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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 November 2011
This is the third epistemology text I have tackled in the last few months, the previous titles being Obrien's An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge and Dancy's An Introduction to Contemporary Epistemology. Throughout my reading, whilst battling with the immediate minutiae, and simultaneously struggling to hang on to the systematic big picture that each author has endeavoured to present, I have been subject to a nagging background perplexity that has left me feeling as though I was trying to build a castle from wet sand. I think today, while on the home stretch of this title I might have identified the source of this unease. While all these books start out with the question `what IS knowledge', suggesting an ontological enquiry into what, in a world of marbles and teacups, an item of knowledge is, the intention of the epistemological project is something rather different. Nowhere is it made clear that, in a pragmatic and objective sense, an item of (propositional) knowledge as a property or component of a `knowing' system, quite simply is a true (propositional) belief, regardless of all justificational apparatus. We would appear to be systems in which external causes can induce the formation of patterns within our material matrix, and these systems are able to utilise these patterns in the generation of actions and utterances, or indeed new patterns, at subsequent times. If such a system has a representation, or pattern, of some actual state of affairs in the world, or a priori fact or principle, then that representation IS an item of knowledge in an ontological sense, and any subsequent actions and utterances based on that representation are, all things being equal, guaranteed to be successful.

What epistemologists appear to be are talking about though, and what they don't make made clear at the start, is a rather more subjective sense of knowledge; how and when I/you/we can determine i.e. `know' which of our many beliefs are actually knowledge, and how and when we should go about trying to convince each other of the case. With that clarification in mind, all the intricate apparatus of justification starts to settle into a stable structure, and I can proceed with my reading with at least one layer of difficulty being removed.

This general complaint about epistemology introductions aside, this is actually a deeply absorbing book. It is the natural successor in difficulty to the titles mentioned above, and it opens up a correspondingly deeper and more comprehensive vista on the territory. I would certainly not recommend it as an introduction to a beginner in philosophy, but I am hopeful that it is an introduction in the sense of providing enough background to follow the debates at the current cutting edge. I wouldn't call the book an exact model of clarity; occasionally one hits a sentence that is annoyingly ambiguous. But I would say that all the information is actually there to make sense of everything said, if one is prepared to take it slowly enough and maybe backtrack from time to time. I have actually considered knocking a star off for this, but its fitness for purpose, and its masterful structure, which only becomes apparent as one proceeds through it, would render it inane for a mind as humble as my own to make such a complaint. I've yet to completely finish it, but I'm already looking forward to reading it through a second time, particularly in the light of having now comprehended the book's overall system, and also with respect to the understandings arrived at described above.
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on 30 August 2014
It's a satisfactory study in parts, but I found the author too verbose and his writing style a little convoluted compared to other texts on the subject. Epistemology is a notoriously complex topic to grapple with, so those new to the topic need to be presented with a text that is clear, accessible and succinct. If one wants a true master of epistemic elucidation, then look no further than Bertrand Russell. Through his logic and mathematical reasoning, clear and logical steps are taken to reach a reasonable summation of the certainties and boundaries of existential knowledge.
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on 9 May 2015
The writer's style is extremely verbose and he spends a lot of time in the first few chapters, on perception and memory, rehearsing platitudes. Very wearisome. Worse still, he does not make it clear what the distinctively philosophical questions about perception and memory are, and why existing empirical inquiries by psychologists and neuroscientists are not sufficient to answer the questions he poses. He spends a lot of time discussing theories of perception and theories of memory, which basically aim to give an account of what perception and memory are and how they work. But the obvious way to answer those questions seems to be to consult psychologists who have devoted large amounts of time in empirical investigation of such matters.

To be fair, I cannot comment on the chapters beyond the first few ones on perception and memory; but that is because I gave up the book in disgust at that point.
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on 16 September 2015
constantly return to refresh and clarify understanding
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