The Possibility of Metaphysics: Substance, Identity and Time
Lowe (E.J.)
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Back Cover Blurb

  1. Jonathan Lowe argues that metaphysics should be restored to a central position in philosophy, as the most fundamental form of rational inquiry, whose findings underpin those of all other disciplines.
  2. He portrays metaphysics as charting the possibilities of existence, by identifying the categories of being and the relations of ontological dependency between entities of different categories. He proceeds to set out a unified and original metaphysical system: he defends a substance ontology, according to which the existence of the world as one world in time depends upon the existence of persisting things which retain their identity over time and through processes of qualitative change.
  3. And he contends that even necessary beings, such as the abstract objects of mathematics, depend ultimately for their existence upon there being a concrete world of enduring substances.
  4. Within his system of metaphysics Lowe seeks to answer many of the deepest and most challenging questions in philosophy.

  • OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (7 Jun 2001),
  • Preface + 2 chapters cc'd

"Lowe (E.J.) - The Possibility of Metaphysics: Preface"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Preface

OUP Abstract
  1. Begins with a defence of realist metaphysics against its many enemies.
  2. Metaphysics, it is argued, is an autonomous and indispensable intellectual discipline whose distinctive task is to chart the domain of real possibilities — a task which requires us to identify both the basic ontological categories into which all possible beings are divisible and the characteristic relations of ontological dependency in which beings of various ontological categories necessarily stand to one another.
  3. Central parts of this task are carried out in the rest of the book, which focuses especially on the key notions of substance, identity, and time.
  4. The unity of the concrete world as one world existing in time ultimately depends, it is argued, upon the existence of fundamental substances, which persist primitively through processes of qualitative change.
  5. And even abstract necessary beings, such as the objects of mathematics, ultimately depend for their existence, it is claimed, upon there being a concrete spatiotemporal world of enduring substances.

"Lowe (E.J.) - The Possibility of Metaphysics"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 1

OUP Abstract
  1. A positive answer to Kant's famous question, 'How is metaphysics possible?', is given — one that represents metaphysics as being an autonomous and indispensable intellectual discipline whose task is to chart the domain of real possibilities.
  2. The notions of 'real' or 'metaphysical' possibility and necessity are defended and distinguished from those of various other species of modality1, such as physical, logical, and conceptual possibility or necessity.
  3. The enemies of metaphysics, from relativists to those who seek to subordinate metaphysics to empirical science, epistemology, or the philosophy of language, are argued to hold positions that are either incoherent or self-defeating.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Objects and Identity"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 2

OUP Abstract
  1. Explores the fundamental metaphysical notions of an object and of identity, and the intimate way in which they are related.
  2. The central ontological distinction between concrete objects and abstract objects is brought to the fore, and is explained in terms of the distinction between existence in time and timeless existence.
  3. The notion of a criterion of identity, introduced by Frege, is explicated and its application is illustrated in the course of a discussion of the nature of cardinal numbers and their use in counting.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Identity and Unity"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 3

OUP Abstract
  1. The relationship between the notion of an object and the notion of unity is discussed.
  2. It is argued that we should acknowledge the possible existence of entities belonging to certain ontological categories whose members lack either the determinate identity or the determinate unity — and hence countability — that are characteristic of objects properly so-called.
  3. Such categories, it is suggested, are needed, amongst other things, to make sense of some of the theoretical entities postulated by modern quantum physics.
  4. In this connection, a famous argument by Gareth Evans against 'vague' identity is countered.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Time and Persistence"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 4

OUP Abstract
  1. Discusses some deep-rooted differences between philosophers over the place of tense in an account of the nature of time, and defends the position that only a tensed view of time can ultimately explain satisfactorily what it is for things to exist in time and persist through change.
  2. The notion that persisting things have 'temporal parts' is critically examined and it is argued that a tensed view of time should reject the idea that time is a dimension in which reality is extended, in any way akin to the dimensions of space.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Persistence and Substance"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 5

OUP Abstract
  1. Argues that the very existence of time — and, more particularly, the temporal unity of the world as one world in time — is dependent upon the existence of concrete individual substances persisting through time, with the consequence that persisting substances cannot coherently be conceived to be mere sequences or aggregates of successively existing entities, their supposed 'temporal parts'.
  2. An argument due to David Lewis being in favour of the latter view, appealing to the so-called problem of intrinsic change, is criticized for failing to recognize a solution to this problem, which distinguishes between temporal and atemporal modes of property exemplification.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Substance and Dependence"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 6

COMMENT: Hard copy in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 09 (L)".

"Lowe (E.J.) - Primitive Substances"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 7

Philosophers Index Abstract
  1. Things or objects are what exist, but not all things are equal.
  2. Some depend for their existence and identity upon the existence and identity of other things, while others do not – and the latter are the substances.
  3. Some amongst these are, necessarily, non- composite and consequently primitive, in the sense that their identity through time is not grounded in relations between other things.
  4. To consider the number and nature of such substances is the objective of the present inquiry.

OUP Abstract
  1. Argues that certain fundamental kinds of substance — which might appropriately be called primitive substances — must exist in order to provide the ultimate existential grounding of all concrete existence.
  2. Such substances are argued to be distinctive in that their persistence or identity through time must itself be primitive or ungrounded.
  3. But it is acknowledged that actually identifying such substances, as opposed to arguing in a general way for the necessity of their existence, is no easy matter.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Categories and Kinds"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 8

OUP Abstract
  1. The account of the ontological categories begun earlier in the book is completed and it is explained why and how such categories, which have an a priori status, must be distinguished from the empirically discoverable natural kinds1 into which objects — and, more particularly, naturally occurring individual substances — are divisible.
  2. By focusing on the problem of substantial change and associated questions concerning the persistence-conditions of different kinds of object, the indispensable role that a system of ontological categories has in enabling us to understand the fundamental structure of reality is illustrated, thereby providing further and indeed conclusive evidence of the indispensability and autonomy of metaphysics as an intellectual discipline.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Matter and Form"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 9

OUP Abstract
  1. Here, attention is drawn to the Aristotelian distinction between matter and form, a version of which is defended in providing an account of the nature of composite substances.
  2. It is argued that a composite substance cannot be identified with the mereological sum of its component parts, nor with a bundle of compresent 'tropes' or property instances.
  3. A 'four-category ontology', inspired by Aristotle, is defended, according to which four fundamental and mutually irreducible categories of entity need to be acknowledged: substantial particulars, non-substantial particulars (or 'modes'), substantial universals1, and non-substantial universals2.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Abstract Entities"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 10

OUP Abstract
  1. A return is made in this chapter to the subject of abstract entities. A number of different senses are distinguished in which an entity may be said to be 'abstract' and the nature and existence of certain important varieties of abstract entities are discussed, including universals1, sets, and numbers.
  2. Natural numbers, it is argued, are not to be identified with sets but rather with kinds of sets: that is to say, we should think of numbers as universals2 which have as their particular instances, sets of appropriate cardinality.

"Lowe (E.J.) - Facts and World"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 11

OUP Abstract
  1. In this chapter, consideration is given to the nature of facts or states of affairs.
  2. Some philosophers who acknowledge the existence of such entities treat them as abstract entities, while others think of them as being the ultimate building blocks of the concrete world, as the relata of causal relations, and as the truth-makers of contingent truths.
  3. Difficulties with the latter view are identified, but a modest ontological role for facts is preserved, whereby they may be seen as 'ways things are' rather than as items that are the fundamental constituents of reality.

"Lowe (E.J.) - The Puzzle of Existence"

Source: Lowe - The Possibility of Metaphysics, 2001, Chapter 12

OUP Abstract
  1. Deals with one of the deepest of all metaphysical problems, the question of why there should be anything at all — that is to say, why there should be a world of concrete objects existing in space and time.
  2. After querying another recent approach to this question favoured by Peter van Inwagen, an answer is offered which appeals to the distinction between concrete and abstract entities and proposes that, while some of the latter (such as numbers) but none of the former are necessary beings, abstract entities can exist only in a possible world that is populated by at least some concrete entities.

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