Item description for Metaphysics (Dimensions of Philosophy Series) by Peter van Inwagen...
A revision of a classic philosophical study of the fundamental nature of all reality.
In this classic, exciting, and thoughtful text, Metaphysics, Peter van Inwagen examines three profound questions: What are the most general features of the world? Why is there a world? and What is the place of human beings in the world? Metaphysics introduces to readers the curious notion that is metaphysics, how it is conceived both historically and currently. The author's work can serve either as a textbook in a university course on metaphysics or as an introduction to metaphysical thinking for the interested reader. This second edition, revised though not fundamentally changed, includes the basis of the first edition with a new chapter on the nature of time.
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Peter van Inwagen is John Cardinal O'Hara professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he is the author of numerous works, Material Beings (1990), Ontology, Identity, and Modality: Essays in Metaphysics (2001), Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil (2004), Persons: Human and Divine (2008), and Existence: Essays in Ontology (2014).
Peter Van Inwagen has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Notre Dame, Indiana University of Notre Dame University.
Peter Van Inwagen has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Metaphysics (Dimensions of Philosophy Series)?
breadth and depth from one of the finest Feb 3, 2007
Peter van Inwagen writes here for the "hopefully non-mythical, general interested reader." This book is thus a guide to some broad topics in metaphysics written for someone with no philosophical background, but that is willing and able to think deeply. Of particular value is the introduction, wherein van Inwagen gives a characteristically cobweb-clearing explanation of just what metaphysics *is* (to a philosopher).
The topics (see the Table of Contents) cover pretty much the whole swath of metaphysics, and metaphysics is so wide- and far-reaching itself that each topic would be take several graduate courses to fully explore, just from a contemporary perspective. There is great breadth here, but also significant depth for the issues covered. Basically, for each topic van Inwagen introduces a main idea, then follows an argument to a conclusion (the one that he favors, naturally enough). But one also gets a strong sense of what other issues subside within, or are otherwise connected with, a topic. This book also serves as a terrific example of the author's general acumen for philosophical writing, in being able to navigate very clearly, lucidly, thoroughly, AND concisely through a chosen topic.
I just worry about this book's audience and whether it will reach a very large one. The thing is, it's written for an intelligent generalist and thus in the right tone for an introductory philosophy class, but also manifests perhaps more philosophical depth than your average non-philosophy-major undergraduate is prepared to tackle. I'd be very interested to know how often this ends up as a class text, though. It's also on just one topic, so for a general intro to phil. class it would have to be one book out of, say, three (the other two being in ethics and epistemology, naturally). The quality of this book, though, is such that that's how I'd be inclined to teach an intro class, if only to get as many facilely antirealist college students as possible to read the chapter on Objectivity.
Introductory, but not basic... Feb 13, 2004
Metaphysics often plays the role of modern science's curmudgeonly grandfather. While the relatively young discipline of science gains more and more prestige by showing us more and more of what empirical reality consists of and making larger and larger claims about what science will show us ("The Mind of God" one popular physicist proclaimed), Metaphysics is the hoary old guru that tugs on science's collar and squacks, "Look here, sonny, settle down, we don't have all the answers." Whether this explains the claims of some scientists that metaphysics (or philosophy in general) is redundant and irrelevant, who knows. What is known is that Metaphysics, and philosophy in general, is a place for questions that don't yet have answers. This book provides an excellent introduction to the field of metaphysics, and by the end of the book the reader will have a very good idea of its basic (but indefinite) scope and the questions it asks.
The introduction to the book lays the groundwork for philosophical thought. The author warns the reader not to expect to come out of this reading with any new "information" in the way a physics or biology textbook would teach you something concrete and almost unquestionable. Metaphysics is all about questions that dangle on the head of a pin, and the logic and methodologies one uses to sway the question to one side or the other (or maybe both or neither). The introduction basically admits that metaphysics is not a science and one shouldn't expect scientific knowledge from its study. This chapter alone should be required reading for all new philosophy students (I could have used it at the beginning of my studies some years back - it would have saved me a lot of second guessing and frustration).
The book is basically a whirlwind tour of philosophy that incorporates metaphysical questions and historical arguments. The monism of Spinoza and monism in general are examined. Bishop Berkeley's view of the external world (or lack of it) is put to various arguments. Anti-Realism is considered by the author almost incomprehensible (this chapter is pretty interesting). The classic ontological and cosmological arguments are picked apart (the notion of 'possible worlds' is also introduced) and finally subjects concerning human beings themselves are discussed at length: are we physical or non-physical things? Do we have free will? What is rationality? Each subject is put to the test: the author presents both pros and cons of all the positions one can take on the views, but ultimately the author has a side that he's arguing for. He's not shy about it, either, but he does present all sides fairly, not just the ones he's arguing for. Sometimes it's difficult to tell where the author will come out. In some chapters he seems to be arguing overwhelmingly for one position, when he is in fact for the opposite. This will keep you on your mental toes.
One almost shocking thing about this book is that the author presents his beliefs to the reader before he tears into the arguments. This is pretty rare in philosophy texts, and is very admirable considering that these confessed beliefs do not seem to interfere with the logic or reasoning of his arguments. I found that move pretty gutsy.
If you have a philosophy degree, likely the information in this book will not be new. Nonetheless, it is true that a degree is in no way required for reading this book. It was meant to be, as Van Inwagen says in the preface, "...a book that the - I hope not mythical - 'interested general reader' can pick up and read without guidance from an instructor." This doesn't mean that it's an easy read, quite the opposite. Following the logic of the arguments in many places takes patience. If you're new to some of the concepts, letting them soak in will also take some time. Regardless, this is probably the best introduction to the subject of metaphysics currently out there. Too bad about the cover; it makes the book like a dry overly academic textbook, which it's not. Even if you're skeptical about the value of philosophy, this book will give you something to chew on. But don't expect light and lazy rainy afternoon reading.
A Broad Look at a Big Topic Aug 14, 2002
Van Inwagen's (for now on, VI) work is a nice one to have if you are just getting into the field. As opposed to Michael Loux's work... which is more of a metaphysic-proper, this work focuses on three central questions: 1. What is the world like? 2. Why is there a world at all? 3. What is our place as human beings in this world?
The first question is answered by looking at issues such as nihilism vs monism vs neither. What about idealism? Is truth objective? Is there an external world? The second question concerns the ontological argument (Anselm's, Descartes', and a version of the modal-ontological argument) and the cosmological argument. VI, a Christian philosopher, does not find the arguments in favor of these (particular arguments) convincing. VI also has a nice treatment of this in "God, Knowledge, & Mystery." Thirdly, the question about our place in the universe concerns VI's argument for physicalism, incompatibilism, and a brief look at both the fine-tuning argument and teleological arugment.
Over all, this book was pretty good. VI writes pretty clearly and makes good suggestions on where to find more on a topic. One down side however is that he often articulates arguments provided in the past and will just say, "this was so and so's argument" instead of actually pointing you by reference to where the argument exists originally. So, you will have to read through VI's formulation of the arguments (in other words, assume he formed them correctly). On the other hand, VI is a good philosopher (despite my many disagreements with him :-) ) and I find it doubtful that he misrepresented any of the arguments that he attributed to anyone in particular. Good book! (Important Note: this site listed my review in two places: under the one that was edited by Van Inwagen and the book that is written by Van Inwagen. My review here refers to the one that Van Inwagen wrote whereas Todd B. Vick's review refers to the edited copy).
Flexible answers, rigid questions Jul 5, 2001
As the previous reviewer says, this is a clear and competent overview of academic metaphysics. It will help a reader understand the terms of philosophical debate. But if you are looking for insight into the great questions of existence, you may be disappointed.
The author appears to sympathize with scholastic theism. (An example of such arguments is: every being in the world we know depends for its existence on something else; this chain of dependent beings imples the existence of an Independent Being, God.) These arguments were a medieval attempt to prove God's existence from reason and thus to harmonize philosophy and theology. Most of modern philosophy is a critique of even the possibility of such arguments -- with the sad result that great questions themselves were marginalized in favor of studies in method.
Van Inwagen is a sophisticated exponent of these arguments, taking into account difficulties. He isn't foisting simplistic answers on the reader.
The problem, for me, is his lack of sympathy for new ways of asking the questions. He has apparently boundless faith in strict Aristotelian either-or logic and clear definitions as an engine to solve ultimate problems. He is out of sympathy with non-Western cultures and their ways of thinking; he draws sharp boundaries between "rational" humans and the rest of nature; and he seems to view recent non-linear, holistic findings in the sciences as a dangerous fad.
An Excellent Introduction to the Subject Aug 5, 2000
I've now read van Inwagen's "Metaphysics" three times, cover to cover, and have more or less internalized the book. It is one of the best introductions to the subject, bar none; indeed, this is the book that first made me realize what metaphysics *is*. This book is suitable for the general reader, even if he has no previous background in philosophy, provided he is willing to think hard. It is equally suited to the beginning student of metaphysics. Van inwagen characterizes metaphysics, accurately in my opinion, as the study of ultimate reality. The metaphysician, in other words, is the inquirer who seeks to say exactly how the world really is. As such, the metaphysician cannot be content with anything less than the strict, literal, and precise truth about all things. The metaphysician's subject can be organized succinctly around three questions:
(1) What is the world really like? What are its most general features, and how is it organized? (2) Why is there a world at all? Why does the world have the general features and organization that it has? (3) What is our place in the world? How, if at all, do we fit into the scheme of things?
(These are paraphrases of questions that van Inwagen puts to the reader in the introduction of his book.)
The book can be seen as an introduction to metaphysical inquiry, by way of actual examples of how metaphysicians have attempted to answer these questions, and more specific questions that fall under them. Thus, van Inwagen examines, among other things, individuality (monism, nihilism, pluralism, Spinoza's & Bradley's arguments for monism), externality (Berkeley's subjective idealism), objectivity (Realism and anti-Realism), the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments, in several different forms, mind-body dualism and physicalism, free will vs. determinism, composition and persistence through time, and personal identity. In the course of this inquiry, van Inwagen makes no effort to maintain a fine neutrality; he forthrightly states his own opinions and argues for them, examines and criticizes opposing views and arguments, and offers his conclusions. On some matters, he finds no solutions, but only enduring mysteries. The book concludes with a meditation on mystery, and a suggestion that metaphysical problems may be beyond human power to solve (or resolve), and that it is no surprise if that is in fact the case. I happen to disagree with these sentiments, at least to a degree, and I certainly disagree with many of van Inwagen's conclusions. But that's the point. Learning metaphysics isn't learning a set of established facts, it is learning how to form something resembling an intelligent opinion on matters metaphysical. If, by the end of this book, you have learned enough to *disagree* with van Inwagen intelligently, the book has done its job. It certainly did for me.