This review appeared in The BCLA Reporter, the bound newsletter of the British Columbia Library Association, (June 1992), vol. 63, no. 3, p. 64.
Swartz, Norman. Beyond Experience: Metaphysical Theories and
Philosophical Constraints. Toronto: University of Toronto
Press, 1991. xiv+449p. ISBN 0-8020-2783-0 (cloth), $50.00;
Of the many branches of philosophy, perhaps metaphysics holds the least immediate appeal for lay readers. Part of the reason may be that metaphysics is disconcerting: it renders problematic those presuppositions which underlie the concepts and theories we take most for granted. Also, metaphysics is frequently written with disregard for non-specialists. Consequently, many find it obscure and tedious. Such readers will be pleasantly surprised with Beyond Experience.
Norman Swartz (a professor at Simon Fraser University) does convey a sense of the disequilibrium that comes with reading metaphysics, but engagingly, in non-technical prose. His aim is to help readers sharpen their conceptual tools since "only in understanding what is and what is not entailed by our concepts can we aspire to use them well." Such understanding will assist readers in "determining the difference between what might be, what is and what must be." To this end, Swartz considers topics ranging from underdeterminism in scientific theorizing to the adequacy of various conceptions of pain, space and time, and personhood (to mention only a few). He offers arguments that show, for instance, that pain can be an out-of-body experience that does not hurt; that space does not exist; that an object may be in two different places at once. He lucidly demonstrates in examples from the history of science, the interconnectedness of metaphysics and scientific reasoning.
Swartz takes considerable pains to guide the uninitiated through his main arguments, and ends with a glossary and suggested readings. The chapters on Individuation and Identity through Time, however, may prove too dense or too long for some in a book that runs to 400 pages. Nevertheless, much of the book is accessible and a fine introduction to metaphysics, especially for those with an interest in the natural sciences.
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