Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings
Loux (Michael), Ed.
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Back Cover Blurb1

  1. Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings is a comprehensive anthology that draws together leading philosophers writing on the major themes in Metaphysics. Chapters appear under the headings2:
    • Universals3
    • Particulars
    • Modality4 and Possible Worlds
    • Time
    • Persistence
    • Realism and Anti-Realism
  2. Each section is prefaced by an introductory essay by the editor which guides students gently into each topic. Articles by the following leading philosophers are included: Allaire, Anscombe, Armstrong, Black, Broad, Casullo, Dummett, Ewing, Heller, Hume, Kripke, Lewis, Mackie, McTaggart, Mellor, Merricks , Parfit5, Plantinga, Price, Prior, Putnam, Quine, Russell, Smart, Swinburne, Taylor , Van Cleve, van Inwagen, Williams.
  3. The readings are designed to complement "Loux (Michael) - Metaphysics - A Contemporary Introduction". This book is highly accessible and provides a broad-ranging exploration of the subject. Ideal for any philosophy student, this reader will prove essential reading for any metaphysics course.

In-Page Footnotes ("Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings")

Footnote 1: Actually, it’s taken from Amazon, so reflects the Second Edition, but it’s approximately the same.

Footnote 2: I have the First edition. The Second edition has a new section on Causation.


Routledge, London, 2001

"Allaire (Edwin B.) - Bare Particulars"

Source: Laurence & Macdonald - Contemporary Readings in the Foundations of Metaphysics

Philosophers Index Abstract
    The article goes into the problem of reconciling the principle of acquaintance with a theory of "bare particulars." The author goes into an analysis of what sort of entities individuals are, arguing that they are not rudimentary aristotelian substances, but are the carriers of numerical difference. He holds that this view of individuals allows the singling out of bare particulars without using 'exist' philosophically, and thus avoids the dialectics of the nominalism-realism issue. He concludes that with this view one need not abandon the principle of acquaintance in order to maintain that we are presented with bare particulars. (Staff)

COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings".

"Armstrong (David) - Universals as Attributes"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

  1. Uninstantiated Universals1?
  2. Disjunctive, Negative, and Conjunctive Universals2
  3. Predicates and Universals3
  4. States of Affairs
  5. A World of States of Affairs
  6. The Thin and the Thick Particular
  7. Universals4 as Ways
  8. Multiple Location
  9. Higher-Order Types
  10. The Formal Properties of Resemblance
  11. Resemblances Between Universals5
  12. The Fundamental Tie
  13. The Apparatus of an Attribute Theory of Universals6


"Black (Max) - The Identity of Indiscernibles"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. This discussion is in the form of a dialogue concerning the identity of indiscernibles1.
  2. The discussion focuses on the truth and falsity of identity regarding what properties can be attributed to either or both relata as confirming or disaffirming the notion of identity.

COMMENT: See "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Black, 'The Identity of Indiscernibles'" for notes.

"Broad (C.D.) - Ostensible Temporality"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Casullo (Albert) - A Fourth Version of the Bundle Theory"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

Philosophers Index Abstract
    The bundle theory (BT) is usually glossed as the view that a thing (or a particular) is nothing but a bundle of properties. This slogan is open to a number of different interpretations but recent critics of BT have understood it in the following way: (1) a thing is a complex of properties which all stand in some contingent relation, call it co-instantiation, to one another. James van Cleve has recently argued that (1) is open to three objections and, hence, BT should be rejected. The purpose of this paper is to defend BT against these objections.

"Dummett (Michael) - Realism"

Source: Dummett - Truth and Other Enigmas

Philosophers Index Abstract
    Realism concerning a given subject-matter is characterised as a semantic doctrine with metaphysical consequences, namely as the adoption, for the relevant class of statements, of a truth-conditional theory of meaning resting upon the classical two-valued semantics. It is argued that any departure from classical semantics may, though will not necessarily, be seen as in conflict with some variety of realism. A sharp distinction is drawn between the rejection of realism and the acceptance of a reductionist thesis; though intimately related, neither entails the other. Realism is to be classified as "naive", "semi-naive" or "sophisticated": the first of these involves an all but unintelligible epistemological component.

COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings".

"Heller (Mark) - Temporal Parts of Four-Dimensional Objects"

Source: Heller - The Ontology of Physical Objects, Chapter 1

Author’s Abstract1 (Full Text)
  1. In the first2 chapter I begin to explain my recommended ontology of four-dimensional hunks of matter.
  2. I propose that such objects are physical and have temporal parts in just the same way that supposed three-dimensional objects would have spatial parts.
  3. However, I emphasize that the four-dimensional objects should not be thought of as being "built up out of" instantaneous parts. Indeed, one can accept my proposed ontology without accepting that there are any instantaneous objects.
  4. I argue in detail that accepting my ontology avoids commitment to such objectionable theses as that two objects can exist in one place at one time.
  5. I also argue in detail that certain general criticisms of ontologies that include temporal parts do not apply to the particular ontology I have offered.

COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings".

In-Page Footnotes ("Heller (Mark) - Temporal Parts of Four-Dimensional Objects")

Footnote 1: Taken from "Heller (Mark) - Preface: The Ontology of Physical Objects - Four-Dimensional Hunks of Matter".

Footnote 2: Part of the first chapter is a revised version of "Heller (Mark) - Temporal Parts of Four-Dimensional Objects", Philosophical Studies Vol. 46 (1984): 323-34.

"Kripke (Saul) - Identity and Necessity"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

Author’s Footnote
  1. This paper was presented orally, without a written text to the New York University lecture series on identity which makes up the volume "Munitz (Milton) - Identity and Individuation".
  2. The lecture was taped, and the present essay represents a transcription of these tapes, edited only slightly with no attempt to change the style of the original. If the reader imagines the sentences of this essay as being delivered, extemporaneously, with proper pauses and emphases, this may facilitate his comprehension. Nevertheless, there may still be passages which are hard to follow, and the time allotted necessitated a condensed presentation of the argument.
  3. A longer version of some of these views, still rather compressed and still representing a transcript of oral remarks, has appeared in Semantics of Natural Language, ed. By Donald Davidson and Gilbert Harman (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1972).
  4. Occasionally, reservations, amplifications and gratifications of my remarks had to be repressed, especially discussion of theoretical identification and the mind-body problem. The footnotes, which were added to the original, would have become even more unwieldy if this had not been done.

Author’s Introduction
  1. A problem which has arisen frequently in contemporary philosophy is; “How are contingent identity1 statements possible?" This question is phrased by analogy with the way Kant phrased his question "How are synthetic a priori judgements possible?" In both cases, it has usually been taken for granted in the one case by Kant that synthetic a priori judgements were possible, and in the other case in contemporary philosophical literature that contingent statements of identity are possible.
  2. I do not intend to deal with the Kantian question except to mention this analogy: after a rather thick book was written trying to answer the question how synthetic a priori judgements were possible, others came along later who claimed that the solution to the problem was that synthetic a priori judgements were, of course, impossible and that a book trying to show otherwise was written in vain.
  3. I will not discuss who was right on the possibility of synthetic a priori judgements. But in the case of contingent statements of identity, most philosophers have felt that the notion of a contingent identity2 statement ran into something like the following paradox. An argument like the following can be given against the possibility of contingent identity3 statements


"Lewis (David) - Possible Worlds"

Source: Laurence & Macdonald - Contemporary Readings in the Foundations of Metaphysics

"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'".

"Loux (Michael) - Endurantism and Perdurantism"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

Author’s Introduction
  1. Except for the occasional sceptic, we all believe that things persist through time. We think that the familiar objects and persons with which we interact on a regular basis persist from day to day. I believe that the chair on which I am sitting is the same chair on which I sat yesterday and that the man who brings me today's mail is the same person who delivered yesterday's mail; and I believe that the same is true of myself. Indeed, it almost seems misleading to say that I believe that I persist through time. The claim strikes us as too guarded: it seems to suggest that I might be in some doubt about my persistence through time. The fact is, however, that the proposition that I — this very person — existed yesterday and the day before that and the day before that is about as certain to me as any proposition.
  2. But what is it for a thing — whether a material object or a person — to persist through time? Metaphysicians have given us two different types of answers to this question.
    • According to one answer, for an object to persist through time is for it to exist whole and entire at each of several different times. On this view, temporal persistence is a matter of strict identity: where something persists through time, a thing existing wholly and completely at one time is numerically identical with a thing existing wholly and completely at another time.
    • The other answer to our question denies that what exists wholly and completely at one time can be literally identical with something existing wholly and completely at another time. On this view, a thing persists by having different parts — what are called temporal parts — existing at different times.
    The first answer to our question is called endurantism1; the second, perdurantism2.

"Loux (Michael) - Modality and Possible Worlds"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Loux (Michael) - Realism and Anti-Realism"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

Author’s Introduction
  1. A certain picture of our relationship to the world is intuitively appealing. According to this picture, the world is a mind-Independent structure: it consists of objects whose existence, character, and relations are fixed independently of what we happen to say, believe, or desire. We, in turn, respond to that world by forming beliefs and making statements about it. Those beliefs and statements are assertoric: they make claims about the world, saying that things are this way or that. Since beliefs and statements are, in this way, assertoric, each is determinately true or false; and on this picture, truth involves a certain kind of fit or match between a belief / statement and the world it is about. The question is: does the belief / statement get the world right? If it does and things are as the belief / statement asserts them to be, then the belief / statement is true; otherwise, it is false. So truth is correspondence with a mind-independent world; whereas falsehood is failure of correspondence. And the correspondence in question is a relation whose obtaining might well transcend our ability to detect it. For many beliefs / statements, it may be possible for us to get ourselves into a position where we are able to determine their truth value; but according to the picture we are considering, our concept of truth is such that it is possible for a belief / statement to have one or other of the truth values even though it is in principle impossible for us to find out which one. As it is often put, our concept of truth is epistemically unconstrained.
  2. I have said that the ideas making up this picture are intuitively attractive. Together they constitute something like the traditional picture of our relationship to the world. Virtually every major thinker in the ancient, medieval, and early modern periods endorsed the themes making up the picture. Indeed, the picture provided something like a framework within which traditional philosophical inquiry took place; and it was so much a part of the assumed backdrop for doing philosophy that it did not occur to philosophers to give the picture a name. The picture gets a label only after philosophers began to raise questions about it. The name given to the picture is 'realism.' In this context, the name has a sense different from that we encountered in Part I, where 'realism' was a label for the view (opposed to nominalism) that endorses the irreducible existence of universals.
  3. Attacks on realism began with Berkeley and continue to the present day. Those attacks have been waged on a variety of fronts, but the metaphysically most interesting criticisms of realism are those that are motivated by the view that what we call "the world," what we call "reality" is a structure constituted, in part at least, by our representational activities. In recent years, it has become customary to call philosophers who attack realism from this perspective anti-realists. Anti-realists constitute a heterogeneous lot. Among the most radical forms of anti-realism would be the idealism of the nineteenth century which construed all that we think of as the world as nothing more than the thought of some Absolute Spirit; but Berkeley's phenomenalism also constitutes a version of anti-realism; and it is plausible to take much of what Kant says about the structure of the phenomenal world to be anti-realistic. And anti-realism spans views that initially appear to be metaphysically more temperate than any of these. Thus, those American pragmatists who provided an epistemic analysis of true belief as belief that promotes the goals of inquiry were telling us that what is true and so what is the case is somehow a function of our cognitive lives and so count as anti-realists.
  4. In our own day, the most radical forms of anti-realism are associated with Continental thinking where we meet with the idea that what traditional philosophers took to be a mind-independent world is really just a collection of stories that we tell, a collection of texts that we compose. Within the analytic tradition of Anglo-American philosophy, criticism of realism and the associated attempts at delineating an anti-realist perspective on truth and the world have taken a more conservative form. Here, the central figures are philosophers like Michael Dummett, W.V. Quine, and Hilary Putnam who seek to develop forms of anti-realism free of Continental excesses. In all three, the criticism of traditional realism gets formulated from within the philosophy of language. The claim in all three thinkers is that traditional realism presupposes a semantic theory that is demonstrably false. Since these three philosophers have presented analytic philosophy's most influential and well-developed challenges to traditional realism, I will focus my discussion on their work.

"Loux (Michael) - The Ontological Structure of Concrete Particulars"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Loux (Michael) - The Problem of Universals"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Loux (Michael) - Time: The A-Theory and the B-Theory"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Mellor (D.H.) - The Need for Tense"

Source: Mellor - Real Time, 1981, Chapter 5

  1. Introduction
  2. The Untranslatability of Tense
  3. The Indispensability of Tense


"Merricks (Trenton) - Endurance and Indiscernibility"

Source: Journal of Philosophy, vol. xci (1994)
pp. 165–184

Philosophers Index Abstract
    Mark persists from yesterday to today, the endurantist1 claims, if and only if Mark of yesterday "is identical with" Mark of today. A clear understanding of endurance, it is argued, requires a semantics for expressions like Mark of yesterday' and, generally, O at t.' I argue that once these expressions are properly understood, we can conclude that the familiar objection that endurance violates the indiscernibility of identicals2 is misguided. The analysis of expressions like 'O at t' also provides the resources for an account of what it is for an object to be "wholly present" at a time.

"Parfit (Derek) - Personal Identity"

Source: Perry - Personal Identity

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Some people believe that the identity of a person through time is, in its nature, all-or-nothing. This belief makes them assume that, in the so-called 'problem cases', the question "would it still be me?" must have, both a definite answer, and great importance.
  2. I deny these assumptions. I try to show that the identity of a person through time is only, in its logic, all-or-nothing. In its nature, it is a matter of degree.
  3. I then propose a way of thinking in which this would be recognized.

Author’s Introduction
  1. We can, I think, describe cases in which, though we know the answer to every other question, we have no idea how to answer a question about personal identity. These cases are not covered by the criteria of personal identity that we actually use.
  2. Do they present a problem?
  3. It might be thought that they do not, because they could never occur. I suspect that some of them could. (Some, for instance, might become scientifically possible.) But I shall claim that even if they did they would present no problem.
  4. My targets are two beliefs: one about the nature of personal identity, the other about its importance.
  5. The first is that in these cases the question about identity must have an answer.
  6. No one thinks this about, say, nations or machines. Our criteria for the identity of these do not cover certain cases. No one thinks that in these cases the questions "Is it the same nation?" or "Is it the same machine ?" must have answers.
  7. Some people believe that in this respect they are different. They agree that our criteria of personal identity do not cover certain cases, but they believe that the nature of their own identity through time is, somehow, such as to guarantee that in these cases questions about their identity must have answers. This belief might be expressed as follows: "Whatever happens between now and any future time, either I shall still exist, or I shall not. Any future experience will either be my experience, or it will not."
  8. This first belief – in the special nature of personal identity – has, I think, certain effects. It makes people assume that the principle of self-interest is more rationally compelling than any moral principle. And it makes them more depressed by the thought of aging and of death.
  9. I cannot see how to disprove this first belief. I shall describe a problem case. But this can only make it seem implausible.
  10. Another approach might be this. We might suggest that one cause of the belief is the projection of our emotions. When we imagine ourselves in a problem case, we do feel that the question "Would it be me ?" must have an answer. But what we take to be a bafflement about a further fact may be only the bafflement of our concern.
  11. I shall not pursue this suggestion here. But one cause of our concern is the belief which is my second target. This is that unless the question about identity has an answer, we cannot answer certain important questions (questions about such matters as survival, memory, and responsibility).
  12. Against this second belief my claim will be this. Certain important questions do presuppose a question about personal identity. But they can be freed of this presupposition. And when they are, the question about identity has no importance.

COMMENT: For Notes, see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Parfit, 'Personal Identity'".

"Plantinga (Alvin) - Actualism and Possible Worlds"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

Philosophers Index Abstract
    I argue that the canonical conception of possible worlds is defective in that it implies that there are things that don't exist; I suggest an alternative conception that does not suffer from that defect.

COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - The Possible and the Actual: Readings in the Metaphysics of Modality".

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

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) - A Problem About Reference (+ Appendix)"

Source: Putnam - Reason, Truth and History
COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings".

"Quine (W.V.) - On What There Is"

Source: Quine - From a Logical Point of View

Frazer MacBride’s Notes on W.V.O. Quine "On What There Is" (MPhil Stud Seminar, Birkbeck, 3rd October 2005)

Fundamental Point: "To be assumed as an entity is, purely and simply, to be reckoned as the value of a variable.... We are convicted of a particular ontological presupposition if, and only if, the alleged presuppositum has to be reckoned among the entities over which our variables range in order to render one of our affirmations true" (OWI: 13).

Structure of paper
  1. Plato's Beard—unsatisfactory responses to the Puzzle of Non-Being (OWI: 1-5)
  2. Untangling the Beard using Russell's Theory of Descriptions (OWI: 5-9)
  3. The Problem of Universals1—there are no universals2 (OWI: 9-15)
  4. Ontological Methodology—how to adjudicate between rival ontologies (OWI: 15-19)
  1. Plato's Beard: Does Pegasus exist? If he doesn't then what am I denying the existence of?
    • a) McX3 identifies Pegasus with a mental idea but Pegasus no more an idea than the Parthenon.
    • b) Wyman4 identifies Pegasus with an un-actualised possibility but such entities are unduly mysterious and there also non-existent things which could not exist (e.g. the round square cupola).
  2. Untangling the Beard
    There's no necessity to admit non-existent objects because
    • (c) Russell's theory of descriptions and
    • (d) Frege's distinction between sense and reference
    show that being meaningful and naming are different things.
      (TD5): The F Gs ↔ (∃xFx & (∀yFy → x=y)) & Gx
  3. The Problem of Universals6
    There is no need to admit mysterious entities like being red any more than non-existent things like Pegasus because
    • (e) the semantic role of a predicate is simply to be true or false of an entity picked out by a name,
    • (f) expressions can be meaningful without there being meanings and
    • (g) we do not quantify over predicate expressions.
    Clarifying ontological commitment by comparison with philosophy of mathematics:
      realism—logicism, conceptualism—intuitionism, nominalism—formalism.
  4. Ontological Methodology
    A criterion of ontological commitment does not tell us what there is, but what someone says there is; whether we accept what someone says is guided by the general ideals of theory construction; a choice of ontology is determined by the over-all conceptual scheme that accommodates science in the broadest sense.

COMMENT: Required reading for Birkbeck MPhil Stud Seminar 03/10/2005; Also in:- Photocopy filed in "Various - Heythrop Essays & Supporting Material (Boxes)". Note - see "Funkhouser (Eric) - Notes on Quine, 'On What There Is'".

In-Page Footnotes ("Quine (W.V.) - On What There Is")

Footnote 3: TT: Presumably McTaggart.

Footnote 4: TT: Presumably Meinong.

Footnote 5: TD = “(Russell’s) Theory of Descriptions.” For helpful HTML tags for logical connectives, see Wikipedia: List of logic symbols.

"Quine (W.V.) - Ontological Relativity"

Source: Quine - Ontological Relativity
COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings".

"Russell (Bertrand) - The World of Universals"

Source: Mellor & Oliver - Properties - Oxford Readings
COMMENT: Also in "Loux (Michael), Ed. - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings".

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

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

"Taylor (Richard) - Time and Eternity"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Van Cleve (James) - Three Versions of the Bundle Theory"

Source: Philosophical Studies, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Jan., 1985), pp. 95-107

Author’s Abstract
  1. 'A thing (individual, concrete particular) is nothing but a bundle of properties'. If we take it as it stands, this traditional metaphysical view is open to several familiar and, to my mind, decisive objections.
  2. Sophisticated upholders of the tradition, such as Russell and Castaneda, do not take it as it stands, but I shall argue that even their version of it remains open to some of the same objections.
  3. Then I shall suggest a third version of the view that avoids all the standard objections, but only at a price I think most people would be unwilling to pay.

COMMENT: Also in

"Van Inwagen (Peter) - Objectivity"

Source: Loux - Metaphysics - Contemporary Readings

"Williams (Donald C.) - On the Elements of Being: I"

Source: Mellor & Oliver - Properties - Oxford Readings

Author’s Introduction
  1. First philosophy, according to the traditional schedule, is analytic ontology, examining the traits necessary to whatever is, in this or any other possible world. Its cardinal problem is that of substance and attribute, or at any rate something cognate with this in that family of ideas which contains also subsistence and inherence, subject and predicate, particular and universal, singular and general, individual and class, and matter and form. It is the question how a thing can be an instance of many properties while a property may inhere in many instances, the question how everything is a case of a kind, a this-such, an essence endowed with existence, an existent differentiated by essence, and so forth.
  2. Concerned with what it means to be a thing or a kind at all, it is in some wise prior to and independent of the other great branch of metaphysics, speculative cosmology: what kinds of things are there, what stuff are they made of, how are they strung together? Although "analytic ontology" is not much practiced as a unit under that name today, its problems, and especially the problem of subsistence and inherence, are as much alive in the latest manifestoes of the logical analysts, who pretend to believe neither in substances nor in universals1, as they were in the counsels of Athens and of Paris.
  3. Nothing is clear until that topic is clear, and in this essay l I hope to do something to clarify it in terms of a theory or schema which over a good many years I have found so serviceable that it may well be true.


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