Metaphysics: The Elements
Aune (Bruce)
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Back Cover Blurb

  1. Metaphysics is possibly the most basic, and certainly the most controversial, part of philosophy. The term was used by Aristotle's ancient editors for the group of treatises placed after the Physics in an early collection of his works; it covered three branches of study:
    • "the science of being as being" (ontology),
    • "the study of the highest kind of being" (theology), and
    • "the study of first principles" (universal science).
  2. Bruce Aune's Metaphysics: The Elements is a comprehensive introductory survey of the key concepts and problems in traditional and contemporary metaphysics, omitting only Aristotle's study of "the highest kind of being" because it is more appropriately confined to the field of natural theology. Though Metaphysics will serve as a textbook for middle-level students of the subject, it is not a neutral book. Aune presents and systematically defends a point of view that is naturalistic, nominalistic, and pragmatic – an approach that has the overall advantage of providing a coherent, structured view of the topics he discusses.
  3. Metaphysics builds systematically upon a preliminary discussion of existence, because comprehending such topics as numbers, classes, logical fictions, and logical constructions is crucial to an understanding of the development of metaphysics in the twentieth century. Aune clearly indicates the points at which metaphysical questions reflect upon issues in other areas of philosophy; included are discussions of
    • Davidson on interpretation,
    • Russell on existential quantification and fundamental existence, and
    • Descartes on the self.
  4. Written with simplicity and clarity, Metaphysics does not require an understanding of logical symbolism or prior familiarity with the topics discussed. Though the questions that Aune raises are largely philosophers' questions – universals1 versus particulars, the problems of abstract entities, objects versus events – a number of topics, siich as personal identity and the issue of free will versus determinism, are of interest to general readers too.
  5. Bruce Aune: is professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Among his publications are Kant's Theory of Morals and the textbook Rationalism, Empiricism, and Pragmatism.


University of Minnesota Press (2 Dec. 1985)

"Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements - Preface"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements

Full Text (Truncated)
  1. In his preface to Little Dorrit Dickens wistfully remarked that, having devoted many working hours of two years to his story, he must have been very ill-employed if he could not leave its merits and demerits as a whole to the judgment of his readers. I, too, feel some embarrassment in including a preface — even though I know, from the many revisions I have had to make, that I was very ill-employed during a depressing number of hours that I spent on the manuscript. The difficulty I experienced in preparing the text prompts me to say something about the aims I had and the strategy I adopted.
  2. I had two principal aims in writing this book. The first was somewhat personal: I wanted to work out my views on the main problems of metaphysics. Although I had thought about metaphysical issues for more than twenty years, taught a good many courses on the subject, and had a general idea of the position I wanted to defend, I knew that my views on metaphysical subjects were less determinate than I liked to admit. I felt the need, therefore, of clarifying my views in the only way possible for me — by sitting down at the typewriter, trying to formulate the basic issues as clearly as I could, and then working out solutions that I could defend in detail.
  3. My other aim was pedagogical: I wanted to produce a systematic book on metaphysics that would be understandable by the general reader and that would useful for students in the sort of middle-level course on metaphysics that I teach, from time to time, at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. My concern with the general reader was prompted by my late friend and tennis partner Peter Farb, who wrote illuminating books for the general reader on anthropology and natural history, and who urged me to write a book on metaphysics that he could understand. It seemed to me that a book suitable for sophisticated nonphilosophers such as Peter could also be suitable for the students in my metaphysics course.
  4. The students attending my course are advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students, and I wanted to have available for them a text that deals with the basic issues of metaphysics in a systematic way and that prepares them for advanced work on specialized topics. A systematic text is important, in my view, because many subjects of general interest in metaphysics, such as the mind-body problem or the perplexities about freedom and determinism, can be adequately discussed only if various issues in basic ontology are already settled, or at least understood. Of course, careful thought about complex or derivative issues often requires one to back up and reconsider one's position on fundamentals. Still, an orderly presentation of issues is, as I see it, particularly desirable in a subject like metaphysics. The difficulty I had in writing the book is at least partly owing to the difficulty of presenting issues in an appropriate order.
  5. Metaphysics is an ancient subject on which an enormous amount has been written. To make up one's mind about such subjects as the nature of particulars, the reality of attributes and facts, the possibility of alternative ontologies, and the nature of time, truth, and change (to name just a few), one should be familiar with the jungle of considerations that bear upon them. I have tried to help the reader gain this familiarity by discussing arguments and claims of numerous philosophers, past and present. Having lived through more than one "revolution" in philosophy, I am well aware of the attractions of finding some method that will sweep away all the problems. I now regard such methods as illusory, but the first step in applying them is, in any case, to discover what the problems are. I have done my best to describe these problems, and I offer my solutions for what they are worth.
  6. Although I am far from doctrinaire on matters of philosophical method, I cannot deny that my approach to metaphysics belongs to the tradition of analytic philosophy. The reader will quickly see, for example, that my approach to ontology owes a great deal to Bertrand Russell, but I have tried to show that Russell's approach grows naturally out of Aristode, the philosopher who wrote the first systematic treatise on metaphysics. Since analytic philosophers influenced by Russell have relied heavily on such technical devices as the so-called existential quantifier, I have made a special effort to come to terms with those devices early in my discussion. The elements of mathematical logic should be as familiar to undergraduates as high school algebra, but they are not — and I have therefore offered clear explanations of the few logical symbols that I introduce.
  7. I have used the manuscript of this book as a text for courses at both the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College, and I have found that the material it contains is not too difficult for able undergraduates. Still, some chapters are harder than others, and instructors using the book in undergraduate courses might want to skip parts of chapters 4 and 7, which are more technical and perhaps less interesting to undergraduates than the others. Chapter 2, on existence, is also somewhat technical, but the material it contains is crucial for understanding the development of metaphysics in our century, and it should not, therefore, be skipped as well. Knowing that some undergraduates are easily confused or intimidated by the sight of a quantifier, I have taken special pains to make chapter 2 as simple and straightforward as humanly possible. I am convinced that, even without the help of a teacher, an undergraduate who is willing to study the chapter will find it comprehensible. I feel some regret that the relatively difficult material of chapter 2 had to appear in such an early chapter, but the concept of existence is so important to the principal subjects of metaphyics that I could not reserve it for a later discussion. Undergraduates who find the chapter daunting can perhaps be mollified by the promise that most subsequent chapters will be less technical and more dramatic.
  8. There is one important subject traditionally assigned to metaphysics that I have not discussed; the existence and nature of a God or Supreme Being. I had several reasons for not discussing this subject, two of which are worth mentioning here. The first is that the existence of God is not generally covered in middle-level courses in metaphysics; usually, this topic is discussed in courses on the philosophy of religion, which I do not teach. The other reason is that theology is the part of metaphysics that, owing to my interests and temperament, I am least qualified to discuss. Fortunately, there is no shortage of books on natural theology, and the reader seriously interested in the subject will have no trouble finding books and articles that can be studied in conjunction with the matters I discuss here.
  9. Since I am more interested in being right than in being original, I have taken what help I can from other writers. Although I am an omnivorous reader, I am, unfortunately, a careless taker of notes; consequently, it is often difficult for me to say if I have been influenced by this or that writer in this or that discussion. One philosopher whose influence on my thinking is not difficult to identify is Wilfrid Sellars, but I want to emphasize that, much as I admire his work, I do not share his views on all subjects and I am certainly not (as some people seem to suppose) an apologist for his views. Thus, while I am happy to acknowledge my intellectual debts to writers such as Sellars, I have done my best to think things through in my own way, and I want to be understood as always speaking for myself and not someone else.

"Aune (Bruce) - What Is Metaphysics?"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 1

  1. Aristotle and the Origins of Metaphysics – 3
  2. Aristotle on Being – 7
  3. The Current Subject of Metaphysics – 10

"Aune (Bruce) - Existence"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 2

  1. Existence and Definite Descriptions – 13
  2. Logical Fictions and Logical Constructions – 16
  3. Russell on Numbers and Classes – 19
  4. Ontological Reductionism – 22
  5. Russell on Fundamental Existence – 24
  6. Russell on Existential Quantification – 27
  7. A New Problem about Existence – 30
  8. Existence and the World – 32

"Aune (Bruce) - Universals and Particulars"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 3

  1. Traditional Arguments for Universals1 – 37
  2. Problems with the Theory of Universals2 – 42
  3. Problems about Particulars – 46
  4. The Failure of a Theory – 50
  5. Attributes, Facts, and Truth – 52
  6. Conceptualism – 54
  7. Concluding Remarks – 55

"Aune (Bruce) - Linguistic Arguments for Abstracta"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 4

  1. Abstract Singular Terms – 57
  2. Criteria of Ontological Commitment – 61
  3. Propositions and Adverbial Clauses – 63
  4. Propositions and Logical Subjects – 65
  5. Statements and Beliefs – 67
  6. Possibilities and Fictional Objects – 70
  7. Other Possibilities – 72
  8. Concluding Remarks on Abstracta – 74

"Aune (Bruce) - Changing Things"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 5

  1. Continuants and Change – 77
  2. The Problem of the Ship of Theseus1 – 82
  3. Problems of Personal Identity – 86
  4. Memory, Personality, and Self-Identity – 91
  5. Descartes on the Self – 95
  6. Cerebral Commisurotomy and Survival after Death – 99

"Aune (Bruce) - Worlds, Objects, and Structure"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 6

  1. Continuants and Events – 105
  2. Events and Time – 108
  3. Time without Events – 111
  4. Space and Causation1 – 114
  5. Causal Laws – 120
  6. More on Things and Events – 124
  7. Metaphysical Realism and Descriptive Metaphysics – 126

"Aune (Bruce) - Meaning, Truth, and Metaphysics"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 7

  1. Adverbs and Ontology – 131
  2. Theories of Truth – 135
  3. The Semantic Conception of Truth – 137
  4. Truth and Meaning – 141
  5. Davidson on Interpretation – 143
  6. The Power of Charity – 147
  7. Truth and Metaphysics – 157

"Aune (Bruce) - Appearance and Reality"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 8

  1. The Immediate Objects of Perception – 161
  2. Berkeley's Criticism of Locke – 164
  3. Existence "In the Mind" – 166
  4. Skepticism and Phenomenalism – 169
  5. Kant's Metaphysics of Experience – 172
  6. Objections to Classical Empiricism – 176
  7. A Revision of Classical Empiricism – 178
  8. The Mental and the Physical – 181

"Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysical Freedom"

Source: Aune (Bruce) - Metaphysics: The Elements, Chapter 9

  1. Freedom and Determinism – 187
  2. Freedom and Unmoved Moving – 189
  3. Explanations of Purposive Behavior – 191
  4. The Libertarian Position – 192
  5. The Reconciler Position – 194
  6. Freedom and Morality – 196
  7. Two Conceptions of Freedom – 199
  8. The Freedom of Spontaneity – 201

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