This review appeared in The Review of Metaphysics, vol. XLVII,
no. 4 (June 1994), pp. 845-846.
SWARTZ, Norman. Beyond Experience: Metaphysical Theories and
Philosophical Constraints. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
1991. xiii + 449 pp. Cloth, $50.00; paper, $19.95
the commendable task of motivating nonprofessional philosophers
to engage in the activity of identifying and criticizing their
own metaphysical theories. He does this first by explaining what
a metaphysical theory is and how to evaluate it, and second by
examining the plausibility of various theories concerning space,
time, properties, synchronic identity, diachronic identity, and
personal identity. A professional philosopher will find it easy
to read. An upper-level undergraduate or beginning graduate
student would, I imagine, find it challenging at times but
readable. There is a glossary of technical terms, further
readings suggested, bibliographical references, a name index, and
a subject index at the end of the book.
Swartz lays out the currently-popular approach to metaphysics
used by analytically-trained philosophers, that is, the testing
of our intuitions in counterfactual situations. He claims that if
we are to learn which metaphysical theories are better than
others, we must go beyond what scientific theories are limited
by, namely, experience. He shows convincingly that scientific
theories are imbedded with metaphysical theories which cannot
themselves be adjudicated using experience (or observation)
alone. Moreover, there is no mechanical way to decide between
metaphysical theories. One simply has to test these theories
using conceptual analysis on a case by case basis. Swartz's
understanding of conceptual analysis, then, involves analyzing a
concept in counterfactual situations. That is, one has to ask
whether a logically consistent story could be told such that the
story would make sense of a particularly odd use of a term. If
so, then one has found out that a commonly-accepted use for a
term is not necessarily, that is, metaphysically, the correct use
for that term, but is only contingently the correct use.
Swartz then examines briefly (which is surprising in a 449-page
book) various metaphysical theories concerning what space is,
what time is, what a property is, what synchronic identity is,
what diachronic identity is, and what being a person is. He
suggests, but does not argue, that a negative theory of space,
for example, is more plausible than a positive theory. That is,
he suggests that a metaphysical theory which reduces talk of
"space" to talk of physical objects without remainder is more
plausible than a theory which posits the existence of space in
addition to physical objects. He suggests, but again does not
argue, that realism as opposed to conceptualism, nominalism, and
a theory of tropes, is most plausible, although reluctantly so.
This reluctance stems from, I think, his preference for negative
theories in general. He then suggests that positive theories
concerning synchronic identity just push the problem back one
step, and do not solve the problem. On the other hand, negative
theories do solve the problem. The same suggestion is made with
respect to positive theories concerning diachronic identity and
personal identity. In other words, the problems of individuation,
identity through time, and personal identity are not solved by
positing the existence of some additional kind of thing, called
"substance." These problems are just postponed.
I found this book interesting to read. Swartz introduces and
motivates nicely some metaphysical problems and some of the main
metaphysical theories which have been proposed to solve them.
However, his philosophical methodology will look more like a
"language game" than a hard-nosed search after truth. This, I
believe, makes his goal of motivating the nonprofessional
philosopher difficult to achieve. Such a reader, in turn, may be
left with the feeling that metaphysics is all "ivory tower"
stuff, which, as Swartz agrees, it is not.
Saint Louis University
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written by Norman Swartz.