Directions for first-time travellers to the unknown

May 27, 2005

There are several good metaphysics anthologies that have appeared recently, but for many purposes this is the best. Its coverage is extremely broad, historically and thematically.
There are ten parts, dealing respectively with the following areas of the subject: God; realism and idealism; being; universals and particulars; necessity; causation; time and space; identity; mind and body; and freedom and determinism.

In almost every part, the editors include a judicious mixture of excerpts from classical works of philosophy from ancient to modern times, together with important contributions by more recent philosophers. The only exceptions are the parts on necessity and identity, which contain only pieces written in the past 30 to 40 years.

Among the historical philosophers, Aristotle, Locke, Leibniz and Hume feature prominently. David Lewis is the contemporary philosopher whose work is drawn on most frequently, although David Armstrong, Roderick Chisholm, Donald Davidson and Peter van Inwagen each have more than one piece in the volume.

The balance and spread of the volume is excellent. But what makes it especially useful for students and their teachers is the fact that each part is prefaced by a substantial introduc-tory essay by the editors that discusses the themes covered in that part and the contributions included in it. These introductory essays are, on average, about ten pages long, so collectively they amount to a short book in themselves, guiding students through metaphysics.

The editors are sure-footed in their treatment of the subject and manage to convey its complexities and profundity in a clear and accessible fashion.

In every essay, they present a balanced account of opposing positions, identifying their strengths and weaknesses and the key arguments advanced for and against them.

Their approach is never condescending but, at the same time, they are careful not to assume prior knowledge on the part of the reader.

The reader is always addressed as an intellectual equal and the difficulties of the subject matter are never played down or glossed over.

For all of these reasons, I think that students coming to metaphysics for the first time, or perhaps with only a brief acquaintance with academic philosophy, will find this book particularly attractive and readable.

The book is described on the back cover as being “a complete introduction to metaphysics”, and I think that this description is fair and accurate.

It really would be possible to build an introductory course in metaphysics around this book as its sole core text, if necessary selecting some of the parts rather than making use of all of them.
Its breadth of coverage enables it to overcome a perennial difficulty facing teachers of metaphysics, namely, that not everyone agrees exactly where its boundaries lie in relation to other areas of philosophy, such as the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of science. Some philosophy teachers will feel that the topics of God’s existence, the mind-body problem and the philosophy of space and time belong, respectively, to these other areas of the discipline, while others will want to place them squarely within metaphysics. Both views are accommodated by this book.

Finally, I should mention that each part of the book concludes with some interesting study questions and a very useful guide to further reading. The list of bibliographical references at the back is an extremely valuable resource in itself.

All in all, I have only praise for this outstanding and very thoughtfully constructed volume.

E. J. Lowe is professor of philosophy, Durham University.

Metaphysics: A Guide and Anthology. First edition

Editor - Tim Crane and Katalin Farkas
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 770
Price - £19.99
ISBN - 0 19 926197 0

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