This review appeared in Canadian Book Review Annual (1991), p. 97
2139 Swartz, Norman. Beyond Experience: Metaphysical Theories and Philosophical Constraints. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. 440p. Studies in Philosophy series. biblio. index. $50.00. $19.95pa. ISBN 0-8020-2783-0. ISBN 0-8020-6832-4pa. CCIP. DDC 110.
Swartz here succeeds in making complex metaphysical issues available to a wide audience without sacrificing a claim to specialists' attention to problems of space and time, properties and relations, and the nature of thinking things. The first third of the book is devoted to methodological concerns about the nature of theories, the analysis and development of concepts, and the relationship between scientific theories and metaphysical presuppositions that cannot be scientifically verified. Understanding, he argues, is often better seen as a product of creation rather than discovery. The development of each of art, philosophy, and science can be ascribed to creative genius.
Against this background, Swartz discusses theories of space (defending a relational against a "container" theory) and time (stressing its analogies with space). Whether or not he is right in thinking that most people employ metaphysical theories in their daily lives, he provides convincing arguments for some surprising propositions. He shows, for example, that when essential concepts are clarified it is clear that an object can be at two different places at the same time and that things can move back and forth in time.
Swartz then turns to the analysis of properties and relations and to questions such as "how can two or more things have all their properties in common?" and "how can things maintain their identity through time?" The relational account of space is central to resolving the first of these "problems of individuation." Examination of the second shows how the concept of "identity through time" reflects the deep creativity of human understanding: it is shaped by the work of generations of people who have reflected on ascriptions of responsibility and liability, inheritance and ownership, concepts that are crucial to any understanding of personal identity, the topic of the final chapter. About this Swartz warns against the presumption that there is some single viable theory to be found.
On the evidence of this book, with its careful connections among topics, clear prose, good examples, useful glossary, and suggestions for further reading, Swartz must give an excellent course in metaphysics at Simon Fraser. Were I to have a similar assignment, I would seriously consider using his book as the text.
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