David Lewis

David Lewis

Daniel Nolan
Series: Philosophy Now
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 257
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  • Book Info
    David Lewis
    Book Description:

    Could our world be just one of an infinite number of possibilities? Beginning with his fundamental work on possible world theories, David Lewis's thinking provides a comprehensive philosophical system that answers a broad range of questions in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of action, among many other areas. Daniel Nolan skillfully illuminates the intricate connections between Lewis's seemingly disparate works in a book aimed at a general philosophical readership while also providing a unified overview of the many contributions Lewis has made to contemporary Anglo-American philosophy. Nolan examines Lewis's metaphysical picture - one of the areas where he has had the greatest impact and also the framework for the rest of his theories - and discusses Lewis's important contributions to the philosophy of mind, language, and meaning as well as exploring some of his work in decision theory, metaethics, and applied ethics. Nolan concludes by focusing on Lewis's distinctive philosophical method, which combines naturalism with common-sense theorizing and is perhaps one of his most significant legacies, to illustrate why Lewis has become so central to many areas of philosophical inquiry.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8371-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
    Daniel Nolan
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    David Lewis’s work is among the most influential in many areas of contemporary philosophy, but much of his influence has been as a “philosopher’s philosopher”: his main impact to date has been on the work of other professional philosophers. His work deserves a broader audience, since it is full of thought-provoking ideas, breadth of vision, a clear and incisive treatment of issues and plain good sense. He deals in a straightforward and unpretentious manner with many of the deepest philosophical issues, and his picture of the world and our place in it is one that deserves to be widely known....

  5. Chapter 1 Metaphysical and scientific realism
    (pp. 5-26)

    There are a variety of possible starting-points for discussing David Lewis’s work. I suspect the most common way in is for people to start with his work on a particular topic they are interested in – causation, the mind, convention, properties and relations, or whatever – and then gradually come to see how his views and arguments in one area connect with his views and arguments in another, until some greater or smaller piece of an entire system emerges. So where should a general introduction start? I have decided to start with Lewis’s metaphysics, perhaps the most philosophically influential part of his...

  6. Chapter 2 The Humean mosaic
    (pp. 27-50)

    As we saw in Chapter 1, Lewis is prepared to try to locate everything we come across in a single, physical, realm. Lewis goes even further. Not only is everything in our world to be accounted for in physical terms, but he is also spartan when it comes to accounting for the physical world. For Lewis, many physical objects are not themselves fundamental, but are composed of smaller and less long-lived objects. At the fundamental level, Lewis is prepared to describe the world as an arrangement of instantaneous, point-sized instantiations of perfectly natural qualities: a “mosaic” of “local, particular matters...

  7. Chapter 3 The plenitude of possibilities
    (pp. 51-79)

    In Chapter 2 I outlined a theory of our world, and what the fundamental facts in it are. As well as what in fact happens, though, we also want an account of what can and cannot happen. We also want to understand how it can be true that certain thingswouldhappen if conditions were somewhat different. Questions about what could happen and what must happen, about what is necessary and contingent, about what is possible or impossible, are all calledmodalquestions. (The terminology dates back to the medievals, who thought necessity and possibility weremodesof sentences or...

  8. Chapter 4 Laws, causes, dispositions and chance
    (pp. 80-114)

    Questions about causation, laws of nature, probability and chance are part of the domain of both metaphysics and philosophy of science. Saying what causation is, or what it is to be a law of nature, will presumably shed light on some of the most basic aspects of our world. Sorting out what causes, laws and chances are would also shed light on the foundations of both the natural and social sciences, since both of these make use of notions of causation and laws of nature, and reliance on probabilistic reasoning and estimating chances of events is ubiquitous. That is not...

  9. Chapter 5 Realism and reductive materialism about the mind
    (pp. 115-134)

    One of philosophy’s central puzzles is the question of how mental aspects of reality relate to the physical aspects of reality. On the one hand there are things such as thoughts, beliefs, experiences, consciousness, representation and meaning. On the other hand there are sensory stimulations, bodily movements and the location and nature of objects such as molecules and cells and mountains and stars. Very roughly, there are three philosophical approaches to this question. One is to take the mental as fundamental, and account for the rest of the world as a projection of our experience, or a creation of mind...

  10. Chapter 6 Representation and mental content
    (pp. 135-156)

    Chapter 5 dealt with Lewis’s theory of what the mind is, and how to identify mental states with physical states. This chapter also deals with part of the theory of mind: what is it for a mental state tomeansomething, to beaboutan aspect of the world? What makes my belief that dolphins live in the oceanthatsort of belief, rather than a belief that dolphins live in mountains (or, for that matter, rather than the belief that there are eggs in my fridge)? In turn, armed with an account of what it is for a mental...

  11. Chapter 7 Language, use and convention
    (pp. 157-177)

    In Chapter 6 I discussed the content of mental states: what states of mindmean.In this chapter I shall discuss the related question of meaning for pieces of language. Speech, writing and other forms of communication surround us and, since the “information revolution”, dealing with publicly accessible systems of representation is more important for more people than ever before. Language also influences many of the most important aspects of human life. Our ability to think in the way we do in the first place may to some extent depend on being exposed to language as infants and children; without...

  12. Chapter 8 Values and morality
    (pp. 178-202)

    Lewis’s views about ethics and values are not as well-known as his views about metaphysics, mind and language. Lewis addresses several different sorts of questions in ethics and value theory. He proposes a theory of what moral values are, and how they can play the distinctive role that moral values are supposed to. He has views about the right form of an ethical theory: he resists consequentialism in favour of an alternative closer to virtue ethics. In this chapter I shall discuss both Lewis’s metaethical views and what can be extracted about his general ethical theory. Lewis also has interesting...

  13. Chapter 9 Some reflections on Lewis’s method
    (pp. 203-228)

    Lewis has had a significant impact in many areas of philosophy. One of his most significant legacies, however, will be in the area of philosophical methodology: how philosophers do philosophy, and how they think about what they are doing. This book is full of examples of Lewis’s approach to philosophy, but it is worth explicitly considering some of Lewis’s views about how to go about tackling philosophical problems.

    In Chapter 1,I mentioned some of the ways in which Lewis’s philosophy was influenced by Quine’s. Lewis is a materialist (at least about this world); the only things we need to believe...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 229-237)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 238-242)
  16. Index
    (pp. 243-250)