This review appeared in Canadian Philosophical Review, vol xii (2)-(5) (April 1992 - Oct. 1992), pp. 353-356.
Andrew B. Schoedinger ed.
Schoedinger's anthology has five parts: Universals, Causation, Personal Identity, Free Will and Agency, Artificial Intelligence. Each part begins with pioneers and ends with contemporary authors. There are very brief introductions to the book and to each part.
There are a few misprints but not enough to distract one. Most of the articles are extremely helpful, e.g., Bambrough and Carnap on Universals; Collingwood and R. Taylor on Causation; Strawson on Persons; Maclntyre, Davidson and Goldman on Free Will and Agency. A few confuse more than they clarify, e.g., Pears on Universals and Danto on Free Will and Agency.
Here are the classic articles on some of the central metaphysical problems. Many of the later articles explicitly discuss arguments made in earlier ones so there is a beautiful dialectic here, something not present in all anthologies. This collection would make an excellent textbook in an introductory Metaphysics course and far from competing with Swartz's book it complements it almost perfectly. One thing missing in Schoedinger is a chapter on space and time but there is an extended discussion of this in Swartz. All in all, Schoedinger's anthology is a fine representation of metaphysics throughout the ages.
Common to both Schoedinger and Swartz is the conviction that metaphysics is not incompatible with empirical science but goes beyond it and, in a sense, deeper than it. These two books will disabuse anyone of the notion that metaphysics is necessarily unclear. In fact, the metaphysics found here is what we call philosophical analysis, conceptual analysis and occasionally even linguistic analysis.
When I was younger, I was a logical positivist and would allow nobody to utter the M-word (metaphysics) in my presence. These books prove that metaphysical problems are genuine, inescapable and capable of resolution, even if only provisional resolution. But are scientific problems any different?
Swartz shows by example after example that in this respect, metaphysics is no worse off than any empirical science. He begins by characterizing metaphysics as an extension to scientific theorizing but whose theories are even more underdetermined by the empirical data than science. He argues convincingly that putting concepts under stress by imagining possible worlds can do much to clarify the concepts we have fashioned for the world we happen to inhabit. Again and again he shows us that our world and therefore our concepts could easily have been different and that many of our prephilosophical beliefs and concepts stand in need of critical examination.
Some of the problems he explores are Space and Time, Properties, Individuation, Identity-through-time and Persons. In every case, we see a mind steeped in the history and philosophy of science and in historical and contemporary philosophy. He shows that science and metaphysics have always had a symbiotic relationship and that they are necessarily interdependent. In effect, a scientist who claims not to have metaphysical assumptions is either very ignorant or a liar and a metaphysician who ignores the theories and findings of the empirical sciences will make little progress in philosophy.
Swartz rightly insists on the need for clarity and for each of us to think autonomously. As he says on p. 6, 'there are no authorities in philosophy. There are only gradations of plausibility.'
Swartz shows by detailed, historical examples that pure Empiricism, i.e., observation alone, could never have generated any of the interesting and fruitful scientific theories. He also shows by examples that rarely in science are there conclusive verifications or falsifications of these theories. What is absolutely indispensable to science and to philosophy is a creative imagination, a willingness to explore counterfactual, possible worlds and the realization that any of our current theories might be improved or even replaced.
This is a delightful book to read. It is full of honesty, modesty and a most refreshing untechnical style, even though the problems are sometimes very subtle. There is a little technical material, e.g., on pp. 160-1 on the curvature of space and there is some symbolic logic throughout, but most of this book is readily accessible to any alert reader.
Swartz sheds a great deal of light on some of the most recalcitrant problems of metaphysics. If you wonder what makes for a successful theory, what is the real nature of space and time, what makes it possible to individuate physical objects, what are the conditions under which an object retains its identity through time and what makes each of us the same person from birth to death, you would be wise to read this book. Even if he leaves you hanging at times, he shows you the way to proceed and he convinces you that ultimately you have to rely on your own intuitions and research if you are ever to be satisfied with a metaphysical theory.
An example of Swartz's insight is his critique of the notion that each physical object has a substratum (Locke's 'I know not what') that accounts for our ability to individuate it and to identify it over time. Swartz shows that we know of no such substratum or substance and we need no such notion to account for individuation and identity. This critique of an alleged material substratum in physical objects parallels his critique of the notion that each of us has an immaterial soul which somehow makes us who we are, enables others to tell us apart from other persons and accounts for our continuing identity.
Swartz not only criticizes effectively but he has many theories of his own to try to solve these problems. He wisely chooses negative (sparse) theories over positive theories and always defends his choices against alternatives. Most of the time I found him to be extremely plausible but his alleged examples of a physical object being in two places at once or at two times at once seem to me to utterly trivialize his claims. What would be interesting is genuine time travel or genuinely being in two different places at once - but I suspect that each of these is not just physically impossible but logically impossible.
Another (rare) place where Swartz's discussion loses credibility is his alleged possible world (see pp. 118 ff.) where we would call something a pain that was literally outside of our body. While it is fun and often enlightening to envisage possible worlds, surely the experience of pain, the having a pain, is always in one's brain. In the actual world, pains are private because they are brain states. If Swartz is trying to show only that they might not have been brain states, he would be right. But so long as pains are experiences and not objects of perception, they cannot sensibly be said to be shared (unless by Siamese twins sharing a brain) or public. Pains could not literally be out of the body and at the same time experiences. If we imagine a world where pains are analogous to colours, of course, this is not necessarily true.
One final protest. Swartz underestimates the power of evolutionary arguments. On p. 185 in footnote 23 he argues that even if 'the coincidence of our visual and tactile senses ... can be explained as a product of evolution ... to argue in that fashion would be to miss the point ... there must antecedently be correlative features in objects which can be accessed by different sensory modes. It is the very existence of such correlative features, even before evolution comes into play, that is the source of the marvel of this particular world.'
I do not share Swartz's marvel here. Perhaps I am a lost cause, metaphysically speaking. Even though I realize that the world, including our sensory modes, might have been quite otherwise - that things 'ain't necessarily so' - surely what we want to understand is how we managed to survive thus far and how and why we perceive and categorize things the way we actually do. That the world is such that life was generated and that only those life forms survived which had the necessary perceptual goods seems to me to be explained by historical, biological, chemical and evolutionary theories. Yes, things might have been drastically different. But then so would we be very different, if we were to have evolved and then survived. So??
I have not even begun to do these two books justice. They are both eminently worth reading, especially if you have ever been tempted to dismiss metaphysics as meaningless gibberish or as a royal waste of time. Schoedinger's anthology shows us the road well travelled, so far. Swartz's book shows us how exciting and important philosophy can still be. In short, either of these two books, though especially Swartz's, will rekindle anyone's curiosity about how things are, how different they might have been and why this matters. Even more importantly, one is reminded of the fun of grappling with metaphysical monsters who haunt us all from time to time.
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