main interests
Philosophical logic
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of mathematics
Notable ideas
Epistemicism, modal logic as metaphysics, knowledge as conceptually primitive

Timothy Williamson FRSE FBA (born 6 August 1955) is a British philosopher whose main research interests are in philosophical logic, philosophy of language, epistemology and metaphysics. He is the Wykeham Professor of Logic at the University of Oxford, and fellow of New College, Oxford.

Education and career[edit]

Timothy Williamson's education began at Leighton Park School and continued at Henley Grammar School. He then went to Oxford University. He graduated in 1976 with a B.A. (first class honours) in Mathematics and Philosophy, and in 1981 with a doctorate in philosophy (D.Phil.) for a thesis examining The Concept of Approximation to the Truth.

Prior to taking up the Wykeham Professorship in 2000, Williamson was Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh (1995–2000); fellow and lecturer in Philosophy at University College, Oxford (1988–1994); and lecturer in Philosophy at Trinity College, Dublin (1980–1988).

He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 2004 to 2005.

He is a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA),[1] the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters,[2] Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE) and a Foreign Honorary Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Philosophical work[edit]

Williamson has contributed to analytic philosophy of language, logic, metaphysics and epistemology.

On vagueness, he holds a position known as epistemicism, which states that every seemingly vague predicate (like "bald", or "thin") actually has a sharp cutoff, which is impossible for us to know. That is, there is some number of hairs such that anyone with that number is bald, and anyone with even one more hair is not. In actuality, this condition will be spelled out only partly in terms of numbers of hairs, but whatever measures are relevant will have some precise cutoff. This solution to the difficult sorites paradox was considered an astonishing and unacceptable consequence, but has become a relatively mainstream view since his defense of it.[3] Williamson is fond of using the statement, "no one knows whether I am thin" to illustrate his view.[4]

In epistemology, he suggests that the concept of knowledge is unanalyzable. This goes against the common trend in philosophical literature up to that point, which was to argue that knowledge could be analysed into constituent concepts. (Typically this would be justified true belief plus an extra factor.) He agrees that knowledge entails justification, truth and belief, but argues that it is conceptually primitive. He accounts for the importance of belief by discussing its connections with knowledge, but avoids the disjunctivist position of saying that belief can be analyzed as the disjunction of knowledge with some distinct, non-factive mental state.[citation needed]


  • Identity and Discrimination, Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.
  • Vagueness, London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Knowledge and Its Limits, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • The Philosophy of Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
  • Modal Logic as Metaphysics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Williamson has also published more than 120 articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals.


  1. ^ British Academy Fellowship record Archived 6 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Gruppe 3: Idéfag" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 16 January 2011.
  3. ^ Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). "Vagueness". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  4. ^ Phil 2511: Paradoxes

External links[edit]