During the middle of the twentieth century, maybe until about 1960 or 1970, it was generally agreed, by analytic philosophers, that pretty much all intellectually responsible philosophy was, quite as it should be, a discipline whose practitioners offered no substantial claims about the general nature of concrete reality or, at the least, none distinctively arrived at through their involvement with philosophy. This was in marked contrast with the natural sciences (and, presumably most markedly, with the more general of the natural (...) sciences, providing only that some of the sciences, say physics, should be more general than others, say chemistry.)[i] So it was, during the heyday of so-called “ordinary language philosophy,” the last period when Britain was, at least arguably, the center of philosophical influence, at least on the English-speaking world. It was a time, maybe the last time, that Oxford was the single most influential center of Anglophone philosophical activity, featuring such faculty as J. L. Austin and Gilbert Ryle, and (the somewhat more systematic) H. P. Grice and P. F. Strawson. And, it was a time - way back then, it was - when (the later) Wittgenstein was still a quite influential figure in the field, even if, perhaps, his influence was, by then, rather more indirect than in the just previous decades, when he was still alive. Or, at the very least, Wittgenstein was still, in those old days, far more of a then-currently influential thinker than a then-merely-historical-figure, a situation which has become the reverse of that, of course, during the last few decades. In a phrase at once nicely nostalgic and perversely ironic, those were the bad old days. (shrink)
Time and time again, I’ve observed that, over most of the last several decades, almost all the most salient analytic philosophers have accepted, at least implicitly, a worldview that I’ve called The Scientiphical Metaphysic or, in just a single word, Scientiphicalism. As least as far as this actual world is concerned, they’ve agreed, matters are, at least for the most part, quite as our shared Scientiphicalism has matters be.
Probably partly prompted by Saul Kripke’s very slightly earlier work, sometime shortly after 1970 there appeared certain apparently exhilarating propositions, primarily proposed by Hilary Putnam, and then, spurred by Putnam’s suggestions, offered by few other mainstream philosophers, none of them as prominent as Putnam himself, but each also a rather well-known analytic philosopher.[i] Flowing from these proposals, there came to be a whole new orthodoxy about how a thinking individual may, or should, (be able to) think about various concrete objects, (...) and concrete stuffs, especially (many of) those “external to” the thoughtful individual in question. How goes this new orthodoxy, this currently fashionable philosophical line? (shrink)
Perhaps more than any other philosopher, Saul Kripke fostered the impression, still so widely prevalent today, that mainstream philosophy, even as it’s recently and currently practiced, is a pretty substantial discipline. In this matter, Kripke’s great influence stems mostly from a single work, his Naming and Necessity, a short book based on transcriptions of three lectures (the heart of the book having been previously published, in a less accessible venue.)[i].
Just a few months ago, I finally finished my magnum opus - well, my Really Big Book, anyway - a tome whose creation had been consuming me for eight very full years. With my so recently having relinquished any very vital connection with All the Power in the World, it’s now hard, for me, to engage in substantial philosophical writing. But, that’s hardly the whole story. Even years before completing that book, I decided I wouldn’t try to supply this collection, (...) already on the drawing boards, with any intellectually ambitious Introduction - even if that might be much in vogue nowadays, as it just might possibly be. At all events, and for each of several individually sufficient reasons, in this large collection’s many pages, one thing you won’t find is any Introduction - none that’s intellectually ambitious and, of course, none that’s just so much perfectly pedestrian padding. (As James Carville might say, if he’d been advising me, “It’s the papers, stupid!” Or, as I’ve given the Democrats a fair sum of cash, over the years, while nary a cent to the Real Protector of the Powerful’s Privileges, maybe he’d leave out the “stupid.” Or, maybe he wouldn’t leave it out; I don’t know.). (shrink)
James Van Cleve’s contribution consists of a brief preamble and three numbered sections; in each he characterizes some position(s) of mine. In the first two numbered sections, when characterizing my positions, most of what he says is accurate. In the preamble, by contrast, and especially in the third section, there are misleading mischaracteriza- tions. First, I’ll try to remedy that. Then I’ll reply to some questions raised in his first two sections.
This bold and original work of philosophy presents an exciting new picture of concrete reality. Peter Unger provocatively breaks with what he terms the conservatism of present-day philosophy, and returns to central themes from Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Russell. Wiping the slate clean, Unger works, from the ground up, to formulate a new metaphysic capable of accommodating our distinctly human perspective. He proposes a world with inherently powerful particulars of two basic sorts: one mental but not physical, the other (...) physical but not mental. Whether of one sort or the other, each individual possesses powers for determining his or her own course, as well as powers for interaction with other individuals. It is only a purely mental particular--an immaterial soul, like yourself--that is ever fit for real choosing, or for conscious experiencing. Rigorously reasoning that the only satisfactory metaphysic is one that situates the physical alongside the non-physical, Unger carefully explains the genesis of, and continual interaction of, the two sides of our deeply dualistic world. Written in an accessible and entertaining style, while advancing philosophical scholarship, All the Power in the World takes readers on a philosophical journey into the nature of reality. In this riveting intellectual adventure, Unger reveals the need for an entirely novel approach to the nature of physical reality--and shows how this approach can lead to wholly unexpected possibilities, including disembodied human existence for billions of years. All the Power in the World returns philosophy to its most ambitious roots in its fearless attempt to answer profoundly difficult human questions about ourselves and our world. (shrink)
While well-known for his book-length work, philosopher Peter Unger's articles have been less widely accessible. These two volumes of Unger's Philosophical Papers include articles spanning more than 35 years of Unger's long and fruitful career. Dividing the articles thematically, this first volume collects work in epistemology and ethics, among other topics, while the second volume focuses on metaphysics. Unger's work has advanced the full spectrum of topics at the heart of philosophy, including epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language and philosophy of (...) mind, and ethics. Unger advances radical positions, going against the so-called "commonsense philosophy" that has dominated the analytic tradition since its beginnings early in the twentieth century. In epistemology, his articles advance the view that nobody ever knows anything and, beyond that, argue that nobody has any reason to believe anything--and even beyond that, they argue that nobody has any reason to do anything, or even want anything. In metaphysics, his work argues that people do not really exist--and neither do puddles, plants, poodles, and planets. But, as Unger has often changed his favored positions, from one decade to the next, his work also advances the opposite, "commonsense" positions: that there are in fact plenty of people, puddles, plants and planets and, quite beyond that, we know it all to be true. On most major philosophical questions, both of these sides of Unger's significant work are well represented in this major two volume collection. Unger's vivid writing style, intellectual vitality, and fearlessness in the face of our largest philosophical questions, make these volumes of great interest not only to the philosophical community but to others who might otherwise find contemporary philosophy dry and technical. (shrink)
It's been agreed for decades that not only does Determinism pose a big problem for our choosing from available alternatives, but its denial seems to pose a bit of a problem, too. It's argued here that only Determinism, and not its denial, means no real choice for us. But, what explains the appeal of the thought that, where things aren't fully determined, to that extent they're just a matter of chance? It's the dominance of metaphysical suppositions that, together, comprise Scientiphicalism: (...) Wholly composed of such mindless physical parts as electrons, you are a being whose powers are all physical powers, physically deriving from the powers of your parts and their physical arrangements. Scientiphicalism conflicts with your having real choice. Some fairly conservative alternatives to Scientiphicalism may allow for choice. Two are briefly discussed: On the further-fetched, you are a Cartesian mental being, a nonphysical being in powerful interaction with physical things. On the more conservative approach, you are wholly composed of physical parts, but some of your powers are radically emergent, including your power to choose. Finally, it's argued that, if you choose, you must be, to some extent, exempt from natural laws. (shrink)
In this quite modestly ambitious essay, I'll generally just assume that, for the most part, our "scientifically informed" commonsense view of the world is true. Just as it is with such unthinking things as planets, plates and, I suppose, plants, too, so it also is with all earthly thinking beings, from people to pigs and pigeons; each occupies a region of space, however large or small, in which all are spatially related to each other. Or, at least, so it is (...) with the bodies of these beings. And, even as each of these _ordinary entities_ extends through some space, so, also, each endures through some time. In line with that, each ordinary entity is at least very largely, and is perhaps entirely, an _enduring physical_ entity (which allows that many might have certain properties that aren't purely physical properties.) Further, each ordinary enduring entity is a _physically complex_ entity: Not only is each composed of parts, but many of these parts, whether or not absolutely all of them, are themselves enduring physical entities, and many of _them_ also are such physically complex continuing entities. (shrink)
For some fifty years now, nearly all work in mainstream analytic philosophy has made no serious attempt to understand the _nature of_ _physical reality,_ even though most analytic philosophers take this to be all of reality, or nearly all. While we've worried much about the nature of our own experiences and thoughts and languages, we've worried little about the nature of the vast physical world that, as we ourselves believe, has them all as only a small part.
By contributing a few hundred dollars to a charity like UNICEF, a prosperous person can ensure that fewer poor children die, and that more will live reasonably long, worthwhile lives. Even when knowing this, however, most people send nothing, and almost all of the rest send little. What is the moral status of this behavior? To such common cases of letting die, our untutored response is that, while it is not very good, neither is the conduct wrong. What is the (...) source of this lenient assessment? In this contentious new book, one of our leading philosophers argues that our intuitions about ethical cases are generated not by basic moral values, but by certain distracting psychological dispositions that all too often prevent us from reacting in accord with our commitments. Through a detailed look at how these tendencies operate, Unger shows that, on the good morality that we already accept, the fatally unhelpful behavior is monstrously wrong. By uncovering the eminently sensible ethics that we've already embraced fully, and by confronting us with empirical facts and with easily followed instructions for lessening serious suffering appropriately and effectively, Unger's book points the way to a compassionate new moral philosophy. (shrink)
This book presents, explains and defend an account of our identity, overtime that is both (a) psychologically aimed and (b) physically based. Not advanced as analytic, or as conceptually true, the account is meant to hold "only relative to the general correctness of our contemporary view of the world". Even so, it is explained why influential contemporary thinkers--Lewis, Nozick, Padfit, Shoemaker and others--have "vastly" underrated the importance of physical continuity to our survival through time.
The topic of personal identity has prompted some of the liveliest and most interesting debates in recent philosophy. In a fascinating new contribution to the discussion, Peter Unger presents a psychologically aimed, but physically based, account of our identity over time. While supporting the account, he explains why many influential contemporary philosophers have underrated the importance of physical continuity to our survival, casting a new light on the work of Lewis, Nagel, Nozick, Parfit, Perry, Shoemaker, and others. Deriving from his (...) discussion of our identity itself, Unger produces a novel but commonsensical theory of the relations between identity and some of our deepest concerns. In a conservative but flexible spirit, he explores the implications of his theory for questions of value and of the good life. (shrink)
In this short but meaty book, Peter Unger questions the objective answers that have been given to central problems in philosophy. As Unger hypothesizes, many of these problems are unanswerable, including the problems of knowledge and scepticism, the problems of free will, and problems of causation and explanation. In each case, he argues, we arrive at one answer only relative to an assumption about the meaning of key terms, terms like "know" and like "cause," even while we arrive at an (...) opposite answer relative to quite different assumptions, but equally arbitrary assumptions, about what the key terms mean. (shrink)
In these challenging pages, Unger argues for the extreme skeptical view that, not only can nothing ever be known, but no one can ever have any reason at all for anything. A consequence of this is that we cannot ever have any emotions about anything: no one can ever be happy or sad about anything. Finally, in this reduction to absurdity of virtually all our supposed thought, he argues that no one can ever believe, or even say, that anything is (...) the case. (shrink)