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Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World Hardcover – October 16, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Robert Nozick is a heavyweight among philosophers, and Invariances is just what one might expect from him. The book takes up a battery of core metaphysical questions: the nature of truth, objectivity, necessity, consciousness, and ethics. "My own philosophical bent is to open possibilities for consideration, not to close them," he writes. To that end, Invariances asks at least as many questions as it answers. Nonetheless, Nozick tackles his themes rigorously, making this a closely argued and engaging book.

Nozick is a political as well as theoretical thinker, and he is among the staunchest proponents of libertarianism. Here he widens his scope to investigate the metaquestions of philosophy and spells out his original conception of objectivity in the world. Nozick, who is Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard, writes with an analytic inclination that can be challenging for lay readers, but his arguments are always intelligent and intriguing. --Eric de Place

From Publishers Weekly

An ambitious, stimulating effort to revitalize the notions of truth and objectivity in a way that takes account of contemporary physics and biology, Nozick's latest book lays out an agenda at once bold and tentative: to propose "new and philosophically interesting" theses, but to aim only at exploration, not at conclusive proof. The Harvard professor's style is accessible, his approach refreshingly nondogmatic. A chapter on truth and relativism builds on quantum mechanics to yield the conclusion that truth is relative to time and place, but conscientiously makes room for the possibility that it is not. Nozick's proposal that truth "is what explains success in acting upon beliefs" is nicely nuanced, as is his argument that an "objective fact is one that is invariant under all admissible transformations." Despite the book's many strong points, there are weaknesses. Nozick is all too ready to accommodate philosophy to present-day scientific opinion, as if the former were the handmaiden of the latter. And although he is avowedly dedicated to opening "possibilities for consideration," he never considers the difference theism might make to his investigations. Even so, the book is a valuable inquiry into truth and objectivity in both the physical and mental worlds. (Oct.) Forecast: Nozick is a well-known philosopher within academia, and most university collections will be a lock for this title, as will many syllabi. Yet lay readers, if encouraged, will find it accessible, but requiring a preexisting commitment to the subject.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (October 16, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006317
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,188,186 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 14, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This brilliant book is Nozick's reply to Hawking's challenge to philosophers (or those claiming to practice philosophy) today at the end of "A Brief History of Time": why is the tail of science wagging the metaphysical dog (this image is borrowed from Nozick)? Physicists today are asking the good and serious questions in philosophy by making bold hypotheses, and thereby stretching metaphysical possibilities. Meanwhile philosophers are still largely enraptured by the illusion of necessary truths and certainty in all possible worlds. The idea of objectivity as expressed by the notion of invariances is a useful and enlightening tool Nozick has provided not just for understanding better the concepts of necessity and contingency (and how similar they actually are), but how they can be used to understand the way the mind and ethics work. A must read for anyone interested in philosophy. Nozick's clarity of thought, style and wonderful sense of humour make this a highly readable work.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful By William Sullivan on September 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Any Nozick book will leave you more clever than it found you and Invariances is no exception. As Nozick more or less says in his Introduction, this book is not so much about getting the correct answers to questions, as it is about posing new and interesting questions (or, better, posing old questions in new and interesting ways). The value here is that thinking about the world in news ways puts our current ideas in jeopardy (which is a good thing) and forces those ideas to step up to bat in order to remain our current ideas.
Invariances will make some ideas which you may have dismissed as foolish seem plausible (even though you'll still probably dismiss them) and force you to confront some new thoughts in epistemology, philosophy of science, and ethics. Nozick is an antidote to the not fully explored idea. What you don't know might hurt you, but what you half-know will.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Flounder on September 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a fine book by an important veteran philosopher. It's Nozick's last published book before his unfortunate death.
I also recommend: Williams, Truth and Truthfulness; Krausz, Relativism; Nagel, Last Word; Nozick, Philosophical Explanations; and Putnam, Realism with a Human Face; Searle, Social Construction; Searle, Rediscovery...Mind; Dummett, Logical Basis....
Chapter One is on truth and relativism. Nozick situates truth in space-time and discusses objective facts (and the attractions of a correspondence theory of truth). Chapter Two extends his discussion on objective facts; he brings in the philosophy of science. Chapter Three discusses modality (necessity and contingency), and the most interesting material here is on mathematical and logical necessity (see Dummett, Putnam, and Stroud). Chapter Four is on consciousness and the mind-body problem (compare with Searle, Chalmers, and McGinn). Chapter Five is a discussion on normative ethics.
I highly recommend this book. It is often quite clear and rigorous in parts.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By N N Taleb on March 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Philosophy has been under severe challenge from science, literally eating up its provinces: philosophy of mind went to neuroscience; philosophy of language to Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science,etc. This book shows that there is a need for someone to just specialize in the TRUTH, its scructure, its accessibility, its INVARIANCE.
Aside from the purely philosophical answers that scientists were grappling with, the book is like a manual for a new regimen in philosophy. It reviews everything from epistemology to the logic of contingency, with insights here and there about such topics as the observer biases (about computing probabilities when our existence has been linked to a particular realization of the process).
I am not a philosopher but a probabilist; I found that this book just spoke to me. It certainly rid me of my prejudice against modern philosophers.
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