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Metaphysical foundations for science

3:AM: How does your account explain the link between universals and particulars?

EJL: I regard the ‘link’ between universals and particulars as being the formal ontological relation of instantiation (depicted by the vertical, upward-directed arrows in the ontological square). I contend that every particular instantiates (is an instance of) at least one universal (in other words, there are no ‘bare’ particulars). I take instantiation to be a fundamental and therefore unanalysable relation. (In that sense, I don’t think that the link can be ‘explained’, because it is so basic – but none the worse for that, in my view, since some elements in any system of ontology must be taken to be basic.) In fact, I define the distinction between universals and particulars in terms of this relation, as follows. A particular is an entity which has, and can have, no instances (other than itself, if we take instantiation to be a reflexive relation). A universal is an entity which has, or at least can have, instances (other than itself, again if we take instantiation to be a reflexive relation). (It is a matter for debate whether we should take instantiation to be a reflexive relation, though if we do we should obviously not take it to be an asymmetric relation. However, we could instead take it to be an anti-symmetric relation: a relation R is asymmetric if ‘Rxy’ entails ‘not Ryx’ but anti-symmetric if ‘Rxy & Ryx’ entails ‘x = y’. For many purposes it doesn’t matter which option we take.) Because I am an ‘immanent’ realist concerning universals, I consider that there cannot be uninstantiated universals – a view associated with Aristotle and also held, for example, by Armstrong. However, in order to accommodate, at least for the purposes of argument, the ‘transcendent’ realist view (associated with Plato) that there can be uninstantiated universals, I define a universal only as an entity which can have instances (other than itself). To this it may be objected by some philosophers that there may be universals which cannot be instantiated, such as being both round and square. To accommodate, if need be, such philosophers, I am prepared to modify my definition of a universal in the following way: a universal is an entity which either can have instances of its own or is wholly composed by entities which can have instances. Thus, if we want to allow that there is such a universal as being both round and square, my modified definition accommodates this view because this universal, if it exists, is wholly composed by being round and being square, and each of these can have instances – in other words, it is a universal because it is wholly composed by other universals. It is hard to see how there could be a simple (non-composite) universal which could not have instances, so this modified definition appears to be unassailable.
3:AM: The power (e.g. fragility) and categorical (e.g. squareness) distinction is something that we might have thought about in reading Locke I guess, but the contemporary discussion is pretty interesting too at the moment isn’t it, with people like Mumford, Bird, Ladyman, van Inwagen et al all having their theories. You think there is a distinction but not at the level of properties but at the level of predicates. Does this mean you think they’re just two different ways of talking about the same thing? And are you denying the existence of uninstantiated universals? And what’s the role of tropes in all this?

EJL: Many philosophers draw a distinction between ‘dispositional’ properties (‘powers’) and ‘categorical’ properties (‘qualities’) and, indeed, fragility and squareness would be taken by many to be paradigm examples of, respectively, a dispositional and a categorical property. I don’t like using the term ‘categorical’ in this context because, historically, a distinction has commonly been drawn between ‘hypothetical’ and ‘categorical’ statements, the former being conditional in form and the latter unconditional. This has the unfortunate effect of linking the ascription of dispositional properties to the assertion of conditionals – and, indeed, it is still commonly supposed that a statement such as ‘This vase is fragile’ entails (or is even analysable in terms of) some such conditional as ‘If this vase were struck, it would shatter’ (a supposition that was roundly attacked in an important paper by C. B. Martin). I prefer to draw a distinction between ‘dispositional’ and (what I call) ‘occurrent’ predication. (This mirrors Aristotle’s distinction between ‘potency’ and ‘act’, or ‘potentiality’ and ‘actuality’.) In natural language, one way in which this distinction is registered is in terms of (what grammarians call) the aspect of verbs (not to be confused with their tense). For example, the two present-tensed statements ‘This liquid dissolves salt’ and ‘This liquid is dissolving salt’ differ in respect of the ‘aspect’ of their verbs, and the first involves dispositional predication while the second involves (what I call) occurrent predication. This can be seen from the fact that the first statement, but not the second, is equivalent to ‘Salt is soluble in (or by) this liquid’, in which a dispositional adjective is used. In my view, any property (attribute) can be predicated either dispositionally or occurrently of an object, even a so-called ‘categorical’ property like squareness – although English grammar may partially obscure this fact because such properties are standardly expressed in English only by means of adjectives, not by means of verbs. Suppose, however, that we were to introduce into English the (intransitive) verb ‘to square’: then, for example, we could explicitly distinguish between, for example, ‘This piece of rubber squares’ (dispositional) and ‘This piece of rubber is squaring’ (occurrent), the former saying that the piece of rubber is disposed to take on a square shape and the latter that it is actually taking on a square shape. Clearly, this is a distinction that we should be ready to make, since objects often have a ‘natural’ shape which can be distorted under stress, as when we bend or stretch a ‘naturally’ square piece of rubber. The ‘natural’ shape is the one that is actually taken on by the object when it is not subjected to forces of stress. However, even though the distinction that I make between dispositional and occurrent predication is one at the level of grammar or logic, this doesn’t mean that I think that the distinction has no underlying ontological ground. Quite the contrary, in fact. As I see it, the ontological ground of the dispositional/occurrent distinction lies in the fact that exemplification (as I call it) has two different forms – recalling that exemplification, depicted by a diagonal arrow in the ontological square, is a relation between objects and attributes. I hold that an object can either exemplify an attribute in virtue of being characterized by a mode which instantiates that attribute (occurrent exemplification) or it can exemplify an attribute in virtue of instantiating a kind which is characterized by that attribute (dispositional exemplification). These two forms of exemplification correspond to the two different ‘routes’ around the ontological square from bottom left (object) corner and the top right (attribute) corner, one of these routes going via the top left (kind) corner and the other via the bottom right (mode) corner. More details and a logical formalism for expressing statements of these types can be found in my More Kinds of Being and Forms of Thought.
3:AM: You wrote Kinds of Being and then twenty years later More Kinds of Being which uses the four-category ontology work to bolster the original position. Is that right? This is your considered position on what there is isn’t it? So can you first give us an overview of the position you take and why you thought developing your theory of ontology was necessary to improve your initial presentation?

EJL: Basically, when I wrote Kinds of Being I was not yet persuaded that tropes – or what I prefer to call modes, and what were traditionally called individual accidents – need to be included in our ontology. Effectively, then, Kinds of Being recognised only three corners of the ontological square: those representing objects, kinds and attributes. At that time, I was prey to the common mistake of thinking that an ontology should not include both property universals (attributes) and tropes, and that these categories are in rivalry with each other as ways to conceive of properties. I then saw that, just as we have objects as particulars instantiating kinds, so we can also have – and need to have – modes as particulars instantiating attributes. Once this piece of the ‘jigsaw’ fell into place, the ontological square and its structuring relations of instantiation, characterisation and exemplification suddenly became blindingly obvious, and the four-category ontology could emerge in its full form. This was, for me, one of those ‘eureka’ moments that rarely happen to one in philosophical thinking, but which make philosophy so rewarding. Of course, I can’t claim any deep originality in any of this, since Aristotle had got there well over 2,000 years before, and other modern philosophers appreciated the importance of his insights concerning the ‘being in a subject’/’being said of a subject’ distinction long before I did. Where I think I have contributed something original to the notion of the ontological square is specifically with regard to the relation of exemplification, and in particular the idea that it comes in two different forms, dispositional and occurrent, corresponding to the two different ‘routes’ around the square.

3:AM: The ideas you have are prolific and rich so we can only look at a few of them, but there are some things you argue that are striking. So for example, why don’t you think that we can count all the red things that there are, but you do think we can count how many tables (for example) there are?

EJL: In order to count things – say, the things in a certain room – we have to be able to distinguish each of the things that we are supposed to be counting from all of the others, not least in order to avoid double-counting some things. That we means that we need to grasp the identity conditions of the things that we are supposed to be counting, i.e. we need to grasp their criterion of identity. But the term ‘thing’, although it is grammatically a count noun (inasmuch as it has a plural form, ‘things’), doesn’t have any criterion of identity associated with it. Anything whatever, of any kind whatever, is a ‘thing’, in the broadest sense of that term. Mountains, mice, and motorcycles are all ‘things’, but they are things of very different kinds and have very different identity conditions, conveyed by very different criteria of identity. So, provided we are told what kinds of things we are supposed to be counting in a room – for instance, all the tables, or all the tables and all the mice, or all the tables and all the mice and all the motorcycles – we can intelligibly undertake the task. But if we are just told to count all the things, or even just all the red things, we don’t really know where to begin, how to proceed, or where to end. Suppose, for instance, that one of the red things in the room is a red table. We could, I suppose, begin with that. But should we also count each of its red legs? And should we also count, say, each one-inch long (and each half-inch long, and each quarter-inch long, and each …) red cross-section of each of those legs? Should we count the red paint on the table’s surface (indeed, should we count its red surface)? Does the red paint even qualify as a red thing at all (or is it just some red stuff)? And if so, what about the parts of that red paint? Should we count each square-shaped red part and each triangular-shaped red part, and so on – bearing in mind that we can divide the painted surface into squares and triangles (and infinitely many other shapes) of infinitely many different sizes? It should become readily apparent, in the light of these considerations, that the request to ‘count all the red things in the room’ is not just difficult to comply with, but doesn’t really make any sense at all. I say much more about these matters in the opening chapters of More Kinds of Being. The deeper lesson, however, is that we can only individuate things as things of this or that kind: there is nothing that is merely a ‘thing’, without being a thing of some specific kind. And, of course, we may be – indeed, surely must be – in complete ignorance of vastly many kinds of things (even within a single room). So I don’t think my stance on the question just raised is really so striking after all, once it is thought through carefully.
3:AM: You also don’t think zero is a number do you – doesn’t this mean you’re going up against a whole bunch of philosophers of math to hold your theory together – and isn’t that risky? Why do you hold this thought?

EJL: What I’m really opposed to is the idea that the so-called ‘empty set’ exists. Many mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics do indeed identify zero with this supposed set. My problem with the empty set is that I really don’t understand what it could be. We are told that it is a ‘set’. But all other sets have members, which stand in the formal set-theoretical membership relation to the sets to which they belong. Indeed, intuitively, a set is just a ‘collection’ of some things. But how could you have a ‘collection’ which didn’t collect anything? The empty set, then, is supposed to be set, and in that respect just like any other set, and yet it is supposed to be unique in having no members (in the set-theoretical sense of ‘member’). But lots of things have no members (in this sense of ‘member’) – for instance, Napoleon and my left foot, since neither is a set. So what makes the empty set different from any of these other non-membered things and distinctively a set, even though it is completely unlike all other sets in the only way, it seems, that has anything to do with the nature of sets as ‘collections’ of a certain kind? Here’s an analogy: in another (non-set-theoretical) sense of ‘member’, clubs have members, but it would be thought a poor joke at best if someone said that they had founded ‘the empty club’, which was unique in having no members (not just no current members, but no members at any time, by the very rules of its constitution). So, since I don’t even understand what the empty set could be, I see no reason to believe in its existence. It has an even worse ontological standing than something like the golden mountain, which could at least exist, and whose distinctive nature we can understand. As for mathematics, it’s true enough that the zero sign, ‘0’, is invaluable for mathematical purposes, but that’s no reason to suppose that we have to take it as denoting some distinctive mathematical object. (Indeed, there’s a good case for saying that ‘0’ denotes nothing: but ‘denoting nothing’ surely just means ‘having no denotation’, not denoting a weird kind of thing, nothing: that again looks a poor joke at best.) The ontology of mathematics is really a matter for the philosophy of mathematics, not for mathematics itself. I’m not proposing to deprive mathematicians of their zero sign and debar them from using it for all the purposes that they do. Philosophers of mathematics may object to me, but then it is incumbent upon them to explain what they do understand the empty set to be, in a way which doesn’t beg the question against me by just presupposing that ‘the empty set’ is a meaningful expression.

3:AM: Parts and wholes is always interesting, to me anyway. We’ve had have Olson the philosopher with no hands. So what’s your take on this – do you have hands?

EJL: Yes, I think I have hands. (I’m inclined to echo G. E. Moore and prove this by demonstration: here is a hand, and here is another! No philosopher’s reason to doubt that I have hands could outweigh the conviction that this demonstration licenses me to have.) However, I very much doubt that I have a ‘hand complement’, that is, a part of me which consists of all of me except, or ‘minus’, one of my hands. The assumption that I do is a presupposition of puzzles of the Dion/Theon type mentioned earlier. There’s a big difference (not just in size) between my left hand and my ‘left hand complement’, and it is this: an exact but unattached duplicate of my hand would not qualify as a human being, but an exact but unattached duplicate of my left hand complement would qualify as a human being (a human being lacking its left hand). I don’t believe that a human being can have, as one of its proper parts, something that would on its own qualify as a human being. Philosophers like Eric Olson often deny that living beings have ‘undetached parts’, such as hands, in order to escape paradoxes like that of Dion and Theon. But this is overkill. That sort of paradox can be overcome by denying that living beings of a certain kind have undetached parts which, were they to be detached (i.e. unattached), would qualify as living beings of that same kind. This still allows me to say, in line with common sense and biological science, that I have a certain living cell as a proper part, because even if that living cell were to be removed from me and continue to live and so still be a living being, it would not be a living being of the same kind as me – it would not be a human being, just a living human cell.

3:AM: A really fascinating and important argument you make is about persons. You say that persons are not to be identified with living organisms? You think that ‘person’ is unanalysable, and so we can’t reduce it to something else. Is that right? Does that mean that biological science is irrelevant to understanding what a person is – which seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it?

EJL: I do indeed believe that a person cannot be identified with a living organism, so that I am not identical with the living organism that is my biological body, and this is because it seems clear to me that persons and living organisms have different diachronic identity conditions (i.e. different persistence conditions). Very plausibly, there are changes that I could survive but which my present biological body could not survive. For example, it seems plausible that I could in principle survive the gradual replacement of every part of my biological body (even the neurons in my brain) by some non-biological substitute. At the end of that process, my current biological body would no longer exist, but I would still exist, and that implies that I am not identical with my current biological body. This is not to say that I think that ‘person’ is unanalysable, though. I more or less agree with Locke’s definition of the term, and hold that a person is a self-aware, rational agent and subject of thought and experience. I don’t agree, however, with Locke’s proposed criterion of personal identity, which is usually construed as being a psychological, memory-based one. In fact, I contend that there is no non-trivial, non-circular criterion of personal identity, i.e. that personal identity is ‘simple’ or ‘primitive’ (quite unlike the identity of a living organism). So, it’s not the concept of a person that I take to be unanalysable, just personal identity. As for the relevance of biological science to our understanding of persons, I certainly accept that it has relevance where human persons are concerned, that is, persons with human biological bodies. (The mere fact that a human person is not identical with his or her biological body provides, it seems to me, no reason whatever to suppose that facts about that body are irrelevant to facts about that person.) But I also think that there could be persons with non-human and even non-biological bodies and, obviously, biological science would not be relevant in the case of the latter. None of this implies, incidentally, that I think that there could be persons lacking bodies of any kind whatever – disembodied persons. I have no settled opinion about that matter, and don’t really know what considerations might be able to settle the matter one way or the other. Incidentally, a thesis that I have argued for concerning persons is that they are ‘simple substances’, in sense of having no proper parts. (This isn’t my primary ground for refusing to identify human persons with their bodies, I should stress, since one premise in my argument for the simplicity of persons is precisely that they are not identical with their bodies.) So when I implied, in answer to the previous question, that my left hand is a part of me, I was talking loosely (by my own lights), since what I really ought to say is that my left hand is a part of the living organism that is my human body. However, it would have been confusing to put matters that way prior to answering the present question. Descartes is also often interpreted as regarding persons, or ‘selves’, as being simple substances, and more specifically as being simple immaterial substances, lacking all physical attributes such as shape, size, mass and even location. That is not my view at all. I believe that I am located wherever my body is located and have the same shape, size and mass that it has. I just consider that I am not identical with that body and do not literally possess, as proper parts of me, any of its proper parts. I call this view ‘Non-Cartesian Substance Dualism’. It may look crazy at first sight, but in fact I think that there are powerful arguments in favour of it. I hope that those arguments will at least be allowed a hearing. (I develop them further in a number of places, including my Subjects of Experience, Personal Agency, and More Kinds of Being.)
3:AM: As always, the work of metaphysicians such as yourself raises the issue of why we should heed you guys when we have science. Take your thoughts about natural laws, for example. Why can’t we just leave it to the scientists to decide what they are and how they work? “How can analytical metaphysicians know anything from their armchairs?” is the question people ask isn’t it? What’s your answer?

EJL: I’m happy to leave it to the scientists to tell us what natural laws there are, but not happy for them to tell us, purely in their capacity as scientists, what a natural law is. There’s a very big difference between these two questions. The first can be settled on largely empirical grounds, that is, on the basis of observation and experiment. But the second isn’t an empirical question at all. In fact, some sort of answer to the second question is presupposed by any answer to the first. Unless we have some idea of what a natural law is supposed to be, we can’t really set about trying to establish which natural laws actually obtain. Scientists will, then, inevitably have at least an implicit idea of what they take a natural law to be, but that’s no guarantee, of course, that this implicit idea is a sound one. And different scientists may well have different implicit ideas. That’s why we need to engage in some explicit metaphysical thought and reasoning to work out what would be a cogent conception of natural law – and this has been a matter of intense dispute amongst metaphysicians of science in recent years. None of this implies that scientists themselves are debarred from entering this debate. On the contrary, their contribution should be most welcome. But it comes at a price: they should at least acknowledge that what they are contributing to is a metaphysical and thus a philosophical debate, not some discussion in which they are qualified, purely in their capacity as scientists, to assume that their opinions on the matter are authoritative and constitute the final word. Philosophical debate should be open to anyone, but one can only take part in such a debate if one recognises, as every rational person should, that there is such a thing as a philosophical debate, which differs in important ways from purely factual debates. Unfortunately, this very simple and, on reflection, very obvious fact seems to elude a number of well-known scientists who, in the course of publishing best-selling works of popular science, have taken the opportunity to pour scorn on philosophy. They should follow the lead of their wiser and greater forebears, including Newton and Einstein, who were far from being unphilosophical in their thinking, and whose philosophical cast of mind contributed in a major way to the originality and importance of their theories. At the same time, however, metaphysicians should not presume to think that they can fruitfully pursue their inquiries in complete ignorance of developments in scientific theory. When functioning properly, science and metaphysics complement and invigorate each other, and both stagnate when they ignore or are hostile to one another. That’s one reason, I believe, why the 17th century was such a fruitful period for the development of both science and metaphysics. The greatest scientists of the period were also philosophers and the greatest philosophers were also scientists. Now it’s difficult for any one person to master both fields of thought, as Descartes, Newton, and Leibniz could. But we can still foster constructive dialogue between those fields of thought. And we should.
3:AM: Has imaginative fiction – stories or films – helped you come up with ideas?

EJL: Not I great deal, I have to confess, although I was an avid reader of science fiction when I was in my teens and twenties, and I do think that some of the free imagination, inventiveness, and open-mindedness of the best science fiction can inspire productive philosophical reflection, and that it did so in my own case once in a while. That’s not to say, however, that I place much confidence in the ‘method of thought experiments’ where fundamental questions of metaphysics are concerned. I suppose I might be accused of using precisely this method when, earlier, I invoked the possibility of gradually replacing biological parts for non-biological ones as a reason for denying the identity of a human person with his or her body. However, in that case I wasn’t merely relying on free imagination, since there seem to be more solid scientific and metaphysical grounds for regarding the replacement hypothesis as tenable, at least in principle. It’s certainly not at all obvious that consciousness and reasoning require a specifically biological substrate, and optimists in the field of artificial intelligence clearly assume that they don’t.
3:AM: Your views have been formulating for decades. It would be hard for anyone to spend so long thinking on issues and then realise that they’re wrong but I wondered if there are things that over time you’ve had to give up? How hard is it for philosophers to change their minds?

EJL: Lots of very good philosophers change their minds, sometimes fairly frequently: think of Russell and Putnam, for instance. I often change my mind, but in recent years only regarding parts (though sometimes quite major ones) of my overall system – a prominent example being my conversion, mentioned earlier, to an acceptance of tropes or modes. However, I am perhaps a little unusual in having an overall system, since system-building nowadays tends to regarded as a thing of the past in philosophy. Sometimes, I feel it would be refreshing and exhilarating to throw over my entire system and start anew, and indeed I would have no hesitation in doing so if I could see a really fundamental flaw in it. The real excitement in philosophy, for me at any rate, consists in having new thoughts and discovering new arguments, not in the building of a great edifice. I’ve just found that thinking systematically is most productive of new thoughts and new arguments, since there are endless opportunities for forging new connections between parts of a system.
3:AM: You’ve written extensively about personal agency: what is your position on mental causation and how do you square your libertarian view of agency with the existence of physical causal determination?

EJL: Well, first of all, I don’t think there is physical causal determination, at least in this world, however it might be in other possible worlds. Quantum mechanics seems to require us to acknowledge that there is an ineliminable degree of causal indeterminacy in the physical world. This, then, at least makes room for the possibility of libertarian free agency. (And it won’t do to object here that quantum indeterminacy can only manifest itself on the atomic scale, since effects at the atomic level can readily be amplified to make an impact at the macroscopic level, as happens whenever a Geiger-counter records the decay of a single radium atom.) Furthermore, I reject the common assumption that all causation is event causation – the causation of one event by one or more other events. In fact, I hold that all causation is fundamentally ‘substance’ causation – the causation of events by individual substances, that is, by objects possessing causal powers (causal dispositions). Objects cause events by exerting (or ‘exercising’ or ‘manifesting’) their causal powers. As for events, they are just changes in the properties and/or relations of objects. So, for example, some water causes some salt to dissolve, by exerting its power to dissolve salt. The effect here is the change in the salt’s condition, from being crystalline to being dispersed in the water – this is what it is for salt to undergo dissolution in water. Water has this power because its molecules possess a dipole moment which overcomes the electrostatic forces between the sodium and chlorine ions forming the salt’s cubic crystal lattice structure. The event-causalist would say something like this: the salt’s being immersed in the water (event C) caused the salt’s dissolving in the water (event E), and would very probably add that this relation between C and E obtains because events like C are always followed by events like E (the ‘Humean’ or ‘regularity’ account of laws). It is much more illuminating, in my view, to say that the water, by exerting the power it has in virtue of the dipole moment of its molecules, causes the disruption of the salt’s lattice structure, dispersing the salt’s constituent ions amongst the water molecules. This account reveals the casual mechanism at work in the process of dissolution, by identifying the causal power whose operation is involved in the production of the given effect. Once we see causation as involving the multiple agency of many powerful particulars, there is less temptation to suppose that the physical world is governed by some sort of Laplacean determinism, according to which the total state of the physical universe at one moment of time somehow fixes its total state at any subsequent moment. I regard human agency as just a special case of the agency that is ubiquitous in the world at large. In the human case, the key power involved is the will – which, like Locke, I regard as a ‘two-way’ power to choose or not to choose to perform some specific action, such as the action of raising one’s arm. That we have a power to choose does not, of course, guarantee that our actual choice will be successful on any given occasion, since opposing causal powers may frustrate that choice – as when one tries to raise one’s arm but finds that it is impeded by an obstacle. But, as I see it, one always has a capacity to make a free choice, even if one’s actual choices may be prevented from being successful on some occasions. (An unsuccessful choice is still a choice.) Physical determinists will say, of course, that our choices are always causally determined by prior events, such as the onsets of certain beliefs and desires of ours and ultimately by certain physical events in our brains (since that is what they take those onsets to be). They may even appeal to the notorious psychoneural experiments which are taken by some to be evidence for this view. However, the experiments in question and their proper interpretation are highly contestable matters, and pending much more solid evidence than this I see no reason to abandon my view. In fact, I suspect that the notion of the power of free choice is so deeply embedded in our conception of what it is to be a rational agent that it must be questionable whether any merely empirical evidence could constitute adequate grounds for denying that we have such power. For we need to be able to exercise our capacity for reason in judging the merits of any purported evidence for or against the existence of some phenomenon. So, if the question is whether certain empirical data constitute good evidence for the claim that we lack a genuine power of free choice, and yet the possession of such a power is partly constitutive of what it is to be able to assess evidence rationally, we would be involved in at least some kind of pragmatic contradiction in accepting the evidence as supporting that claim. In other words, a ‘transcendental argument’ of a quasi-Kantian kind seems to be applicable against any empirically-based claim that we lack a genuine power of free choice. Of course, none of this explains how, by exercising one’s power of free choice, one can cause some physical effect to occur, such as the rising of one’s arm – in the sense of revealing the ‘mechanism’ at work in such cases. However, it would appear that the revelation of a ‘mechanism’ is only possible where non-fundamental powers are concerned – that is, powers whose efficacy is explicable in terms of more basic powers (as the power of water to dissolve salt is explicable in terms of the power of water molecules to disrupt ionic bonds in a crystal lattice). The powers of fundamental physical particles presumably cannot be explained in such a way. So, if the will is a fundamental mental power, as it seems likely to be, we should not expect such an explanation to be forthcoming in its case either.

3:AM: And finally, for the metaphysicians here at 3:AM, are there five books (other than your own which they’ll all be dashing away to read straight after this) you could recommend that will take us further into your metaphysical world?

EJL: It’s very difficult to choose just five, but the following five would certainly appear near the top of any more extended list that I would choose: P. F. Strawson, Individuals; David Wiggins, Sameness and Substance; David Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds; Peter van Inwagen, Material Beings; and D. M. Armstrong, A World of States of Affairs. These are all philosophers and books that I admire immensely, even though I disagree with many aspects of every one of those books.

Richard Marshall is still biding his time.

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First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, March 18th, 2013.