Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Metaphysics

Synopsis

Accepting the traditional definition of metaphysics as the study of ultimate reality, Peter van Inwagen builds this textbook around three crucial questions: What are the most general features of the world? Why does the world exist? And what is the nature and place of rational beings in the world?In the informal but precise style for which he is known, van Inwagen surveys the classical answers to these questions and provides examples of how to think about them more clearly and deeply. He introduces readers to most of the perennial topics of metaphysics, including appearance and reality, identity and individuation, objectivity, necessary existence, mind and body, teleology, and freedom of the will. Metaphysics is engaging and provocative, and through it van Inwagen provides a lucid guide to the study of First Questions and a paradigm of philosophical exposition.

Excerpt

According to the Common Western Metaphysic, the world contains many individual things. Each human being, each living thing, each star, each atom, each building, is an individual thing. Even God, if there is a God, is an individual thing. But what do we mean by calling all of these very different things "individual" things? As far as dictionary meaning goes, we may say that an individual thing is a separate thing, a thing that is distinct from the rest of the World, but this statement does not really tell us very much, and its use of the word 'separate' has at least one misleading implication.

Let us first deal with the misleading implication. We would not ordinarily say that an object and one of its parts--a tree and one of its leaves, say--were "separate" things. But a part of an individual thing may very well be itself an individual thing: a tree and one of its leaves, for example, are both individual things. the sense of 'separate' in which an individual thing must be a "separate" thing, therefore, is not the same as the sense of 'separate' in which a leaf is not "separate" from the tree it is a part of. a leaf that is still growing on a branch, a rabbit's foot (undetached), and the roof of a house are separate things in the required sense of 'separate'. But that sense is rather unclear. This unclarity is the reason why the dictionary sense of 'individual' is not very helpful in explaining the metaphysical concept of an individual thing. Perhaps the best way to say what is meant by 'individual thing' is to supplement our list of examples of individual things by giving some examples of things that are not individual things.

First, a thing is not an individual thing if it is a mere modification of something else. For example, a wrinkle in a carpet is not an individual thing because it is a mere modification of the carpet. This use of the word 'modification' is a metaphysician's term. It may be explained as follows. One way to "modify" (or change) something is to add to its parts, as when we modify a house by adding a room. But we may modify a thing without adding to its parts: I can modify my hand by making a fist, modify a piece of string by tying a knot in it--or modify a carpet by wrinkling it. If something comes into . . .

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