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Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World Hardcover – October 16, 2001
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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.
Top customer reviews
That said, this is an incredible text. In it is a master covering an enormous breadth of new insights, commentary, and concepts. Nozick's premises are strongly grounded in objectivity, reality, and rationalism, however they are evolved by his intense understanding of contemporary science and mathematics. He utilizes an exploratory methodology to reach conclusions, which results in the reader being taken down "memory lane." In essence, this text is a series of concepts broken down into the traditional arguments on both/several sides of the debate, and then points us in his own direction, which is typically a clever and thoughtful synthesis of opposing viewpoints. To make the attempt to explain this with examples would be to belittle the works within and, frankly, I have not yet finished the work due to its density and original ideas.
I highly recommend this book to those interested in epistemological and metaphysical concepts surrounding the defense of objective reality and truth. What makes this text really worthwhile and unique, however, is its writing style and its utilization of modern physics to debunk the traditional arguments in favor of these concepts. Though you will still support the existence of an objective reality, you may not view objective reality as you once did after picking up this text.
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.
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.
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.