Philosophical Papers Volume I
Lewis (David)
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Cover Blurb

  1. This book consists of fifteen selected papers by one of America’s most important and most influential philosophers. First published from 1966 to 1980, with new postscripts added to eight of them, the papers deal with topics in ontology, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.
  2. Some recurring themes in the papers are:-
    • extreme realism about possible worlds and individuals;
    • exploitation of analogies between space, time, and modality1;
    • materialism, defined with the aid of a theory of mental states as realizers of causal roles;
    • integration of formal semantics into a broader account of the use of language; and
    • refusal to begin with language in the analysis of thought and modality2.

"Lewis (David) - Philosophical Papers Volume I: Introduction"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Introduction

Introduction (Full Text)
  1. The fifteen papers in this volume were originally published from 1966 to 1980. Here, misprints apart, they are reprinted in their original form1. For the most part, I stand by what I said. Where I do not, or where additions seemed urgently needed, I have left the paper as it was but appended new postscripts.
  2. The papers in this volume deal with topics in ontology, in philosophy of mind, and in philosophy of language. Papers on counterfactuals, causation2, and related matters will appear in a sequel3. I have left out papers which are rejoinders, or which are of primarily technical interest, or which overlap too much with the papers I have included.
  3. I should have liked to be a piecemeal, unsystematic philosopher, offering independent proposals on a variety of topics. It was not to be. I succumbed too often to the temptation to presuppose my views on one topic when writing on another. Most notably, my realism toward unactualized possibles shows up in nearly every paper in the book. Sometimes the argument requires it, as in "'Tensions"; sometimes my principal point could just as well have been put neutrally, as when I allude to other worlds in "Mad Pain and Martian Pain." But many cases fall in between. If I did not take properties as sets of possible individuals, for instance, I could still defend the thesis of "Attitudes De Dicto and De Se" that properties are the appropriate objects of attitudes; but I could no longer support this thesis by drawing an analogy between self-location with respect to the entire population of logical space and with respect to the population of the actual world. I hope the sceptical reader will consider breaking up the package and taking the parts that suit him, but I have not done all I could have done to make his task easy. For, after all, my principal interest has not been to proselytize but to figure out what I should believe.
  4. The reader in search of knock-down arguments in favor of my theories will go away disappointed. Whether or not it would be nice to knock disagreeing philosophers down by sheer force of argument4, it cannot be done. Philosophical theories are never refuted conclusively. (Or hardly ever. Godel and Gettier may have done it.) The theory survives its refutation — at a price. Argle has said what we accomplish in philosophical argument: we measure the price5. Perhaps that is something we can settle more or less conclusively. But when all is said and done, and all the tricky arguments and distinctions and counterexamples have been discovered, presumably we will still face the question which prices are worth paying, which theories are on balance credible, which are the unacceptably counterintuitive consequences and which are the acceptably counterintuitive ones. On this question we may still differ. And if all is indeed said and done, there will be no hope of discovering still further arguments to settle our differences.
  5. It might be otherwise if, as some philosophers seem to think, we had a sharp line between "linguistic intuition," which must be taken as unchallengeable evidence, and philosophical theory, which must at all costs fit this evidence. If that were so, conclusive refutations would be dismayingly abundant. But, whatever may be said for foundationalism in other subjects, this foundationalist theory of philosophical knowledge seems ill-founded in the extreme. Our "intuitions" are simply opinions; our philosophical theories are the same. Some are commonsensical, some are sophisticated; some are particular, some general; some are more firmly held, some less. But they are all opinions, and a reasonable goal for a philosopher is to bring them into equilibrium. Our common task is to find out what equilibria there are that can withstand examination, but it remains for each of us to come to rest at one or another of them. If we lose our moorings in everyday common sense, our fault is not that we ignore part of our evidence. Rather, the trouble is that we settle for a very inadequate equilibrium. If our official theories disagree with what we cannot help thinking outside the philosophy room, then no real equilibrium has been reached. Unless we are doubleplusgood doublethinkers, it will not last. And it should not last, for it is safe to say that in such a case we will believe a great deal that is false.
  6. Once the menu of well-worked-out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion. Is that to say that there is no truth to be had? Or that the truth is of our own making, and different ones of us can make it differently? Not at all! If you say flatly that there is no god, and I say that there are countless gods but none of them are our worldmates6, then it may be that neither of us is making any mistake of method. We may each be bringing our opinions to equilibrium in the most careful possible way, taking account of all the arguments, distinctions, and counterexamples. But one of us, at least, is making a mistake of fact. Which one is wrong depends on what there is.
  7. So much for method. Let me briefly list some recurring themes that unify the papers in this volume, thus frustrating my hope of philosophizing piecemeal.
    • Extreme modal7 realism, according to which there are many unactualized possible individuals, and according to which the actual individuals do not differ in kind from the unactualized ones.
    • Exploitation of the analogies between space, time, and modality8.
    • Materialism, according to which physical science will, if successful, describe our world completely.
    • A broadly functionalist9 theory of mind, according to which mental states qua mental are realizers of roles specified in commonsense psychology.
    • Integration of formal semantics into a broader account of our use of language in social interaction.
    • Refusal to take language as a starting point in the analysis of thought and of modality10.
  8. I thank all those who have helped me to think about the matters discussed in these papers. Those who have helped me most are listed in the footnotes to the papers and the postscripts. Also I thank [… snip …]

In-Page Footnotes ("Lewis (David) - Philosophical Papers Volume I: Introduction")

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote 9: I do not know whether I am, strictly speaking, a functionalist. For I reject at least two main planks in the platform.
  1. I reject the individualistic thesis that someone is in pain, say, if and only if he is in a state that occupies the role of pain for him, then. I think it also matters what role his state plays in others of his kind.
  2. I reject the thesis that "pain" rigidly designates a state shared by all who are in pain. Rather, it nonrigidly designates the state that occupies the role of pain in the particular kind under consideration. Indeed there is a state common to all who are in pain —"being in pain," I call it — but it is not pain, and it does not itself occupy the role of pain. In the terminology of "How To Define Theoretical Terms" (in this volume), it is a "diagonalized sense."

"Lewis (David) & Lewis (Stephanie) - Holes"

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

  1. Co-written with his wife, Stephanie Lewis, this whimsical dialogue features Argle and Bargle debating the ontological nature of holes.
  2. Argle ingeniously defends the claim that a hole is just the lining of matter that surrounds it.
  3. Responding to Bargle's disinclination toward accepting a view that flouts common sense, Argle comments that philosophical argument involves "measuring [the] price" that one must pay in order to accept the contested position. It is a telling remark, given the "incredulous stares" that often greet Lewis's modal1 realism.

COMMENT: Also in "Hales (Steven D.), Ed. - Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings".

"Lewis (David) - Anselm and Actuality"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 2

  1. Lewis demonstrates the infeasibility of attempting a nonmodal1 reformulation of Anslem's ontological argument. The key premise in Anselm's famous argument is the claim that "Something exists in the understanding, than which nothing greater can be conceived."
  2. Lewis argues that the apparent credibility of the most promising, nonmodal2 rendering of this premise - viz. "There is an understandable being x, such that for no world w and being y does the greatness of y in w exceed the greatness of x in the actual world" - depends entirely on the illusion that the actuality of our world renders it "radically different from all other worlds - special in a way that makes it a fitting place of greatest greatness." This illusion becomes obvious once we accept perhaps the most notable claim in this paper, viz. Lewis's indexical account of actuality.
  3. The substantive postscript includes an important retraction (viz. that impossible worlds do not exist) and several interesting discussions (e.g., concerning the anthropic principle and the specter of skepticism).

"Lewis (David) - Counterpart Theory and Quantified Modal Logic"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 3

  1. In this landmark paper, Lewis outlines his theory of modality1 and counterparts. The eight postulates constitutive of Lewis's counterpart theory are expressed in an extensional first-order language that replaces the modal2 operators (characteristic of traditional quantified modal logic)3 with four primitive predicates:
    … 'x is a possible world',
    … 'x is in possible world y',
    … 'x is actual', and
    …'x is a counterpart of y'.
  2. Upon presenting a scheme for translating sentences expressed in quantified modal logic4 into those expressed in his preferred extensional language, Lewis demonstrates that the latter is nevertheless a richer language; while every sentence of quantified modal logic5 may be translated into a sentence expressed in counterpart theory, the reverse is not the case.
  3. Lewis concludes the paper by considering the implications of his view for several well-known topics (notably, Aristotelian essentialism).
  4. The postscript includes numerous additions and emendations (including a specification of the primitive predicate, 'x is in possible world y').

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

"Lewis (David) - Counterparts of Persons and Their Bodies"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 4

Ingenta Abstract
  1. The possibility of a person switching bodies presents a challenge to Lewis's conviction that necessarily, a person occupies a body at a time if and only if that person is identical with that body at that time.
  2. In order to meet this challenge, Lewis modifies his counterpart theory to allow for multiple counterpart relations (e.g., one's personal counterpart, one's bodily counterpart).
  3. The wider significance of this modification lies in the general scheme it offers for translating any modal1 predication in which referential transparency fails (because the sense of the subject term is used in a way that extends beyond a determination of its denotation) into sentences of counterpart theory with multiple counterpart relations.


"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) - How to Define Theoretical Terms"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 1: Ontology, Chapter 6

  1. Lewis defends an account of the role of theoretical terms in scientific theories. Drawing on the work of Ramsey and Carnap, Lewis advocates the view that theoretical terms are implicitly defined by the scientific theories in which they figure; their meanings are to be characterized in functional terms, by reference to causal roles.
  2. According to Lewis, this understanding of theoretical terms (which would become influential in the development of functionalist theories of the mind) enables us to understand how one scientific theory may be reduced to another.

"Lewis (David) - An Argument for the Identity Theory"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 2: Philosophy of Mind, Chapter 7

  1. Lewis offers a functionalist argument for the type-type psychophysical identity theory, according to which, as a matter of fact, mental experiences are type-identical with certain neuro-chemical brain states.
  2. Lewis summarizes his argument as follows:
      "The definitive characteristic of any (sort of) experience as such is its causal role, its syndrome of most typical causes and effects. But we materialists believe causal roles which belong by analytic necessity to experiences belong in fact to certain physical states. Since those physical states possess the definitive characteristics of experience, they must be the experiences.


"Lewis (David) - Radical Interpretation"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 2: Philosophy of Mind, Chapter 8

  1. As Lewis formulates it, the challenge of radical interpretation is the challenge of specifying how the totality of facts about a subject qua physical system determine that subject's beliefs, desires, and meanings.
  2. Lewis proposes six constraints for any proposed solution to the problem of radical interpretation; included among these constraints are the principles of
    • charity (i.e., a subject should be represented as believing and desiring what he or she ought to believe and desire),
    • rationalization (i.e., subjects should be represented as rational agents), and
    • truthfulness (i.e., subjects should be interpreted as operating within a convention of truthfulness).
  3. Invoking these constraints, Lewis then considers several methods (one of which he advocates) for solving the problem of radical interpretation. Notably, the Davidsonian method is found to be inadequate because it flouts the principles of truthfulness and rationalization.

"Lewis (David) - Mad Pain and Martian Pain"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 2: Philosophy of Mind, Chapter 9

  1. Lewis invites us to consider two ostensible challenges to any materialist theory of the mind.
    • The madman feels pain just as we do, but his pain differs greatly from ours in its characteristic causes and effects;
    • the Martian also feels pain just as we do, but his pain differs greatly from ours in its physical realization.
  2. Lewis argues that his functionalist theory is adequate to meet the challenges presented by both cases.
  3. In the postscript, Lewis considers how advocates of phenomenal qualia respond to the functionalist account he defends; in particular, he responds to Frank Jackson's 'knowledge argument'.

COMMENT: Also in "Rosenthal (David), Ed. - The Nature of Mind".

"Lewis (David) - Attitudes De Dicto and De Se"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 2: Philosophy of Mind, Chapter 10

  1. In this wide-ranging paper, Lewis defends the view that propositional attitudes consist in relations to properties, which themselves are sets of possible individuals.
  2. In so doing, he champions the importance of self-ascribing attitudes (i.e. what he coins 'de se' attitudes), arguing that "the de se subsumes the de dicto, but not vice versa."
  3. Along the way, a host of topics are discussed, including time-slices of continuant persons, centered possible worlds, and decision theory.

"Lewis (David) - Languages and Language"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 3: Philosophy of Language, Chapter 11

  1. Lewis attempts the synthesis of two rival accounts:
    • the thesis, according to which languages are a semantic system abstracted from the nature and history of human affairs; and
    • the antithesis, according to which language is a rational, convention-governed human social activity.
  2. Upon answering an extended series of objections, Lewis concludes that the philosophy of language is best understood as a single subject.

COMMENT: Also in:-
… "Block (Ned), Ed. - Readings in Philosophy of Psychology - Vol 1" &
… "Martinich (A.P.) - The Philosophy of Language".

"Lewis (David) - General Semantics"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 3: Philosophy of Language, Chapter 12

  1. This paper presents Lewis's intensional semantics, on the basis of which he aims to answer two questions:
    • "What sort of thing is a meaning?" and
    • "What is the form of semantic rules whereby meanings of compounds are built from the meanings of their constituent parts?"
  2. To this end, Lewis develops a categorically based transformational grammar.
  3. The paper provides formal treatments of such topics as intensions (for both basic and derived categories), nondeclarative sentences, quantification, and noun-phrases.

"Lewis (David) - Scorekeeping in a Language Game"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 3: Philosophy of Language, Chapter 13

  1. Sparked by the work of Robert Stalnaker, this paper integrates some of Lewis's views in formal semantics and formal pragmatics.
  2. Drawing an analogy with the practice of scorekeeping in baseball, Lewis proposes the notion of a "conversational score" that varies depending on the semantic vicissitudes arising from the contexts in which context-sensitive terms (e.g. "flat") are used.
  3. In such cases, Lewis argues, certain "rules of accommodation" inform the practice of natural discourse.
  4. Lewis demonstrates this phenomenon at work in a number of examples, including presupposition, permissibility, definite descriptions, reference, vagueness, modality1, performatives, and making plans.

"Lewis (David) - 'Tensions"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 3: Philosophy of Language, Chapter 14

  1. In this paper, Lewis introduces a problem that he cannot solve.
  2. He begins by describing, in general outline, two idealized languages: one richly intensional, the other purely extensional.
  3. The problem arises when we imagine two field linguists - one an intensionalist (like Lewis), the other an extensionalist - faced with the task of interpreting a tribe that speaks a previously unknown language.
  4. When the intensionalist interprets the tribesmen as using an intensional language, the extensionalist disagrees, claiming it "gratuitous of [the intensionalist] to ascribe to them a language that requires the notoriously obscure apparatus of intensional semantics."
  5. Lewis dismisses several unsatisfactory rejoinders to this challenge and concludes by drawing several morals from the unresolved dialectical situation.

"Lewis (David) - Truth in Fiction"

Source: Lewis - Philosophical Papers Volume I, Part 3: Philosophy of Language, Chapter 15

  1. Drawing on his account of possible worlds, Lewis attempts to specify the truth-conditions for statements of the form, 'In fiction f, phi'.
  2. According to Lewis, such truth in fiction is the product of two sources:
    • "the explicit content of the fiction, and
    • a background consisting either of the facts about our world or of the beliefs overt in the community of origin."
  3. In the postscript, Lewis addresses the topics of make-believe, impossible fictions, and fiction in the service of truth.

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