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Reality: Fundamental Topics in Metaphysics

  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Explores some of the major topics in metaphysics, such as essence, existence, substance, purpose, space, time, mind, causality, God, freedom, and the possibilities of immortality. An excellent companion to metaphysical studies .

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7904-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. Chapter One What Is Metaphysics?
    (pp. 3-11)

    ‘Metaphysics,’ F.H. Bradley (1846-1924) remarked in a famous passage, ‘is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct.’¹ This isn’t quite my view. I doubt if there is much of anything we believe on instinct; and the fact that metaphysicians disagree so deeply would be at least a little surprising if their views were truly instinctive, innate, or anything similar.

    Still, I think there is something fundamentally right in Bradley’s aphorism. I believe that we - metaphysicians and others - arrive at general pictures or conceptions of the world (and sometimes pictures of our pictures) in a...

  6. Chapter Two Metaphysics and Its Critics: Realism, Antirealism, and the Possibility of Metaphysics
    (pp. 12-26)

    The aim of this book is to discuss and advocate views - those that seem most plausible - in metaphysics. With anticipation in antiquity, some philosophical thinkers, since the eighteenth century, have claimed to regard metaphysics as impossible, meaningless, primitive, pre-scientific, or anti-scientific, naive and pre-critical, or anthropocentric (sometimes, in recent years, androcentric). These are not of course all the same charges but they are all charges, affirming that metaphysics is bad, and not doable (or seriously doable).

    I do not propose treating the case against metaphysics, in detail. It would be wrong, however, to ignore anti-metaphysics altogether. Many philosophers...

  7. Chapter Three Metaphysical Systems
    (pp. 27-44)

    Of the many individual metaphysical systems - organized structures of views about reality — that philosophers have developed over the course of the history of Western philosophy, from Thales to the present day, some deserve highlighted attention for setting out on the metaphysical odyssey the present book invites its reader to undertake. My aims are not chiefly historical; but certain of the systems were and remain sufficiently influential or original that it will be helpful to give them special focus at the beginning of the journey. Sometimes a thinker or a school came to a key idea which no one...

  8. Chapter Four Categories and First Principles
    (pp. 45-65)

    An orderly way to proceed with the project of investigating reality in the most basic and general terms (and with candid acknowledgment of a selective leaning toward topics of special interest to humans) is to try to set out at the start fundamental concepts and principles, and matters of method. This is somewhat how Aristotle proceeded. At any rate, alongside his major metaphysical treatises, theMetaphysicsitself, thePhysics, andDe Anima, we find a set of writings called collectively theOrganon, concerned with procedural and foundational things. This is where most of what we know as Aristotle’s logic is...

  9. Chapter Five Existence
    (pp. 66-84)

    In this chapter I want primarily to explore three themes focused on existence, It is the peg they will all be hung on, but in fact they are largely independent topics. The first of the topics is the question (or apparent question), Why is there something rather than nothing, i.e., why does anything exist?¹ Some have regarded this as one of the deepest and profoundest — some, in fact, as the very most important - problem of metaphysics;² and some have viewed it as a pseudo-problem, not a coherent topic at all. The second theme concerned with existence is less...

  10. Chapter Six Essence and Possible Worlds
    (pp. 85-109)

    The concept of essence has figured in metaphysics since Aristotle. However it is unclear whether any ancient Greek thinker attached to the notion ofousia(the Aristotelian term translated as ‘essence’) or whether any Roman philosopher attached to the subsequent termessentia, an idea that is more than a distant relative of what Western philosophers have meant by essence since the twelfth century.¹

    Essence in this sense (or senses) has been a part of what we can identify as a family of strongly modal concepts: concepts of what might or must be, in a manner independent of what humans or...

  11. Chapter Seven Substance
    (pp. 110-122)

    Accounts of pre-Socratic philosophy rarely seem to comment on a curious and metaphysically significant fact about the systems of the earliest philosophers. These early thinkers were concerned with what the world is made of but not with that of which the world is madeup. The world is made of elements, substances of one or more sorts; it is made up of particular individual things, also substances of one or more sorts - but where the substances are of a different kind.

    Twentieth and twenty-first century philosophers who have taken ‘the linguistic turn’ have often found it convenient or appropriate...

  12. Chapter Eight Universals
    (pp. 123-134)

    It has scarcely been possible to avoid indicating, certainly intimating, the view this book advocates on abstract entities, in the chapters that precede. In the present chapter I want to make that view fully explicit, provide something of a case for it, and make ancillary remarks on ontology and the abstract.

    The view urged in these pages is that abstract entities are real. Some abstract things that some philosophers have favoured are almost certainly unnecessary postulates for existence. They can be analysed or reduced to other entities, abstract or non-abstract, or plausibly argued to be wholly chimerical. And, it now...

  13. Chapter Nine Space
    (pp. 135-141)

    My aim in this chapter will be to come to conclusions about the metaphysics of space. One can hardly discuss space at all without in some manner engaging the physics of space. If certain kinds of results were reached, namely, results incompatible with what modern physics says about space, the character of the engagement would be critical, and, as I would see it, the metaphysical account would need to be very much on the defensive. It would be in fact almost certainly wrong. In any case, there would be for such an account a heavy burden of argument to try...

  14. Chapter Ten Time
    (pp. 142-155)

    The drift of naturalist and empiricist philosophy as well as twentieth-century physics generally, has been in the direction of confuting many common-sense intuitions and allegedly a priori rationalist philosophical convictions. While this is a tendency I generally share, in the case of fundamental views about time I find myself to a significant degree of contrary mind.

    Let me start at the end by stating as broadly and directly as I can the conclusions I reach and defend about time. First, time is odd, and a puzzle: not just in the way that St. Augustine meant in his often repeated remarks.¹...

  15. Chapter Eleven Causality
    (pp. 156-174)

    That causality, in some sense, exists in the world is not open to serious dispute. Having your head chopped off, for example, leads causally to your death and most likely, to your non-being, though that need not be insisted on here.

    What has been in dispute is just what causality is; and what is its extent, including what may be called its modal extent. As for the former, there is the matter of a so-called common-sense conception of causality and what is involved in it; and the degree to which anything objectively in the world corresponds to that conception. This...

  16. Chapter Twelve Purpose
    (pp. 175-183)

    That people and other conscious beings have purposes when they do things is not seriously contestable. This is one of the distinctive features of mental life as we know it. We act often with an end or goal in view; we conceive of (or imagine) something we desire or strive to bring it about and succeed or not depending on the case (our abilities, the realizability of the goal, interfering circumstances).

    So there are purposes in the world. They are best understood by reference to states of imaginative or conceptual consciousness trained on the future. It seems plausible to suppose...

  17. Chapter Thirteen Persons, Personal Identity, and Metaphysical Luck
    (pp. 184-201)

    In this chapter I want to come to some conclusions about persons - ourselves and beings like us, if there are any that are in this respect like us. A good deal has already been said, in earlier chapters, about persons; and some views argued for in discussing essence and substance will now be set out more fully and defended. Let us, initially at least, begin afresh and bring the earlier discussion and results into the investigation as it proceeds.

    The term ‘person’ has a number of uses or applications, both philosophical and extra-philosophical. I should say explicitly right at...

  18. Chapter Fourteen Mind
    (pp. 202-222)

    Of all categories of the real, the mental has undoubtedly received the most philosophical attention. This is doubtless due in the first instance to the fact that philosophers are human beings, with particularly cerebral leanings and orientations, and what has characteristically seemed most distinctive and impressive about ourselves (particularly when the selves are philosophical ones) is that we are thinking things, in Descartes’s celebrated phrase. As in other spheres, human egoism has a lot to do with what inquiry chooses to focus upon.

    However, there is clearly more to it. The mental is difficult and complicated, and has proved remarkably...

  19. Chapter Fifteen God
    (pp. 223-233)

    I now consider the first of Kant’s three central metaphysical topics – God. There are things that it is appropriate, and important, to note before turning to the substance of the topic, that are different in kind from preliminaries to other metaphysical themes. As on most if not all subjects they explore, philosophers differ considerably with respect to whether there is a God. What is distinctive in this case is that for many philosophers there is not a serious topic posed by the question. I think it is important to be very candid about this. It is not simply that...

  20. Chapter Sixteen Freedom and Determinism
    (pp. 234-262)

    The termlibertarianismhas two primary meanings in philosophy. In political philosophy, libertarianism (a view associated with Locke, and with people like Ayn Rand (1905-82) and Robert Nozick in this century) is the theory that there ought to be only minimal states, whose functions would be limited to protecting property rights (conceiving one’s life and body, as Locke does, as part of one’s property). In the philosophy of mind and action, libertarianism is the view that human persons perform actions that are both free and undetermined.

    The latter terminological usage seems unfortunate since it leaves without a name the view...

  21. Chapter Seventeen Immortality
    (pp. 263-270)

    As I have indicated at the beginning of this book, my aim has been to investigate and reach at least tentative conclusions about each of the fundamental topics of metaphysics identified by Kant in the historical rationalist tradition. For him what the inquirer qua metaphysician would like to know about most, if he could - Kant of course thinks that he cannot - are God, freedom, and immortality. We will consider the last of these here. What, if anything, can we reasonably suppose with respect to whether human persons, or any persons, are or can be immortal?

    First of all...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 271-294)
  23. Works Cited
    (pp. 295-300)
  24. Index
    (pp. 301-305)