Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics Available Worldwide

Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics in the flesh!
Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics cover art

Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics cover art

The Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics volume, which you’ve no doubt heard about by now, has been available worldwide since mid-January or so. You can now get it from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Barnes & Noble, Play.com, The Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (Finland), and dozens of other online book shops. I’m sorry to say that the pricing is pretty steep, especially in the US, but you may be able to find a decent deal if you look around. Try Google’s List of Retailers to find the best deal. Note that the book is also available as a Kindle edition as well as a Mobipocket eBook and Adobe eBook — these are all somewhat cheaper than the hardback. If your institution subscribes to Cambridge Books Online, you can access the book there too.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Introduction — Tuomas E. Tahko
1 What is metaphysics? — Kit Fine
2 In defence of Aristotelian metaphysics — Tuomas E. Tahko
3 Existence and quantification reconsidered — Tim Crane
4 Identity, quantification, and number — Eric T. Olson
5 Ontological categories — Gary Rosenkrantz
6 Are any kinds ontologically fundamental? — Alexander Bird
7 Are four categories two too many? — John Heil
8 Four categories – and more — Peter Simons
9 Neo-Aristotelianism and substance — Joshua Hoffman
10 Developmental potential — Louis M. Guenin
11 The origin of life and the definition of life — Storrs McCall
12 Essence, necessity, and explanation — Kathrin Koslicki
13 No potency without actuality: the case of graph theory — David S. Oderberg
14 A neo-Aristotelian substance ontology: neither relational nor constituent — E. J. Lowe

Note that although the book was already out in 2011, the official publication date is 2012 — use that date when you refer to the book. This is apparently a standard practice for CUP books published in November or December. You can find penultimate versions of individual articles from the book at the various websites of the contributors, including my own chapter, as well as the introduction. See also the Google Preview. Of course, I do encourage you to buy the book! Many libraries already have the book, including The Library of Congress, The Open Library, and a number of university libraries. Ironically, neither my home institution (Helsinki) or my Alma Mater (Durham) have acquired a copy yet.

I received my personal hard copies a while ago (sorry, they’ve all gone to family & friends already!), and I think Cambridge did a pretty good job with the book. I should note that there is a paperback coming out eventually, but you may not want to wait for it, as CUP is planning to release it 18 months after the initial publication — you can expect to see the paperback some time around mid-2013.

Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics in the flesh!

Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics in the flesh!

Sales for the book have started very well, as the volume is already in Cambridge’s Top Ten Bestsellers in Epistemology and Metaphysics. No reviews have emerged yet, although I expect that some will soon — I’ll be sure to mention them as soon as they do. However, there is some discussion about the book in the blogosphere already, for instance at Ed Feser’s blog. I might take the opportunity to clarify a couple of things that emerged in discussion there.

Firstly, the book’s cover has been interpreted in interestingly varied ways. Thomas Hofweber jokingly suggested to me that the cover must describe the setting sun of Aristotelian Metaphysics out of the way of the Quinean desert landscape, whereas Ed Feser interprets it quite differently: “A new days dawns as the sunlight of sound metaphysics illuminates the barren wasteland of modern philosophy.” Well, I’ll leave it up to each one of you to interpret the symbolism (or lack thereof) of the cover, but I’d certainly be interested in hearing your reactions!

Secondly, an anonymous reader of Ed Feser’s blog comments that his TA’s reaction to the (title of the) book was as follows: “Aristotle is ancient. He is not contemporary and philosophy has long since evolved past him. So the title is an oxymoron.” I was a little bit concerned about people interpreting the title — which was my own idea — too historically, because there is very little actual historical content in the book. But that’s exactly why I included the word ‘contemporary’. It’s not as if the book, or any of the contributors, attempt to re-introduce historical Aristotelian metaphysics into contemporary philosophy. Rather, the methodology and some of the themes are inspired by Aristotle, as I quite clearly describe already in the blurb of the book and also in the introduction and my own chapter. Anyway, the point of the seemingly oxymoronic title is of course to alert the reader to this very thing, and I’m frankly quite puzzled how anyone could miss that!

Thirdly, a couple of comments to Ed’s post raise very relevant questions regarding the views of the different contributors. There’s a question about whether all of the contributors identify themselves as ‘neo-Aristotelians’, and another about whether the contributors are mostly “analytic” philosophers. An obvious follow-up is: are the two mutually exclusive? Regarding ‘neo-Aristotelianism’: not all the contributors would be happy with that label, although some of them certainly use that label themselves. I don’t really want to attribute the label to any of the contributors, or even to myself, because I don’t think that it is a sufficiently well-defined position, but I’d be happy to say that I’m sympathetic to a lot (although certainly not all) of philosophy which is done under this label. As to “analytic”: all of the contributors are, broadly speaking, in the Anglo-American “analytic” tradition, although I’m not particularly happy with the notorious analytic/continental distinction. Anyway, this is not in any tension with ‘neo-Aristotelian’, since the way “analytic” is commonly used now just means rigorous argumentation, often (but not always) from clear premises to a conclusion, and sometimes by using formal methods.

That just about sums it up. If you have any further questions or queries about the volume, the comments field below is where to ask them!

Comments 9

  1. Congratulations on the book! This is a fantastic volume. I just received my copy from Amazon and am about halfway through the paper by Fine. I’ll read your contribution next.

    As I am a newcomer to this blog, I decided I should read some of your posts on your own research. Your postdoctoral research project (http://www.ttahko.net/2010/my-plans-for-the-next-three-years/) sounds fascinating, especially the radical definition of the a priori that you are working with, which originates in your 2008 paper, in which you “proposed that … any metaphysically possible statement can be regarded as a priori, whether or not it holds in the actual world”. This is potentially groundbreaking stuff. I wonder if you would agree with the following claims:

    (1) There is at least one metaphysically contingent proposition (i.e., a proposition that is metaphysically possible but not metaphysically necessary).

    (2) If it is a priori that p and it is a priori that q, then it is a priori than p and q?

    Presumably you accept (1) — if we rejected (1) there would be no modal distinctions to draw, as possibility and necessity would both be equivalent to truth, and falsity would be equivalent to impossibility, so there would be no point to talk about possibility. (2) is perhaps less obvious. Most philosophers who talk about the a priori at all no doubt accept (2), but this may be because they have not thought through its radical consequences when taken together with (1) and a natural conception of the link between a priority and possibility. I myself am happy to accept (1) and (2) along with your definition of the a priori and the radical consequences that follow, but I’m nevertheless curious as to your position on (2).

    P.S. I agree with Ed Feser on the cover.

  2. Post

    Thanks! Pleased to hear that you bought the book, I hope you enjoy it.

    Regarding claims (1) and (2) — yes, I’d certainly accept (1), but (2) seems to be open to some interpretation. Now, as you say, most people would probably accept (2) without hesitation, but I think that this may depend on how the conjunction is interpreted. For instance, I want to say that alternative geometries, such as Euclidean geometry and Riemannian geometry, are both a priori (they are both metaphysically possible), but only one of them can be actual (or, if you like, in any metaphysically possible world, only one of them can hold). So, if the conjunction is interpreted in such a way that p and q are both a priori and true at the same time in the same possible world, then I’d have to deny (2). But, of course, there is a perfectly acceptable way of reading (2) even on my definition of apriority: if Euclidean geometry is a priori and Riemannian geometry is a priori, then it is a priori that both geometries are possible.

    Admittedly, the case of alternative geometries may not be the best example here, as it’s rather more complicated than this. But it’s a classic case, and an interesting one. I’ve written about it in much more detail in this draft: http://www.ttahko.net/papers/euclid.pdf

  3. Very interesting — thanks for your reply!

    I’m really a closet dialetheist (hence the anonymous comments), and I was hoping you might share my view that some contradictions are possibly true, which would follow from your definition of the a priori together with (1) and (2). Oh well. I should have looked at your research page before asking that question — it’s clear that you’re committed to the law of noncontradiction! Now I see why you question (2). But let’s pursue this a bit further. You said there was a “reading” of my (2) that you agreed with, which appears to be

    (2*) If ((it is a priori that p) and (it is a priori that q)) then (it is a priori that ((it is possible that p) and (it is possible that q)))

    (2*) does not seem to me to be a reading of (2), and (2*) is certainly plausible but not relevant to the line of thought I was entertaining. So let’s get back to (2). I’ll add parentheses to make it entirely unambiguous:

    (2′) If ((it is a priori that p) and (it is a priori that q)) then (it is a priori that (p and q)).

    My question was whether you accept (2′). In order to avoid the conclusion that some contradictions are possible, you will certainly have to deny (2′). If accepted (2′) and (1), you would have the following proof:

    (A) (possibly r) and (possibly not-r) (instantiation on (1))

    (B) (it is a priori that r) and (it is a priori that not-r) (from (A) by your 2008 definition of the a priori)

    (C) It is a priori that (r and not r) (from (B) by (2′)

    And, indeed, if you accept the factivity of the a priori (i.e., if it is a priori that p, then p), you would have to conclude:

    (D) r and not r.

    So, not only are there possibly true contradictions, but there are true contradictions simpliciter. It seems that your way of resisting this conclusion is to reject (2′), is that right?

    Fair enough — I presume that you reject (2′) — but what about the factivity principle:

    (F) If it is a priori that p, then p?

    (B) and (F) together entail (D), so presumably you also reject the factivity of a priority, i.e. (F).

    So, am I right that your view is that a priority is a) not factive and b) not closed under conjunction (i.e., not (2′))? That’s what it will have to be if you want to maintain that there are neither true nor merely possible contradictions.

    As you can see, it’s not so easy to reject dialetheism.

  4. Post

    You’re right, I reject factivity — I think that apriority does not entail truth (understood as truth in the actual world, as opposed to truth in a model). And indeed, I do have to reject (2′) in the way you present it because I’m certainly committed to the law of non-contradiction (more than I am to apriority being closed under conjunction at any rate).

    I suggested the reading you’ve formulated as (2*) mostly because the way I’d like to understand apriority, i.e. in terms of metaphysical possibility, but of course it begs the question really, so in the end I will be pushed exactly to the direction that you anticipated.

    I should add though that while I’m committed to the law of non-contradiction, I do take the possibility of true contradictions seriously — I just think that we haven’t seen any good evidence for them so far (I’ve discussed Priest’s examples in my 2009 paper on LNC in Australasian Journal of Logic: http://www.ttahko.net/papers/lnc.pdf).

  5. Ah — very interesting! The position you end up being committed to (a priority is not closed under conjunction and is non-factive) certainly is radical. Not as radical as the position I initially *hoped* you were committed to, but certainly radical enough for my tastes! For suppose that a priority is closed under modus ponens, i.e.:

    (MP) If it is a priori that p, and it is a priori that (if p then q), then it is a priori that q.

    Now, again by (1) and your 2008 definition we have, for some r, both:

    (a) It is a priori that r
    (b) It is a priori that not-r

    Since logical principles are presumably a priori, and the following is a principle of logic

    If r then (if not-r then (r and not-r)),

    it follows that we also have:

    (c) It is a priori that (if r then (if not-r then (r and not-r)))

    Now we have the following proof:

    (d) It is a priori that (if not-r then (r and not-r)) [from (a) and (c) by (MP)]

    (e) It is a priori that (r and not-r) [from (b) and (d) by (MP)]

    So, since you are committed to denying (e), you must deny (MP); that is, you must affirm that something that is not a priori could follow from a priori premises by modus ponens.

    In fact, you’re going to have to deny that the a priori is closed under classical inference rules that involve dyadic connectives in general — not just those pertaining to the conditional and conjunction. Note that the above proof can be converted into a proof of the a priority of a contradiction that uses disjunction instead of the material conditional by exploiting the equivalence of (if p then q) with (not-p or q).

    So basically, on your conception of the a priori, the a priori is *logically inert*. Or, at a minimum, nearly logically inert — you could allow just a bit of deductive closure by having principles like “if it is a priori that p, then it is a priori that not-not-p”, but that would be strangely arbitrary. I think the most elegant version of the view you hold is one on which ‘it is a priori that p’ just never entails ‘it is a priori that q’ if ‘p’ and ‘q’ are distinct sentences.

    As I said, it’s quite a radical view. You can perhaps see why a friend of true contradictions would find your view attractive.

    Anyway, I will be sure to read your paper on LNC — as soon as I’ve worked through your Aristotelian Metaphysics volume!

  6. Post

    Thanks — I haven’t explicitly worked out all the consequences of my conception of apriority, so this is sort of useful. But I’m not hugely troubled by any of this; I think that rejecting factivity is already where most people would jump the ship!

    In my view, the a priori has a central role in modal epistemology, and that’s what makes it useful/interesting. Linking apriority and possibility does indeed give some peculiar results regarding classical inference rules, but note again that, for me, (a) and (b) are just saying that r and not-r are both metaphysically possible at some arbitrary worlds, while LNC rules out that they could be possible at the same time in the same world (and either one of them could turn out not to be true in the actual world, of course).

    This is really all I need to get modal epistemology going. Actually, even LNC could go without breaking the system, since my commitment to it does not spring from logic, but rather from the idea that it’s a metaphysically necessary constraint of reality — but I could be wrong about that.

  7. Hi! Thanks again for the replies. This is interesting stuff. Just an interim comment before I post some thoughts about your other work — so far I’ve only read your paper on LNC and your “A New Definition of A Priori Knowledge”. In thinking about the latter, new puzzle occurred to me. I wonder what you think of the following.

    The definition you propose in your 2008 paper, as we’ve already noted, has the consequence that

    (TT) If (it is possible that p), then (it is a priori that p)

    An instance of the contrapositive of (TT) is:

    (TTC) If (it is not a priori that not p), then (it is not possible that not p),

    which of course is equivalent to:

    (TTC’) If (it is not a priori that not p), then (it is necessary that p),

    But this seems true:

    (1) If (it is a priori that p), then (it is not a priori that not p).

    From (TT) and (1) it follows that:

    (2) If (it is possible that p), then (it is not a priori that not p).

    And from (2) and (TTC’) it follows that:

    (3) If (it is possible that p), then (it is necessary that p).

    But of course:

    (4) If (it is necessary that p), then (it is possible that p),

    so we get, from (3) and (4):

    (5) (It is possible that p) if and only if (it is necessary that p).

    So it seems that modal distinctions collapse: to be necessary is to be possible is to be true.

    Now it seems to me pretty straightforward what you should say in reponse: you should reject (1). After all, you hold that it can be both a priori that p, and a priori that not-p. But denying (1) somehow seems worse than denying various closure principles. If you deny (1), you cannot have a notion of epistemic possibility (that which is not ruled out a priori) that is definable in the natural way, as the dual of a priority (epistemic necessity). Denying the equivalence of Ap and ~A~p means you’ll need either a primitive notion of epistemic possibility or one not defined in the classical way.

  8. Correction: I meant (of course) the equivalence of “epistemically possibly p” with ~A~p… that’s what has to go if you reject (1)

  9. Post

    Once again you anticipate correctly — I’d reject (1) above. I don’t really mind if epistemic possibility goes with it, as I’m not a friend of the notion anyway. In fact, I don’t think that epistemic (as well as conceptual) possibility should be regarded as genuinely *modal* notions at all. I haven’t quite worked this out in published work yet though.

    There is another issue here. Because I define apriority in terms of metaphysical possibility, I’m effectively making it a metaphysical notion, as opposed to an epistemic one. In the 2008 paper I don’t really go into the topic of a priori justification at all, but I clearly need to work that out too (which I’m in the process of doing).

    Specifically, from an epistemic point of view, some subject might not be a priori justified to believe p, even if p is metaphysically possible and hence a priori on my definition. So, it’s not surprising that the intuitive notion of epistemic possibility does not get off the ground on my definition of the a priori. I guess that I’d either go for a non-classical notion of epistemic possibility, or indeed drop the notion altogether. Controversial, I know!

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