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On the Plurality of Worlds

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ISBN-13: 978-0631224266
ISBN-10: 0631224262
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

This book is a defense of modal realism; the thesis that our world is but one of a plurality of worlds, and that the individuals that inhabit our world are only a few out of all the inhabitants of all the worlds. Lewis argues that the philosophical utility of modal realism is a good reason for believing that it is true.

After putting forward the type of modal realism he favors, Lewis answers numerous objections that have been raised against it. These include an insistence that everything must be actual; paradoxes akin to those that confront naive set theory; arguments that modal realism leads to inductive skepticism, or to disregard for prudence and morality; and finally, sheer incredulity at a theory that disagrees so badly with common opinion. Lewis grants the weight of the last objection, but takes it to be outweighed by the benefits to systematic theory that acceptance of modal realism brings. He asks whether these same benefits might be gained more cheaply if we replace his many worlds by many merely 'abstract' representations; but concludes that all versions of this 'ersatz modal realism' are in serious trouble. In the final chapter, Lewis distinguishes various questions about trans-world identity, and argues that his 'method of counterparts' is preferable to alternative approaches.

About the Author

David Lewis (1941- 2001) was Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. His publications include Convention (reissued by Blackwell 2002), Counterfactuals (reissued by Blackwell 2000), Parts of Classes (1991), and of numerous articles in metaphysics and other areas. Many of his writings are available in his Collected Papers.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell (February 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631224262
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631224266
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.8 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #325,039 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Pierce on November 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
It's obvious to me that some of these reviewers don't understand either what Lewis was doing in this book or the standard philosophical response to it. He wasn't arguing that there are multiple universes connected to ours in some way explorable through science. Those would be parts of this world, in Lewis' sense. The worlds he's talking about are possible worlds. They aren't actual. That is, they don't exist in any way spatiotemporally or causally connected with the actual world. And yet he says they're as concrete as we are.
Philosophers' responses to this view are incredibly interesting. They think the idea is nuts, and yet they have no way to resist the conclusion that he gives compelling arguments that his view solves numerous philosophical problems that no one has been able to deal with in a perfectly satisfactory way. This doesn't convince many people that his view is correct, but the response has been pretty strong among those who want to use his system without thinking that it's true. They call it a modal fiction, and the view is called fictionalism. This is becoming incredibly influential among metaphysicians.
Aside from all that, most metaphysicians today recognize this book as just incredibly fruitful and creative in bringing together so many different strains in metaphysics. He deals with so many problems in such a lucid way that the book serves to introduce many problems in metaphysics, making advances in the discussion even apart from the contribution of his main thesis.
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67 of 74 people found the following review helpful By S. Guha on March 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Lewis' work always produces mixed feelings in me. There is a long list of good things to be said on his behalf, and, so far as I can see, only one really bad thing. But the bad thing is bad enough to taint my otherwise unalloyed (and profound) respect and admiration for this superb thinker, quite probably the best philosopher alive, and almost certainly the best I've ever read. (Aaron, if you are reading this, you were right about your teacher; he deserves all the plaudits you kept showering on him, and for all I know he may even be right about the crazy things he says.)
First, the pros. Lewis offers a modal metaphysics that is a) technically brilliant, elegant, and well-motivated, b) capable of providing reductive analyses of a vast range of otherwise obscure notions, and c) the best game in town if considered simply on it theoretical merits. He shows how his modal realism can be used to analyze modality (necessity, possibility, and the like, as well as restricted modalities) and mental and semantic content, and to make room for properties and counterfactual claims. He shows how to dissolve the debate among essentialists and anti-essentialists using counterpart theory, how to avoid various apparently serious objections to modal realism, and how to understand the debates about de re modality and "transworld identity". He offers a clear account of ersatzism, especially of the linguistic variety, which (I agree with him in holding) is the only real alternative to his modal realism among the theories so far offered, and is as such clearly an inferior theory. He offers a devastating argument against "magical ersatzism", probably the most commonly held view on modality apart from linguistic approaches.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on January 26, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the book _On the Plurality of Worlds_, analytic philosopher David Lewis presents his case for modal realism (also called "extreme modal realism", though why it is "extreme" is questioned). As Lewis explains, "This book defends modal realism: the thesis that the world we are part of is but one of a plurality of worlds, and that we who inhabit this world are only a few out of all the inhabitants of all the worlds." Lewis will argue for this position based on the fact of the utility of modal realism for philosophy provides reason to believe that it is true (just as the utility of set theory provides reason to believe that there are sets), then he will consider the common objections to this position and argue against them. Lewis maintains that he does not provide an argument that effectively requires one to believe in a plurality of worlds, but only that he will provide a cost-benefits analysis of this idea. The idea of possible worlds is a recurrent one in the philosophy of Leibniz; however, Lewis does not mention him because he feels that any interpretation he might offer of Leibniz's works would be inadequate. David Lewis (1941-2001) who taught at Princeton was one of the more interesting thinkers in analytic philosophy and this book is certain to remain a classic and can be appreciated even if one cannot go all the way with Lewis in accepting his arguments for modal realism. It should also be pointed out that Lewis' arguments while often subtle can be followed with some effort and that he presents a very effective case.

This book consists of four chapters. The first chapter "A Philosophers' Paradise" lays the case for modal realism and argues that a plurality of worlds has utility in philosophy.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Boyden on October 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
Lewis argues that the semantics of modal logic are best served by postulating the existence of a set of possible worlds, so that our modal operators refer to states of affairs within those worlds. He argues by analogy with numbers that the causal independence of those worlds is no obstacle to their theoretical usefulness, and offers detailed criticism of several attempts to simulate modal semantics without postulating the worlds as really existing. His positive argument for his own view primarily involves looking at other issues in modal logic from the perspective of his modal realism, showing how his view can help shed light on those issues. His discussion of those issues is of great independent interest even to those skeptical of his modal realism.
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