David Armstrong

David Armstrong

Stephen Mumford
Copyright Date: 2007
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    David Armstrong
    Book Description:

    David (D.M.) Armstrong is one of Australia's greatest philosophers. His chief philosophical achievement has been the development of a core metaphysical program that covers the topics of universals, laws, modality, and facts - a naturalistic metaphysics, consistent with a scientific view of the natural world. Stephen Mumford offers an introduction to the full range of Armstrong's thought. Beginning with a discussion of Armstrong's naturalism - his most general commitment - and his realism about universals, Mumford then examines Armstrong's theories of laws, modality, and dispositions, which are the basics of his core theory. With this in place, Mumford explores Armstrong's ideas on perception, mind, and belief before returning to metaphysics in the final chapters, looking at truth and the new view of instantiation. The book is a dispassionate, fair, and unbiased account of Armstrong's thought which considers the areas of weakness in his work while encouraging further debate.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9494-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Chapter 1 Naturalism
    (pp. 1-18)

    A philosopher who gives a systematic account of the whole world will usually have some fundamental commitment that drives and unites its various elements. David Armstrong is one who does offer a grand vision of the world. His work shows how that vision accounts systematically for philosophically difficult phenomena such as properties, laws, truth, the mind and knowledge. These are some of the key problems that philosophy should aim to solve.

    Three general commitments drive Armstrong’s philosophy. He is a naturalist, a physicalist, and he thinks that the world is a world of states of affairs. This last view should...

  6. Chapter 2 Universals
    (pp. 19-40)

    What sorts of thing are there in the world? Perhaps we might answer with a list: there are people, tables and chairs, cats and dogs, plants, mountains, planets, nuts, bolts, television sets and motor cars. The list is practically endless. It is notable, however, that the things mentioned in this list are all particulars or at least kinds of particulars. A table is a physical object that has a location in space (in my dining room) and a location in time (20 September 2006). For a naturalist like Armstrong, who says that all there is is a single world of...

  7. Chapter 3 Laws of nature
    (pp. 41-60)

    The world is remarkably orderly and predictable. We know that water will boil at 100˚C, that the sun will rise every morning, food will nourish us, and that we will be attracted to the ground. If we understand the order of the world, then we will be able to harness it and manipulate it to our own ends.

    Before the scientific revolution, such order in the universe was often put down to providence, and it is perhaps from this thought that the original idea of a law of nature originated (see Ruby 1986). Nature seemed so regular and so intricate...

  8. Chapter 4 Possibility
    (pp. 61-78)

    We saw in Chapter 3 that Armstrong thinks of the laws of nature as contingent. They could be otherwise. But what does it mean to say that something could be otherwise? In answering this we shall also have to consider what it means to say that something could not be otherwise or, in other words, that something must be a certain way. To say that something could be is to say that it is possible. To say that something must be is to say that it is necessary. Necessity and possibility are the two basic modal notions. They are the...

  9. Chapter 5 Dispositions
    (pp. 79-94)

    Armstrong’s work on universals offers a thorough and detailed account of properties but, as he recognizes, there is a distinctive class of properties that bring with them some very particular problems. These are the dispositional properties, and we shall come to see that they play a crucial role in Armstrong’s philosophy of mind. Dispositions are, in any case, often considered as a subject matter in their own right and any naturalistic metaphysics needs to say something about them.

    As well as something being square or one metre thick, it may be soluble, volatile or elastic. None of these are likely...

  10. Chapter 6 States of affairs
    (pp. 95-110)

    We have seen how Armstrong has developed naturalistic theories of universals, laws and causation, modality and dispositions. What has emerged is a consistent and, to a large extent, systematic view of the world. This may not have been Armstrong’s original intention, as he does not present himself as a system-builder, but it seems that he did come to see his work more and more as an integrated whole. Towards the end of his career, he decided to present his philosophy in such a way inA World of States of Affairs. This chapter will present the most important ideas of...

  11. Chapter 7 Sensations and perceptions
    (pp. 111-128)

    There is a distinctly philosophical problem of perception that would remain even if we knew all the facts of physics and biology. Suppose we knew all the science of what happens when we see something. We know that light waves enter the eye. We know how they land on the retina and how a corresponding stimulus is sent down the optic nerve. We even know the physical facts, or most of the physical facts, of what happens when the signal reaches the brain. We know that certain neurons move in a certain way, firing and sending a signal to a...

  12. Chapter 8 Metaphysics of mind
    (pp. 129-148)

    Human beings have bodies. These are physical things made of matter. We have no special worries about how they fit into the natural world described by science. Our bodies would fall under the general problem of characterizing matter, although we may feel that we would have to investigate biology if we wanted to understand living matter in detail.

    As well as bodies, however, it seems apparent that we also have minds. These have some very special abilities. I can think thoughts, which are private and may remain so. I can have beliefs and knowledge. As we saw in Chapter 7,...

  13. Chapter 9 Knowledge and belief
    (pp. 149-164)

    We saw in Chapter 8 what consciousness is and how a naturalist like Armstrong might account for it. Traditionally, philosophers like Descartes and Hume thought of our minds like theatres of consciousness. All the contents of our minds were visible and transparent to us. Hume had this view of beliefs, describing them as vivid ideas associated with a present impression (1739: I, pt III, sec. 7). An impression is always a conscious experience, so beliefs as such are always conscious occurrences. When I believe that today is Wednesday, for instance, it is a conscious event in my mind, having a...

  14. Chapter 10 Truthmaking
    (pp. 165-182)

    What is it for a truth to be true? What makes it true? This is one of the oldest problems in philosophy and one to which Armstrong turned inTruth and Truthmakers. His concern was not with the epistemological question of how we know some particular statement or utterance to be true or false, but in what truth itself and falsehood itself actually consist. Armstrong’s concern was therefore with the metaphysics of truth.

    As Armstrong is a realist and naturalist, we are not surprised to find that he opts for something akin to the correspondence theory of truth: “propositions correspond...

  15. Chapter 11 Necessity
    (pp. 183-194)

    In Chapters 1 to 10 we have seen Armstrong’s naturalist programme develop. It forms a remarkably integrated and exceptionally consistent body of work covering the entire operations of the natural world, with some detailed attention paid to the operation of minds within that world. We might think of this body of work as the official Armstrong philosophy. It is at least the view that he has spent the majority of his career developing and extending with thorough and detailed argument. One distinguishing feature of the entire programme is the all-pervading presence of contingency. Things could have been different. Everything could...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-200)
  17. Index
    (pp. 201-206)