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D H Mellor Matters of Metaphysics

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D. H. Mellor

Cover of Matters of Metaphysics

Matters of Metaphysics

D. H. Mellor


Cambridge University Press
, 1991, pp.xx+295

A free PDF file of this book is available

This volume contains sixteen papers published between 1974 and 1991. The first five are on aspects of the mind: on our 'selves', their supposed subjectivity and how we refer to them, on the nature of conscious belief and on computational and physical theories of the mind. The next five deal with dispositions, natural kinds, laws of nature and how they involve natural necessity, universals and objective chances, and the relation between properties and predicates. Then follow three papers about the relations between time, change and causation, the nature of individual causes and effects and of the causal relations between them, and how causation depends on chance. The last three papers discuss the relation between chance and degrees of belief, give a solution to the problem of induction and argue for an objective interpretation of normative decision theory.

Other articles are collected in
Mind, Meaning, and Reality

Other published articles.

1 Analytic Philosophy and the Self, 1-16.
First publication.
I show how philosophical analysis can demystify apparently
mysterious facts by using a token-reflexive account of what makes
first-person sentences true to dispel some fashionable mysteries
of the 'subjective self': the 'I' seemingly referred to in 'I am
Hugh Mellor', 'I live in Cambridge', etc.

2 I and Now, 17-29.
First published 1989 in Proceedings of the Aristotelian
Society 89
, 79-94.
I argue for an objective causal account of how first-person
and present-tense thoughts and statements refer to the people who
have or make them and to the times when they do so. The account
shows how such thoughts need contain no internal representations
of the people and times they refer to.

3 Consciousness and Degrees of Belief,
First published 1980 in
Prospects for Pragmatism: Essays in Memory of F. P. Ramsey
ed. D. H. Mellor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 139-73.
I add to what I call the 'action' (or dispositional) theory of
belief the thesis that conscious belief is believing one believes.
I extend this further to account for degrees of conscious and
unconscious belief, and use the extended theory to defend
subjective probability as a measure of actual as well as of
rational degrees of belief. The unacceptable apparent consequence
that we consciously believe all the consequences (of which we are
conscious) of our conscious beliefs is shown to reflect, not on
the theories developed here but on the widespread but unrealistic
assumption that the content of a belief fixes definite truth
conditions for it.

4 How Much of the Mind is a Computer?, 61-81.
First published 1988 in
Computers, Brains and Minds,
ed. P Slezak and W. R. Albury, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 47-69.
I show that not many mental processes can be computations,
i.e. truth-preserving processing of representations.
Belief-generating processes, e.g. perceptual processes, can be,
but that's all.

5 (with
Tim Crane)
There is No Question of Physicalism, 82-103.
First published 1990 in Mind 99,
185-206; reprinted 1995, with a postscript replying to objections,
in Contemporary Materialism: A Reader, ed. P. K.
Moser and J. D. Trout, 65-89.
We examine the various definitions and defences of physicalism
that have been offered in recent philosophy of mind, and argue
that no nontrivial version of physicalism is true. Physicalists
need to define the physical in a way that (a) excludes the mental
and (b) shows why physical sciences have an ontological authority
that psychology and other non-physical sciences lack. Physicalists
have used the following notions in attempting thus to define and
defend physicalism: reducibility to physics, causation, laws and
supervenience. We show why all these attempts fail.

6 In Defence of Dispositions, 104-22.
First published 1974 in Philosophical Review 83, 157-81;
reprinted 1978 in Dispositions,
ed. R. Tuomela, Dordrecht: Reidel, 55-76.
I argue that dispositions can be real properties, need no
nondispositional bases, and involve no special ontological or
epistemological problems. I identify them with properties of
things that explain the events which display them, after
criticising the alternative theories of Carnap, Ryle, Armstrong,
Goodman, Quine and Mackie. I then discuss how to individuate
properties, and discuss the special case of propensities, i.e.
statistical dispositions.

7 Natural Kinds, 123-35.
First published 1977 in British Journal for the Philosophy
of Science 28
, 299-312.
I attack influential arguments for essentialism about natural
kinds advanced by Putnam and Kripke. Putnam's Twin Earth tales do
not dispose of Fregean alternatives to his account of the
extension of kind terms, which is false of most natural kinds and
does not yield essentialism. Kripke's theory of the reference of
kind terms fails to make essentialism follow from the necessary
self-identity of natural kinds. The stock examples of essential
properties are either not even shared in this world by all things
of the kind, or their status is a feature of our theories, not of
the world.

8 Necessities and Universals in Natural Laws,
First published 1980 in Science,
Belief and Behaviour: Essays in Honour of R. B. Braithwaite
ed. D. H. Mellor, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 105-25.
I attack two non-Humean views of laws of nature: the view of
Kneale and others that laws are in some sense necessary, and that
of Armstrong and others that they are relations between
universals. The former I show is not supported by the essentialist
arguments of Putnam and Kripke; and neither is more able than
Humean views to account for laws (like Newton's first law of
motion) which lack instances.

9 Laws, Chances and Properties, 154-69.
A revised version of the article first published 1990 in
International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 4, 159-70.
I develop an account of laws of nature on which they all
contain chances, understood as measures of physical possibility.
In the deterministic law that all As are B, all As have a chance 1
of being B: this explicating the necessity entailed by such laws.
The properties that occur in laws are real universals, and the
only contingent ones that exist in our world.

10 Properties and Predicates, 170-82.
First publication; reprinted, with a reply by D. M. Armstrong, in
Ontology, Causation and Mind: Essays in Honour of D. M. Armstrong,
ed. J. Bacon et al., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 101-113;
and, slightly revised, in Properties,
ed. D. H. Mellor and Alex Oliver, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997, 255-67.
I argue first that the universals - properties and relations -
which exist in this world are those quantified over in a Ramsey
sentence of the conjunction of all laws of nature. I then use the
predicate 'is red' to show how slight and complex the relation is
between the meanings of most predicates and the universals whose
effects cause us to apply these predicates correctly.

11 McTaggart, Fixity and Coming True, 183-200.
First published 1981 in Reduction, Time and Reality,
ed. R. Healey, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 79-97.
I attack related doctrines of R.C.Jeffrey (that 'the world
grows by accretion of facts') and J.L.Mackie (that events become
'fixed and settled and unalterable' as soon as their 'preceding
sufficient causes ... have occurred'). I show that on the
tenseless view of time, for which I argue, both doctrines are
trivially true. Read non-trivially, they both entail the flow of
time, i.e. the movement of facts and events from future to past
via the present, which McTaggart showed to be impossible.

12 The Singularly Affecting Facts of Causation, 201-24.
First published 1987 in Metaphysics and Morality: Essays in
Honour of J. J. C. Smart
, 111-36.
I show against Davidson why most singular causes and effects
must be facts, not particulars; how limited the consequent opacity
of causal contexts is; and how it follows from that of causal
probabilities and conditionals. I also show how transparent causal
relations between particular events follow from their
instantiating causally related existential facts; and how causing
something differs from affecting it. Finally I defend similar
claims about the 'later than' relation, and show how they prevent
space-time points and regions being identified with particular

13 On Raising the Chances of Effects, 225-34.
First published 1988 in Probability and Causality,
ed. J. H. Fetzer, Dordrecht: Reidel, 229-39.
I show that the connotations of causation - temporal,
explanatory, predictive and means-end - are preserved in
indeterministic causation only to the extent that effects have a
greater chance of occurring in the circumstances if their causes
do than if they don't.

14 Chance and degrees of belief, 235-53.
First published 1982 in What? Where? When? Why?,
ed. R. McLaughlin, Dordrecht: Reidel, 49-68.
I defend my The Matter of Chance against
W.C.Salmon by comparing the relation between chances and the
corresponding degrees of belief I use to define them with that
between colours and the visual sensations we use to define them. I
argue in both cases that defining a property by mental states
which embody our knowledge of it does not detract from its


The Warrant of Induction
, 254-68.
Inaugural Lecture, first published 1988 as
The Warrant of Induction,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
I defend inductive solutions to the problem of induction
against charges of vicious circularity by arguing generally that
what warrants a belief is its having a high chance of being true,
whether or not the believer knows it has. I then apply this test
to beliefs formed by inference, and show how the habit of forming
inferential habits by induction warrants them by making them most
likely to be formed when the conclusion of the inference has a
high chance of being true if the premise is true.

16 Objective Decision Making, 269-87.
First published 1983 in Social Theory and Practice 9,
I attack prevalent subjective and rationalist interpretations
of decision theory that make (e.g.) the maximum utility principle
say what people should do given respectively their actual and
rational degrees of belief and desire. I argue that such
principles have prescriptive force only when applied to
objectively right degrees of belief and desire, i.e. to objective
probabilities and utilities.

Updated 11 September 2019