Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World
 
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Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World [Hardcover]

Robert Nozick
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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.

From Library Journal

Nozick prefers raising questions to answering them. He criticizes competing positions without refuting them and proposes others without trying to establish them. Readers who see philosophy that way may be interested in his "forays" into scientifically influenced metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (including about 100 pages of notes), but those who prefer attempts to prove or to disprove are likely to find tedious the book's assorted unanswered questions, numerous parenthetical hints, and frequent indefinite suggestions to "compare" or "consider." Interested or not, readers will be put off by much diffuse and bulky writing, e.g., "An amount of unpredictability of behavior may not be a side effect" instead of "How unpredictable behavior is may not be simply a side effect." What gold the book contains only patient and robust professional philosophers can dig for. Robert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

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 is refreshingly nondogmatic. (Publishers Weekly 2001-08-06)

Nozick's new book...takes him away from politics and back to philosophy, his core field. In essence, he argues that the momentum of Western philosophy has been brought up short, not to say killed in its tracks, by advances in the hard and soft sciences, with ramifications he delineates carefully. (George Fetherling Vancouver Sun 2001-12-01)

Though written in his usual clear style, [Invariances] is in many ways a daunting book. It is rich in detail and breathtaking in sweep. But it is not, as Mr. Nozick himself warns us, systematic. Based on his John Locke lectures at Oxford University in 1997 and on other lectures elsewhere, its five parts explore relativism and truth, objectivity, necessity, consciousness and ethics...Philosophy begins in wonder, [Nozick] writes at the end, with a silent nod to A.N. Whitehead. Indeed, Mr. Nozick had a Romantic streak, both in his Utopian vision of society and in his conduct of philosophy. But this Byronic restlessness was the fault of his virtues: rare fluency and audacity--a fearless readiness to follow an idea where it led. Like any endeavor, philosophy needs explorers as well as mapmakers. As Mr. Nozick liked to say, there is room for words that are not last words. (The Economist 2002-02-02)

Robert Nozick's intellectual energy is a thing of wonder. In Invariances he ranges copiously over relativity theory and quantum theory, cosmology, modal logic, topology, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, decision theory, economics, and even Soviet history--not to mention his strictly philosophical forays into the nature of truth, objectivity, necessity, consciousness, and ethics. (Colin McGinn New York Review of Books 2002-06-27)

Drawing on contemporary work in physics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, economic and political theory, as well as an extremely wide range of philosophical sources, Nozick takes up issues about truth, about the objectivity of science, about the metaphysics of necessity, about consciousness, and, finally, about the status of ethics. Again and again, he will begin with a problem, suggest a line of approach to it, and then follow that line in imaginative and often unanticipated ways until he has outlined the new possibilities he promised. The discussion is often dazzling and provocative…The ideas…are expressed with Nozick's characteristic clarity and panache…[Invariances is] remarkable for its imagination and philosophical zest. We are fortunate to have so many rich and brilliant discussions of central philosophical issues. (Philip Kitcher Ethics 2004-01-01)

It is a philosophical book in the truest sense of the word…[Robert Nozick] capitalizes on his impressive knowledge of twentieth-century developments in epistemology, in methodology and philosophy of science, and in science itself. And he confronts the uncertainties those developments have led us into head on without in the least being sentimental about it. This is not a book about chess, this is chess itself, drawing on the immense reservoir of games played and documented during the last hundred years…This book and each paragraph in it is the strongest antidote to the current spread of slides-thinking I have been confronted with in years. Which does not imply that I have gained much knowledge or wisdom by reading it. That is because even the illustrations and factual evidence presuppose too intimate an acquaintance with the scientific context and because it is not offering wisdom -- it is offering an exercise in working with wisdom, which is something else entirely. Philosophy begins in wonder, according to Aristotle. (Jos Leys Ethical Perspectives)

From the Back Cover

Excerpts from Robert Nozick's Invariances Necessary truths are invariant across all possible worlds, contingent ones across only some. No wonder necessity lures philosophers. It is the flame, the philosopher the moth. Our intuitions that certain statements are necessary do not powerfully support this claim when natural selection would produce strong intuitions of their self-evidence, even were these statements (only) contingently true. Contemporary philosophers who give great weight to intuitions need to offer some account of why such intuitions are reliable and are to be trusted. Of course, if the purpose of such philosophy is merely to codify and systematize the intuitions that (for whatever reason) are held, then a philosophy built upon intuitions will need no further basis. And it will have no further validity. You might think that an insight into metaphysical impossibility could save the physicists much useless work by thereby excluding something as physically possible. Things seem to have worked in the opposite direction, though. Driven by a need to explain strange data, physicists formulate theories that countenance what previously was held to be metaphysically impossible. . . The physical tail wags the metaphysical dog. Why is there an objective world? Within evolutionary cosmology scientific laws might be viewed as the heritable structure of a universe, akin to what in biology would be an organism's genetic endowment. . . Suppose that the reproductive process of a universe produces transformed offspring universes that differ from their parent. The greater the transformations that a law is invariant under, and the wider their number, the greater is that law's heritability. The vast majority of the universes that exist through the processes of evolutionary cosmology, therefore, will exhibit laws that are invariant under a wide range of significant transformations. Such invariance, we have seen, is exactly what constitutes objectiveness. Evolutionary cosmology gives us objective worlds.

About the Author

Robert Nozick was Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University. His book Anarchy, State, and Utopia received a National Book Award.
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