Two Kinds of Metaphysics
Wilkerson (T.E.)
Source: Wilkerson - Minds, Brains and People, 1974, Chapter 1
Paper - Abstract

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  1. Metaphysics;
  2. The Problem
Section 1 – “Metaphysics” (TT Notes)
  1. This section compares two conceptions of the role of metaphysics, as put forward in "Strawson (Peter) - Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics":-
    • Descriptive Metaphysics: As espoused by Wittgenstein (and Strawson himself), and
    • Revisionary Metaphysics: As espoused by Quine (and, I believe) Wilkerson himself.
  2. The basic difference between the two is that Descriptive Metaphysics takes philosophy’s job to “leave everything as it is” and just analyse how our concepts are used. Revisionary Metaphysics is more ambitious and takes it that the philosopher should respond to the best science of the day, and revise his ontology in the light thereof.
Section 2 – “The Problem” (Full Text)
  1. So to the general problem with which I intend to wrestle in this book. We do not encounter only shoes, ships, sealing-wax, cabbages, and kings on our way around the world: more interestingly, we encounter people. And although we may wish to ask why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings, a philosophically more important problem may impress itself upon us—the problem of analysing the concept of a person. Not only is the concept of a person one of the most important, it is also one of the most plausible candidates for membership of that special group of concepts which according to Strawson is the ‘massive central core of human thinking'. I propose, first, to offer a descriptive account of our concept of a person, a general account of the concept as we actually employ it. I then propose to set out perhaps the most significant revisionary account of people in what I take to be its most coherent form, namely the account based on the Identity Theory, the claim that mental states are identical with certain physical states. Having offered the two accounts I propose to attempt an answer to two questions:
    … first, are the ‘descriptive' and ‘revisionary' accounts competitors?; and,
    … second, if they are competitors, which account should we accept, and why?
  2. It is unnecessary to rehearse in any detail the enormous budget of mind-body problems which these two questions introduce. They are familiar to every student of the subject. I shall only make one remark which will, I hope, clarify the problems a little and put the whole of what follows into perspective. Philosophers have been quick to observe that the expression ‘mind-body' is decidedly unfortunate, for it suggests quite wrongly that something called a ‘mind' is attached to something called a ‘body', and that philosophers are concerned to show how precisely it is attached. That is, it suggests quite wrongly that Descartes was right in principle, if wrong in certain details. In fact the problem of the relation between mind and body, of analysing the concept of a person, arises from one very simple and non-tendentious observation, namely that human beings appear to have many properties which the rest of nature (with the exception of some animals) do not. They can think, act, perceive, feel certain emotions, and so on; trees, stones, tables cannot. To analyse the concept of a person is essentially to analyse these peculiar properties. Whether we call them ‘mental' properties (or more disastrously, lumping them together, ‘a mind') or not matters very little.
  3. The two accounts of persons to be examined in this book offer quite different analyses. The first, the ‘descriptive' account, insists that the peculiar properties of human beings are logically peculiar, that they cannot be reduced1 to properties shared by trees, stones, and tables, that the crucial component of the concept of a person (yielding the most important criterion of personal identity) is just that set of peculiar, ‘mental', properties. The second, the ‘revisionary' account, insists, however, that the apparent difference between human beings and inanimate things is only apparent, that these so-called peculiar properties can for the most part be reduced2 to the ordinary physical properties shared by trees, stones, and tables, that the main difference between humans and inanimate things is at best a difference of complexity. The second insists that humans are essentially continuous with the rest of nature, the first that (for philosophical purposes at any rate) they are not.

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