Ontology, Causality and Mind: Preface
Bacon (John), Campbell (Keith) & Reinhardt (Lloyd)
Source: Bacon, Campbell & Reinhardt - Ontology, Causality and Mind
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  1. David Armstrong was born in 1926 into a naval family in Melbourne, Australia. After schooling in England and at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria, and a period of service in the Royal Australian Navy, he entered the University of Sydney in 1947.
  2. The Sydney Philosophy Department was at that time dominated by John Anderson, the charismatic and idiosyncratic Scottish philosopher. While Armstrong never adopted many of Anderson's views on particular issues in logic, metaphysics, epistemology and ethics, he has always regarded Anderson as the crucial influence in his intellectual formation. In common with his teacher, he has steadily pursued the classic substantive issues of metaphysically motivated philosophizing. Both engaged in the search for a synoptic, rationally compelling world view framed by a naturalism of empiricist inspiration.
  3. From Sydney, Armstrong went on to Exeter College, Oxford, and took the then recently established B.Phil, degree in 1954. Oxford was at that time the heartland of the linguistic analytic movement in philosophy, with Ryle and Austin as pre-eminent figures. Armstrong worked principally with H. H. Price, the specialist in the philosophy of perception, who was always more traditional in his approach to the problems of philosophy. While Armstrong picked up analytic tools in Oxford, he never adopted the view that all, or even many, of philosophy's conundrums are mere symptoms of linguistic pathology rather than genuine questions.
  4. After Oxford, he spent a brief period (1954-55) teaching at Birkbeck College in the University of London, then seven years at the University of Melbourne, earning the Ph.D. there while teaching at the same time. Since 1964 he has held John Anderson's chair as Challis Professor of Philosophy in Sydney. His imminent retirement is the occasion for this tribute.
  5. Armstrong's philosophy, presented now in ten books and nearly fifty major papers, has ranged over many of the main issues in epistemology and metaphysics. Rather unusually, it has tended to move from the more specific and concrete to the more abstract and general. He has been concerned throughout to elaborate and defend a philosophy which is economical, unified and compatibly continuous with the established results of the natural sciences. Several themes run through it all: a naturalism that holds all reality to be spatiotemporal, a materialism that aims to account for all mental phenomena without appeal beyond the categories of physical being, and an empiricism that both vindicates and draws strength from the methods and successes of the natural sciences.
  6. In Perception and the Physical World (1961), Armstrong confronted then fashionable phenomenalist tendencies with a direct realism that had no place for mentalistic items. He urged the various objections to sense-data and the identification problem they face. He developed an account of perceiving in terms of inclinations to belief, which took him farther away from the classic empiricist doctrines of perception by way of ideas.
  7. "Armstrong (David) - A Materialist Theory of the Mind" (1968) was the first full-dress presentation of central-state materialism, an equally naturalist, scientifically more plausible successor to behaviorism in the philosophy of mind. This major and highly influential work presented an analysis of mental phenomena in terms of what they are apt to cause or be caused by. It proceeded to point out that the most likely items to fit those places in the causal networks of human perception, feeling, memory and action had recently come to light: they are structures, states and processes in the central nervous system.
  8. Belief and knowledge were treated only lightly in "Armstrong (David) - A Materialist Theory of the Mind". In "Armstrong (David) - Belief, Truth and Knowledge" (1973), Armstrong developed an idea of Ramsey's that beliefs are maps by which we steer, sub-maps of one great action-guiding belief map in our head. Against causal theories, he made a significant contribution to the development of the reliabilist account of the distinction between knowledge and mere true belief.
  9. During the seventies, Armstrong turned his attention to the classical problem of universals1. In the two volumes of Universals2 and Scientific Realism (19783), he built a case for an immanent realism about universals4 with three main themes, of profound originality and considerable influence:
    • first, that contemporary confidence in set theory to sustain some version of nominalism is unjustifiable, and nominalism is desperately implausible;
    • second, that an empiricist philosophy need not, and should not, bear the nominalist burden; and
    • third, that the identification of actually existing universals5 is a task for which the fundamental sciences alone are equipped.
    There are far fewer universals6 than one might suppose, and to determine which ones there are calls for a substantive piece of contingent scientific theorizing.
  10. This scientific realism about universals7 was promptly put to work in developing a philosophy of the laws that apparently govern the cosmos. "Armstrong (David) - What is a Law of Nature?" (1983) argues that the regularity theories of law, deriving from Hume, are all fatally flawed, mainly in their incapacity to account for the accidental-nomic distinction. It goes on to urge that laws relating (classes of) particular events or occurrences rest on a relation of necessitation holding between the universals8 involved, thus setting forth one variant of what is now known as the Dretske-Tooley-Armstrong theory of laws.
  11. The concern with necessity provides a linking thread to Armstrong's next major project, A Combinatorial Theory of Possibility (1989a). Here he attempts to build - upon a foundation in the Tractarian thought of Wittgenstein, Cresswell and Skyrms - an account of nonactual possibilities as fictive reorderings of strictly actual cosmic constituents. Thus possible-world realism is repudiated, ersatzism is skirted, and naturalism is upheld. Here again, Armstrong's view of universals9, as abstractions from states of affairs on an equal footing with particulars, stands him in good stead.
  12. In the theory of perception, the analysis of knowledge, the philosophy of mind, the problem of universals10, the question of laws, and now the philosophy of possibility, Armstrong has not only contributed to the discussion but played a large part in establishing philosophy's agenda and setting the terms of its debates.
  13. Philosophy is a very hard subject with a very long history. It is very hard to say something new and important on any one major question. This makes it all the more remarkable that anyone should have had new and important things to say on a whole range of questions. But Armstrong has done more than make a massive contribution to philosophical doctrine; he has also shown us a way of doing philosophy. He has made an admirable contribution to the style in which we philosophize. It is easy when tackling very hard problems to lapse into obscurity or hide behind it. Armstrong's philosophical writings are examples of how to discuss the hardest questions in philosophy without sacrificing the kind of clarity that makes progress possible. We have him to thank for bringing us so much interesting and important philosophical news, and for doing it with such style and clarity11.
  14. For some of us, working with Armstrong has meant acquiring respect and affection for a fellow intellectual with whom we disagree deeply on both philosophical and political matters, which must be among the most rewarding experiences of academic life. We call Armstrong an 'intellectual' in his own sense, embracing an interest in social and political matters that goes well beyond theory to advocacy. Although often referred to as a conservative or a right-winger, Armstrong characterizes himself as a liberal conservative. He has always championed human rights and he has always opposed tyranny. He has always taught, even when it was less fashionable than it now is, that these ends could best be served by a free market and free trade.
  15. In the academy, Armstrong's 'politics' - motivated by scrupulous support for the highest standards - led him to oppose many of the changes that have overtaken universities in recent decades. This stance has cost him friends. It has also done much to sustain a self-respecting and livable departmental environment.
  16. It would be quite anomalous if our differences with Armstrong did not extend also to philosophy. For example, one of us is deeply attracted to the work of the later Wittgenstein. While Armstrong does not go so far as Russell in condemning that work, he is annoyed by its influence and does not think very highly of its main themes. Yet despite these areas of difference, which have occasioned a fair number of sharp exchanges, and despite Armstrong's pre-Kantian proclivities (as some might see them), his place in our philosophical and intellectual life is cherished and unforgettable.
  17. As will be evident from the introductions to Armstrong's replies herein, his impact upon his fellow philosophers has not been limited to published disputation or academic statesmanship. Quite apart from the influence of his substantive views and the example of his clear style, those of us who have been affected by him value almost more than anything else the inspirational force of his personality. In his presence, philosophy feels important. This has been his priceless gift to colleagues and students, the secret of the coherence of the Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy, aptly called 'Armstrong's department' in most of the world. It is our hope that this volume will convey a sense of that presence to the reader, along with our gratitude to the honoree.
  18. We thank our contributors for agreeing to provide the substance of this Festschrift, for getting their papers in on time and for brooking occasional editorial queries gracefully. Our thanks go likewise to David Armstrong for the care and despatch with which he wrote his replies to each contributor. Finally, we should like to acknowledge the support of Greg Currie, whose suggestion helped initiate this book.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Ie. Footnote 11: This paragraph is a modified version of Frank Jackson's remarks on introducing Armstrong's last appearance as Challis Professor before the Australasian Association of Philosophy in Melbourne, 10 July 1991.


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