- This bold and original work of philosophy presents an exciting new picture of concrete reality. Peter Unger provocatively breaks with what he terms the conservatism of present-day philosophy, and returns to central themes from Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Russell. Wiping the slate clean, Unger works, from the ground up, to formulate a new metaphysic capable of accommodating our distinctly human perspective. He proposes a world with inherently powerful particulars of two basic sorts: one mental but not physical, the other physical but not mental.
- Whether of one sort or the other, each individual possesses powers for determining his or her own course, as well as powers for interaction with other individuals. It is only a purely mental particular — an immaterial soul, like yourself — that is ever fit for real choosing, or for conscious experiencing. Rigorously reasoning that the only satisfactory metaphysic is one that situates the physical alongside the nonphysical, Unger carefully explains the genesis of, and continual interaction of, the two sides of our deeply dualistic world.
- Written in an accessible and entertaining style, while advancing philosophical scholarship, All the Power in the World takes readers on a philosophical journey into the nature of reality. In this riveting intellectual adventure, Unger reveals the need for an entirely novel approach to the nature of physical reality — and shows how this approach can lead to wholly unexpected possibilities, including disembodied1 human existence for billions of years. All the Power in the World returns philosophy to its most ambitious roots in its fearless attempt to answer profoundly difficult human questions about ourselves and our world.
- Peter Unger, one of the world's most original and unorthodox philosophers, is a major contributor to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of mind. A native New Yorker, for more than thirty years he has been a Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He is the author of
- Ignorance (OUP 1975, reissued 2002),
- Philosophical Relativity (1984, reissued by OUP 2002),
- "Unger (Peter) - Identity, Consciousness and Value" (OUP 1990),
- Living High and Letting Die (OUP 1996), and
- Forthcoming collections of his published philosophical papers (OUP, 2006).
Readers’ Guide (extract from the Preface)
- Many people find big books daunting, especially when the tomes are works in first philosophy, or substantive metaphysics, as this one certainly aims to be. I know I do. But, if you follow my Public Readers' Guide, that shouldn't bother you much, as you'll only be reading about half the book, and maybe even less than that. What's more, you'll be reading all the parts you're likely to find a most enjoyable read.
- So, for almost anyone who's not a professor of philosophy, and for many philosophy professors, too, I strongly recommend you follow this:
- Read the book's first three Chapters, though you needn't bother about the notes. (In fact, you needn't bother about the notes to any of the book's Chapters.) As my experience with undergraduates indicates, most will enjoy over three-fourths of this stuff. And, heck, you can do a bit of work toward clearly grasping, and greatly enjoying, the truly juicy meat that's yet to come.
- Skip Chapter 4 and Chapter 5, proceeding directly to Chapter 6.
- Do read Chapter 6 — it's on Real Choice; it's on Free Will — and you'll enjoy a lot of it.
- Read some of, but only some of, Chapter 7. Though it's all supporting the exciting idea that you're an immaterial soul, I recommend that you read only about half this long Chapter. Besides skipping its many notes and its appendix, folks innocent of recent philosophy should skip, as well, all these listed sections: 2, 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18, 20, and 23.
- Read Chapter 8; it's fun. It's got stuff on how, very possibly, we may someday become disembodied2 souls, outlasting our bodies for billions of years. It's got stuff on the main questions about God. Heck; it's even got stuff about reincarnation!3
- Read just a bit of Chapter 9. In fact, read only its sections 3 and 4, skipping the rest.
- Read Chapter 10, the book's last Chapter. Sure, it's long. But, it's packed with all sorts of interesting speculations, none of them, I think, very terribly implausible. Far beyond just encountering new ideas about space and time, you'll find Hypotheses about additional Dimensional Aspects of Concrete Reality. Most fun of all — I'll bet you a nickel — there you'll find my most favored form of Substantial Dualism, Quasi-Platonic Substantial Dualism. On this surprisingly palatable metaphysic, not only will you outlast your body for billions of years, but, what's much more, you'll also precede it by billions of years.
- The Mystery of The Physical – 3
- A Humanly Realistic Philosophy – 36
- Demystifying the Physical – 74
- A Cornucopia of Quality – 145
- A Plenitude of Power – 211
- Is Free Will Compatible With Scientiphicalism? – 309
- Why We Really May Be Immaterial Souls – 362
- Why We May Become Disembodied4, But To No Avail – 470
- The Problem of Our Unconscious Quality – 511
- How Rich Is Concrete Reality? – 528
"Lowe (E.J.) - Review of Peter Unger's - 'All the Power in the World'"
Source: The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 58, No. 233 (Oct., 2008), pp. 745-747
- This book is interesting in patches, but suffers from three major defects.
This last defect is the most serious, because many of Peter Unger's views and arguments in this book have been anticipated, bettered or effectively countered by contributors to that literature.
- First, it is inordinately long: it could easily have been condensed into a book one third its length.
- Secondly, it is written in an irritatingly jokey and homely style, in a vain attempt to appeal to a non-academic audience. Example drawn at random: 'Now, don't misunderstand me here; [this argument] doesn't knock my socks off, certainly not at this late date, with so much philosophically dirty water long since under the proverbial bridge' (p. 611).
- Thirdly, it self-consciously avoids much reference to or engagement with recent literature in its field, dismissing most of this as overtechnical and of no lasting value.
- The main target of Unger's criticism is what he calls 'scientiphicalism', that is, the scientifically inspired physicalism that dominates current analytic metaphysics and philosophy of mind. One major thing he has against it is that while it allows for both spatial properties and dispositional properties - powers, or 'propensities' (Unger's preferred term) - it does not allow for 'qualities'. But, he contends, we cannot really conceive of the world as containing the former but not the latter. His argument here is one belonging to a tradition going back at least as far as Berkeley, according to which we cannot distinguish between a spatially extended thing and a region of empty space with the same shape as that thing, unless we suppose the thing to possess some real quality which permeates the space occupied by it. There is a well-known paper – "Blackburn (Simon) - Filling in Space" – which very concisely discusses this issue and has given rise to an extensive and interesting secondary literature - but none of this, unfortunately, is discussed by Unger. The line of argument in question is, I think, inconclusive, which seems also to be Blackburn's verdict. Certainly I do not think it can bear the kind of weight that Unger wants to lay upon it.
- Unger has quite a lot to say about powers, as the title of his book suggests, and some of what he says is quite interesting. But I do not find, in his account of powers, much of value that is not said more concisely and more convincingly in such books as Stephen Mumford's Dispositions (OUP, 1998),John Heil's From an Ontological Point of View (OUP, 2003), George Molnar's Powers (OUP, 2003), and C.B. Martin's The Mind in Nature (OUP, 2008). None of these books is referred to by Unger (only the last of them appeared too late for that) - though, to be fair, he does discuss some earlier work on the subject by Heil, Martin and Molnar. But Unger's general tendency to disregard the recent literature on the issues that he discusses has served him and his readers particularly ill with regard to the topic of powers.
- Unger's most spectacular departure from 'scientiphicalism', and the one that will most surprise those familiar with his earlier work, is his conversion to Substantial Dualism (Unger likes to capitalize the names of Positions in Philosophy). This is full-blooded 'Cartesian' interactive substance dualism, according to which 'we' are immaterial souls possessing no spatial properties and not even any location in space. In favour of this view, he develops two main lines of argument:
- one which appeals to free will and
- one which exploits the 'problem of the many1' which Unger himself made famous long ago.
- First, then, he thinks that we have real choice, and that this is incompatible with the scientiphical view of ourselves. (For what it is worth, I am inclined to agree.) But he does not think that the existence of 'physically effective choosing souls' is incompatible with the physical conservation laws or other fundamental physical laws. He approvingly quotes David Rosenthal as saying that 'Since mental events could effect bodily changes by altering the distribution of energy, the conservation [of energy] principle does not preclude minds' having bodily effects' (p. 351). Unfortunately, Unger does not consider the implications of the second law of thermodynamics in this connection, and is, in any case, disarmingly candid about his own ignorance of contemporary physics. I do not think that philosophers of mind can afford such ignorance.
- Unger's second and perhaps more appealing argument for substance dualism can be condensed to this. For any physical object, such as my body or my brain or some part of my brain, with which I might be supposed (by the scientiphicalist) to be identical, the problem of the many2 teaches us that, really, there is no one physical thing that especially deserves the title of 'my body' or 'my brain' or 'my cerebrum3'. Rather, there are very, very many largely overlapping physical objects equally deserving of each of these titles, differing from one another only in respect of a few tiny parts, such as a few cells here or there. But there is indisputably only one thing that deserves to be called me. Hence I cannot be identical with any of those physical things. Indeed, those physical things are not really ontologically basic at all: they are, in Unger's words, 'ontological parasites' - parasitical upon the ultimate constituents of physical reality, whatever they might be (quarks, say, or perhaps superstrings). But I am not an ontological parasite in that way.
- Is this a good argument? I think it goes some, but only a little, of the way towards supporting Unger's kind of dualism. I think it probably does show that I cannot be identical with 'my body', or 'my brain', or 'my cerebrum4'. But, assuming that I do indeed exist, I think that it leaves perfectly open a position like Lynne Rudder Baker's, according to which I am constituted by my body or some marginally lesser part of it: see her "Baker (Lynne Rudder) - Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View", another work not referred to by Unger. It can be indeterminate precisely which body constitutes me without its being at all indeterminate which thing I am, given that constitution is not identity. Baker's view is a kind of 'substance dualism', but it certainly does not posit that we are immaterial souls without spatial location. Baker, incidentally, would roundly reject the suggestion that we are 'ontological parasites', on her view.
- Towards the end of his book, Unger indulges in some speculation about the possibility of our disembodied existence5, and tries to answer some apparent problems attaching to his kind of substance dualism (such as the question of how souls are individuated and the question of what 'quality' we can be supposed to have when we are asleep6 and unconscious). Much of this is very speculative indeed and will, I am afraid, seem downright silly to many readers (of those, at least, who persevere this far with the book). I think that the current resurgence in speculative metaphysics is probably a good thing for philosophy, but even here we can have too much of a good thing.
COMMENT: Review of "Unger (Peter) - All the Power in the World".
"Unger (Peter) - All the Power in the World - TOC"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, TOC
"Unger (Peter) - All the Power in the World - Preface"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Preface
"Unger (Peter) - The Mystery of The Physical"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 1
- A Brief Exposition of the Scientiphical Metaphysic
- Three Kinds of Basic Property and the Denial of Qualities
- The Denial of Qualities, Particles in Space and Spaces in a Plenum
- When Limited by the Denial, How to Conceive a Particle's Propensities?
- Can Particles Rotate, but Not Plenumate Bubbles?
- Simple Attempts at Clear Conception May Highlight Our Mystery
- Rejecting the Denial, but Postponing a Resolution of Our Mystery
COMMENT: Connect to "Unger (Peter) - The Mystery of The Physical and the Matter of Qualities: A Paper for Professor Shaffer"?
"Unger (Peter) - A Humanly Realistic Philosophy"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 2
- I Am a Real Thinking Being and You Are Another
- We Are Differentially Responsive Individuals
- Against Descartes, We Are Intermittently Conscious Individuals
- Our Realistic Response to Descartes Raises a Problem of Our Unconscious Quality
- Against Hume’s Restriction, Human Understanding Transcends Human Experience
- We Are Experientially Varying Individuals
- We Are Not Bundles of Experiences, Thoughts or Perceptions
- We Substantial Individuals Are More Basic than Our Thoughts and Experiences
- As We Communicate with Each Other, We Are Reciprocal Interaction Partners
- There Is Perplexity Concerning How We Commonly Communicate
- Much of the World Interacts with Us, But Doesn’t Communicate with Us
- We Often Choose What to Think About, and Even What to Communicate
"Unger (Peter) - Demystifying the Physical"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 3
- We Recall the Denial of Quality and the Mystery of the Physical
- Spatially Extensible Qualities and Intelligible Propensities
- Spatially Extensible Qualities Are Perfectly Pervasive Properties
- Intelligible Physical Reality and a Principle of Constrained Contingency
- Extensible Qualities as a Factor in the Development of Physical Reality: A Problem
- The Problem of Influence for Extensible Qualities in Physical Reality: A Solution
- Mutually Isolated Concrete Worlds and Distinct Eons of the Actual World
- Mightn’t the Recognized Physical Properties just Be Spatially Extensible Qualities?
- The Identity Theory of Qualities and Dispositions
- A Limited Identity Theory?
- Can There Be Spatially Extensible Yellow Entities that Aren’t Ever Propensitied?
- Can an Extensible Blue Body be Attracted by Concreta that Aren’t Blue-Attractors?
- Can an Extensible Blue Body be Perceived to be Extensible Blue?
- We Consider an Antinomy of Spatially Extensible Quality
- The Ontological Parity of Qualities and Propensities: By Contrast with Hume
- The Ontological Parity of Qualities and Propensities: By Contrast with Lewis
- What May We Learn from Our Demystification of the Physical?
- Remarks on What’s been Done and on What’s to Come
"Unger (Peter) - A Cornucopia of Quality"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 4
- The Qualities Most Available to Me Are My Own When Consciously Experiencing
- Our Power to Experience Promotes Our Conceiving Concrete Individuals
- Our Power to Experience Visually Promotes Our Conceiving Concrete Spatial Things
- Might Our Idea of Spatially Extensible Color Be Our Most Central Concept of Color?
- Our Power to Experience Auditorally Can’t Promote Such Full Spatial Conceiving
- Might an Extensible Red Object be Qualitatively Like an Experiential Red Subject?
- The Great Range of Color for Spatially Extended Concreta
- Contrasting Quality Families and a Sketchy Speculation
- Transparently Colored Bodies and Opaquely Colored Bodies: A Neglected Distinction
- Is this Neglected Distinction Philosophically Significant?
- Conscious Perceiving as an Aid to Fuller Conceiving
- Full Conceiving of Concreta is both Experiential and Intellectual
- Extrapolating from the Highly Experiential in Conceiving Spatial Individuals
- Conceiving Concreta All Qualitied Uniformly, but Propensitied Quite Variously
- Are Felt Bodily Qualities Well Suited to Conceiving Nonmental Individuals?
- How Well Do We Conceive Insensate Bodies as Pervaded with Tangible Qualities?
- Extensible Qualities, Experiential Qualities and Powers to Affect Experientially
- Why Our Idea of Spatially Extensible Color May Be Our Most Central Idea of Color
- We Focus on Substantive Metaphysics, not Natural Languages or Conceptual Relations
"Unger (Peter) - A Plenitude of Power"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 5
- The Idea that All Propensities concern Something as to Quality
- Power-directed Powers (Propensities with respect to Propensities)
- Power-directed Powers May Distinctively Distinguish Among Other Powers
- Propensity, Possibility, Accident and Probability
- Power-directed Powers and Probabilistic Propensities of Very Low Degree
- Powers are Nonconditional, including Powers to Acquire, and Powers to Lose, Other Powers
- Standard Scientific Thinking and Generalistically-directed Propensities
- Individualistically-directed Propensities
- Individualistically-directed Propensities and Cartesian Dualism
- Individualistic Propensities and the Intellectual Aspect of Our Conceiving
- Self-directed Propensities: A Special Case of Individualistically-directed Propensities
- A Human’s Self-directed Propensities with respect to Her Own Experiencing
- Can There be Any Concrete Entities that Aren’t Ever Propensitied?
- Scientiphicalism, Self-directed Propensity and Experiential Awareness
- Temporal Monotony and Temporal Change
- Propensity for Monotony and Propensity for Change
- Possibility, Accident, Probability and Self-directed Propensity
- Basic Concreta, Propensity for Annihilation and Propensity for Continuation
- Self-Directed Propensities with respect to Propensities: The Basis of Stable Monotony
- Thinking about OTHERONS: A Good Long-Term Investment for Substantial Dualists?
- The Confused Idea of a World’s Default Setting
- Time Without Change
- Do Our Reciprocal Propensity Partners Present a Cosmic Miracle?
"Unger (Peter) - Is Free Will Compatible With Scientiphicalism?"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 6
- A Few Points about Real Choice
- Free Will and Determinism, Real Choice and Inevitabilism: Not an Urgent Issue
- A Widely Disturbing Argument Presents a More Urgent Issue
- Real Choice (Free Will) Is Incompatible with Inevitabilism (Determinism)
- Is Real Choice Incompatible with the Denial of Inevitabilism?
- Our Scientiphical Metaphysic and the Currently Dominant Conception of Ourselves
- Simple Physical Entities and Their Basic Properties
- Reciprocal Propensities and Physical Laws
- Objective Probabilities, Random Happenings and Real Choices
- Can Inhering in a Field Help Us Have Real Choice?
- Can an “Infinitely Deep Hierarchy” of Physical Powers Help Us Have Real Choice?
- Radically Emergent Beings with a Radically Emergent Power to Choose
- Physical-and-Mental Complexes with a Radically Emergent Power to Choose
- The Scientiphically Supposed Causal Closure of the Physical: How Much a Side-Issue?
- Are Physically Effective Choosing Souls Compatible with Physical Conservation Laws?
- Are Physically Effective Choosing Souls Compatible with Other Physical Principles?
- Radically Self-Directed Power
- An Exemption from Natural Law Is Required for Real Choice
- The Real Reason Why an Exemption from Natural Law Is Required for Real Choice
- Apparent Scientiphical Incompatibilisms and Further Philosophical Explorations
"Unger (Peter) - Why We Really May Be Immaterial Souls"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 7
- Recalling the Problem of the Many1
- A Couple of Comments on that Comparatively Uninteresting Problem
- The Experiential Problem of the Many2
- How the Singularity of Experiencing May Favor Substantial Dualism
- Many Overlapping Experiencers, but only One of Them Now Experiencing?
- Some Cases of Singular Causal Resolution
- An Immaterial Experiencer’s Causally Resolved Singularity Is a Relevant Singularity
- These Are Metaphysical Matters, Transcending All Purely Semantic Issues
- These Problems Transcend Questions of Spatial Boundary: On Complex Complexes
- Problems of Propensitively Redundant Propensitive Contributors
- Our Experiential Problem Doesn’t Presuppose any Suspicious Identifications
- The Problem of Too Many Real Choosers
- Wholly Immaterial Souls Favored over Emergentist Physical-and-Mental Complexes
- A Singular Physical Manifestation of Many Choosers’s Powers to Choose?
- Do These Problems Favor Substantial Dualism over Its Most Salient Alternatives
- Some Less Salient Options to a Quasi-Cartesian Substantial Dualism
- Aren’t Immaterial Souls Really Just Eliminable Middlemen?
- Wholly Immaterial Souls Are Generated Abruptly, Not Gradually
- Our Own Souls and the Wholly Immaterial Souls of Nonhuman Animals
- Metaphysically Material Ruminations about Extraordinarily Different Gestations
- People and Nonhuman Animals Again: Might All Souls be Equally Powerful Individuals?
- Bodily Flexibility as regards Individualistically-directed Soulful Propensity
- Taking Stock and Moving On
APPENDIX: Beyond Discriminative Vagueness, Safe from Nihilistic Sorites3
"Unger (Peter) - Why We May Become Disembodied, But To No Avail"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 8
- Why We May Become Disembodied1 Souls, with the Deaths of Our Brains and Bodies
- Even while You may be an Immaterial Soul, Are You really an Existential OTHERON?
- Immaterial OTHERONS are just as Problematic as Material OTHERONS
- Metaphysical Asymmetries and Further Forms of Substantial Dualism
- Some Questions about Disembodiment, and about Reincarnation2
- Prospects for Disembodiment
- Even if We Disembodied3 Souls Last for Eons, What Are Our Prospects for Experiencing?
- What are Our Prospects for Reincarnation4?
- The Question of Disembodied5 Souls and the Question of an Almighty Creator
- Why Our Long-Term Prospects May Be Very Bleak Prospects
"Unger (Peter) - The Problem of Our Unconscious Quality"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 9
- Physical Objects Aptly Qualitied, Experiencers Differently Qualitied Just as Aptly
- Every Individual Is Qualitied, Including You and Me
- We Reconsider the Problem of Our Unconscious Quality
- We Notice How Heroically Descartes Heroically Denies this Problem
- A Quasi-Humean Substantial Dualist May Heroically Deny the Problem
- A “Compositist” Substantial Dualist May Similarly Deny the Problem
- Will Unconscious Experiential Quality Provide a Less Heroic Dualistic Answer?
- How Fully May Dualists Offer a Speculative Answer to the Problem?
"Unger (Peter) - How Rich Is Concrete Reality?"
Source: Unger - All the Power in the World, 2006, Chapter 10
- Sameness and Difference of Concrete Individuals
- Conceiving Nonspatial Simultaneous Souls, Always Precisely Alike
- Berkeleyan Idealism: Even if just Modestly Grasped, It might Be True
- Cartesian Dualism: Even if just Modestly Grasped, It also might Be True
- Substantial Individuals and Our Conceptions as to Such Concrete Particulars
- We Prepare an Analogy between the Properly Spatial and the Relevantly Spacelike
- The Hypothesis of Spacelike Extension: An Analogical Speculation
- The Deflationary Approach: An Apparent Alternative
- An Hypothesized Dimension Far More Like Space than Like Time
- Our Fullest Conceptions of Spatial Bodies
- An Analogical Conception of Nonspatial Souls
- Our Hypothesis Allows More Fully Conceivable Substantial Dualist Views
- NonDualistic Forms of this Hypothesis: Integrated and NonIntegrated Dimensions
- How Might We Nonspatial Souls Precede even Our Initial Physical Embodiment?
- Do Immaterial Souls Ever Change Propensitively?
- A More Complex Quasi-Emergentive Dualism: A Constitutional View of Souls
- Drawbacks of this Constitutional View
- Fusional Dualism
- Our Hypothesized Dualism and the Mental Problems of the Many
- Our Hypothesized Dualism and the Problem of Our Unconscious Quality
- Recalling and Addressing the Question of Nicely Matched Propensity Partners
- Our Hypothesized Dualism and the Question of Nicely Matched Propensity Partners
- Does Our Hypothesized Dualism Make My Current Quality Too Inaccessible?
- Two Cartesian Arguments for Some Spacelikely Substantial Dualism
- Is Reality’s Temporal Aspect Uniquely Distinctive?
- Why Are Our Concrete Conceptions of Such Limited Variety?
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)