Stephen Mumford Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press, Oxford ISBN: $ pages.

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1 Stephen Mumford Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction Oxford University Press, Oxford ISBN: $ pages. Stephen Mumford is Professor of Metaphysics at Nottingham University. Although much of his work is on Metaphysics, Mumford s research interests also include the Philosophy of Science, the Philosophy of Sport and the Philosophy of Language. Publishing extensively in the last years Mumford has co-authored many articles both in reputed philosophy journals and in collections of essays. His writings on metaphysics include A Powerful Theory of Causation, co-authored with Rani Lill Anjum in 2010 and the forthcoming Metaphysics and Science, of which he is a co-editor. Mumford s introduction is superbly well written and highly informative to the undergraduate who is interested in getting to grasps with metaphysics. Although it is concise the eloquent exposition and illustrative examples make Mumford s introduction to the subject a necessary read. Interestingly Stephen Mumford doesn t begin his introduction by explaining what metaphysics is, as it is a notoriously hard question to answer, but by tackling the fundamental questions of reality; postponing the definition of what metaphysics is until the last chapter. In the opening pages of Mumford s brief book he writes; Metaphysics is the subject among all others that inspires the sense of wonder in us, and for that reason some think that doing metaphysics is the most valuable use we could make of our time. (p.2) Mumford is implying man is, after all, a metaphysical animal, making a discussion of the questions metaphysics is concerned with a much easier way of introducing metaphysical thought. This short introduction is structured in ten chapters, each asking a particular question concerning particulars, properties, causality, possibility and nothingness amongst others. The first chapter of the book, What is a table?, poses the question of what surrounds us, and what is the nature of it s existence. Mumford raises questions such as: Is the table knowable only through it s properties? Is there an underlying essence which we know nothing about? Mumford introduces the notion of essence in order to explain the idea that, while the particular properties of a certain object may change (colour, texture...), the object remains the same. Mumford progressively introduces metaphysical vocabulary such as rational intuitions, qualitative and numerical identity and so forth. Mumford carefully introduces both Bundle Theory (which argues particulars are only bundles of properties and that the unknowable sustrata is unnecessary in order to account for the world) and the aristotelian theory which posits the existence of an underlying substance which instantiates the properties attributed to it. Mumford analyses both theories, using highly intuitive counterexamples, although he finally takes a metaphysical stance by stating the Bundle Theory is weaker, due to the fact it can t account for changes of properties and two particulars possessing exactly the same properties. Mumford s second chapter, What is a Circle?, introduces the notion of properties as something instantiated by many particulars. Mumford argues properties, such as circularity or redness or hairiness are independent of the objects possessing them. However, this intuition raises the question as to where, and how, properties exist. Mumford introduces Plato s theory of forms, describing this as an answer to how properties exist. Plato s heavenly realm of forms is described, in a particularly bizarre use of the term realism, as realism about properties. Mumford also considers the possibility of nominalism, or the existence of particulars and nothing but particulars. What, then, are properties for nominalists? Properties are names used to designate groups of similar objects. Mumford outlines a third view, which may solve some of the problems of both nominalism and platonic realism. This intermediate view is Aristotle s theory of forms. While Plato s theory of forms gave properties a transcendental nature, Aristotle argues circularity is possessed by real circles, albeit all past and present circles.

2 The third chapter of this book centres around parts and wholes. By asking questions such as: Is the whole the sum of the parts? What are complex objects? Do simples exist? Mumford discusses reductionism (the view that the properties of the whole are explainable by the properties of the parts) and emergentism. Using highly up to date examples Mumford points out some of the problems of reductionism, such as the inability to explain the emergence of complex properties not held in any way by the constituent parts. Mumford uses the example of a mobile phone, arguing that none of the parts that, properly arranged, make a mobile phone have the property of making and receiving calls in any way. Mumford, however, wrongly holds his example to be conclusive. It could be argued making a phone call is a complex activity, consisting in a number of individual functions which are held by each component. The fourth chapter tackles one of the fundamental questions in the history of philosophy, change. Having described the nature of objects (which are static in time), Mumford goes on to consider other things which exist in our world, events which are characterised by change. By positing questions such as, what is an event? Is a process a sequence of events?, one begins to grasp the importance of change in the world. Mumford shows numerical identity is a necessary component in understanding change. If one wants to show a man who had hair, lost his hair; one must first show the man with hair and the man without hair to be numerically identical. If they are not one and the same, no change has occurred. However, proving there is a subject for change can be notoriously hard when one examines large scale changes such as WWII. Mumford considers two theories, perdurantism (which posits the existence of temporal parts in order to explain change) and endurantism (which posits a underlying sustrata properties relate to). While perdurantists believe a temporal part of an object instantiates a property, endurantists must attribute conflicting properties to the same particular. Endurantists must relate such properties to time, making them, in some way, relational. Mumford employs a extremely good analogy to explain how perdurantism explains the world and it s changes. The world must be conceived as a cinema reel, composed of static pictures passed in quick succession, therefore explaining the appearance of change. Mumford raises his doubts about perdurantism when he asks, Is it really plausible that the seemingly smooth changes we see around us are just successions of static parts? It would be a jerky world, jumping from one state to another, (Page 42) The fifth chapter of Mumford s introduction deals with a related problem, What is a cause? Although causality is related to change they are distinct, not all changes are caused. The problem of causation is one of the fundamental problems of philosophy, due to the fact causality is one of the fundamental aspects of our world, it holds everything together. Understanding the causal relationships that hold in the world is also paramount for our understanding of the world, for our predictions of future events and ultimately for our survival as a species. Mumford reminds us of Hume s view of causality, which denies the possibility of us seeing causal relationships. Mumford also focuses on the negative approach to identifying causal relationships, when the effect isn t produced due to the absence of the cause. This negative approach, as Mumford points out, requires a metaphysical reasoning. One must posit a possible world (or a controlled experiment) in which the first action doesn t occur and see if the second event occurs. Mumford raises doubts as to whether external factors, possible worlds and controlled circumstances, have anything to do with the nature of causation. Mumford writes, the question of whether A caused B is about A and B alone and any connection there is or isn t between them. What is happening at other times and places seems like it ought to be irrelevant. (p. 51). Mumford further considers the relationship between general causal truths and particular causal truths and how general causal truths may hold even if it doesn t hold in all particular cases. For example: smoking causes cancer, although not all who smoke develop cancer.

3 The sixth chapter focuses on another interrelated notion, the passing of time. As Mumford points out, the existence of both causes and changes depends on the existence of time. The general objective of the chapter is to establish exactly what time is. Is it a thing in itself? Can time exist without change? or is time an extrapolation of changes? Mumford can t help resorting to the metaphor of time as a flowing river to raise questions concerning it s essence, although he is right to understand such metaphorical language as potentially misleading, due to the fact it focuses on spatial characteristics which time does not possess. Mumford s discussion of the nature of time begins by considering two theories. The first of them considers events to be first future, then present and then past. The temporal properties of events always occur, as far as we can know, in this sequence. Mumford raises questions surrounding this characterisation of the march of time asking: what happens to past events? do they cease to exist? Presentism, maintains that only the present is real. Mumford finds this view highly intuitive, due to the fact it seems slightly absurd to say Julius Caesar still exists, although with the property of pastness. However Presentism also raises prickly questions, such as: how long is present? It is just an instant? If so it is essentially non-existent. A third view Mumford considers maintains that both the past and the present are existent, although the future is not. Mumford continues his discussion by considering a rival to the conception in which time flows, this second conception holds that events stand in a certain relation to each other, such as before than... after than... Such relations hold for all time, unlike the properties of pastness and futureness the previous conception led to. Julius Caesar s assassination was before J.F. Kennedy s assassination and always will be, whereas J.F. Kennedy s assassination was in the future in 1961 yet in the past now. As the end of the chapter approaches, Mumford seems to uphold the aristotelian view that time is a sequence of equally real events, some of which have not yet occurred, although he does express a certain healthy skepticism about the property of futureness. Chapter seven, called What is a Person?, addresses this special type of particular, endowed with a mind. Mumford points out the answers raised in previous chapters about particulars persisting through time may not hold for people. Mumford understands person as denoting any being capable of the higher cognitive states, thereby avoiding the use of person which is synonymous with human being. While, in the case of inanimate objects, persistence through time is commonly attributed to having the same physical parts; for persons, psychological continuity is required in order for a person to be considered as persisting through time. The gradual change in one s beliefs, attitudes and memories accounts for one being the same person, although not all the beliefs one had as a child are present as an adult. Mumford, by reminding the reader of the identity problems posed in a particular episode of Star Trek, maintains personal identity must rest on both psychological continuity and physical continuity if one is to avoid counterexamples arising from cloning and duplication. The question is left, as most are (and should be) in Mumford s introductory work, open to revision and debate. Mumford also briefly considers Descartes s dualism and the nature of spiritual substances. Spiritual substances are non-material, and have no location. Mumford s main objection to Dualism is the fact it raises a big philosophical problem, how do mind and body (which are radically distinct) interact? Mumford sketches out two possible answers. On one hand, dualists could deny such a causation exists after all. On the other hand some dualists choose to attribute the problem to the notion of causality itself. If causality is understood as physical causality, as it usually, the problem of explaining causal relationships between physical and non-physical entities has an obvious cause, an erroneous concept of causality. Chapter 8 centres around the notion of possibility and what these possibilities are. Distinguishing between those things which are possible, although not actual, and those which are

4 impossible (such as jumping to the moon). Mumford introduces two rival theories on the nature of possibilities: the idea possibilities may be a part of the world and the idea possibilities are a fabrication. When thinking about possibilities it is useful to think a possibility in our world could be actual in another possible world. What, Mumford asks, is the nature of these worlds? Some metaphysicists hold these possible worlds are just as real as our world, although they are spaciotemporally disconnected from ours. (Lewis, 1973) On the other hand, one may think possible worlds are abstract entities which prove to be useful when thinking about possibilities. (Stalnaker 1987,2003) Mumford argues against realism about possible worlds by showing how unsatisfactory an answer it is. When analysing whether something is possible, one is concerned with a particular, not some other particular who I can know nothing about in a spacio-temporally separated world. Mumford then considers an aristotelian account of possibility as a recombination of the elements of our world. If one sees a black cat and a white dog one can say a white cat and a black dog is possible due to the fact we know black and white exist and we know dogs and cats exist. Such a theory is slightly generous regarding what possibilities exist as possibilities. Once again, the chapter is left open and inconclusive leaving the reader in need of more information and discussion. Chapter 9 is called Is nothing something?. This chapter centres around the ontological status of nothingness and negative properties. The nature of negative properties is a prickly issue, if one allows them it seems particulars have an infinite number of negative properties, whereas if one denies their existence reality seems to be under-explained. Mumford considers the idea that negative properties are entailed from the positive properties, without accepting these as existent. Another issue related to the problem of nothingness is the notion of negative causality or causality by absence. For example: A lack of oxygen causes suffocation in humans. As can be seen it is not the presence of something which is considered harmful but it s absence. Due to the fact causal relationships have long been seen as a strong indicator of reality, accepting absences as causes seems to grant them full ontological status. In order to reduce the impact of nothings in metaphysics some have said nothing is nothing but a word, however such a response poses a problem with the relation between language and the world. While positive facts, such as There is a chair in my room, posses a truthmaker, negative facts don t. While the first statement is true if and only if there is a chair in my room, a negative fact, such as There isn t a hippo in my room doesn t posses a truthmaker unless one accepts negative facts as existent. If one denies the existence of negative facts, due to the fact they are only words, one can t account for the truth conditions of these without accepting negative facts. Mumford, however, points out negative facts, or denials, needn t commit to any particular fact. One does not see the negative fact, as absences are probably uniform in appearance, but simply judges that something is not. The last chapter asks the following question; What is Metaphysics? Having led the way through an introductory discussion, Mumford remarks on the fundamental, although almost childish, nature of these questions. Mumford argues metaphysics may be seen as pointless (it doesn t produce palpable consequences) although it discusses some of the deepest questions concerning the nature of reality in a general and abstract way. Mumford comments upon the methodological differences between science and metaphysics, such as the inconclusiveness of observation in metaphysics. The non-empirical nature of Metaphysics is often the cornerstone which critics attack, condemning metaphysics as a meaningless investigation. Mumford points out mature scientific disciplines believe many theoretical notions which are not based on experience, much the same as metaphysics does. Throughout the chapter Mumford defends his discipline as meaningful and interesting. Mumford argues metaphysical investigation is based on reason alone, therefore distinguishing it from science, although Mumford holds progress can be made in metaphysical research through analysis of counterintuitive or contradictory theories.

5 Throughout the book Mumford introduces both sides of the debate, not conceiving it, as many authors do when writing introductions to subjects, as an opportunity to further one s views by denying the opposing view that valuable space in such short works. This brief introduction to such an obscure discipline is highly readable, yet remarkably informative. Mumford succeeds in making an almost impenetrable discipline accessible to the undergraduate. While only touching upon many interesting ideas, Mumford points to more complex introductory works as well as many books on the individual themes touched upon in his book. Works Cited: Stalnaker, Robert C. Inquiry. MIT Press, ISBN: Stalnaker, Robert C. Ways a World Might Be. Oxford University Press Oxford. ISBN: Lewis, David. Counterfactuals. Blackwell, Oxford 1973 ISBN: Mumford, Stephen. Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford ISBN:

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