Keith Douglas' Web Page

About me Find out who I am and what I do.
My resumé A copy of my resumé and other documentation about my education and work experience for employers and the curious.
Reviews, theses, articles, presentations A collection of papers from my work, categorized and annotated.
Current research projects What I am currently working on, including some non-research material.
Interesting people People professionally "connected" to me in some way.
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Intellectual/professional influences Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via amazon.com. I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.
Professional resources Research sources, amazon.com associates programs, etc.
What is the philosophy of computing? A brief introduction to my primary professional interest.
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My educational philosophy As a sometime teacher I've developed one. Includes book resources.

Book Influences - Philosophy: Metaphysics

Title
Author
Purchase / Enjoy Cover
Comment
A Companion to Metaphysics Kim and Sosa, eds. The Blackwell Companions are like a pretty good absolutely huge philosophy encyclopedia you can fortunately buy in parts. Here's the metaphysics volume.
A Model of the Universe: Space - time, Probability and Decision McCall Another book by a teacher of mine. Storrs McCall's cosmology is my second favourite (to Vic Stenger's - see below), but I am not convinced it is consistent with general relativity.
A Realist Conception of Truth Alston I got a hold of this book after reading the author's interesting article "Yes, Virginia, There Is A Real World" (reprinted in the Kim and Sosa collection, below). I am of mixed feelings about this book. I do generally share the realist view (at least about most matters) with the author, but I somehow feel that the "alethic realism" is not robust enough: it doesn't seem to go far enough. His arguments against Putnam and Dummett are worth heeding, however.
A World of States of Affairs Armstrong The 1997 classic, summarizing a life of work of one of the world's most noted metaphysicians. (But see also his Truth and Truthmakers, below.) The dense, challenging book is a complete system of the world in a way, touching on properties, laws, classes, numbers, causation, etc. However, I am (11+ years after first reading this book as a student) still wondering about how the "methane molecule" example is supposed to work, and how states of affairs are supposed to compose. Admittedly, it might work if one changes which states of affairs make up the molecule, but, as it stands now: a methane molecule cannot be the sum of 4 hydrogen states of affairs and a carbon one. Why? Because this does not account for properties of the molecule and somewhat similar species of molecule. For example, the bond strength of the 3 hydrogen-carbon bonds in methanol is different from those 4 in methane. Moreover, the state of affairs formulation as it stands doesn't account for isomerism. Suppose it was bromo-chloro-fluoromethane which was being discussed. How does the mere juxtaposition/state of affairs idea allow for isomerism? One has to be able to appeal to other components of the total system, and that's a violation of Armstrong's Independence thesis, I think. Readers may also wish to consult my paper on Armstrong's metaphysics and philosophy of math, available on the papers page.
Carving Nature at Its Joints: Natural Kinds in Metaphysics and Science Campbell, O'Rourke and Slater (eds.) A collection (13 papers plus an introduction) on recent (2011 publication) at the the time of writing of this minireview work on kinds. Most of the papers are satisfactory as far as they go, though one on free will seems a bit out of place. However, to infer from that the volume as a whole is such would be to commit a fallacy of composition. I find that the continued (except in the philosophy of chemistry literature proper) cursory discussion of chemical kinds to be very distressing. For example, the question of "purity" and "defective" (as often comes up in biological contexts) as well as the "kinds of kinds" debate and many others could be greatly enhanced by careful engagement with what chemists claim about kinds. Moreover, even the question of whether kinds have to be eternal would get new life: in my view this view would result in probably only elementary particles being kinds, and that seems absurd in the light of the practice of chemistry. Kinds are relative to an environment, at the very least (as different temperature/pressure/solvent/timescale/sheer numbers of entities) etc. combinations make different chemical species possible. Even isomerism is so relative: at low enough temperatures one can isolate conformers, which presumably have different reactive profiles and hence are different compounds. This digression about chemical kinds hopefully illustrates that this lack, while no doubt a function of the papers submitted in a CFP, is still unfortunate. I look forward to further work in this particular area.
Causation in the Law (2e) Hart and Honoré There seems to be a general consensus that if one is interested in how causation is appealed to in understanding legal evidence, responsbility, etc. in torts, criminal, etc. law, this is this the place to start. A second edition, so some of what is said is a response to previous critics, both legal and philosophical. A challenge following how some cases are illustrating some particular principles, but a worthy one if any of those topics are remotely interesting to you. It is also unclear sometimes whether the enterprise is one of explanation or description and how much "reform" is intended. However, those matters aside, it still is quite the classic.
Color Ontology and Color Science Cohen and Matthen, eds. A collection of detailed, challenging papers on colour perception and "ontology" (i.e., about what colours are). These show there is much work to be done in this fascinating area, and that many received views are perhaps mistaken. Includes pretty colour plates to help in the discussion.
Essays on Actions and Events Davidson See my amazon.com review. This book contains many of the papers that form the basis for my MA thesis.
Free Will Pereboom (ed.) Collection of papers (ancient to contemporary) on the question of freedom of the will.
Freedom Evolves Dennett Dennett has written two monographs on the question of freedom and determinism. This, the second of the two, is something of a let down. He does try to engage the science that bears on the question, but the book doesn't have quite the same brilliance as his Consciousness Explained.
Is Data Human? - The Metaphysics of Star Trek Hanley The book is mistitled: it should be "Is Data a Person?". That said, it is a fun little introduction to a few metaphysical topics.
Individuals: An essay in descriptive metaphysics Strawson

A classic work from the heyday of language-oriented philosophy. (Some of the book is clearly philosophy of language, not metaphysics.) The aforementined issue is a quibble: the real weaknesses of the book come out in the book's subtitle. If Strawson is trying to analyze our conceptual scheme as it stands, he would have done well to at least stipulate who he means by "our". Secondly and relatedly, it is all done (as I said) through linguistic analysis. There may be other ways to explore our prescientific (etc.) conceptual scheme (I happen to think that action and institutional structures also reveal it, for example). Third, if the topic of the book really is "descriptive" rather than "revisionary" metaphysics, why does Strawson spend time arguing against revisionists like Leibniz? The gist seems to be that he thinks he can show that revisionary metaphysics is unnecessary - perhaps. If that's the case, he certainly hasn't shown it in general and it is somewhat inconsistent with what he says elsewhere.

These negatives aside, the book is valuable as an paragon of what philosophy was like in the English speaking world for much of the 20th century. It is reasonably well logically informed and fairly clearly written.

Laws & Lawmakers: Science, Metaphysics and the Laws of Nature Lange Lange defends the notion that brute counterfactuals ground the laws of nature, reversing the usual order of dependence. To me, the view is vitiated almost from the get-go by a too-language centered view of what laws are: the laws cannot be entailed by anything unless they are propositions or sentences, etc. This "laws by which I mean statements but not really" problem affects his view of Armstrong, too, where he talks about entailment relations as well. This is simply confused, for the reason stated. Explicitly, he does not want to consider anything other than logical necessity at work; a heroic effort but ultimately a doomed one as far as I can tell. On the positive front, however, the consequences he draws from this view are very interesting and are often worth considering in other contexts. For example, he discusses whether the impredicative nature of analysis says anything about causation. I'm wanting to say that the argument fails for velocity (due to my view that velocity and inertia aren't causal) but I am not sure what happens with acceleration, etc.
Life of the Cosmos Smolin Cosmology has more metaphysical content than some realize, though not in the way theists would like. Smolin's book is an illustration of this.
Metaphysics Hamlyn Basic survey of some metaphysical topics. As is typical for most philosophers, however, no science is connected much to these.
Metaphysics: An Anthology Kim and Sosa (eds.) A collection of important papers in metaphysics, including "Yes, Virginia, there is a real world."
Metaphysics: Innate Ideas McGilvray (ed.)   Course pack for a McGill course on the metaphysics of innate ideas.
Naming and Necessity Kripke Kripke's famous lectures (and additional notes) about how names get attributed and used and about various puzzles concerning necessity and identity statements. His last bit on the psychoneural identity "theory" is a bit too hasty, but these classics are worth reading. (The mistake lies in the begging the question against materialism by assuming that necessity is in some sense linguistic - he says that possible worlds are verbal, even if they are confusingly also described as counterfactual situations. They cannot be both without further ado.)
Nature of Causation Brand (ed.) Papers on causation to up to c.1976. (This is important as there has been a tremendous amount of work on causation since then.)
On Clear and Confused Ideas Millikan What are concepts? How do they get individuated? How do they "latch onto" the world? How do they relate to language? Millikan answers these questions and many others in a dense but clear book on a very difficult topic. The most interesting feature (to me) of the views presented is that concepts become non-languagelike. I wonder if this could be used to further sketch out a defendible view of nonpropositional knowledge without dubious uses of "that" clauses. This view comes out of analysis of our relationship to other animals and of the psychological properties of children. This psychobiological approach pervades the book. Warning: there are a few typos, and some familiarity with Milikan's other work would help to understand some of what is presented here.
On the Plurality of Worlds Lewis Lewis' famous defense of an extreme form of modal realism. I am, needless to say, skeptical. I don't buy his theory of properties to begin with, so I have little to go on. Lewis seems to assume that all worlds have the same "metaphysics" - things, properties, relations, etc. One can "quantify over" talk of these things too - "it could have been the case that there were no properties" seems to. He also assumes that classical logic "holds" at each world - in particular, that there are no "intuitionistic worlds".
Parts: A Study in Ontology Simons The monograph on mereology. That said, it mangles Bunge's - Simons does not seem to understand the (extramereological) use of Bunge's postulation of a null individual. Update: Simons has told me that he thinks that Bunge's conservation law is semiofftopic ...
Physical Causation Dowe This work is cited a lot and I have been intrigued by the problems surrounding causation for quite some time, so getting around to reading this slim book was a no-brainer. Dowe's theory of causation centers around conserved quantities (e.g., energy, momentum, charge - why does nobody ever mention angular momentum?). I am largely sympathetic to the account, but something about making purely inertial motion causal sounds wrong. It can be "begun" causally, since that change in state is invariant, but since inertial motion is a non-change in the rest frame of the thing in question it seems odd to call this a causal process. Dowe's theory also requires supplementation with a theory of persistence, but I think that everyone is in the same boat on that score, so no great worry. Of perhaps some interest to my e-colleague Vic Stenger, there's a discussion of one version of the time reversal interpretatio of the EPR "paradox" in here as well.
Process and Reality Whitehead Whitehead is credited with bringing the notion of an event into metaphysics. This work is all about that and related notions. Unfortunately the work is unusually turgid for a mathematician.
Process Metaphysics Rescher This book can be divided into two: (1) a defense of the notion that process is absolutely central to metaphysics and human thought generally; (2) a defense of the idea that the notion of a thing is in principle dispensible, and that in particular there are thing-less processes. (1) succeeds admirably and clearly (though somewhat repetitively, especially early on). (2) however is a failure. For example, Rescher claims that modern physics shows that energy is somehow detachable from things which posesses it, that "flows of energy" and such are what supposedly is. He even appeals to the misunderstood mass-energy (not matter-energy) equation to justify this view. This is all the more strange since he references Maxwell favourably, who showed how this view has to be wrong in the 19th century. (Dimensional anaysis would fail to work if this position were correct.) I am also disappointed that no serious mereology of events and processes was presented in the work - which would be a welcome addition and a necessary component to a process metaphysics to bring it up to parallel with a thing-oriented one.
Readings on Laws of Nature Carroll (ed.) More than a dozen philosophers and a dozen papers make for a good volume on the subject of the title. A wide variety of views are presented, but ultimately 3 camps can be discerned with some fruitfulness: a Armstrong-Tooley-Dretske camp, a Loewer-Lewis, and a sort grab bag of miscellaneous positions: I regard van Fraassen and Cartwright akin, but van Fraassen, at least here, does not have a positive account the way Cartwright does. (See his Laws and Symmetry etc. for that, presumably.) All the papers are relatively clear and stake out the positions well. However, a few make some very strange remarks as they go. I will provide an example through Cartwright's contribution. Cartwright puts some emphasis on her view that components to (net) forces aren't real, only resultant forces. Subsequently she thinks that Newton's law of gravitation is never true, since she reads it as holding that Ftotal = (etc). She should know better than that: a clear example of where one for vaguely instrumentalist reasons has to treat two forces as seperate is in the Millikan oil drop experiment. That is, one has to manipulate the electric field to precisely balance the gravitational field, and whence from there to calculate the magnitude of charge of the electron, etc. How does she understand this classic case? In the work I've seen, it has never been adressed.
Sameness and Substance Renewed Wiggins An important book updated after 20 years. Is it the same book? Wiggins even addresses this seeming joke, after a fashion. In it he defends a neo-Aristotlean, neo-Leibnizian account of "substance" in the classic sense of the word. Artefacts and non-substances are also addressed, albeit briefly. The goal is to understand the identity relation and how this understanding then affects other metaphysical issues. My current concern: he talks about how something (natural) is individuated by its laws of activity etc, a kind by its laws, etc. In what way is he understanding law?
Significance of Free Will Kane See my amazon.com review.
The Cement of the Universe Mackie A classic about causation. Has been debated, criticized and extended many times, but not merely of historical interest. Includes a few matters beyond metaphysics: semantics of sentences about causes, epistemology of figuring them out. Amazingly, Mackie has read Bunge's monograph on the subject (for which see on the philosophy of science page) but has not seemingly taken the lesson about different forms of "determination", to his potential detriment: it would be useful for Mackie's discussion of causal relata. A vibrating string is a good case, for example, which clearly illustrates the difference between a condition and a cause. As usual also, the book ignores relativity - this might lead to different conceptions of properties which might in turn affect one's views of events and states. (See my MA thesis.) But these shortcomings aside, it is a decent, patient work which should be on anyone's reading list who is concerned with the nature of the universe in a sufficiently general way.
The Future of Naturalism Shook and Kurtz (eds.) Naturalism is the philosophical position that all occurrences and events in nature (etc.) can be explained in terms of natural causes (in the broad sense) and laws. In this volume are short papers defending this viewpoint, expanding upon it, and applying it to philosophy and policy. A mixed bag, and many papers did not seem to say very much. A general consensus is that the social sciences are the area of the next engagement, though I would add that the neuroscience of will and related matters is also of pressing concern. This latter consideration is alluded to but not addressed much. Warning: at least one paper makes a rather severe scientific error: once again, the HUP has nothing to do with interactions produced by "measurement".
Theories of Truth: A Critical Introduction Kirkham This is a patient exploration of many of the views on truth and their many different projects. Kirkham is usually clear and even once in a while funny. For better or for worse, however, the book comes to no clear conclusion as to what viewpoints are best supported. We are left in a quandary; at least this stimulating book gives the lay of the land to start with. I must also emphasize that the surveyed theories and hypotheses do not cover (by any means) the entire field. (For an example, the "two notions of truth" thesis of Bunge in volumes 1-2 of the Treatise on Basic Philosophy.)
Timeless Reality: Symmetry, Simplicity and Multiple Universes Stenger Stenger and I have been e-colleagues for quite some time now. I heard him speak in Pittsburgh a few years ago.
Time's Arrow and Archimedes' Point Price Is the direction of time a relational property? Price thinks so. Read this and learn why.
Time's Arrows Today: Recent Physical and Philosophical Work on the Direction of Time Savitt (ed.) While the "recent" is not true any more (the conference where these papers were first given was 20 years ago), these are still an ecclectic and challenging works in the topic indicated in the title. One exception to the previous sentence is a paper which relates entropy increase to cognate notions in biology - an area of investigation I am otherwise totally unfamiliar with. Of the rest, William Unruh's paper is to me the most interesting, suggesting (like many) that gravitation is not a force and goes some distance analyzing why. I would like to know, however: under that conception, how are gravitons (or semi-equivalently, gravitational waves) understood? Warning to the causal reader: the papers in this collection are quite technical and require decent understandings of at least special relativity and the rudiments of some QM. Some general relativity is also very helpful (though lacking all but the basics myself it is hard for me to evaluate how much). The volume illustrates well that the dividing line between science and philosophy is as usual one of emphasis.
Treatise on Basic Philosophy, vol. 3: The Furniture of the World Bunge Part 1 (of 2) of Bunge's general metaphysics. Addressed are thing, change, mereology, spacetime, etc. Please note: this work is a system and thus has to be evaluated in part as a whole. In particular, his apparently oversimplistic mereology has many purposes beyond what is usual for such a system. Most needed feature lacking in the system: criteria for event fusion in the "horizontal" (spatial) direction.
Truth and Truthmakers Armstrong This little book can be read as sort of a precis and minor updating of Armstrong's work in metaphysics. The central theme to which everything is focused here is a precise version of the correspondence "theory" of truth. Discussed are perennial topics in metaphysics such as modality, the nature of time, properties, states of affairs, numbers, etc. As is the case for his earlier work the philosophy of math (see my paper on this subject) is the weakest component. Nevertheless, generally speaking, Armstrong's ideas are interesting and well worth exploring.
Universals: An opinionated Introduction Armstrong Armstrong is generally a sober and sensible metaphysician, though like many he fails to adequately consider what scientific research might have to say about certain questions. For example, with regards to the issue of whether two things can be in the same place at the same time, it might prove useful to consider the case of solutions, particularly ones where solvent and solute are in the same phase. (E.g., ethanol and water.)
What is a Law of Nature? Armstrong Armstrong's answer: Laws are dyadic relations of necessitation (including probabilification) between universals. Included, composing roughly 30% of the work, is a refutation of a mere regularity thesis. However, while I am sympathetic to Armstrong's reply, I can see his critics saying that the "necessitation relation" is obscure. In my view one has to simply postulate such a "fact" now, just like one has to postulate changes and things. (See my MA thesis.) But Armstrong does not address the question of "moving the lump under the rug" much.

 

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