- Series: Cambridge Studies in Philosophy
- Paperback: 300 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 13, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521589487
- ISBN-13: 978-0521589482
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,660,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A World of States of Affairs (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy) 0th Edition
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"This book is a work of philosophy in the grand tradition." James O. Young, Philosophy in Review
"The book is simply first rate." Dialogue
In this important study D. M. Armstrong offers a comprehensive system of analytical metaphysics that synthesizes but also develops his thinking over the last twenty years. Armstrong's analysis, which acknowledges the 'logical atomism' of Russell and Wittgenstein, makes facts (or states of affairs, as the author calls them) the fundamental constituents of the world, examining properties, relations, numbers, classes, possibility and necessity, dispositions, causes and laws. It will appeal to a wide readership in analytical philosophy.
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Not that I agree with him very often! But he is a wonderfully engaging writer on philosophical topics. And in this volume he is recapping (and building on) some two or three decades' worth of effort in the construction of what he hopes is a plausible empiricist metaphysics.
He expounds clearly and lucidly on the sorts of things there ultimately are; whether there are universals; the nature of causality and scientific law; what empiricists should do with problematic entities like numbers and sets; the nature of possibility and necessity, and what in the world an empiricist can mean by either one; and any number of interesting side points -- always clearly, always interestingly, and always ordered by Armstrong's tremendous organizational skills.
(The title of the book, by the way, expresses his view that the universe consists of "states of affairs," a state of affairs being one of the following: (a) the possession of a property -- which he takes, I think correctly, to be a universal -- by what he calls a "thin particular," which is a sort of coat-hanger for properties; or (b) the obtaining of a relation between/among two or more such particulars.)
Armstrong has one truly remarkable practice that makes it easy for philosophical "opponents" like me to read and appreciate his work: he is always careful to state what he calls his "fall-back" positions, namely the positions to which he would retreat if he found out his present views are false. His own example (from the introduction to this volume): if he had to give up "physicalism" with regard to the mind, he would be driven to dualism rather than to materialism. (And amen to _that_.)
As Armstrong himself is clearly aware, this sort of approach is extremely helpful. It is a most congenial style of exposition, of course, but it is also a fine way to keep philosophical dialogue going between "opposing" philosophical camps: a dualist has a sort of "second-order" agreement with Armstrong, who is not actually a dualist right now but _would_ be one _if_ . . .
It seems almost irrelevant and even ungracious to add that I don't actually have all that many first-order agreements with him! I think, for example, that Armstrong is mistaken to regard all relations between "states of affairs" as external relations; I think he should have abandoned physicalism already; I think he has been altogether too much influenced by Russell and Wittgenstein, especially as regards "logical atomism"; I think his "thin particular" itself consists of universals; I think "direct realism" (with regard to perception) is attractive but ultimately untenable; and I suspect that if he examined the presuppositions on which his metaphysic is based, he would find himself committed to a much fuller rationalism. And so on.
But I confess Armstrong has made me think harder about each of these points. He defends his theses about as well as they could possibly be defended -- always, as I said, carefully stating his "fall-back positions." And his book is a workmanlike answer to earlier critics of analytic philosophy who didn't think it was altogether cricket for the young Turks to (try to) demolish speculative metaphysics without providing any positive accounts of their own.
Armstrong has written a fine book here, and it will undoubtedly be a contribution of longstanding importance to the analytic/empiricist literature. It can be read profitably, and will be enjoyed, even by thinkers who disagree with it. I offer myself as evidence in support of that contention.