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D H Mellor Matters of Metaphysics

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Cover of Matters of Metaphysics

Matters of Metaphysics

D. H. Mellor

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, pp.xx+295

A free PDF file of this book is available here

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, 30-60.
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, 136-53.
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 events.

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 objectivity.

15 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, 289-309.
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