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Mellor Real Metaphysics Review

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D. H. Mellor

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2003.11.13

Review of

Real Metaphysics

Edited by Hallvard Lillehammer and Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra
Routledge, 2003, viii + 248pp.

This festschrift appears on the occasion of Hugh Mellor's
transition from Professor to Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at
Cambridge University. The edition contains a brief academic and
intellectual biography (pp.1-2) as well as a comprehensive
bibliography (pp.239-45) of Mellor. The core of the book consists in
a dozen substantive essays that have been contributed by Mellor's
"colleagues, mentors and students" (his own characterization, p.
212). The contributors and their topics are (in order of appearance)
as follows: David Armstrong (truthmakers for modal truths), David
Lewis and Gideon Rosen (truthmakers for contingent truths); Peter
Smith (deflationism about truth and inflationism about facts); Chris
Daly (truth and communication); Tim Crane (subjective facts) Frank
Jackson (the conceptual dimension of physicalism); Paul Noordhof
(mental causation and epiphenomenalism); Peter Menzies (the ontology
of causation); Issac Levi (dispositions and conditionals); Alexander
Bird (the essentiality of dispositional properties); Alexander Koslow
(the reduction of possibilities to nomological explanations); Gonzalo
Rodriguez-Pereyra (the relational theory of change) and Nathan
Oaklander (presentism). In keeping with tradition, Hugh Mellor
replies to the contributors, and a concise summary of the contents of
the papers and of Mellor's replies to them are given in the brief
editorial introduction (pp.2-11).

By way of an incidental observation, I note that there is some
evidence here of a conscious ideological positioning of Mellor and
his work. The editors have given the festschrift a title that lends
itself to interpretation as a provocative claim about what really
counts as metaphysics. Perhaps no more than an innocent hybrid was
intended (Mellor being the author of "Real Time" and "Metaphysical
Matters") but, even if so, one might imagine that Hugh Mellor would
not be too disturbed by the unintended connotation. The editors (who
are, of course, philosophers in the Cambridge tradition) also
congratulate Mellor on remaining "faithful to the Cambridge tradition
of straight thinking, clear writing and sharp argument" (p.1). The
curious reader might be drawn to speculate about where faux
metaphysics is practiced or about which other "traditions" have no
such claims on the aforementioned philosophical virtues. But on with
the main business.

The standard of papers throughout the volume is high and many are
likely to become important points of reference in the subjects that
they deal with. However, it is often the case with editions in this
style that a distinctive kind of illumination is generated by the
replies, and Mellor's replies here present a very informative picture
of his overall philosophical position and temperament. The forum of
the reply is of course useful in allowing Mellor the chance to
correct misconceptions about his positions and to give his own
version of how his own position relates to that of the author. But in
this forum we also find out what Mellor thinks is important in the
papers and even - occasionally - that he has changed his position and
why. I think that it is this aspect of the edition which is most
usefully sketched in a review.

David Armstrong ("Truthmakers for modal truths") and David Lewis
("Things qua Truthmakers" and its Postscript, co-written with Gideon
Rosen) both attempt to advance the project of finding truthmakers for
certain truths. Armstrong's central proposal is that whatever is a
truthmaker for p, where p is contingently true, will also be a
truthmaker for the truth that it is possible that not-p. Lewis's
central proposal is that counterpart theory allows propositions
predicating contingent features to individuals (Possum is black) to
have the individuals in question (Possum) as truthmakers. Armstrong
is motivated in his search by acceptance of the working hypothesis
that every truth has a truthmaker. And the pivotal problem in both
the Armstrong and the Lewis paper is how to find truthmakers (for the
propositions that are their respective concerns) that satisfy the
requirement of necessitation - necessarily if the truthmaker exists
then the proposition in question is true. Mellor (pp.212-16) chooses
not to engage his interlocutors much in the detail of their papers
since, we find, he parts ways with them at a relatively early stage
in the dialectic. Specifically, Mellor rejects both the principle
that every truth has a truthmaker (pace Armstrong) and the
requirement of necessitation (pace Armstrong and Lewis). But what we
do learn from Mellor's reply is how his disagreement with Armstrong
on truthmaking is relatively superficial while his disagreements with
Lewis are deep. Thus Mellor sides with Armstrong against Lewis in
insisting upon actualism and non-mereological composition. However,
the allegiances do not always fall this way.

In his reply (pp.216-17) to Peter Smith ("Deflationism: the
facts"), we learn that Lewis and Smith have succeeded in persuading
Mellor to reject a correspondence theory of truth - or at least to
withdraw the claim that a correspondence theory is forced upon Mellor
by the other things he believes about truth: that truth is a matter
of the success of beliefs, and that some truths need truthmakers.
This success account of truth to which Mellor subscribes also
receives much needed clarification in his response (pp.217-20) to the
detailed and probing objections of Chris Daly ("Truth and the theory
of communication").

Mellor also departs from Armstrong by rejecting most of the
important theses of physicalism that Armstrong endorses and also much
of the born-again physicalism of Frank Jackson ("From H2O to Water
"). But Mellor goes along with Lewis (and Armstrong) in rejecting
Jackson's one time contention - and the present contention of Tim
Crane ("Subjective facts") - that learning what red looks like
involves the existence and cognition of a subjective fact. While
unpersuaded by Crane's central argument, Mellor is again moved to
useful clarification of an aspect of his own position, this time
prompted by the desire to maintain consistency with his independently
held view that complex truth-functional propositions stand in no need
of full-blooded truthmakers.

Paul Noordhof ("Epiphenomenalism and causal asymmetry") seeks to
enlist an amended Mellorian theory of causation in strengthening and
extending the case against epiphenomenalism. But Mellor (224-9) is,
by and large, keener on an unamended Mellorian theory of causation,
and although he is prepared to accept most of the claims made by
Peter Menzies in support of the thesis that causation is a genuine
relation - including some "polite corrections" of Mellor's previous
claims - he is not moved to accept the thesis itself.

Isaac Levi ("Dispositions and Conditionals") departs from Mellor
by denying that dispositional truths entail counterfactual
conditionals, but the deeper and underlying disagreement is over
Levi's denial that counterfactual conditionals have truth-values. More
radically yet, Levi (p.142) professes neither understanding nor
interest in a distinction, fundamental to Mellor's views on many
matters, between predicates that pick out properties and those that
don't. Yet Mellor (pp.229-30) proves surprisingly flexible in his
capacity to find congenial elements within Levi's "anti-ontological"
approach to dispositions. Alexander Bird ("Structural properties")
deals with the questions of whether various properties are
dispositional or categorical, and of whether dispositional properties
are essentially dispositional. Here, Mellor (pp.230-2) seems
reluctant to accept the distinctions that Bird wants to draw, or at
least he is reluctant to accept Bird's view of the nature
(ontological or not) and import of the mooted distinctions. But once
he orientates the questions to his liking, Mellor endorses the claim
that all properties are both categorical and dispositional and admits
to being strongly tempted by the view that all lawful connections
among properties are full-blooded necessitations.

Arnold Koslow ("Laws, explanations and the reduction of
possibilities") proposes a reduction of possibilities to laws and
explanations. But - as I understand it - the relevant possibilities
are entities, and the relevant kind of reduction is neither
conceptual analysis nor the identification of each possibility with
some sort of construct out of reducing entities. In any event, the
kind of natural modality (possibility) which proves amenable to such
reduction does not sustain the validity of the inference from
Necessarily P to Possibly P. And while Mellor (pp.232-4) views this
feature as a defect that stands in need of a remedy, he finds much in
Koslow's essay to illuminate tricky issues about chances since these
can be counted among Koslow's range of possibilities.

The relational theory of change has it that those properties that
can change are relations to times. Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra ("What
is the relational theory of change?") and Mellor (pp.234-5) are
united both in rejecting the relational theory of change and in
rejecting the standard objections to the relational theory of change.
This unity gives way, however, on the question of exactly what is
wrong with the theory. Ultimately, Rodriguez-Pereyra has it that the
relational theory fails, not in the detail of this or that version,
but for the quite general reason that it is - when viewed aright -
eliminative rather than explanatory of the occurrence of change.
Mellor resists this suggestion and maintains, against
Rodriguez-Pereyra's criticisms, that the theory has the unacceptable
consequence that every thing that has a changeable property must have
that property at some spacetime point.

The series of exchanges ends in perfect harmony since the
respondent finds nothing in Nathan Oaklander's essay ("Presentism: a
critique) with which to disagree. Rather, Mellor takes Oaklander to
have provided a "demolition of th[e] delusion" (p.236) that a
presentist A-theory of time is immune from objections that do for
other varieties of A-theory and subsequently uses Oaklander's essay
as a means of amplifying his (Mellor's) long-standing complaint that
Prior's presentism fails to add an ontological basis to his
A-theoretic semantics for tensed sentences.

In sum, what is on offer here is exactly what one would expect -
an impressive overview of Hugh Mellor's substantial contribution to
metaphysics over his long and productive career. This overview is
illuminated by a collection of philosophers who are, at the least,
very accomplished and who are, for the most part, 'onside' of
Mellor's conception of what is important in philosophy and of how
philosophy should be done. It should be clear from the foregoing that
this does not preclude disagreement between Mellor and his
interlocutors on any number of details or on some of the most
fundamental issues in metaphysics. On the other hand, none of the
essays amounts to a taking of fundamental issue with Mellor on any of
the tenets that are central to his philosophical identity - say, the
existence of facta or the tenseless theory of time. Perhaps a
festschrift is not the time or place for full scale battles of that
sort, but in some ways such a bold departure would have suited
Mellor's reputation as a forthright and combative opponent in debate.
But no doubt such exchanges are yet to come elsewhere. For on present
evidence Mellor has lost none of his enthusiasm for his project and
shows every sign of continuing to offer original contributions to
metaphysics and related disciplines - contributions which are often
both entirely distinctive and yet unpredictable.

John Divers
University of Leeds