Philosophical Papers Volume I: Introduction
Lewis (David)
Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Introduction
Paper - Abstract

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Introduction (Full Text)

  1. The fifteen papers in this volume were originally published from 1966 to 1980. Here, misprints apart, they are reprinted in their original form1. For the most part, I stand by what I said. Where I do not, or where additions seemed urgently needed, I have left the paper as it was but appended new postscripts.
  2. The papers in this volume deal with topics in ontology, in philosophy of mind, and in philosophy of language. Papers on counterfactuals, causation2, and related matters will appear in a sequel3. I have left out papers which are rejoinders, or which are of primarily technical interest, or which overlap too much with the papers I have included.
  3. I should have liked to be a piecemeal, unsystematic philosopher, offering independent proposals on a variety of topics. It was not to be. I succumbed too often to the temptation to presuppose my views on one topic when writing on another. Most notably, my realism toward unactualized possibles shows up in nearly every paper in the book. Sometimes the argument requires it, as in "'Tensions"; sometimes my principal point could just as well have been put neutrally, as when I allude to other worlds in "Mad Pain and Martian Pain." But many cases fall in between. If I did not take properties as sets of possible individuals, for instance, I could still defend the thesis of "Attitudes De Dicto and De Se" that properties are the appropriate objects of attitudes; but I could no longer support this thesis by drawing an analogy between self-location with respect to the entire population of logical space and with respect to the population of the actual world. I hope the sceptical reader will consider breaking up the package and taking the parts that suit him, but I have not done all I could have done to make his task easy. For, after all, my principal interest has not been to proselytize but to figure out what I should believe.
  4. The reader in search of knock-down arguments in favor of my theories will go away disappointed. Whether or not it would be nice to knock disagreeing philosophers down by sheer force of argument4, it cannot be done. Philosophical theories are never refuted conclusively. (Or hardly ever. Godel and Gettier may have done it.) The theory survives its refutation — at a price. Argle has said what we accomplish in philosophical argument: we measure the price5. Perhaps that is something we can settle more or less conclusively. But when all is said and done, and all the tricky arguments and distinctions and counterexamples have been discovered, presumably we will still face the question which prices are worth paying, which theories are on balance credible, which are the unacceptably counterintuitive consequences and which are the acceptably counterintuitive ones. On this question we may still differ. And if all is indeed said and done, there will be no hope of discovering still further arguments to settle our differences.
  5. It might be otherwise if, as some philosophers seem to think, we had a sharp line between "linguistic intuition," which must be taken as unchallengeable evidence, and philosophical theory, which must at all costs fit this evidence. If that were so, conclusive refutations would be dismayingly abundant. But, whatever may be said for foundationalism in other subjects, this foundationalist theory of philosophical knowledge seems ill-founded in the extreme. Our "intuitions" are simply opinions; our philosophical theories are the same. Some are commonsensical, some are sophisticated; some are particular, some general; some are more firmly held, some less. But they are all opinions, and a reasonable goal for a philosopher is to bring them into equilibrium. Our common task is to find out what equilibria there are that can withstand examination, but it remains for each of us to come to rest at one or another of them. If we lose our moorings in everyday common sense, our fault is not that we ignore part of our evidence. Rather, the trouble is that we settle for a very inadequate equilibrium. If our official theories disagree with what we cannot help thinking outside the philosophy room, then no real equilibrium has been reached. Unless we are doubleplusgood doublethinkers, it will not last. And it should not last, for it is safe to say that in such a case we will believe a great deal that is false.
  6. Once the menu of well-worked-out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion. Is that to say that there is no truth to be had? Or that the truth is of our own making, and different ones of us can make it differently? Not at all! If you say flatly that there is no god, and I say that there are countless gods but none of them are our worldmates6, then it may be that neither of us is making any mistake of method. We may each be bringing our opinions to equilibrium in the most careful possible way, taking account of all the arguments, distinctions, and counterexamples. But one of us, at least, is making a mistake of fact. Which one is wrong depends on what there is.
  7. So much for method. Let me briefly list some recurring themes that unify the papers in this volume, thus frustrating my hope of philosophizing piecemeal.
    • Extreme modal realism, according to which there are many unactualized possible individuals, and according to which the actual individuals do not differ in kind from the unactualized ones.
    • Exploitation of the analogies between space, time, and modality.
    • Materialism, according to which physical science will, if successful, describe our world completely.
    • A broadly functionalist7 theory of mind, according to which mental states qua mental are realizers of roles specified in commonsense psychology.
    • Integration of formal semantics into a broader account of our use of language in social interaction.
    • Refusal to take language as a starting point in the analysis of thought and of modality.
  8. I thank all those who have helped me to think about the matters discussed in these papers. Those who have helped me most are listed in the footnotes to the papers and the postscripts. Also I thank [… snip …]

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: With the exception of ‘An Argument for the Identity Theory,' which incorporates notes added on the occasion of an earlier reprinting.

Footnote 3: See "Lewis (David) - Philosophical Papers Volume II".

Footnote 4: It would not be nice, of course. Robert Nozick has drawn attention to our strange way of talking about philosophical argument as if its goal were to subjugate the minds of our esteemed colleagues, and to escape their efforts to do likewise unto us. See his Philosophical Explanations (Harvard University Press, 1981, "Nozick (Robert) - Philosophical Explanations"), pages 4-5.

Footnote 5: See the conclusion of "Holes" (in this volume).

Footnote 6: As Peter Forrest has pointed out, I am perhaps the most extreme polytheist going. If, as I suppose, a being does not have to satisfy some inconsistent description to be a god, then I take the number of the gods to be at least Beth2. Unlike most polytheists, however, I think of this world we live in as entirely godless.

Footnote 7: I do not know whether I am, strictly speaking, a functionalist. For I reject at least two main planks in the platform.
  1. I reject the individualistic thesis that someone is in pain, say, if and only if he is in a state that occupies the role of pain for him, then. I think it also matters what role his state plays in others of his kind.
  2. I reject the thesis that "pain" rigidly designates a state shared by all who are in pain. Rather, it nonrigidly designates the state that occupies the role of pain in the particular kind under consideration. Indeed there is a state common to all who are in pain —"being in pain," I call it — but it is not pain, and it does not itself occupy the role of pain. In the terminology of "How To Define Theoretical Terms" (in this volume), it is a "diagonalized sense."

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