Metaphysics: The Big Questions
Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean)
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Back Cover Blurb
  1. This student anthology presents both classic and contemporary readings in metaphysics and collects a wide range of answers to key metaphysical questions. Metaphysics originates in attempts to answer some of the most puzzling questions about the world and our place in it.
    • How are the appearances of things related to the things that appear?
    • What is the nature of space and time?
    • How do things persist through changes of parts and properties?
    • How do causes bring about their effects?
    • What is the relation between mind and body?
    • Is it possible for us to act freely?
    • Is there just one world?
    • Why is there a world at all?
    Can there be answers to these questions? If so, must the answers appeal to the action of a necessary being?
  2. "An outstanding and outstandingly complete collection of papers in metaphysics, selected by two of the foremost metaphysicians."
    … Alvin Plantinga. University of Notre Dame, Indiana
  3. Peter van Inwagen is John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. He is the author of
  4. Dean W. Zimmerman is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. He has published articles on metaphysics in The American Philosophical Quarterly, Analysis, The Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Mind, The Monist, Nous, The Philosophical Review, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, and other journals and collections.

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions - Preface"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Preface (Full Text)
  1. The problems of metaphysics are many. Some arise upon the least reflection about the world and our place in it. Others are less obvious, appearing as problems only to those willing to think very hard about highly abstract questions. The reader of this anthology will find philosophers grappling with metaphysical problems of both sorts - although we have deliberately decided to favor the less abstract, more immediately accessible problems, since this anthology is intended as an introduction to the subject. The essays and excerpts are largely free of unexplicated technical terminology and symbolism. And the topics covered complement those of a number of popular single-author introductions to metaphysics.
  2. With the exception of the final group of essays, all the readings are made to fall under a series of questions about "the world." We assume that the world includes everything that there is - that is, all that exists.
  3. The first and largest part, "What are the most general features of the world?," includes readings on
    • the problem of universals1,
    • the nature of particular things and the manner of their persistence through time,
    • rival theories of the passage of time,
    • absolute space and incongruent counterparts,
    • causation2, and
    • a budget of paradoxes: McTaggart's paradox, paradoxes of motion, of the infinite, of time travel3, and of intrinsic change.
  4. The second, and second largest, part asks, "What is our place in the world?" Here are questions about
    • the relation between the way things appear to us and the way they are (sense data, secondary qualities),
    • personal identity (two forms of materialism, a version of Cartesian dualism, and Derek Parfit4's "Buddhism"),
    • the nature of phenomenal experience, and
    • free will.
  5. Part Three raises the question of "anti-realism": Is there just one world, one complete inventory of what there is? Or does what there is vary from community to community or person to person?
  6. Part Four begins with reflection on whether there could be an answer to the question, "Why is there a world?" - that is, why is there something, rather than nothing? The part ends with two attempts to answer the question by appeal to a necessary being (the Deity of the cosmological and ontological arguments).
  7. The final part includes challenges to the very possibility of metaphysics from both positivist and postmodern perspectives.
  8. Although most of the readings have appeared elsewhere, a few have been written especially for this volume:
  9. The introductions to the sections serve three purposes:
    • (i) to indicate how the readings in the section are related to one another;
    • (ii) to point out connections between these selections and readings in other parts of the anthology; and
    • (iii) to suggest supplementary readings.
  10. An undergraduate course in metaphysics could profitably use this text alongside a wide variety of books, including classics6 such as Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, and Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy. Here are some more recent introductory books that take up many of the questions addressed in this anthology and are, in general, appropriate for an undergraduate audience:
  11. The following anthologies and single-author texts may serve as companions to the volume for more advanced students (e.g., upper-level philosophy majors, or beginning graduate students):
  12. Our lists of supplementary readings include suggestions for matching up chapters from all of these books with our selections. They also include many other books, articles, and (in a few cases) stories we think could be used to teach metaphysics to beginners.
  13. The dedication is offered in gratitude from two philosophers happy to have been on the “Chisholm Trail”.

In-Page Footnotes ("Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions - Preface")

Footnote 5: See "Zimmerman (Dean) - Distinct Indiscernibles and the Bundle Theory".

Footnote 6: See, eg, Footnote 7: This shows Van Inwagen + Zimmerman’s Christian Bias.

Footnote 9: See, maybe,

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - What Is Metaphysics?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

  1. What is the Subject Matter of Metaphysics?
  2. Is Metaphysics Possible?
  3. A Metaphysical Problem: the Existence and Nature of Universals1

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - What Are the Most General Features of the World"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - What Is Our Place In the World?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Is There Just One World?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Why Is There a World?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Is Metaphysics Possible?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Anscombe (G.E.M.) - Causality and Determination"

Source: Sosa & Tooby - Causation

Author’s Introduction
  1. It is often declared or evidently assumed that causality1 is some kind of necessary connection, or alternatively, that being caused is — non-trivially — instancing some exceptionless generalization saying that such an event always follows such antecedents. Or the two conceptions are combined.
  2. Obviously there can be, and are, a lot of divergent views covered by this account. Any view that it covers nevertheless manifests one particular doctrine or assumption. Namely;
      If an effect occurs in one case and a similar effect does not occur in an apparently similar case, there must be a relevant further difference.
  3. Any radically different account of causation2, then, by contrast with which all those diverse views will be as one, will deny this assumption. Such a radically opposing view can grant that often — though it is difficult to say generally when — the assumption of relevant difference is a sound principle of investigation. It may grant that there are necessitating causes, but will refuse to identify causation3 as such with necessitation. It can grant that there are situations in which, given the initial conditions and no interference, only one result will accord with the laws of nature; but it will not see general reason, in advance of discovery, to suppose that any given course of things has been so determined. So it may grant that in many cases difference of issue can rightly convince us of a relevant difference of circumstances; but it will deny that, quite generally, this must be so.
  4. The first view is common to many philosophers of the past. It is also. usually but not always in a neo-Humean form, the prevailing received opinion throughout the currently busy and productive philosophical schools of the English-speaking world, and also in some of the European and Latin-American schools where philosophy is pursued in at all the same sort of way; nor is it confined to these schools. So firmly rooted is it that for many even outside pure philosophy, it routinely determines the meaning of 'cause’, when consciously used as a theoretical term: witness the terminology of the contrast between "causal" and "statistical" laws, which is drawn by writers on physics – writers, note, who would not conceive themselves to be addicts of any philosophic school when they use this language to express that contrast.
  5. The truth of this conception is hardly debated. It is, indeed, a bit of Weltanschauung: it helps to form a cast of mind which is characteristic of our whole culture.


"Anselm - The Ontological Argument"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions


"Armstrong (David) - Qualities"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From Consciousness and Causalit1y

"Arnauld (Antoine) & Nicole (Pierre) - Of Confused Subjects Which Are Equivalent to Two Subjects"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Benardete (Jose A.) - Grasping the Infinite"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Black (Max) - Achilles and the Tortoise"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Broad (C.D.) - McTaggart's Arguments Against the Reality of Time"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From An Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, Vol. II, Part I.

"Broad (C.D.) - The General Problem of Time and Change"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From Scientific Thought

"Broad (C.D.) - The Theory of Sensa"

Source: Swartz - Perceiving, Sensing, and Knowing: A Book of 20th Century Sources in Philosophy of Perception

COMMENT: From Scientific Thought; Excepted "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions"

"Carnap (Rudolf) - The Rejection of Metaphysics"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: Chapter 1 of Philosophy and Logical Syntax

"Chalmers (David) - The Puzzle of Conscious Experience"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: Also in "Damasio (Antonio), Ed. - The 'Scientific American' Book of the Brain: The Best Writing on Consciousness"

"Chisholm (Roderick) - Human Freedom and the Self"

Source: Watson - Free Will - Oxford Readings

COMMENT: Also in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions" and in "Chisholm (Roderick) - On Metaphysics".

"Chisholm (Roderick) - Identity Through Time"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Author’s Introduction
  1. According to Bishop Butler, when we say of a physical thing existing at one time that it is identical with or the same as a physical thing existing at some other time (“this is the same ship we traveled on before”), we are likely to be using the expression “same” or “identical” in a “loose and popular sense”.
  2. But when we say of a person existing at one time that he is identical with or the same as a person existing at some other time (“the ship has the same captain it had before”), we are likely to be using the expression “same” or “identical” in a “strict and philosophical sense”.
  3. I shall attempt to give an interpretation of these two theses; and I shall suggest that there is at least an element of truth in each.


"Chisholm (Roderick) - Identity Through Time"

Source: Chisholm - Person and Object, Chapter 3

  1. The Ship of Theseus1
  2. Playing Loose with the ‘Is’ of Identity
  3. An Interpretation of Bishop Butler’s Theses
  4. Feigning Identity
  5. The Persistence of Persons through Time
  6. ’Will I Be He?’: Truth-Conditions ad Criteria


"Chisholm (Roderick) - The Status of Appearances"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: Part of Chap. 6 of "Theory of Knowledge (1st Edition)"; Also (excerpted) in "Rosenthal (David), Ed. - The Nature of Mind"

"Chisholm (Roderick) - Which Physical Thing Am I? An Excerpt from 'Is There a Mind-Body Problem?'"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions
Write-up Note1 (Full Text reproduced below).

  1. The Theory
  2. Some Objections Considered
  3. Conclusion

Write-up2 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Chisholm - Which Physical Thing Am I?

This write-up is a review of "Chisholm (Roderick) - Which Physical Thing Am I? An Excerpt from 'Is There a Mind-Body Problem?'". My own comments universally appear as “Note:”.

  1. The Theory
  2. Some Objections Considered
  3. Conclusion

1. The Theory
  1. According to the double aspect theory, some physical things have mental or intentional properties as well as physical properties. Persons – you and I – are such things.
  2. In support, Chisholm approvingly quotes "Strong (C.A.) - Final Observations", p. 237, to the effect that I am to outer appearance physical, but am to inner perception psychical. So, there is no contradiction in a physical, partite, effective thing that feels.
  3. This gives a problem – if we are physical things, which physical thing are we. Chisholm claims the answer is obviously either our “gross physical body” or a proper part thereof.
    • Note: Olson claims that there’s an important distinction between bodies and organisms, and would claim that I am identical to the human organism, not the human body. Does this make a difference to Chisholm’s arguments?
  4. Chisholm claims that there are sound arguments to do with facts about persistence through time that show that I cannot be identical to my body.
  5. The main contention is that “the body I carry around with me” is an ens successivum - an entity that is made up of different things at different times. The “set of things that makes it up” varies from day to day. It has different “stand ins” that “do duty for” the successive entity at different times.
    • Note: Just what is a “successive entity” – is this something that is only self-identical from moment to moment in the “loose and popular” sense? Or is it a substance that is “constituted” by different entities from moment to moment? Also, how many levels of thing do we have here? Persons, then bodies, and then the stand-ins for those bodies?
  6. Chisholm now asks whether I am an ens successivum such that different things do duty for me on different days? He denies this on the grounds that if I have an emotion, no other thing has this emotion for me, and particularly not different things at different times.
  7. The argument for the above claim is as follows:-
    1. I am supposed now sad.
    2. An ens successivum bearing my name is sad if one of its stand-ins is now sad.
    3. I am not sad in virtue of anything else being sad for me.
    4. Therefore, I am not an ens successivum.
    • Note: I don’t know what to make of this argument. It doesn’t add anything except make premise (3) explicit. Why should we accept this? Don’t my various body-parts perform their functions for me (eg. don’t my kidneys purify my blood). So, why can’t my brain feel my sadness? And my brain is an ens successivum, part of a larger ens successivum that is my body. And saying “my body” isn’t to say that I’m anything other than my body, it’s just a figure of speech (For what? For when I want to emphasise my corporeal rather than mental aspects).
  8. What is a non-successive entity like? It is not made up of different things at different times. It has all of its parts essentially.
  9. Chisholm adopts a “Leibnizian” position whereby something exists only if its contrary exists. So, since entia successiva exist, entia nonsuccessiva must exist too.
    • Note: Can this approach possibly be sound? Do unicorns and gods exist because non-unicorns and non-gods exist? I’d thought that Leibniz was talking about concepts – we can only have the concept of a thing if we have the concept of its opposite (I’ve a vague recollection of some “scholastic” arguments in natural theology along these lines) – but our concepts bear no necessary connection to what exists).
  10. Anyway, Chisholm thinks we can only make sense of anything persisting if in any interval, however small, an ens successivum exists during part of that time.
    • Note: I’ve no idea what he’s on about here.
  11. So, might I not be an ens nonsuccessivum? He mentions Leibniz’s account of the Rabbis’ suggestion that there is an incorruptible Luz bone. Neither he nor Leibniz accept this idea as such, but Chisholm seems to accept the idea that there may be a microscopic material object that is the person. Leibniz had denied that the soul dwells there, and Chisholm accepts this rejection if the soul is taken to be something that the person has. What he does say is that the person dwells there, that the person is the Luz bone or a proper part of it (or of the microscopic entity Chisholm prefers to the Luz bone).
  12. Chisholm considers the impact of his thesis – that persons are intactly persisting physical things – on personalism. While the personalists would have rejected this idea, it lends support to other ideas the personalists thought important. Bishop Butler rejected the idea that “our gross organised bodies” are any part of ourselves, even though we use them for sense-perception and action; claiming “we see with our eyes in the same way we see with our glasses”.
    • Note: What is “personalism”?
  13. Chisholm accepts:-
    1. That our eyes are only the organs of sight, and not the subjects of sight.
    2. That the destruction of the “gross physical body” does not logically imply the destruction of the person.
    3. The substance of Aquinas’s attribution to Plato: that the person is in the body as a sailor is in the ship.
    • Notes (indexed to the 3 remarks above):
      1). I think every physicalist would agree that the eyes are much as Butler and Chisholm allege, though they do much more information processing and transduction than mere spectacles. The interpretation of the visual information takes place in the visual cortex, and the subjective awareness of that information presumably takes place (somewhat mysteriously) there or elsewhere in the brain. Some would say that the subject of experience is the brain, or part of it. Chisholm, it turns out, would agree with this, though not in the conventional physicalist sense.
      2). The emphasis is on “gross” – Chisholm is claiming that there is some small part that is indestructible and that ensures the persistence of the person despite the destruction (or change – for Chisholm the moment by moment replacement) of the body, because it is (identical to) the person.
      3). This sounds a step back from Descartes’s rejection of the pilot/ship analogy – Descartes has the soul intermingled with the body – but the claim is not really the same thing for Chisholm as it is for Plato and Aquinas. His pilot is a physical thing.

2. Some Objections Considered

Chisholm clarifies his proposal by considering 5 objections:-
  1. Objection: Physics knows nothing of any incorruptible matter of which the person might be made.
    Answer: His theory implies no such thing, only that there are certain material things that remain uncorrupted as long as the person survives. The theory is that the person is identical to some proper part of the gross body, most likely something microscopic – certain material particles or sub-particles – in the brain. While not being the Luz bone, it is like it in being intact and nonsuccessive.
    • Note: This seems to be a crazy idea, but one that’s theoretically open to empirical investigation. It seems to be predicated on the idea that the “strict and philosophical” identity relation allows for no change of parts (mereological essentialism). Chisholm throws down the gauntlet at the end of the extract for those who don’t like his theory to think of something better.
  2. Objection: thinking requires a complex structure not possessed by microscopic particles. So what does the thinking for this particle?
    Answer: I am that microscopic particle, I have a brain, so it has a brain too; the same brain I have. The brain is the organ of consciousness, not the subject of consciousness, just as for my nose and smell. That is, unless I am my brain (or nose). The theory is that the subject of consciousness is a proper part of the organ of consciousness.
    • Note: There’s a lot going on here. Firstly, I reject the analogy between brain and nose for the reasons given earlier for the eye. Secondly, I am suspicious of the use of “have”. I (considered as a biological organism) have a brain as a functioning proper part. The supposed microscopic particle has a brain in a different sense – that of possession. Chisholm is right to reject the regress of increasingly tiny brains as proper parts of increasingly tiny homunculi. However, how is the posited homunculus supposed to think with its (gross) brain? What’s the interface protocol? There’s something inimical to the spirit of physicalism going on here – why say this thing is physical at all? Why not just stick with immaterial souls? Physicalism claims that all that exists are physical things (together with, maybe, abstract objects), but further that we can explain how macroscopic things work by reference to the working of their parts and the operation of universal physical laws. The positing of unchangeable physical things – simples – that are capable of complicated things – perception – seems contrary to the spirit of these claims.
  3. Objection: if I’m identical to a microscopic particle, how come I’m 5 ft 10 ins tall and weigh 14 stone?
    Answer: I have a body with these properties.
    • Note: So, it seems that – for Chisholm – I really am tiny. The same issues come up for the “brain view”, that I really only weigh 3 lb, and so on. I suspect this to be just a matter of a linguistic convention that we would keep even if the metaphysical theories on offer turned out to be true. I don’t consider the objection serious. It is probably correctly responded to by Baker’s account of “having properties derivatively” by reason of being constituted by something else that has these properties non-derivatively. Note, however, that Baker’s view – that I am constituted by my gross physical body - bears no relation to Chisholm’s – that I am identical to a minute proper part of my body.
  4. Objection: Are you serious in saying I weigh less than a milligram?
    Answer: Yes. Both the statement that I weigh 14 stone and that I weigh less than a milligram are correct, according to different manners of speaking, though the latter is more accurate. He wheels out the “loose and popular” versus “strict and philosophical” distinction, and an analogy “I’m at such-and-such a garage”, when I mean my car is. Some of “my” properties are borrowed from my body. Chisholm has a footnote where he notes Strawson’s claim that persons have both psychological and physical properties. According to Chisholm, most of the physical predicates are borrowed from the person’s body.
    • Note: this is really the same point as (3), but with more of the incredulous stare, and a bit more explanation in response. Baker’s indebtedness to these ideas is clear.
  5. Objection: Your brain is your organ of thought, and is responsible for all your psychological properties which, according to Locke, are constitutive of your identity. Since you are not your brain, but a microscopic particle within it, it might be possible to exchange the brain (less you) with another person. In that case you (in Chisholm’s sense) would no longer be you (in Locke’s sense).
    Answer: this is only absurd if we confuse the criteria of identity with the truth-conditions of identity. The criteria (in normal circumstances) aid identification, but they do not make identity.
    • Notes:
      1. This seems simply to ignore the whole Lockean “psychological approach”, which claims that psychological continuity is constitutive of personal identity and not just evidence for it.
      2. That said, Chisholm is right to stand his ground. The situation is similar to the second horn of Williams’s dilemma in "Williams (Bernard) - The Self and the Future", where the brain-state transfer device is taken to induce massive psychological change rather than identity transfer.

3. Conclusion
  1. There are persons, and they are either physical or non-physical. Does anything we know of persons justify us taking the second option?
  2. If we assume that the concept of an extended thing presupposes that of a non-extended thing, might we not suppose that persons are non-extended things? But this contradicts the assumption that persons are entia per se. Unextended things (such as boundaries, lines, points and surfaces) are ontological parasites on extended things, rather than vice versa, so are not entia per se.
  3. Chisholm asks rhetorically what point there would be in the supposition that some individual things have the property of being non-physical – how would it explain anything?
  4. If I am physical, the most plausible explanation is that I’m a proper part of my macroscopic body, even though it’s not possible to tell from the outside which part I am.
  5. Those who think this implausible need to come up with a better idea.
    • Notes (indexed to the 5 remarks above):
      1. An interesting question that Chisholm proceeds to address, but far too briefly.
      2. Entia per se are presumably substances, as distinct from the properties that substances have (though does Chisholm believe in substances, given his mereological essentialism?). When we say that something is unextended, is this the same as saying it is non-physical? Are lines not extended? Are points parasitic on anything? I agree that surfaces, like dents, are parasitic on the things whose surfaces they are.
      3. Well, indeed! But one might give it a try (as many philosophers have).
      4. Can we tell from the inside what proper part I am? And why can’t we tell from the outside?
      5. Some would say they have.
Summary Response

It seems to me a rather desperate move to suggest that persons are microscopic unchanging particles. The suggestion appears to stem from accepting mereological essentialism combined with a desire for our “strict and philosophical” persistence. If we are such strange items, how do we interact with our brains? What advantage is there in assuming we’re physical in that sense, when the supposed physical thing is unknown to physics? The mistake seems to me to be in the initial premise of mereological essentialism for organisms.

In-Page Footnotes ("Chisholm (Roderick) - Which Physical Thing Am I? An Excerpt from 'Is There a Mind-Body Problem?'")

Footnote 2:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (18/12/2010 19:58:05).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.

"Flax (Jane) - Postmodernism, Feminism, and Metaphysics"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From Thinking Fragments

"Gardner (Martin) - The Fourth Dimension"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From The Ambidextrous Universe

"Geach (Peter) - Some Problems About Time"

Source: Strawson - Studies in the Philosophy of Thought and Action

COMMENT: Also in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions"

"Hinckfuss (Ian) - Topis, Soris, Noris"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From The Existence of Space and Time

"Hobart (R.E.) - Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Hume (David) - Constant Conjunction"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From "Hume (David), Mossner (Ernest) - A Treatise of Human Nature"

"James (William) - The Problem of Being"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: Chapter 3 of Some Problems of Philosophy

"Lewis (David) - Survival and Identity"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 5

Oxford Scholarship Online
  1. Prompted by Derek Parfit1's early work on personal identity, Lewis advances the view that persons are best regarded as suitably related aggregates of person-stages. Parfit2 argues that what matters3 in survival is either identity or mental continuity and connectedness; that the two cannot both be what matters4 in survival (because the former is a one-one relation and does not admit of degree, whereas the latter can admit of degree and may be a one-many or many-one relation); and that what matters5 in survival is not identity.
  2. Contra Parfit6, Lewis contends that the opposition is a false one, since it obscures the fact that mental continuity and connectedness is a relation between two person-stages (i.e., time-slices of continuant persons), whereas identity is a relation between temporally extended continuant persons with stages at different times.
  3. The postscript includes both Lewis’ rejoinder to Parfit7's objections, as well as a further defense of person-stages.

  1. Photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)";
  2. Also in:-
  3. For Notes, see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Lewis, 'Survival and Identity'".

"Lewis (David) - The Paradoxes of Time Travel"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume II, Part 4: Counterfactuals and Time, Chapter 18

  1. This paper argues that time travel1 is possible, and that the paradoxes of time travel2 are oddities, not impossibilities.
  2. The defence of the possibility of time travel3 involves
    1. a commitment to enduring things having temporal as well as spatial parts,
    2. psychological continuity4 and connectedness and
    3. causal continuity
    as criteria of personal identity, and a distinction between external and personal time.

Author’s Introduction
  1. Time travel5, I maintain, is possible. The paradoxes of time travel6 are oddities, not impossibilities. They prove only this much, which few would have doubted: that a possible world where time travel7 took place would be a most strange world, different in fundamental ways from the world we think is ours.
  2. I shall be concerned here with the sort of time travel8 that is recounted in science fiction. Not all science fiction writers are clear-headed, to be sure, and inconsistent time travel9 stories have often been written. But some writers have thought the problems through with great care, and their stories are perfectly consistent.
  3. If I can defend the consistency of some science fiction stories of time travel10, then I suppose parallel defenses might be given of some controversial physical hypotheses, such as the hypothesis that time is circular or the hypothesis that there are particles that travel faster than light. But I shall not explore these parallels here.
  4. What is time travel11? Inevitably, it involves a discrepancy between time and time. Any traveler departs and then arrives at his destination; the time elapsed from departure to arrival (positive, or perhaps zero) is the duration of the journey. But if he is a time traveler12, the separation in time between departure and arrival does not equal the duration of his journey. He departs; he travels for an hour, let us say; then he arrives. The time he reaches is not the time one hour after his departure. It is later, if he has traveled toward the future; earlier, if he has traveled toward the past. If he has traveled far toward the past, it is earlier even than his departure. How can it be that the same two events, his departure and his arrival, are separated by two unequal amounts of time?


"Lewis (David) - The Problem of Temporary Intrinsics"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Full Text
  1. Let us say that something persists iff, somehow or other, it exists at various times; this is the neutral word1. Something perdures iff it persists by having different temporal parts, or stages, at different times, though no one part of it is wholly present at more than one time; whereas it endures iff it persists by being wholly present at more than one time. Perdurance corresponds to the way a road persists through space; part of it is here and part of it is there, and no part is wholly present at two different places. Endurance corresponds to the way a universal, if there are such things, would be wholly present wherever and whenever it is instantiated. Endurance involves overlap: the content of two different times has the enduring thing as a common part. Perdurance does not.
  2. (There might be mixed cases: entities that persist by having an enduring part and a perduring part. An example might be a person who consisted of an enduring entelechy ruling a perduring body; or an electron that had a universal of unit negative charge as a permanent part, but did not consist entirely of universals2. But here I ignore the mixed cases. And when I speak of ordinary things as perduring, I shall ignore their enduring universals3, if such there be.)
  3. Discussions of endurance versus perdurance tend to be endarkened by people who say such things as this: 'Of course you are wholly present at every moment of your life, except in case of amputation. For at every moment all your parts are there: your legs, your lips, your liver. . . .' These endarkeners may think themselves partisans of endurance, but they are not. They are perforce neutral because they lack the conceptual resources to understand what is at issue. Their speech betrays - and they may acknowledge it willingly - that they have no concept of a temporal part. (Or at any rate none that applies to a person, say, as opposed to a process or a stretch of time.) Therefore they are on neither side of a dispute about whether or not persisting things are divisible into temporal parts. They understand neither the affirmation nor the denial. They are like the people - fictional, I hope - who say that the whole of the long road is in their little village, for not one single lane of it is missing. Meaning less than others do by 'part', since they omit parts cut crosswise, they also mean less than others do by 'whole'. They say the 'whole' road is in the village; by which they mean that every 'part' is; but by that, they only mean that every part cut lengthwise is. Divide the road into its least lengthwise parts; they cannot even raise the question whether those are in the village wholly or only partly. For that is a question about crosswise parts, and the concept of a crosswise part is what they lack. Perhaps 'crosswise part' really does sound to them like a blatant contradiction. Or perhaps it seems to them that they understand it, but the village philosophers have persuaded them that really they couldn't, so their impression to the contrary must be an illusion. At any rate, I have the concept of a temporal part; and for some while I shall be addressing only those of you who share it4.
  4. . . . The principal and decisive objection against endurance, as an account of the persistence of ordinary things such as people or puddles, is the problem of temporary intrinsics5. Persisting things change their intrinsic properties. For instance shape: when I sit, I have a bent shape; when I stand, I have a straightened shape. Both shapes are temporary intrinsic properties; I have them only some of the time. How is such change possible? I know of only three solutions.
  5. (It is not a solution just to say how very commonplace and indubitable it is that we have different shapes at different times. To say that is only to insist - rightly - that it must be possible somehow. Still less is it a solution to say it in jargon - as it might be, that bent-on-Monday and straight-on-Tuesday are compatible because they are 'time-indexed properties' - if that just means that, somehow, you can be bent on Monday and straight on Tuesday.)
  6. First solution: contrary to what we might think, shapes are not genuine intrinsic properties. They are disguised relations, which an enduring thing may bear to times. One and the same enduring thing may bear the bent-shape relation to some times, and the straight-shape relation to others. In itself, considered apart from its relations to other things, it has no shape at all. And likewise for all other seeming temporary intrinsics6; all of them must be reinterpreted as relations that something with an absolutely unchanging intrinsic nature bears to different times. The solution to the problem of temporary intrinsics7 is that there aren't any temporary intrinsics8. This is simply incredible, if we are speaking of the persistence of ordinary things. (It might do for the endurance of entelechies or universals9.) If we know what shape is, we know that it is a property, not a relation.
  7. Second solution: the only intrinsic properties of a thing are those it has at the present moment. Other times are like false stories; they are abstract representations, composed out of the materials of the present, which represent or misrepresent the way things are. When something has different intrinsic properties according to one of these ersatz other times, that does not mean that it, or any part of it, or anything else, just has them - no more so than when a man is crooked according to the Times, or honest according to the News. This is a solution that rejects endurance; because it rejects persistence altogether. And it is even less credible than the first solution. In saying that there are no other times, as opposed to false representations thereof, it goes against what we all believe. No man, unless it be at the moment of his execution, believes that he has no future; still less does anyone believe that he has no past.
  8. Third solution: the different shapes, and the different temporary intrinsics10 generally, belong to different things. Endurance is to be rejected in favour of perdurance. We perdure; we are made up of temporal parts, and our temporary intrinsics11 are properties of these parts, wherein they differ one from another. There is no problem at all about how different things can differ in their intrinsic properties.

COMMENT: From "Lewis (David) - On the Plurality of Worlds".

In-Page Footnotes ("Lewis (David) - The Problem of Temporary Intrinsics")

Footnote 1: My discussion of this problem is much indebted to "Armstrong (David) - Identity Through Time" (1980); and to Mark Johnston. I follow Johnston in terminology.

Footnote 4:

"Malcolm (Norman) - Anselm's Ontological Arguments"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Malcolm’s primary insight is that there are (even if Anselm didn’t so consider it) two arguments in the Proslogion: one (allegedly unsound) that seeks to demonstrate the existence of an infinitely great being; the other (allegedly sound) – a modal1 argument – that seeks to demonstrate the necessary existence of such a being (or maybe the existence of a necessarily existent such a being). His paper divides into four sections:-
  1. Agreement that the argument in Anselm’s Proslogion II fails for the reasons given by Kant. Existence is not a predicate. The concept of a being “than which no greater can be conceived” does not guarantee that being’s existence.
  2. The second argument in Anselm’s Proslogion III succeeds. The concept of a necessarily existent being has not been shown to be self-contradictory. And this concept guarantees the existence of the being conceived.
  3. Kant’s criticism of this second argument fails
  4. Three questions:-
    • Is the idea of a being “than which no greater can be conceived” self-contradictory?
    • How did our concept of God arise?
    • What is the relation of Anselm’s ontological argument to religious belief?
Malcolm is a Wittgensteinian, and “forms of life” feature frequently in the paper. There’s also a comparison between existential statements in mathematics and the statement “God exists”. There’s therefore a question whether Malcolm intends that God should be said to “necessarily exist” in an anti-realist sense – ie. in the form of life of believers – or in some even more ethereal sense as in the way mathematical objects do or do not exist (as “the greatest prime number” does not exist). On a first and second reading, I found the paper obscure in this regard, but if God does only exist in the anti-realist or mathematical sense, I take this as a disappointing result, and that the ontological argument doesn’t take us very far.

Part I

This is standard stuff, and doesn’t need much further comment. There are two modes of existence: “in the understanding” and “in reality”, and it is better to exist in both than in only one mode, and better to exist in the second mode than the first. Existence is a perfection. If I conceive of something that does not exist, than it is possible for it to exist, and it will be greater if it exists than if it doesn’t. This doctrine of existence as a perfection is “remarkably queer”. The example is given of two “job resumes” – tacking “and I exist” on the end as an extra quality would be “ludicrous”. Gassendi’s2 dictum (anticipating Kant) that “Existence is a perfection neither in God nor in anything else; it is rather that in the absence of which there is no perfection” is accepted. So, the argument in Proslogion II is fallacious.

Part II

In Proslogion III, Anselm says two things: (1) that a being whose nonexistence is logically impossible is greater than a contingent being whose nonexistence is logically possible; and (2) that God is a being than which a greater cannot be conceived. Malcolm takes it as a virtue that Anselm’s definition of the term GOD makes no reference to potentially contingent attributes (like “tallest”) that might fail to obtain even were God to exist. He distinguishes truths that are logically necessary from those that aren’t (without using the analytic / synthetic or de re / de dicto vocabulary). While he had rejected existence as a perfection, he accepts that the logical impossibility of nonexistence is a perfection. He discusses the issue of dependence – both in time and in reliance on external support – and notes that it’s part of the concept GOD to be an unlimited being. He distinguishes “endless” from “eternal” beings. An “endless” being is one that contingently never ends, while an eternal being is one whose nonexistence is impossible. The idea of contingent existence or nonexistence cannot be applied to God.

The second proof therefore reduces to the claim that God’s existence is either impossible or necessary. He’ll consider the first option in the final Part. Necessary existence is a property of God in the same sense as necessary omnipotence is. Again, Gassendi appears in support. I have to agree that necessary existence does have a lot more going for it as a property than (mere) existence does.

Part III

Malcolm considers Kant’s objections to positing an absolutely necessary being. Kant agrees that “God is omnipotent” is a necessary judgement (because omnipotence is included in the concept GOD) – but it’s analytic, not synthetic. Yet, there is (for Kant) no contradiction in saying “There is no God”. Malcolm’s view is that this is a necessarily false statement. Yet, it’s not clear to me whether he means this in an analytic or synthetic sense, and what mode of existence he wants to give to God. Malcolm claims that “once one has grasped Anselm's proof of the necessary existence of a being a greater than which cannot be conceived, no question remains as to whether it exists or not, just as Euclid's demonstration of the existence of an infinity of prime numbers leaves no question on that issue”. It’s not clear to me what the “just as” relation is supposed to be.

Malcolm notes that “There are as many kinds of existential propositions as there are kinds of subjects of discourse.” He then discusses the views of Ryle, Smart and others that "Any assertion of the existence of something, like any assertion of the occurrence of something, can be denied without logical absurdity." And "The concept of a logically necessary being is a self-contradictory concept, like the concept of a round square.... No existential proposition can be logically necessary." He agrees with J. N. Findlay – famous for his attempted ontological disproof of God’s existence – that "if God is to satisfy religious claims and needs, He must be a being in every way inescapable, One whose existence and whose possession of certain excellences we cannot possibly conceive away." Findlay draws the conclusion from this that – because the concept of God is “self-evidently absurd” – it “entails its necessary non-existence". Malcolm doesn’t agree with this conclusion.

Malcolm accepts the view that “logically necessary truth "merely reflects our use of words"”, but denies that this should draw us to conclude that "the Divine existence is either senseless or impossible" any more than concluding that “mathematics is "senseless or impossible"”. If theory has it that every proposition of the form “x exists” is contingent – and “God exists” is a necessary truth – then so much the worse for theory. He doesn’t take it that this proves that God cannot exist – which is Findlay’s conclusion.

Malcolm says (rightly) that the correct reply is not to blindly accept some dogma on existential propositions, but look at how words are actually used. He points out the Judeo-Christian language games in which God’s status as a necessary being is indubitable. My worry is whether we can get out of the Matrix into the real world, and whether Malcolm wants us to.

Finally, Malcolm looks at the Kantian analysis of the problem – which is expounded as “(the) a priori truth of the conditional proposition, 'If such a being exists then it necessarily exists.' … does not entail the existence of anything.” Malcolm’s view is that the proposition “God is a necessary being” cannot be explained in such conditional terms, which are themselves self-contradictory. The conditional implies that it is possible for God not to exist, whereas the necessity claim says that his non-existence is impossible.

Part IV

Leibniz attempted to demonstrate that the idea of “a being a greater than which cannot be conceived” is not self-contradictory. He thinks this is a good move, but he’s not impressed by Leibniz’s efforts. He admits that he (Malcolm) doesn’t know how to demonstrate that this is the case, but denies that such a demonstration can be legitimately demanded; and he’s no doubt right that there are truths that “we can’t prove”. He doesn’t go into the issues that apologists and sceptics have worried their heads over – such as the possible incompatibility of God’s omnipotence and goodness with the existence of ”excessive” evil in the world – but simply gives a (presumably then topical) alleged parallel of not being able to prove that we actually see material things when we think we do. I was not impressed by this.

He gives a “non-biographical” account of how our concept of “a greater than which cannot be conceived” might have come about – based on our need for the forgiveness of overwhelming guilt, and wheels out Kierkegaard’s claim that “the dread of sin and a heavy conscience torture a man into crossing the narrow line between despair bordering upon madness - and Christendom”; a claim that the non-theist might see as a psychological hang-up “merely” requiring amendment of life to resolve. Malcolm views most philosophers as shallow beings who “When (they) encounter this concept (of God) as a problem in philosophy, … do not consider the human phenomena that lie behind it”. And no doubt he’s right.

He closes by considering whether acceptance of the soundness of the (second) of Anselm’s ontological arguments would necessarily lead to “conversions”. He thinks not and thinks that it’s perfectly possible (contrary to the intuitions of Plato’s Socrates) to follow the logic and not be “touched religiously” – and to be “(inclined) to partake in (the) religious form of life”. No doubt true, but relevant in this context only as whether it implies realism or anti-realism on Malcolm’s part.

Theo Todman
  • Written for a Hethrop Philosophy of Religion Seminar on 18th October 2010
  • It was dashed off in a couple of hours, and requires revision – in particular Section II/III concerning the logic of the second Anselmian argument.

COMMENT: Also soft copy from The Philosophical Review, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Jan., 1960), pp. 41-62 (via JSTOR); filed in "Various - Heythrop Essays & Supporting Material (Boxes)".

In-Page Footnotes ("Malcolm (Norman) - Anselm's Ontological Arguments")

Footnote 2: A contemporary of Descartes (not Anselm) – see Wikipedia: Pierre Gassendi, Stanford: Pierre Gassendi and Link.

"McTaggart (J. McT. E.) - Time"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions


"O'Connor (Timothy) - The Agent As Cause"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Parfit (Derek) - Divided Minds and the Nature of Persons"

Source: Blakemore & Greenfield - Mindwaves

Author’s Introduction
  1. It was the split-brain cases which drew me into philosophy. Our knowledge of these cases depends on the results of various psychological tests, as described by1 Donald MacKay. These tests made use of two facts. We control each of our arms, and see what is in each half of our visual fields, with only one of our hemispheres. When someone's hemispheres have been disconnected, psychologists can thus present to this person two different written questions in the two halves of his visual field, and can receive two different answers written by this person's two hands.
  2. Here is a simplified imaginary version of the kind of evidence that such tests provide. One of these people looks fixedly at the centre of a wide screen, whose left half is red and right half is blue. On each half in a darker shade arc the words, 'How many colours can you see?' With both hands the person writes, 'Only one'. The words are now changed to read, 'Which is the only colour that you can see?' With one of his hands the person writes 'Red', with the other he writes 'Blue'.
  3. If this is how such a person responds, I would conclude that he is having two visual sensations - that he does, as he claims, see both red and blue. But in seeing each colour he is not aware of seeing the other. He has two streams of consciousness, in each of which he can see only one colour. In one stream he sees red, and at the same time, in his other stream, he sees blue. More generally, he could be having at the same time two series of thoughts and sensations, in having each of which he is unaware of having the other.
  4. This conclusion has been questioned. It has been claimed by some that there are not two streams of consciousness, on the ground that the subdominant hemisphere is a part of the brain whose functioning involves no consciousness. If this were true, these cases would lose most of their interest. I believe that it is not true, chiefly because, if a person's dominant hemisphere is destroyed, this person is able to react in the way in which, in the split-brain cases, the sub-dominant hemisphere reacts, and we do not believe that such a person is just an automaton, without consciousness. The sub-dominant hemisphere is, of course, much less developed in certain ways, typically having the linguistic abilities of a three-year-old. But three-year-olds are conscious. This supports the view that, in split-brain cases, there are two streams of consciousness.
  5. Another view is that, in these cases, there are two persons involved, sharing the same body. Like Professor MacKay, I believe that we should reject this view. My reason for believing this is, however, different. Professor MacKay denies that there are two persons involved because he believes that there is only one person involved. I believe that, in a sense, the number of persons involved is none.

COMMENT: Also in:-

In-Page Footnotes ("Parfit (Derek) - Divided Minds and the Nature of Persons")

Footnote 1: In "MacKay (Donald) - Divided Brains - Divided Minds".

"Parfit (Derek) - The Puzzle of Reality: Why Does the Universe Exist?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

NotesFull Text
  1. It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no minds, no atoms, no space, no time. When we imagine this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists. Why is there universe? And things might have been, in countless ways, different. So why is the Universe as it is?
  2. These facts cannot be causally explained. No law of nature could explain why there are any laws of nature, or why these laws are as they are. And, if God created the world, there cannot be a causal explanation of why God exists.
  3. Since our questions cannot have causal answers, we may wonder whether they make sense. But there may be other kinds of answers.
  4. Consider, first, a more particular question. Many physicists believe that, for stars, planets and life to be able to exist, the initial conditions in the Big Bang had to be precisely as they were. Why were these conditions so precisely right? Some say: "If they had not been right, we couldn't even ask this question." But that is no answer1. It could be baffling how we survived some crash even though, if we hadn't, we could not be baffled.
  5. Others say: "There had to be some initial conditions, and those conditions were as likely as any others. So there is nothing to be explained." To see what is wrong with this reply, we must distinguish two kinds of case. Suppose that, of a million people facing death, only one can be rescued. If there is a lottery to pick this one survivor, and I win, I would be very lucky. But there would be nothing to be explained. Someone had to win, and why not me? Consider next a second lottery. Unless my gaoler picks the longest of a million straws, I shall be beheaded. If I win this lottery, there would be something to be explained. It would not be enough to say, "That result was as likely as any other." In the first lottery, nothing special happened: whatever the result, someone's life would be saved. In this second lottery, the result was special. Of the million possible results, only one would save a life. Why was this what happened? Though this might be a coincidence, the chance of that is only one in a million. I could be almost certain that this lottery was rigged.
  6. The Big Bang, it seems, was like the second lottery. For life to be possible, the initial conditions had to be selected with the kind of accuracy that would be needed to hit a bull's-eye in a distant galaxy. Since it is not arrogant to think life special, this appearance of fine-tuning needs to be explained. Of the countless possible initial conditions, why were the ones that allowed for life also the ones that actually obtained?
  7. On one view, this was mere coincidence. That is conceivable, but most unlikely. On some estimates, the chance is below one in a billion billion. Others say "The Big Bang was fine-tuned. It is not surprising that God chose to make life possible." We may be tempted to dismiss this answer, thinking it improbable that God exists. But should we put the chance as low as one in a billion billion? If not, this is a better explanation.
  8. There is, however, a rival explanation. Our Universe may not be the whole of reality. Some physicists suggest that there are many other Universes — or, to avoid confusion, worlds. These worlds have the same laws of nature as our own world, and they emerged from similar Big Bangs, but each had slightly different initial conditions. On this many-worlds hypothesis, there would be no need for fine-tuning. If there were enough Big Bangs, it would be no surprise that, in a few of these, conditions were just right for life. And it would be no surprise that our Big Bang was one of these few.
  9. On most versions of this theory, these many worlds are not causally related, and each has its own space and time. Some object that, since our world could not be affected by such other worlds, we have no reason to believe in them. But we do have such a reason, since their existence would explain an otherwise puzzling feature of our world: the appearance of fine-tuning.
  10. How should we choose between these explanations? The many-worlds hypothesis is more cautious, since it merely claims that there is more of the kind of reality we know. But God's existence has been claimed to be intrinsically more plausible. By "God" we mean a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good. The existence of such a being has been claimed to be both simpler, and less arbitrary, than the existence of many complicated and specific worlds.
  11. If such a God exists, however, why is the Universe as it is? It may not be surprising that God chose to make life possible. But the laws of nature could have been different, so there are many possible worlds that would have contained life. It is hard to understand why, with all the possibilities, God chose to create our world. The greatest difficulty here is the problem of evil. There appears to be suffering which any good person, knowing the truth, would have prevented if he could. If there is such suffering, there cannot be a God who is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good.
  12. One response to this problem is to revise our view of God. Some suggest that God is not omnipotent. But, with that revision, the hypothesis that God exists becomes less plausible. How could there be a being who, though able to create our world, cannot prevent such suffering? Others believe in a god who, whatever he is called, is not good. Though that view more easily explains the character of life on Earth, it may seem in other ways less credible.
  13. As we shall see, there may be other answers to this problem. But we have larger questions to consider. I began by asking why things are as they are. We must also ask how things are. There is much about our world that we have not discovered. And, just as there may be other worlds like ours, there may be worlds that are very different.
  14. It will help to distinguish two kinds of possibility. For each particular kind of possible world, there is the local possibility that such a world exists. If there is such a world, that leaves it open whether there are other worlds. Global possibilities, in contrast, cover the whole Universe, or everything that ever exists. One global possibility is that every conceivable world exists. That is claimed by the all-worlds hypothesis. Another possibility, which might have obtained, is that nothing ever exists. This we can call the Null Possibility. In each of the remaining possibilities, the number of possible worlds that exist is between none and all. There are countless of these possibilities, since there are countless combinations of particular possible worlds.
  15. Of these different global possibilities, one must obtain, and only one can obtain. So we have two questions. Which obtains, and why? These questions are connected. If some possibility would be less puzzling, or easier to explain, we have more reason to think that it obtains. That is why, rather than believing that the Big Bang merely happened to be right for life, we should believe either in God or many worlds.
  16. Is there some global possibility whose obtaining would be in no way puzzling? That might be claimed of the Null Possibility. It might be said that, if no one had ever existed, no one would have been puzzled. But that misunderstands our questions. Suppose that, in a mindless and finite Universe, an object looking like Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings spontaneously formed. Even with no one to be puzzled, that would be, in the sense I mean, puzzling. It may next be said that, if there had never been anything, there wouldn't have been anything to be explained. But that is not so. When we imagine that nothing ever existed, what we imagine away are such things as minds and atoms, space and time. There would still have been truths. It would have been true that nothing existed, and that things might have existed. And there would have been other truths, such as the truth that 27 is divisible by 3. We can ask why these things would have been true.
  17. These questions may have answers. We can explain why, even if nothing had ever existed, 27 would have been divisible by 3. There is no conceivable alternative. And we can explain the nonexistence of such things as two-horned unicorns, or spherical cubes. Such things are logically impossible. But why would nothing have existed? Why would there have been no stars or atoms, no minds or bluebell woods? How could that be explained?
  18. We should not claim that, if nothing had existed, there would have been nothing to be explained. But we might claim something less. Perhaps, of all the global possibilities, this would have needed the least explanation. It is much the simplest. And it seems the easiest to understand. When we imagine there never being anything, that does not seem, as our own existence can, astonishing.
  19. Here, for example, is one natural line of thought. It may seem that, for any particular thing to exist, its existence must have been caused by other things. If that is so, what could have caused them all to exist? If there were an infinite series of things, the existence of each might be caused by other members of that series. But that could not explain why there was this whole series, rather than some other series, or no series. In contrast, the Null Possibility raises no such problem. If nothing had ever existed, that state of affairs would not have needed to be caused.
  20. Even if this possibility would have been the easiest to explain, it does not obtain. Reality does not take its simplest and least puzzling form.
  21. Consider next the all-worlds hypothesis. That may seem the next least puzzling possibility. For one thing, it avoids arbitrary distinctions. If only one world exists, we have the question: "Out of all the possible worlds, why is this the one that exists?" On the many-worlds hypothesis, we shall have the question: Why are these the ones? But, if all possible, worlds exist, there is no such question. Though the all-worlds hypothesis avoids that question, it is not as simple as it seems. Is there a sharp distinction between those worlds that are and are not possible? Must all worlds be governed by natural laws? Does each kind of world exist only once? And there are further complications.
  22. Whichever global possibility obtains, we can ask why it obtains. All that I have claimed so far is that, with some possibilities, this question would be less puzzling. We should now ask: Could this question have an answer? Is there a theory that leaves nothing unexplained?
  23. On one kind of view, it is logically necessary that God, or the whole Universe, exists. Though it may seem conceivable that there might never have been anything, that is not really logically possible. Some people even claim that there is only one coherent global possibility. If such a view were true, everything would be explained. But the standard objections to such views, which I shall not repeat, seem to me convincing.
  24. Others claim that the Universe exists because its existence is good. This is the Platonic, or Axiarchic, View. Even if we think this view absurd, it is worth asking whether it makes sense. That may suggest other possibilities.
  25. The Axiarchic View can take a theistic form. It can claim that God exists because His existence is good, and that the rest of the Universe exists because God caused it to exist. But in that explanation God is redundant. If God can exist because His existence is good, so can the whole Universe.
  26. In its simplest form, the Axiarchic View makes three claims:
    • (1) It would be best if reality were a certain way.
    • (2) Reality is that way.
    • (3) (1) explains (2).
  27. (1) is an ordinary evaluative claim, like the claim that it would be better if there was no pointless suffering. The Axiarchic View assumes, in my opinion correctly, that such claims can be true. (2) is an ordinary descriptive claim, though of a sweeping kind. What is distinctive in this view is claim (3).
  28. Can we understand (3)? To focus on this question, we should briefly ignore the world's evils. Suppose that, as Leibniz claimed, the best possible Universe exists. Could this Universe exist because it is the best? That question might be confused with another. If God intentionally created the best possible world, that world would exist because it is the best. But, though God would not be part of the world that He creates, He would be part of the Universe, or the totality of what exists. And God cannot have created Himself. So an appeal to God cannot explain why the best Universe exists.
  29. Axiarchists make a different claim. On their view, that there is a best way for reality to be explains directly why reality is that way. If God exists, that is because His existing is best. Truths about value are, in John Leslie's phrase, creatively effective.
  30. This cannot be an ordinary causal claim. Ordinary causes are particular events, or facts about existing things. But the axiarchic claim may have some of the meaning of an ordinary causal claim.
  31. When we believe that X caused Y, we usually believe that without an X, there would have been no Y. A spark caused an explosion if, without a spark, there would have been no explosion. Axiarchists might make a similar claim. They might say that, if it had not been best if reality were a certain way, reality would not have been that way. But such a claim may not help to explain the Axiarchic View since what it asks us to imagine could not have been true. Just as pointless suffering could not have been good, the best way for reality to be could not have failed to be the best.
  32. In defending a causal claim, we may also appeal to a generalization. Certain conditions cause an explosion if, whenever there are such conditions, there is an explosion. It may seem that, with only one Universe, Axiarchists cannot appeal to a generalization. But that is not so. They could say that, whenever it would be better if the Universe had some particular feature, it has that feature.
  33. Would that explain their claim that this is why the Universe has these features? That use of "why" may seem utterly mysterious. But we should remember that even ordinary causation is mysterious. At the most fundamental level, we have no idea why some events cause others. And it is hard to explain what causation is.
  34. Axiarchy can be best explained as follows. We are now assuming that, of all the countless ways that reality might be, one is both the very best, and is the way that reality is. On the Axiarchic View, that is no coincidence. That claim makes, I believe, some kind of sense. And, on those assumptions, it would be a reasonable conclusion.
  35. Compared to the appeal to God, the Axiarchic View has one advantage. God cannot have settled whether, as part of the best Universe, He himself exists, since He can only settle anything if He does exist. But even if nothing had ever existed, it would still have been true that it would be best if the best Universe existed. So that truth might explain why this Universe exists.
  36. The main objection to this view is the problem of evil. Our world appears to be flawed.
  37. If we appeal to a variant of the many-worlds hypothesis, this objection can be partly met. Perhaps, in the best Universe, all good possible worlds exist. We would then avoid the question why things are not much better than they are. Things are, on the whole, much better. They are better elsewhere.
  38. Why are they not also better here? One answer might be as follows. If it is best that all good worlds exist, that implies that, even in the best Universe many worlds would not be very good. Some would be only just good enough. Perhaps our world is one of these. It would then be good that our world exists, since a good niche is thereby filled. And we might be able to explain why our world is not better than it is. The Louvre would be a worse collection if its less good paintings were turned into copies of the Mona Lisa. In the same way, if our world were in itself better, reality as a whole might be less good. Since every other good niche is already filled, our world would then be a mere copy of some other world, and one good niche would be left unfilled.
  39. Even on this view, however, each world must be good enough. The existence of each world must be better, even if only slightly, than its nonexistence. Can this be claimed of our world? It would be easier to make that claim on a broadly Utilitarian view. Our world's evils might then be outweighed by what is good. But, on some principles of justice, that would not be enough. If innocent beings suffer, in lives that are not worth living, that could not be morally outweighed by the happiness of other beings. For our world to be good enough, there must be future lives in which the sufferings of each being could, in the end, be made good. Even the burnt fawn in the forest fire must live again. Or perhaps these different beings are, at some level, one.
  40. These replies may seem too weak. We may doubt that our world could be even the least good part of the best possible Universe.
  41. If we reject the Axiarchic View, what conclusion should we draw? Is the existence of our world a mere brute fact, with no explanation? That does not follow. If we abstract from the optimism of this view, its claims are these. One global possibility has a special feature, this is the possibility that obtains, and it obtains because it has this feature. Other views can make such claims.
  42. Suppose that our world were part of the worst possible Universe. Its bright days may only make its tragedies worse. If reality were as bad as it could be, could we not suspect that this was no coincidence?
  43. Suppose next, more plausibly, that all possible worlds exist. That would also be grim, since the evil of the worst worlds could hardly be outweighed. But that would be incidental. If every conceivable world exists, reality has a different distinctive feature. It is maximal: as full and varied as it could possibly be. If this is true, is it a coincidence? Does it merely happen to be true that, of all the countless global possibilities, the one that obtains is at this extreme? As always, that is conceivable. Coincidences can occur. But it seems hard to believe. We can reasonably assume that, if all possible worlds exist, that is because that makes reality as full as it could be.
  44. Similar remarks apply to the Null Possibility. If there had never been anything, would that have been a coincidence? Would it have merely happened that, of all the possibilities, what obtained was the only possibility in which nothing exists? That is also hard to believe. Rather, if the possibility had obtained, that would have been because it had that feature.
  45. Here is another special feature. Perhaps reality is -as it is because that makes its fundamental laws as mathematically beautiful as they could be. That is what many physicists believe.
  46. If some possibility obtains because it has some feature, that feature selects what reality is like. Let us call it the Selector. A feature is a plausible Selector if we can reasonably believe that, were reality to have that feature, that would not merely happen to be true.
  47. There are countless features which are not plausible Selectors. Suppose that fifty-seven worlds exist. Like all numbers, 57 has some special features. For example, it is the smallest number that is the sum of seven primes. But that could hardly be why that number of worlds exist.
  48. I have mentioned certain plausible Selectors. A possibility might obtain because it is the best, or the simplest, or the least arbitrary, or because it makes reality as full as it could be, or because its fundamental laws are as elegant as they could be. There are, I assume, other such features, some of which we have yet to discover.
  49. For each of these features, there is the explanatory possibility that this feature is the Selector. That feature then explains why reality is as it is. There is one other, special explanatory possibility: that there is no Selector. This is like the global possibility that nothing exists. If there is no Selector, it is random that reality is as it is. Events may be in one sense random, even though they are causally inevitable. That is how it is random whether a meteorite strikes the land or the sea. Events are random in a stronger sense if they have no cause. That is what most physicists believe about some facts at the quantum level such as how some particles move. If it is random what reality is like, the Universe would not only have no cause, it would have no explanation of any kind. This we can call the Brute Fact View.
  50. On this view, we should not expect reality to have very special features, such as being maximal, or best, or having very simple laws, or including God. In much the largest range of the global possibilities, there would exist an arbitrary set of messily complicated worlds. That is what, with a random selection, we should expect. It is unclear whether ours is one such world.
  51. The Brute Fact View may seem hard to understand. It may seem baffling how reality could be even randomly selected. What kind of process could select whether time had no beginning, or whether anything ever exists? But this is not a real problem. It is logically necessary that one global possibility obtains. There is no conceivable alternative. Since it is necessary that it be settled which obtains. Even without any kind of process, logic ensures that a selection is made. There is no need for hidden machinery.
  52. If reality were randomly selected, it would not be mysterious how the selection is made. It would be in one sense inexplicable why the Universe is as it is. But this would be no more puzzling than the random movement of a particle. If a particle can simply happen to move as it does, it could simply happen that reality is as it is. Randomness may even be less puzzling at the level of the whole Universe, since we know that facts at this level could not have been caused.
  53. There would, however, be a further question. If there is no explanation why reality is as it is, why is that true?
  54. Some reply that this, too, is logically necessary. On their view, the nature of the Universe must be a mere brute fact, since it could not conceivably be explained. But, as I have argued, that is not so. Though it is logically necessary that one global possibility obtain, it is not necessary that it be random which obtains. There are other explanatory possibilities.
  55. Since it is not necessary that there be no explanation why reality is as it is, that truth might be another brute fact. There may be no explanation why there is no explanation. Perhaps both simply happen to be true. But why would that be true? Would it, too, simply happen to be true? And why should we accept this view? If it was randomly selected whether reality was selected randomly, and there are several other possibilities, why expect random selection to have been selected? Unless we can explain why it is random what reality is like, we may have no reason to believe that this is random.
  56. Return now to the other explanatory possibilities. Each raises the same further question. Whichever possibility obtains, we can ask why it obtains. Consider first the Axiarchic View. Suppose that the best Universe exists because it is the best. Why is that true? Even if this view is true, its falsehood is at least logically conceivable. It may seem that Axiarchy could explain itself. On this view, claims about reality are true because their being true is best. It might be best if this view were true. Could that be why it is true? That is not possible. Even if this view is true, its being true could not be explained by its being true. Just as God cannot have caused His own existence, the truth of the Axiarchic View cannot be what makes this view true.
  57. Consider next the Maximalist View. Suppose that all possible worlds exist, and that this is no coincidence. Suppose these worlds all exist because that makes reality as full as it could be. If that is true, why is it true? Perhaps this truth makes reality even more maximal. But, as before, this truth could not explain itself
  58. A similar claim may apply to every view. As we have seen, it is not logically necessary that, of the global possibilities, it is random which obtains. This possibility might be selected in other ways. But it may be logically necessary that, of the explanatory possibilities, it is random which obtains. Perhaps nothing could select between all the possible Selectors: If that were so, it would not be mysterious that a particular explanatory claim simply happened to be true. The randomness would be fully explained, since there would be no conceivable alternative.
  59. It may be objected that, if some claim simply happens to be true, it cannot provide an explanation. Such a claim may seem to add nothing. To illustrate this objection, return to the Maximalist View. Consider first two global possibilities: (1) Only our world exists. (2) Every conceivable world exists. These possibilities are very different. Suppose next that (2) is true. There are then two explanatory possibilities. On the Brute Fact View, (2) simply happens to be true. On the Maximalist View, (2) is true because that makes reality as full as it could be. Here again, these seem to be different possibilities. But we are now supposing that, even if the Maximalist View is true, its truth is a brute fact, with no explanation. We may think that, if that is so, the Maximalist View could not explain (2). If this view simply happens to be true, it may seem not to differ from the Brute Fact View.
  60. That reaction is a mistake. On the Brute Fact View, (2) would involve an extreme coincidence. There are countless global possibilities, and most of these, unlike (2), have no very special feature. It is hard to believe that, of this vast range of possibilities, it simply happens to be true that every conceivable world exists. That is implausible because, at this level, there is an alternative. If the Maximalist View is true, the existence of all these worlds is no coincidence. At the next level, things are different. Of the plausible explanatory possibilities, all have special features. There is no possibility whose obtaining would be a coincidence. And, as we have seen, it may be logically necessary that, of these possibilities, one simply happens to obtain. At this level, there may be no alternative. It would then be in no way puzzling if the Maximalist View simply happens to be true.
  61. We should not claim that, if an explanation rests on a brute fact, it is not an explanation. Scientific explanations all take this form. But we might claim something less. Any such explanation may, in the end, be merely a better description. If that is true, there is a different answer. Even to discover how things are, we need explanations. And we may need explanations on the grandest scale. Our world may seem to have some feature that would be unlikely to be a coincidence. We might reasonably suspect that our world exists, not as a brute fact, but because it has this feature. That hypothesis might lead us to confirm that, as it seemed, our world does have this feature. We might then reasonably conclude either that ours is the only world, or that there are many other worlds, with the same or related features. We might reach truths about the whole Universe.
  62. Even if all explanations must end with a brute fact, we should go on trying to explain why the Universe exists, and is as it is. The brute fact may not enter at the lowest level. If the Universe exists because it has some feature, to know what reality is like, we must ask why.


In-Page Footnotes ("Parfit (Derek) - The Puzzle of Reality: Why Does the Universe Exist?")

Footnote 1:

"Price (H.H.) - Universals and Resemblances"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions


"Prior (Arthur N.) - Some Free Thinking About Time"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Prior (Arthur N.) - The Notion of the Present"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Full Text1
  1. Before directly discussing the notion of the present, I want to discuss the notion of the real. These two concepts are closely connected; indeed on my view they are one and the same concept, and the present simply is the real considered in relation to two particular species of unreality, namely the past and the future. So let's begin with the real in general.
  2. Philosophers often speak as if the real world were just one of a number of different big boxes in which various things go on, the other boxes having such labels as 'the mind' or 'the world of Greek mythology'. For example, centaurs exist in the world of Greek mythology but not in the real world, aeroplanes exist in the real world but not in the world of Greek mythology, and horses and men exist both in the real world and in the world of Greek mythology. Again, Anselm addresses himself to people who held that God does not exist in the real world but only in the mind, and claimed to have a proof that if God exists in the mind he must exist in the real world too. Leibniz contrasted the real or actual world with an infinity of merely possible worlds in which various things happen which do not happen in the actual world. All these ways of talking suggest that the real world or the actual world is just a region of some larger universe which contains other regions as well - possible worlds, imaginary worlds, and so on.
  3. I want to suggest - I don't of course claim that there's anything original in this suggestion - that this way of conceiving the relation between the real and the unreal is profoundly mistaken and misleading. The most important way in which it is misleading is that it minimises, or makes a purely arbitrary matter, the vast and stark difference that there is between the real and every from of unreality. For talking of the real as one 'region' among others immediately suggests the question, 'In that case, what is so special about the real world in contrast with all other regions? - is it not a kind of narrow-mindedness and parochialism to think that it has anything special about it that none of the others have?' One philosopher, Meinong, has indeed said precisely that it is just narrow-mindedness and parochialism to single out the real world as a region of special interest; the 'prejudice in favour of the actual', he called it. Well, I want to argue that this is not just narrow-mindedness and parochialism, and that it becomes obvious enough what is so special about the real world as soon as we drop this metaphor of boxes or regions and become a little more literal.
  4. To say that there are centaurs in the world of Greek mythology is surely not to say that there are centaurs in some remote and peculiar region, but just to say that Greek myth-makers have said that there are centaurs. Similarly, to say that there are centaurs in some person's mind is to say that that person thinks or imagines that there are centaurs. And to say that there are possible worlds in which there are centaurs is just to say that it could be thatthere are centaurs. In general, to say that X is the case in some non-real world is just to say 'X is the case' with some modifying prefix like 'Greek myth-makers have said that', 'Jones imagines that', or 'It could be that'. But to say that X is the case in the real or the actual world, or that it is really or actually or in fact the case, is just to say that it is the case - flat, and without any prefix whatever. To say that there are centaurs in the real world, for example, is not to say that there are centaurs in some region of the universe in which we happen to have more interest than in others; it is simply to say that there are centaurs. Talk of the real world, in other words, is not a metaphorical fudging-up of talk in which our sentences have a special kind of prefix, but a fudging-up of talk in which the relevant sentences have no prefixes at all. 'Really', 'actually', 'in fact', 'in the real world' are strictly redundant expressions - that, and not any prejudice or provincialism, is their specialness.
  5. So to say that although there are no centaurs in the real world there are some in the world of Greek mythology, is just to say that although there are no centaur's Greek myth-makers have said that there are; to say that although God does not exist in reality he exists in the mind, is just to say that although God does not exist people may imagine that he does; to say that although Sextus raped Lucretia in the real world there is a possible world in which he didn't, is just to say that although Sextus raped Lucretia he need not have done so. There is, if you like, no other place than the real world for God or centaurs to exist in or for Sextus to rape Lucretia in; for God or centaurs to exist in the real world, or for Sextus to rape Lucretia in the real world, is just for God or centaurs to exist, or for Sextus to rape Lucretia. Again, 'Greek myth-makers have said that there are centaurs in the real world' is all one with 'Greek myth-makers have said that there are centaurs', and so is 'Greek myth-makers in the real world have said that there are centaurs.'
  6. And now the present. It is tempting to think of the present as a region of the universe in which certain things happen, such as the war in Vietnam, and the past and the future as other regions in which other things happen, such as the battle of Hastings and men going to Mars. But to this picture there is the same objection as to the picture of the 'real world' as a box or region among other boxes or regions. It doesn't bring out what is so special about the present; and to be more specific, it doesn't bring out the way in which the present is real and the past and future are not. And I want to suggest that the reality of the present consists in what the reality of anything else consists in, namely the absence of a qualifying prefix. To say that Whitrow's lecture is past is to say that it has been the case that Whitrow is lecturing. To say that Scott's lecture is future is to say that it will be the case that Scott is lecturing. But to say that my lecture is present is just to say that I am lecturing – flat, no prefixes. The pastness of an event, that is to say its having taken place, is not the same thing as the event itself; nor is its futurity; but the presentness of an event is just the event. The presentness of my lecturing, for instance, is just my lecturing. Moreover, just as a real thought of a centaur, and a thought of a real centaur, are both of them just a thought of a centaur, so the present pastness of Whitrow's lecture, and its past presentness, are both just its pastness. And conversely, its pastness is its present pastness, so that although Whitrow's lecture isn't now present and so isn't real, isn't a fact, nevertheless its pastness, its having taken place, is a present fact, is a reality, and will be one as long as time shall last.
  7. Notoriously, much of what is present isn't present permanently; the present is a shifting, changing thing. That is only to say that much of what is the case, of what is real and true, is constantly changing. Not everything, of course; some things that are the case also have always been the case and will always be the case. I imagine scientists have a special interest in such things. And among the things that not only are the case but always have been and always will be, are the laws of change themselves, I mean such laws as that if anything has occurred then for ever after it will have occurred (like Whitrow's lecture). These are the laws of what is now called tense logic, and the conception of the present that I have just been suggesting is deeply embedded in the syntax of that discipline. So that conception underlies, or anyhow seems to underlie, what is now a pretty flourishing systematic enterprise2. Precisely for this reason, it seems to me important that we tense-logicians should realise that there are difficulties about this conception of the present, arising either from physical science or from the philosophy of physical science. So I want now to state as clearly and crudely as I can what this difficulty appears to be.
  8. Suppose we have observed on some very distant body a regularly repeating process of some sort, say a pulsation. We have just observed one of these pulsations, and as the body is a very distant one, we know that the pulsation we are observing happened some time ago. We now consider the pulsation immediately after the one we are observing, and we ask whether this next pulsation, although we won't of course observe it for a while, is in fact going on right now, or is really still to come, or has occurred already. On the view of presentness which I have been suggesting, this is always a sensible question. At least if there are to be any further pulsation at all, then either the body is pulsating, or it is not the case but will be the case that it is pulsating or it is not the case but has been the case that it is pulsating. The difference between pulsating — really and actually pulsating — and merely having pulsated or being about to pulsate, is as clear and comprehensible a difference as any that we can think of, being but one facet of the great gulf that separates the real from the unreal, what is from what is not. Just this, however, is what the special theory of relativity appears to deny. If the distant body is having its nth pulsation as we perceive it having its n-1th — is pulsating, and not merely has been or will be pulsating — then the nth pulsation and the perception of the n-1th are simultaneous; not just simultaneous from such and such a point of view or in such and such a frame of reference, but simultaneous. And according to the special theory of relativity, such "absolute" simultaneity is in many cases just not to be had3.
  9. One possible reaction to this situation, which to my mind is perfectly respectable though it isn't very fashionable4, is to insist that all that physics has shown to be true or likely is that in some cases we can never know, we can never physically find out, whether something is actually happening or merely has happened or will happen. I'm sure there are questions which are perfectly genuine5 and intelligible questions but which seem to be incapable of being answered. For instance, I know perfectly well what it would be for you to see what I would call purple wherever I see red, and for you to see what I would call blue wherever I see purple, and so on round the clock; but I cannot imagine any procedure which would conclusively show that our respective visual experiences are, or that they are not, related in this way. And there may well be a similar but more subtle systematic impossibility in finding the answer to questions like my one about the distant pulsating body.
  10. Furthermore, when confronted with unanswerable questions, it is often good scientific practice to devise a language in which these questions cannot be even asked. And this usually involves a good deal more than just refraining from admitting certain words or longer expressions into one's scientific vocabulary; the very syntax of scientific language will be involved too. As far as our present subject is concerned, even before Einstein physical scientists not only eschewed the words "past", "present" and "future", but eschewed tenses too. Time enters physical science through intervals by which one event may be earlier or later than another. Whether the events are the case or merely have been or will be, is of no concern to the scientist, so he uses a language in which the difference between being and having been and being about to be is inexpressible. And this, as I've said, has been the case since long before the special theory of relativity. That theory, all the same, has made an important difference. Before it was devised, the relation between tensed language and the tenseless language of the scientist was pretty straightforward. It amounted to this: When a scientist said "The interval between an earlier event A and a later event B is n time units", you could translate this as "It is or has been or will be the case that (B is occurring and it was the case n time units ago that (A is occurring))". But I don't think this is what a scientist now means by "earlier" and "later", and indeed a scientist is not now likely even to say that the interval between A and B is n time units, just like that; the only interval between a pair of events to which he will give a definite value is a space-time one.


In-Page Footnotes ("Prior (Arthur N.) - The Notion of the Present")

Footnote 1:
  • The original paper is A. N. Prior, 'The Notion of the Present', Studium Generale, 23 (1970), pp. 245-8.
Footnote 2:
  • The Van Inwagen & Zimmerman extract cuts off here.
  • Probably for good reason, as the paper seems to go off the rails from hereon in.
Footnote 3:
  • This sounds a bit muddled up to me. There’s no such thing as absolute simultaneity in SR. It all depends on the frame of reference.
Footnote 4:
  • Probably because it’s off target. This case has nothing epistemological about it.
Footnote 5:
  • Well, I agree, but the logical positivists didn’t.

"Putnam (Hilary) - After Metaphysics, What?"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Putnam (Hilary) - Truth and Convention"

Source: Putnam, Conant - Realism with a Human Face

COMMENT: Also in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions"

"Quine (W.V.) - Identity, Ostension, and Hypostasis"

Source: Quine - From a Logical Point of View

Author’s Introduction
  1. Identity is a popular source of philosophical perplexity. Undergoing change as I do, how can I be said to continue to be myself? Considering that a complete replacement of my material substance takes place every few years, how can I be said to continue to be I for more than such a period at best?
  2. It would be agreeable to be driven, by these or other considerations, to belief in a changeless and therefore immortal soul as the vehicle of my persisting self-identity. But we should be less eager to embrace a parallel solution of Heracleitus's parallel problem regarding a river: "You cannot bathe in the same river twice, for new waters are ever flowing in upon you."
  3. The solution of Heracleitus's problem, though familiar, will afford a convenient approach to some less familiar matters. The truth is that you can bathe in the same river twice, but not in the same river-stages. You can bathe in two river-stages which are stages of the same river, and this is what constitutes bathing in the same river twice. A river is a process through time, and the river-stages are its momentary parts. Identification of the river bathed in once with the river bathed in again is just what determines our subject-matter to be a river process as opposed to a river stage.
  4. Let me speak of any multiplicity of water molecules as a water. Now a river-stage is at the same time a water-stage, but two stages of the same river are not in general stages of the same water. River stages are water stages, but rivers are not waters. You may bathe in the same river twice without bathing in the same water twice, and you may, in these days of fast transportation, bathe in the same water twice while bathing in two different rivers.


"Quine (W.V.) - Identity: an Excerpt From Quiddities"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

  1. From Quiddities
  2. Identity as a true relation (against Hume’s doubts).
  3. Identity as useful (contra Wittgenstein1’s doubts).
  4. Treats briefly of Heraclitus’s river, Ship of Theseus2 & Persons3.
  5. Common theme: persistence through complete change of parts. Riddles arise because of what we choose to count as the reference of our words.
  6. Words as occasionally vague instruments. Agrees with Humpty Dumpty.
  7. So it’s arbitrary whether we say a person counts as beginning at conception, birth or in between. Persons taken loosely to be their bodies?
  8. Continuity of change is necessary for identity-preservation.
  9. Mentions stages.
  10. Brief Evaluation:
    • Vagueness of language OK, but no mention of natural kinds4.
    • No consideration of possibility that a person may begin to exist only after birth (if ever).
    • No consideration that stages, rather than language, solve the Ship of Theseus5 problem.

"Quine (W.V.) - Speaking of Objects"

Source: Quine - Ontological Relativity

COMMENT: Also in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions"

"Reid (Thomas) - Efficient Cause and Active Power"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From Essays on the Active Powers of the Human Mind

"Rowe (William L.) - The Cosmological Argument and the Principle of Sufficient Reason"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Russell (Bertrand) - Psychological and Physical Causal Laws"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Russell (Bertrand) - The Principle of Individuation"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From "Russell (Bertrand) - Human Knowledge - Its Scope and Limits", Part IV, Section VIII.

"Salmon (Wesley) - A Contemporary Look at Zeno's Paradoxes"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From Space, Time, and Motion

"Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account"

Source: Shoemaker & Swinburne - Personal Identity, 1984, pp. 67-132

  1. This essay develops ideas suggested in my earlier writings, especially:-
  2. A more remote ancestor is my book "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Self-Knowledge and Self-Identity" (1963).
  3. I am grateful to all of those, including countless students, whose criticisms, questions and comments have helped me clarify my thinking on this subject. I especially thank Carl Ginet and Alan Sidelle, for helpful comments on my contributions to this volume.

  1. Introduction – 69
  2. The Concept of Identity – 71
  3. The Memory Theory – 77
  4. Objections and Revisions – 80
  5. Personal Identity as Psychological Continuity2 – 89
  6. Functionalism and Personal Identity – 92
  7. Circularity Circumvented – 98
  8. Unity of Consciousness and Self-Consciousness3 – 102
  9. Mind and Body – 106
  10. The Brain-State Transfer Device – 108
  11. Personal Identity and Animal Identity – 112
  12. The Duplication Objection – 115
  13. Survival and the Importance of Identity – 119
  14. Is Personal Identity “Simple and Unanalysable”? 122
  15. Conceptual Analysis or Factual Analysis? 126
  16. The Duplication Argument Revisited – 130

  1. From earliest times people have found intelligible, and sometimes believable, the idea that persons are capable of surviving death, either in disembodied5 form or through bodily resurrection or reincarnation6. And many a piece of popular fiction relies on the idea that a person might have different bodies at different times. We are also familiar, both from fiction and from the annals of psychiatric medicine, with the idea of two or more distinct 'personalities' successively manifesting themselves in one and the same body. Yet another such idea is that two distinct minds or consciousnesses might simultaneously inhabit the same body — and recent studies of 'split-brain patients' have suggested to some investigators not only that this is conceivable but that it actually happens7. One way of raising the problem of personal identity is by asking whether, or to what extent, such ideas are coherent, and what it is about the nature of personal identity, or our concept of it, which permits, or forbids, such envisioned departures from the normal course of events.
  2. The problem of personal identity can be viewed as an aspect of the 'mind-body problem'. For a variety of reasons we are inclined to resist the view, so strongly suggested by the current scientific world view, that mental states and processes are nothing over and above certain highly complex physical and chemical processes. One reason is the 'special access' we have to our own mental states. One comes to have knowledge of these states without observing, or gathering evidence about, the physical states of one's own body; and possession of the knowledge seems compatible with total ignorance of one's own inner physiological states, and, more generally, the condition of one's body. And if one reflects on what one knows in having this self-knowledge — the existence of intentional states like believing that Argentina's inflation rate is higher than Brazil's, and qualitative states like seeing blue and having an itch — it is difficult at best to see how this could be reducible to any facts about one's behaviour or neurophysiology. Puzzlement about the nature of mental states is bound to give rise to puzzlement about the nature of persons, the pre-eminent subjects of such states. And this in turn manifests itself in puzzlement about personal identity — for a central part of understanding the nature of a kind of things (like persons) is understanding the identity conditions for things of that sort. The considerations that make it seem that mental states cannot be physical states also make it seem that persons cannot simply be physical bodies, and that personal identity must consist in something other than bodily identity.
  3. Among the things to which persons have a 'special access' are facts about their own identity over time; they have in their memory knowledge of their own past histories. One's memory-knowledge of one's own past differs strikingly from one's knowledge, including memory knowledge, of the past histories of other persons. If I claim to remember you doing something yesterday, it is at least a theoretical possibility that my claim is in error, not because my memory is mistaken, but because the person I remember doing that thing is not you but someone who looks just like you and whom I have misidentified as you. But if I claim to remember that I did such-and-such yesterday, it is absurd to suppose that I could be mistaken in that way. And whatever may be said of my judgements about the identity of others, it is certainly not the case that I ground such judgements about myself on evidence of bodily identity. Here again the nature of self-knowledge raises questions about personal identity, in part by calling into question the natural view that the identity of a person is simply the identity of a living human body.
  4. A rather different source of perplexity about personal identity has to do with the special concern persons have for their own continued existence and their own future welfare. Imagine that a wizard demonstrates to you his ability to reduce any object to a pile of dust by a wave of his wand and then, with another wave, to create an exact duplicate of that thing out of another pile of dust. If one really believes that he can do this, one probably would not be too averse to letting him do it to one's kitchen stove. But only a monster would offer his wife or child as a subject for the wizard's trick, and only a madman (or a suicide) would offer himself. Or so it initially strikes us. Our concern for personal identity, the kind of importance it has for us seems totally different in kind from the concern we have for the identity of other sorts of things. And this is linked to the special concern each person has for his or her own future welfare. It is this that gives point to many of our moral, social and legal practices, and explains the significance they attach to considerations of personal identity. If a person does an action, it is that same person who can later be held responsible for the action, and whom it is appropriate to punish or reward for doing it. If someone buys something, it is that person who is subsequently entitled to the use of the item purchased. These principles, which are constitutive of the institutions of punishment and property and the concept of moral responsibility, are intelligible only against the background of a conception of human motivation in which a central role is played by the special concern each person has for his own future well-being.
  5. An account of personal identity ought to make intelligible the knowledge we have of personal identity, including the special access each of us has, in memory, to his own identity, and it ought to make intelligible the special sort of importance personal identity has for us. It ought also to cohere with the rest of what we know about the world. In my own view, this last requirement means that an account of personal identity ought to be compatible with a naturalistic, or materialistic, account of mind. To a large extent, the mind-body problem, including the problem of personal identity, arises because of considerations that create the appearance that no naturalistic account could be true; and I think that solving the problem has got to consist in large part in dispelling that appearance (while acknowledging and explaining the facts that give rise to it). Finally, our account of personal identity must be compatible with the logical principles that govern the notion of identity itself. It is to these that we now turn.

COMMENT: Also excerpted in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions".

In-Page Footnotes ("Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account")

Footnote 1: This is the Acknowledgements section, p. 68.

Footnote 4: Full Text, ie. pp. 69-71.

Footnote 7: See "Nagel (Thomas) - Brain Bisection and the Unity of Consciousness", 1979.

"Smart (J.C.C.) - The Space-Time World"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions


"Sosa (Ernest) - Addendum to 'Nonabsolute Existence and Conceptual Relativity': Objections and Replies"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Sosa (Ernest) - Nonabsolute Existence and Conceptual Relativity"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From "Putnam's Pragmatic Realism"

"Stebbing (L. Susan) - Causality"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory"

Source: Shoemaker & Swinburne - Personal Identity, 1984, pp. 1-66
Write-up Note1 (Full Text reproduced below).

  1. Empiricist Theories
  2. The Dualist Theory
  3. Dualism and Verifiability
  4. The Evidence of Personal Identity

COMMENT: Also excerpted in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions".

Write-up2 (as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05): Swinburne - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory

This write-up is a review of "Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory". Lest I forget, in due course I need to review the other components of "Shoemaker (Sydney) & Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity", namely "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Personal Identity: a Materialist Account", "Shoemaker (Sydney) - Reply to Swinburne" and "Swinburne (Richard) - Reply to Shoemaker".

  1. Empiricist Theories
  2. The Dualist Theory
  3. Dualism and Verifiability
  4. The Evidence of Personal Identity

1. Empiricist Theories

2. The Dualist Theory

3. Dualism and Verifiability

4. The Evidence of Personal Identity

… Further details to be supplied3

In-Page Footnotes ("Swinburne (Richard) - Personal Identity: The Dualist Theory")

Footnote 2:
  • This is the write-up as it was when this Abstract was last output, with text as at the timestamp indicated (18/12/2010 19:58:05).
  • Link to Latest Write-Up Note.

"Swinburne (Richard) - Response to Derek Parfit"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Full Text
  1. Derek Parfit is right to suppose that, on (what I take to be) his understanding of 'causal explanation' and of 'the Universe', there cannot be a causal explanation of the existence of the Universe. He apparently understands by 'the Universe' all the substances there are (that is, all the material things - stars and atoms and whatever these are made of - and all the immaterial things, such as souls or God - if these exist). He apparently understands by 'causal explanation', the causing of some event (including the coming-into-existence and continuing-in-existence of substances) by some substance. Since nothing can cause itself to exist, no substance could cause all-the-substances (including the former) to exist. What, however, is possible is that one substance causes all the others to come into existence and continue in existence. I believe that the basic principles of inductive inference, which we use in science, historical inquiry, detective work and all other rational inquiry, have the consequence that on the evidence of observed events E, it is probable that C (where C is some substance or law or anything else) in so far as:(1) C (if it existed) would make E likely to occur;(2) if C did not exist, E would be less likely to occur; and (3) C is a simple entity (or law). I believe, and have argued at length elsewhere1, that where E is the observed universe (including its life-producing features, to which Parfit draws attention) and C is God, postulated as the cause of the Universe (one substance, with zero limits to his power, knowledge and freedom), E makes the existence of C probable. (As Parfit emphasizes, someone who gives this answer needs to explain why God allows suffering to occur.) To postulate one God as cause is immensely simpler than to postulate infinitely many worlds (most of which are not life-producing) in order to explain the occurrence of our life-producing universe. A simple explanation postulates no more entities than are needed to explain the phenomena. Of course postulating God as the cause of the Universe does not explain why God exists; but then, as Parfit acknowledges, in the end there must be some ultimate brute fact (whether law or substance), and I would argue that the existence of God is the existence of the simplest substance there could be. '
  2. Parfit has, however, floated the interesting suggestion that there might be an explanation of the existence of the Universe which is not a causal explanation - some ultimate principle or law which might somehow produce a Universe, without the action of a substance. The trouble is that there are no plausible cases of real-life principles which produce effects within the universe without doing so by operating via substances. If some law of nature, say Newton's law of gravity?, produces some effect (say that a stone falls to Earth), it always does so by determining how some substance will cause that effect - say, determining that the Earth will attract the stone in a certain way. Indeed, I suggest that all talk about laws of nature is reducible to talk about the powers which substances have, and the liabilities which they have to exercise them.
  3. It is sometimes suggested that some law of Quantum Theory has the consequence that vacua will produce substances from time to time. But on investigation it turns out that 'vacua' are not nothing, but themselves rather special sorts of substance. Parfit suggests that there might be axiomatic principles, which produce events because it is good to do so. But there are no plausible examples of such principles at work in the world. When food appears on the tables of the hungry, it does not appear there because it is good that it should, but because some person (i.e. a substance) caused it to be there because he thought that it was good that it should. Nor is there operative any principle of simplicity which makes things occur because they are in some way simple - e.g. makes the laws of nature what they are because they are the simplest laws there could be. For it is easy enough to conceive of laws of nature a lot simpler than our actual laws, which are perhaps the laws of Grand Unified Field Theory, or some laws even more complicated. Certainly, as mentioned earlier, we judge that the simplest theory compatible with observed events is more probably the true theory than is any other one. But that is a criterion for assessing the force of evidence, not for producing what exists. If simplicity dictated what was to exist, there would be nothing, or at any rate a lot fewer things behaving in a lot simpler ways than there are. So Parfit's suggestion that there might be some non-causal explanation of the existence of the Universe involves his claiming that there is some kind of principle at work in producing the Universe, which is never operative in producing more limited effects within the Universe. But then we have absolutely no reason for supposing that that kind of principle is ever at work, or that such a principle explains anything at all2. By contrast, the theist who postulates God as the cause of (the rest of) the Universe postulates a substance who acts intentionally - i.e. brings about some effect because he believes it good to do so. And the universe is full of many other substances including humans who bring about many different effects intentionally. In this respect explanation by God's intentional actions is like explanations by the intentional actions of humans. Of course God is supposed to be very different indeed in the extent of his power, knowledge and freedom from other substances with which we are familiar. But they are also different from each other in these respects. And God is not supposed to be totally different from humans. (In the traditional view, humans are made in God's 'image'.) But to postulate axiomatic or similar principles bringing something out of nothing is to postulate a totally different kind of explanation which we have no reason at all to suppose ever to operate.


In-Page Footnotes ("Swinburne (Richard) - Response to Derek Parfit")

Footnote 1: Footnote 2:
  • In the terms used earlier our observed E adds no probability to the claim that there is a C of this kind at work, because if such a principle operated in producing E and so such principles were among the explanations of things, one might expect E (which includes things producing other things) to include things produced by the operation of more limited such principles.

"Van Cleve (James) - Incongruent Counterparts and Higher Dimensions"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Van Inwagen (Peter) - The Mystery of Metaphysical Freedom"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

"Williams (Donald C.) - The Elements of Being"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: This is an excerpted combination of "Williams (Donald C.) - On the Elements of Being: I" and "Williams (Donald C.) - On the Elements of Being: II". If might therefore be worth reading before either of the full papers.

"Witt (Charlotte) - Metaphysics and Feminist Theory"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

COMMENT: From "Feminist Metaphysics" and "Anti-Essentialism in Feminist Theory"

"Zimmerman (Dean) - Distinct Indiscernibles and the Bundle Theory"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions


"Zimmerman (Dean) - Temporary Intrinsics and Presentism"

Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions

Author’s Introduction
    David Lewis develops something like an antinomy concerning change which he calls “the problem of temporary intrinsics”1. The resolution of this puzzle provides his primary motivation for the acceptance of a metaphysics of temporal parts. Lewis’s own discussion is extremely compressed, showing up as a digression in a book about modality2. So I shall set forth in some detail what I take to be his line of reasoning before suggesting that, at least for those philosophers who take seriously the distinction between past, present, and future, the argument poses no special threat.

  1. The Structure of Lewis’s Argument
  2. Serious Tensers and Presentists
  3. Why Does Lewis Reject Presentism?
  4. Postscript (20053): Can One “Take Tense Seriously” and Be a B-Theorist?
  5. B-Theorists and B-Theorists
  6. What it Means to “Take Tense Seriously”
  7. Tensed and “Tenseless” Verbs
  8. De-tensing Strategies and Their Problems
  9. The Metaphysics of Propositions and Nonrelative Temporary Truth
  10. Consequences for the Arguments of “Temporary Intrinsics4 and Presentism”

COMMENT: Also - with an extensive Postscript (2005; "Zimmerman (Dean) - Can One “Take Tense Seriously” and Be a B-theorist?") in "Haslanger (Sally) & Kurtz (Roxanne), Eds. - Persistence : Contemporary Readings".

In-Page Footnotes ("Zimmerman (Dean) - Temporary Intrinsics and Presentism")

Footnote 3: This Postcript – and the following sections – was added to make up the version in "Haslanger (Sally) & Kurtz (Roxanne), Eds. - Persistence : Contemporary Readings", which is consequently much longer than that in "Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean) - Metaphysics: The Big Questions".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
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