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American Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Existence and the Good: Metaphysical Necessity in Morals and Politics by Franklin I. Gamwell (State University of New York Press, SUNY) These are bold assertions in a climate where the credibility of metaphysics is widely denied. Indeed, for the past two centuries, Western philosophy has been marked by a consensus that questions about moral and political life should be considered separately from questions about ultimate reality. In this challenging work, Franklin I. Gamwell defends metaphysical necessity against both modern and postmodern critiques. The metaphysics vindicated is not the traditional form both critiques typically have in view, however. Instead, Gamwell outlines a neoclassical project for which Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne are the main philosophical resources. As it maintains the significance of theistic metaphysics, the book makes no appeal to religious authority but solely to common human experience, and on this basis articulates principles of human purpose and democratic justice.

Excerpt: The title of this book, Existence and the Good, intends to signal two related interests that have, in one way or another, occupied my atten-tion for some time. One is the importance of metaphysical necessity—and, specifically, a theistic metaphysics—to a critical understanding of human life within the surrounding entirety of things in which we find ourselves. The second is the importance of teleology—or, more precisely, a comprehensive good—to moral and political theory. The argument here relates the two by defining the good to which morals and politics are properly directed through the theistic metaphysics and thus a divine purpose. In its own way, then, the book appropriates the words of Thomas Jefferson, marking both our private and public responsibilities through "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

The attempt to redeem a comprehensive purpose for morals and politics requires discussion of metaphysics in two senses. On the one hand, metaphysics in what I call the strict sense explicates the neces-sary character of all existence or reality as such; on the other hand, metaphysics in what I call the broad sense explicates the necessary character of subjective existence as such and, thereby, of specifically human life. Metaphysics in the broad sense concerns life with conscious purpose, our existence by way of deciding how we will understand ourselves, and this book seeks to clarify authentic self-understanding in relation to the ultimate nature of things, explicated by metaphysics in the strict sense. This twofold understanding of metaphysics, then, provides the backing for the supreme moral principle and, through it, for democratic principles of justice. Accordingly, the argument here also reflects my abiding concern to show how specifically religious convictions about the human condition in relation to the whole of reality are important to the promise of democratic politics.

The good life and the common good, this work argues, require a metaphysical backing. In contrast, moral and political theories today widely deny the credibility of metaphysics and assume that concep-tions of good action and justice can be redeemed without thought about the ultimate nature of things. Thereby, these theories deny the source of their own validity, casting moral and political good adrift. This introduction summarizes how succeeding chapters seek to dis-credit the assumption and to establish principles for human life and community that depend on metaphysical necessity.

Naturally, a summary introduction cannot sufficiently defend its assertions. Typically, therefore, I will here only mention the arguments in question, asking patience until later discussion can pursue the greater clarity they need and respond to criticisms they may evoke. On the whole, this summary follows the course pursued within the subsequent chapters, although a few occasions counsel some relatively minor reordering of the relevant points.

Without a metaphysical backing, morals and politics are also separated from religion. At least, this occurs insofar as religious beliefs include understandings of human life in relation to all things, and thus a religion cannot be fully clarified without explicating its metaphysical affirmations. To be sure, some moral thinkers agree that religions include beliefs about how adherents should orient their lives, even while these thinkers deny that valid moral principles require any conception of a comprehensive order. Similarly, some political philosophers concede that citizens might rely on religious convictions as they participate in politics, even while these theorists deny that principles of justice depend on metaphysical conditions. At least to first appearances, however, such views are inconsistent with many or most religions, for which moral and political good can never be separated from their ground in ultimate reality. This book is not focused on a discussion of religion, but I will argue that metaphysical necessity in morals and politics includes a theistic backing.

Beginning with chapter 4, the book explicates directly an idea of moral responsibility marked by a metaphysical telos for all things. We are morally bound by a comprehensive purpose and thus a comprehensive good to which all of our activities ought to be directed. In human life, this good is the maximal unity-in-diversity or richness of everyone's experience. That same good, I argue, authorizes certain principles of human rights and, through them, more specific norms of human interaction. The latter include democratic politics, that is, government where "we the people" are sovereign and, through full and free discussion and debate, should pursue justice as the general empowerment of all. At least in this respect, Thomas Jefferson had it right: our common life is accountable to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

The final two chapters, then, pursue the metaphysical authorization of democracy. Virtually all recent democratic theories endorse religious freedom as a political principle, even while they require principles of justice, at least constitutional principles, without metaphysical implications. In contrast, I will argue, democracy itself can be vindicated only on theistic grounds. At the same time, democracy so prescribed is politics by the way of reason, and thus a democratic constitution cannot properly announce or stipulate the grounds for its own vindication. To the contrary, the way of reason requires the sovereignty of every citizen over her or his belief about the ultimate terms of political assessment. Hence, democracy on theistic grounds also endorses—indeed, provides the only consistent endorsement of—religious freedom.

But if morals and politics depend on ultimate reality, the indispensable beginning toward making this point is a defense of metaphysics. This is needed because contemporary theories of human practice, in seeking their autonomy from metaphysics, exemplify a dominant consensus marking Western philosophy as a whole during the past two centuries. On this majority view, all study of ourselves and the world around us must be independent of beliefs about reality or existence as such. Perhaps this view betrays how the immense success of modern empirical science seemed to render metaphysics irrelevant, if not an obstacle, to understanding ourselves and the world. More recently, I expect, greater familiarity with cultures and societies other than one's own has evoked, somewhat paradoxically, a heightened sense of how understanding is conditioned by cultural and social context and, thereby, a profound suspicion of claims to universal truth. In any event, the dominant consensus rejects a philosophical tradition beginning in classical Greece and stretching through medieval thought into early modernity. At least since the achievement of Immanuel Kant, the question of "being qua being," as Aristotle defined it, has increasingly been discredited because the inquiry addressing it is said to be meaningless or futile or a matter of mere speculation.

In due course, I will commend a neoclassical metaphysics first given systematic formulation by Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead's most comprehensive work, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, is notably—perhaps notoriously—characterized by idiosyncratic terminology. Although I credit his reasons for introducing unfamiliar terms, a contemporary appropriation of his achievement can and should, I believe, avoid the neologisms some have found uninviting, and I will seek to propose a metaphysical account without recourse to them. But simply moving through how neoclassical metaphysics might now be restated would not take full measure of the dominant consensus. Indeed, the dismissal of metaphysics is, I venture, even more entrenched in our contemporary intellectual context than was the case when Whitehead wrote--to the point where a commitment to philosophy without metaphysics is now, in the minds of most, beyond the need for further critical attention. This contemporary circumstance, I suspect, results in part from significant failure to understand the alternative metaphysics Whitehead offers. Whatever other conditions are involved, however, it remains that important arguments against the metaphysical project lie behind its marginal status in Western philosophy today. Any contemporary pursuit of this project, therefore, must first defend its viability against the reasons given to reject it. Summarily stated, this requires attention to both Kantian and post-Kantian critiques, and this task will occupy the first two chapters.

Chapter 1 begins with a brief review of the Western background, in order to show the legacy of Immanuel Kant within the postmetaphysical or nonmetaphysical consensus we now inherit. Whatever differing assessments have been given of Kant's own project, his deconstruction of traditional metaphysics has been massively influential in subsequent philosophy. For all that, however, both Kant and the metaphysics he rejected share a central conviction: they both affirm that we can name something solely by negation. In one way or another, traditional metaphysics asserts an eternal being or realm of beings on which everything else depends, and this eternality can be described only by negating in all respects the changeable, temporal nature of all other things. For Kant, things-in-themselves are unknowable, and thus the metaphysical quest to know their nature is futile. Nonetheless, he did not doubt the presence—or, at least, the possibility—of things-in-themselves, which can be named only by negating all the features of whatever appears in our experience.

Supposed thoughts of something described solely in negative terms are logically equivalent to the statement "nothing exists." On first reading, this statement seems to assert only the complete absence of existence. Logically, however, it also asserts the existence or possible existence of something named only by negation because, in either case, the grammatical subject of "exists" is completely negative. And "nothing exists," the first chapter argues, is a nonsensical statement; it is merely a supposed statement because it is logically impossible and thus meaningless. Against both traditional metaphysics and Kant's unknowable things-in-themselves, this recognition opens a revised metaphysical project. Because "nothing exists" is logically impossible, "something exists"—where every "something" can be described in positive terms—is a logically necessary statement. Moreover, any other statement about existence implied by "something exists" is also logically necessary, and we may seek a system of logically necessary understandings of existence. It then follows that strictly all things, from the lowliest bit of matter or energy to the divine reality, if there is one, must be properly described in the same metaphysical terms—whatever differences may also be on display. In other words, no logical possibility can be named by seeking completely to negate the terms applicable to everything else.

Accordingly, chapter 1 arrives at the following definition of meta-physics: the critical study of what must be the case because the complete absence of existence is impossible—or, what comes to the same thing, the critical study of what must be the case because something must exist. The phrase "what must be the case" should be emphasized. On this accounting, metaphysics is concerned with logically necessary understandings of existence and thus with necessary features or characteristics of all actual and possible things—characteristics common to and thus definitive of anything that is so much as possible. Hence, the object of metaphysical thought can be called reality as such or existence as such or the possible as such—and I use these three descriptions interchangeably. Correspondingly, "metaphysical" may be used to designate the character or characteristics of things metaphysics as a critical study seeks to explicate. Because all such metaphysical features are necessary, it follows that no one of them can be present unless all others are present, and this is why logically necessary statements about existence form a metaphysical system. Such a system is the ideal for neoclassical metaphysics.

The first chapter concludes with a commentary on Whitehead's definition of the metaphysical endeavor—namely, "to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted" (1978, 3). At least on one reading, this states precisely the quest to characterize existence or the possible as such. "Every element of our experience" means every conceivable thing, whereby the system of ideas is, as Whitehead also says, "adequate." "Coherent" is used in an emphatic sense to mean that all the implications of arty valid metaphysical idea also imply it. An adequate and coherent system of ideas is, I argue, necessary; that is, it designates what must be the case because the complete absence of existence is impossible.

But if chapter 1 opens an alternative to both traditional metaphysics and its Kantian denial, neoclassical metaphysics cannot be sustained without attention to the post-Kantian critique of universal reason. Notwithstanding the limits Kant placed on our understanding, he never doubted universal principles of theoretical and practical reason, insisting only that these give us no knowledge of things-in-themselves. In contrast, many subsequent thinkers have deconstructed both the traditional metaphysical project and its Kantian successor because both affirm principles of thought independent of a subject's historicity or historical context, its specific location within the human adventure. Neoclassical metaphysics is also included within this indictment, and no thinker, I judge, has given more influential expression to the critique of universal reason than did Martin Heidegger. Accordingly, chapter 2 takes up Heidegger's challenge.

Heidegger is an especially appropriate conversation partner because he agrees that "nothing exists" is logical nonsense, even while he implicitly critiques the metaphysical conclusions for which chapter 1 argued. The complete absence of beings—"the Nothing," as Heidegger calls it—cannot be consistently thought as an object; it is, nonetheless, encountered by Dasein in the "mode of attunement." Thereby, the abyss of Being is the source of all cognitive affirmation and negation. Only because one is "held out into the nothing," in other words, are beings brought to the light of understanding, "that they are beings—and not nothing" (1993, 103). Thus, the meaning of beings is inseparable from the totality opened within the tempo-rality of a finite understanding, its engagement within a "clearing" or historically dependent disclosure. Thereby, Heidegger reaches in effect an indictment of universal reason, and chapter 2 seeks a more extended clarification of how Heidegger's thought issues this critique.

Attending especially to that consequence, the chapter then argues for the following summary statement of his account: totality presupposes meaning. In other words, beings as a whole and thus the similarities and differences among them presuppose a historically situated or inherited lifeworld and thus prestructure of understanding. In this sense, there is no correct or incorrect understanding except as circumscribed by some "clearing" within the human adventure.

"Totality presupposes meaning" is, I argue, a pragmatically self-contradictory assertion because its truth cannot itself be circumscribed by the specific historicity of someone who asserts it. If "all meaning and truth about beings is located" were itself true, its truth could not depend on some location within the human adventure, and thus this understanding of beings is inconsistent with the claim to truth made for it. Accordingly, Heidegger's discussion of "the Nothing" as some-thing encountered in the mode of attunement is similarly suspect. In exploring this problem, the chapter seeks to answer possible replies on Heidegger's behalf and finds the same pragmatic inconsistency within the critique of universal reason generally. To the contrary, I conclude, totality is prior to meaning; that is, totality is given prior to understanding, where "prior" here means prior in the experience of a subject. "Consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness," Whitehead writes (1978, 53), so that understanding is derivative from nonconscious experiencing. The latter relates us to the metaphysical structure of actualities and possibilities that is independent of historically situated contexts of meaning, and our awareness always includes an implicit understanding of it. Moreover, the neoclassical account of this structure, I argue in a later chapter, does justice to Heidegger's best reasons for renouncing the Western metaphysical tradition, especially its failure adequately to think the temporality of understanding.

The engagement with Heidegger also introduces another sense of "metaphysics," namely, the critical study of subjectivity as such, the features or characteristics necessary to every possible occurrence of subjectivity. Correspondingly, "metaphysical" may be used to designate the character or characteristics of subjectivity that metaphysics in the second sense studies. I call this metaphysics in the broad sense—in distinction from metaphysics in the strict sense, the critical study of "being qua being" or existence as such, on which the first chapter is focused. The two are systematically related because the features necessary to subjectivity in general include but reach beyond the features necessary to existence in general. If, for instance, temporality is a feature defining all conceivable existence, then every occurrence of subjectivity is temporal; but subjectivity is also self-conscious, a feature not necessary to all existence. Subjective existence, in other words, is a specific kind of existence. Having discussed these systematically related meanings, I subsequently use "neoclassical metaphysics" to name both. One might also speak of "transcendental metaphysics," with the same two related meanings. Every valid statement about subjective existence in general is transcendental because every denial of the statement is pragmatically self-contradictory, the act of denial implying what is denied. Every valid statement about existence as such is transcendental because every denial of the statement is logically self-contradictory; that is, the statement is logically necessary.

The features defining subjectivity in general, I argue, include certain inescapable understandings, for instance, an awareness of the totality as given prior to meaning. I call these "original beliefs" and show their implicit presence even if we are not explicitly aware of them. Among our original beliefs, the book later contends, is an affirmation of the comprehensive purpose, a pursuit directed by the comprehensive or metaphysical good that defines a telos for all things. Belief in this purpose, even if only implicit in our awareness, makes every occurrence of subjectivity a moral act. Because we understand the moral telos, we can choose against it, and the comprehensive purpose defines the decision we ought to take. Hence, articulating the two meanings of "metaphysical" or "transcendental" is important because the book will argue for moral responsibility in relation to a telos in the ultimate nature of things. Moral decision is characteristic of all subjects but only subjects and, therefore, is a transcendental feature in the broad but not the strict sense. In contrast, the comprehensive good is a metaphysical feature in the strict sense.

Before turning directly to the metaphysics of human purpose, however, the defense of neoclassical metaphysics against both Kantian and post-Kantian dismissals must be complemented by a metaphysical account of existence. Chapter 3 pursues a detailed outline of neoclassical metaphysics in the strict sense, seeking in all essentials to argue for the necessity of its conclusions. The outline is required for two reasons: first, to sustain through a substantive proposal the credibility of metaphysical necessity in the strict sense, and second, to provide terms in which to explicate the comprehensive good and, thereby, how this metaphysical necessity is present in morals and politics. I am sensible of the dense character some of this chapter may seem to have, and I do my best to achieve clarity. If a reader is principally interested in the moral and political consequences and is willing, for purposes of discussion, to grant this metaphysical account when it is later summarized in relevant aspects, she or he can, in my judgment, turn directly from the discussion with Heidegger to chapter 4.

Metaphysical necessity, chapter 3 begins, entails a single kind of metaphysically fundamental thing. All true metaphysical statements imply each other, and thus all metaphysical features are somehow exemplified wherever any one is exemplified. Following Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, I take the final real things to be microunits of process, each unifying its internal relations to others already unified and, thereby, becoming something to which still others (in its future) will internally relate. Each final real thing, then, becomes an actuality or fully concrete unity-in-diversity. The chapter develops this conception and shows how all other real things or entities, including the macrothings of everyday experience and whatever order there may be in the universe as a whole, can be interpreted in terms of such actualities. For instance, a human individual, meaning thereby the extended self-conscious experiencing made possible by its presence within a human body, is understood as a series of discrete units of process, each sufficiently brief that our fragmentary powers of introspection cannot clearly distinguish among them.

Chapter 3 is especially concerned to show why neoclassical metaphysics implies a divine individual and to clarify God's character. Summarily stated, God is necessary because the idea of actualities implies the difference between those that relate to some of the past, are fragmentary in what they include, and those that relate to strictly all others in all of their detail, are all-inclusive, and the latter are divine actualities. God is the individual who always includes all that has happened or become actual and thus will include whatever else happens when it happens. Accordingly, the divine reality is the series of all-inclusive actualities, each of which includes more than its predecessor because additional fragmentary actualities are received. So conceived, moreover, God differs from the completely changeless and eternal reality so often affirmed in the Western metaphysical and Christian theological traditions. Instead of a supreme being named only by negation, the divine is here the eminently temporal individual, who from everlasting to everlasting has existed and will exist as the ever-changing because ever-increasing unification of whatever has occurred in the world—the individual to whom strictly everything else makes a difference and is thereby given its own everlasting significance.

In this context, the discussion considers some recent critiques of theistic arguments, especially of the so-called ontological argument. Whatever force those refutations have, I argue, depends on the traditional or classical, rather than neoclassical, concept of God.

Still, the latter concept has also been controversial, even among those who have pursued the metaphysics initiated by Whitehead—a debate largely prompted by an apparent difference between Whitehead and Hartshorne themselves on how God should be conceived. At stake especially is how relations between God and the world can be under-stood with precision, and this question needs a clear answer because its absence threatens the coherence of neoclassical metaphysics. Chapter 3 concludes with this issue. Hartshorne's alternative to Whitehead's apparent view of God is, I contend, more convincing. At the same time, I argue for a refinement of Hartshorne's accounting, namely, for a distinct set of relations implied by the metaphysical necessity marking God's difference from all others. On this proposal, things in the world localize a divine omnipresence, to which they make a difference immediately upon their completion.

Against the background of this neoclassical metaphysics in the strict sense, Chapter 4 returns to the metaphysics of subjectivity because it turns directly to the question of moral responsibility. As mentioned above, all subjects include, at least implicitly, an original belief in the comprehensive purpose and, therefore, choose for or against it. One cannot be a subject without this decision, which I will call the decision to be authentic or inauthentic. The chapter seeks to explicate both the nature of understanding and the seemingly paradoxical character of self-understanding. The self can be both subject and object of the same understanding, I argue, because decision for a self-understanding is the choice with understanding of one's purpose. What we understand when we understand ourselves is the difference for the future we decide to make. Choosing one's purpose consciously, moreover, requires an evaluation of the differing ends open within one's present situation, those that are possible alternatives. Hence, self-understanding involves an implied claim for some view of the good in terms of which alternative possible purposes are assessed. But subjectivity includes an original belief in the comprehensive good as the basis on which all open purposes should be evaluated. Thus, the decision for a self-understanding includes a decision for or against the comprehensive good, a decision for or against one's authenticity.

I call the decision for a self-understanding one's "original decision," and the original decision is, then, complex, embracing both a decision about the metaphysical good and a decision for some specific purpose that is possible in one's given time and place. The first informs the second, and the second implicates the first—or, if we wish, the original decision includes the deepest motivation for our specific choices. In the primary sense of "moral" and "immoral," these terms designate this original decision. A subjective activity is morally good without qualification only if its specific decision expresses a decision to be authentic. But activity may also be moral in a secondary or qualified sense, namely, when its decision for a specific purpose is what would have been chosen had the activity decided for the comprehensive good, even while the motivation for that specific decision may be, in fact, inauthentic. For instance, one may keep a promise and, thereby, obey the moral norm that promises should (barring some overriding moral consideration) be kept; but one may do so because one calculates how a good reputation will serve one's personal advantage in the long run, and the latter is chosen as the supreme good in terms of which specific ends are evaluated. Whether one's activity is authentic can never be, I contend, the object of clear or focused self-consciousness. In that sense we cannot be explicitly aware of our deepest motivation, and the discussion explores at some length the relation between our deepest decisions and those of which we are explicitly aware.

In a word, then, the metaphysics of human purpose and thus of morality is teleological. We ought so to take our decisions as to maxi-mize realization of the metaphysical good. In saying this, one simply reasserts neoclassical metaphysics in contrast to the Kantian tradition, and I argue for metaphysical teleology by showing how nonteleological moral theories are internally problematic. These theories agree with Kant's separation of the moral law from any comprehensive purpose because, for them, actions are right when they exemplify principles or norms that constrain purposes but are not derived from an inclusive evaluation of ends. In recent moral philosophy, the achievements of Jurgen Habermas, Karl-Otto Apel, and Alan Gewirth are notable illustrations of non-teleology. Such theories assert that our chosen purposes are moral or immoral only in some partial respect, namely, whether or not they observe the constraints nonteleological theories place upon them. Thereby, these theories imply that our possible purposes in other respects are morally indifferent.

For Gewirth, as one example, actions are morally pertinent insofar as they affect the generic freedom and well-being of other agents. By implication, then, alternatives for choice are otherwise morally indiffer-ent. But an assertion of moral indifference between or among possible purposes itself implies a moral comparison. Hence, nonteleological theories commit the "partialist fallacy" because they presuppose what they also deny, namely, the evaluation of purposes in all respects. We might make the point by analogy: Let us suppose that someone finds one painting more beautiful than another solely because the first has more vivid colors. By implication, the differing designs of the two paintings are said to make no difference in the aesthetic evaluation. To assert the aesthetic indifference of their designs, however, is itself an aesthetic judgment. Hence, one cannot confine evaluation to whether the colors are more or less vivid without a basis for comparing the paintings—design integrated with color—in their entirety. Similarly, a nonteleological assertion that alternatives for choice are morally indifferent in certain respects presupposes an evaluation of possible purposes in their entirety, and this is why the partialism of nonteleological moral theories is a fallacy.

Given a neoclassical metaphysics, the comprehensive telos must be defined by the features of final real things. Whitehead uses "creativity" as "the category of the ultimate," meaning that it names most explicitly the character of actualities—and he defines creativity: "The many become one, and are increased by one" (1978, 21). An actuality unifies relations to already completed others for the sake of its future. Hence, the good can be only the concrete realization of unity-in-diversity, and I call this the realization of creativity. It follows that all actualities have value, although they may be in themselves greater or lesser realizations of good, depending on the unity-in-diversity or creativity they achieve. When actualization is by way of self-understanding, so that moral decision occurs, we may decide for lesser rather than greater creativity and, thereby, choose immorally.

As noted above, however, what we choose is our purpose. Thus, our own realization of value depends on what we pursue, and we maximize the good we ourselves embody in the present by choosing a purpose that will maximize creativity in the future. This simply repeats that our moral responsibility is defined teleologically, and the comprehensive purpose may be captured in the following moral law: so decide as to pursue maximal creativity in the future as such. This maximal good may also be called the divine good; future creativity wherever realized becomes God's unity-in-diversity because God again and again unifies strictly everything that occurs in the world. Moreover, inclusion within God's becoming is implied by the moral law because, absent the divine good, there would be no meaning to "maximization." Realization in some future multiplicity of individuals cannot be summarily greater or less than it might have been without some single unification of them all.

Because "the many become one, and are increased by one," the achievement of unity-in-diversity possible in the present depends on the situation (the many) in which experience or activity occurs. We should, therefore, speak of human freedom in two senses: On the one hand, freedom can mean emancipation or empowerment, the chance to be creative that is given by the past we inherit. In this sense, freedom varies from human individual to human individual, depending on context. Typically, the most important context is the human past to which one has access, the opportunities provided by one's own past experiences and by the human communities in which one participates. On the other hand, there is moral freedom, with which any given person in any given moment takes her or his original decision and, thereby, decides what it will do with the opportunity presented—whether the greater unity-in-diversity possible will be realized by pursuing maxi-mal creativity in the future or some lesser possibility will be chosen. Achieving the good is, in other words, a common enterprise, in which the empowerment of any given person depends on her or his com-munities and thus on the good others make available to her or him.

Teleological ethics have been widely criticized as inconsistent with any inviolable human rights. If our supreme obligation is to maximize future good, then, so the indictment holds, even an innocent individual's right to life can be overridden when the greater good is thereby served. Perhaps, for instance, a given person might be sacrificed to a medical experiment because the probabilities of achieving thereby a major medical breakthrough are very high. But this criticism misfires against teleological ethics in general because it misfires specifically against the teleology of neoclassical metaphysics. Chapter 4 shows how a comprehensive telos authorizes what I call social practices, that is, patterns of interaction defined by reciprocal roles and responsibilities that should be observed whatever the consequences. Our pursuit of the good may be indirectly specified to particular actions through such practices, whereby the actions belonging to those practices should not be morally evaluated as if they were independent of these cooperative patterns. All institutions and many other kinds of human association are such forms of interaction.

Among the prescribed practices, the chapter argues, is a universal practice defined by a principle of respect for the communicative rights of all subjects. Like the comprehensive purpose itself, this principle is transcendental or belongs to the metaphysics of morals because the prescribed respect is implied simply by the claim every subject makes for her or his decision. To decide with understanding is to claim moral validity for one's action, and thereby one affirms the right of every other subject to contest its validity. In other words, one's action commits one to communicative respect whatever one's moral beliefs and for that reason, the principle is explicitly neutral to all moral differences. At the same time, this universal practice makes no sense unless it implicitly serves some moral purpose. Hence, the principle of communicative respect is inseparable from the comprehensive purpose. Moreover, indirect application of that purpose through the principle of communicative respect occurs precisely because realization of the telos is a common enterprise, requiring appropriate forms of com-munity. The chapter then explains how this principle defines human rights and why the obligations they give to us require moral learning.

Democratic politics is a social practice based on principles of human rights, and the final two chapters seek to explicate the meta-physics of democracy. They do so through a conversation with Jeffrey Stout's recent volume, Democracy and Tradition. If the nonteleological ethics of Apel or Gewirth is moral theory similar to Kant's, Stout's democratic thought expresses the post-Kantian critique of universal reason. Democracy itself is, on Stout's proposal, a specific tradition with its own form of public reason, and his political thought is, if I understand him correctly, circumscribed by this tradition. Accordingly, Stout's moral theory affirms, as one chapter title in his book asserts, "ethics without metaphysics." His account of democracy is not, he tells us, wedded to this view of ethics, but I argue that his attempt to separate the two is unsuccessful.

Stout's discussion is especially concerned with the place of religious beliefs—and thus "religious conceptions of the good" (Stout 2004a, 2)—within the political process, and he includes them in public discourse even while he finds metaphysics in the sense I defend unconvincing. On his account, the "discourse of most modern democracies is secularized" but does not embody a "commitment to secularism [or, we may add, to theism]" (2004a, 93). This formulation makes him an especially challenging conversation partner because, in my own way, I endorse a similar neutrality of democratic discourse. For Stout, his account expresses a third alternative between two other positions, each of which gains strength principally from the problems suffered by the other. Rawlsian or contractarian liberals, he says, separate principles of justice (at least, principles for the basic structure of society) from all "comprehensive doctrines" and, thereby, exclude religious views from public reason. The contrary position, which Stout calls "the new traditionalism," circumscribes proper moral and political evaluation within the special revelation authoritative for Christian faith. Both agree that avowedly secularistic discourse and discourse defined within some given religious tradition are the only alternatives, with the liberals affirming the first and the new traditionalists the second, and Stout's criticism of both is, I believe, fundamentally sound. Against both, democratic discourse is secularized and, thereby, neutral or hospitable to both religious and secularistic convictions.

In explicating secularized discourse, however, Stout calls upon the democratic tradition in a way that makes it independent of either secularism or theism. In other words, the constitutional norms of democratic participation are said to be free of any secularistic or religious implications, and this, I argue, makes the ethics of democratic citizenship "ethics without metaphysics." If he rejects the Rawlsian view, namely, that principles of justice to which the basic structure of society should conform are independent of any comprehensive doctrines, Stout is committed nonetheless to constitutional principles of justice whose separation from metaphysics defines the democratic exchange of reasons. Accordingly, all citizens should explicitly affirm that separation. As a consequence, chapter 5 contends, Stout's account of secularized discourse is internally problematic: the democratic tradition its citizens should recognize is, in truth, a competitive commitment of the same order as the religious and secularistic views to which it intends to be relevantly neutral. His discussion, critical of two positions to which he proposes his third alternative, has not, I argue, considered all of the options.

The final chapter, therefore, articulates a fourth position, on which democracy itself is authorized only by the comprehensive purpose and thus by metaphysical theism, even while explicit recognition of that backing can never be a condition of democratic citizenship. This accounting keeps distinct the explicit provisions of a democratic constitution, on the one hand, and, on the other, the ultimate terms of political assessment the constitution implies. Democracy is constituted explicitly by stipulating the conditions of politics through full and free discourse. In other words, a democratic constitution specifies to politics the transcendental principle of communicative respect. Thereby, politics occurs by the way of reason. To respect the right of any subject to contest one's claim to validity is to pledge that, if contested, the claim can be redeemed by argument. I call the constitutional provisions "formative" in character, whereby they do no more (and no less) than constitute a political discourse in which each citizen is sovereign over her or his assessment of every political claim, and "we the people," together as equals, are the final ruling power. Accordingly, the constitution should stipulate the rights by which each member of "we the people" is defined and the decision-making institutions through which the discourse informs governmental activities.

Naturally, politics by the way of reason cannot simply discuss and debate its own constitutional conditions. The democratic discourse is also about the state's activities, about statutory law and public policy, and thus about substantive principles and norms of political order. Because sovereign over her or his assessment of every political claim, each citizen must have the right to affirm any fundamental belief about political community she or he finds convincing. This is, I argue, the political meaning of religious freedom, and thus "religious" in this constitutional principle designates any explicit conviction about the ultimate terms of political assessment. So defined, "religious" is given an extended meaning, inclusive of both religious convictions in a more strict sense of the term and secularistic ones. Any explicit conviction about the grounds for political good is a legitimate contribution to the discourse, where each may be argumentatively validated or invalidated. Indeed, democracy is a discourse about religious conceptions of purpose in their relevance to activities of the state. Some will object that all religions are not thereby legitimated because certain religious beliefs are said to be suprarational or beyond argumentative validation. But the way of reason, I argue, simply states a commitment any religious believer already accepts if and when she or he claims validity for a religious belief. In making that claim, whatever the religion in question and even if it purports to be suprarational, one issues the pledge that one's belief can be redeemed by argument.

Neoclassical theism, then, claims to make explicit the comprehensive purpose in which all people originally believe and by which alone democracy itself is authorized. Because it prescribes democracy, however, theism so understood properly guides political decisions only through the force of argument. The pursuit of maximal creativity in the future as such provides, on this account, the ultimate terms of political assessment that ought to be convincing in the full and free political discourse and thus ought to be embodied in political decisions. Chapter 6 proceeds to develop on this basis a substantive principle of justice specifying these ultimate terms to the political order. Because the chance to be creative depends on the context to which a person has access, especially the context of human communities, I argue for justice as general emancipation: the task of politics is to maximize the measure in which general sources of empowerment are equally available to all. The chapter attempts to clarify what this substantive principle means, why it follows from neoclassical theism, and why it is inseparable from the formative principles of a democratic constitution. Democracy, we can say, is democracy on purpose, and that in two senses: in one sense, government by "we the people" is itself authorized only by the comprehensive purpose, and in another, this form of government consists in a full and free discourse about what this comprehensive purpose is and how it should inform activities of the state. In arriving at this conclusion, I hope to complete the case for metaphysical necessity as the required backing for morals and politics.

Familiar Objects and their Shadows by Crawford Elder (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy: Cambridge University Press) Most contemporary metaphysicians are sceptical about the reality of familiar objects such as dogs and trees, people and desks, cells and stars. They prefer an ontology of the spatially tiny or temporally tiny. Tiny microparticles 'dog-wise arranged' explain the appearance, they say, that there are dogs; microparticles obeying microphysics collectively cause anything that a baseball appears to cause; temporal stages collectively sustain the illusion of enduring objects that persist across changes. Crawford L. Elder argues that all such attempts to 'explain away' familiar objects project downwards, onto the tiny entities, structures and features of familiar objects themselves. He contends that sceptical metaphysicians are thus employing shadows of familiar objects, while denying that the entities which cast those shadows really exist. He argues that the shadows are indeed really there, because their sources - familiar objects - are mind-independently real.

Excerpt: In general, contemporary metaphysics is deeply sceptical of the familiar objects in which common sense believes. It is far more ready to attribute reality to entities that are much smaller — to the particles and wave packets and strings which microphysics treats as real, or to the "mereological simples" for which philosophical reflection provides some support. Any such view must find some way of explaining why there appear to be familiar medium-sized objects in the world. Many metaphysicians suppose that we can do just that. We can explain why it appears that the microparticles of the world compose familiar objects, why it appears that these objects persist across careers in which they lose and gain component micro-particles, and why it appears that these objects have and exercise causal powers. The main business of this book is to argue that lead-ing examples of such reductive explanations fail. For time and again such explanations project downwards, onto the small entities of the preferred ontology, structures and relations and features that properly belong to familiar objects. Such projection is harmless so long as one allows that there also are, in addition to the small entities, the familiar objects that form the starting point of the projection. But if— as is generally the case — the aim is to expunge familiar objects from ontology, the invocation of such structures and relations and features is illegitimate. The opponents of familiar objects are then helping themselves to shadows cast downwards, onto the level of the preferred small entities, while denying that the sources of these shadows exist.

The metaphysical position which this book is intended to sup-port is that at least many of the familiar objects that common sense recognizes are mind-independently real. The book begins with a chapter that undertakes to refute two false friends of this common-sense ontology. The first is the modal conventionalist, who holds that the general ways in which nature's kinds are marked out from one another, and the general ways in which persistences of members of those kinds are delimited, are fixed by the "descriptive content" and "referential intentions" that we associate with our sortals and matter-names. Such a view fails to treat as mind-independently real the phenomena of sameness in kind and of persistence across time. It therefore falls short of realism about familiar objects (indeed about any objects) since it makes the natures that objects share with others of their kind, and the careers which each individually traces out, be functions of our cognitive and linguistic practices. The other false friend is the explosivist, who is happy to award mind-independent reality to the familiar objects of common sense, but who cheapens that award — indeed nullifies it — by awarding reality likewise to every imaginable crosscutting of the world's individuals and kinds. The modal conventionalist thinks that nothing is required of the world in order for our general ways of tracing persistences and detecting kind-samenesses to be correct; the explosivist thinks that nothing special is required, since any general ways of doing this cannot fail to track real persistings and real samenesses in kind. Chapter 1 argues that neither conventionalism nor explosivism embodies an adequate understanding of the ways that our talk about sameness in kind, and about numerical persistence across time, functions in our cognitive economy.

Chapter 2 deals further with modal conventionalism. Of the two false friends of common-sense ontology, conventionalism and explosivism, conventionalism has been the more influential, and so deserves the more protracted treatment. One form which conventionalism has assumed is a view that might aptly be labeled "onto-logical relativism." Chapter 2 examines one arresting argument for ontological relativism, and contends that that argument fails. More radically, chapter 2 argues that any argument for ontological relativism must fail — that the view is conceptually untenable.

Between them, chapters 1 and 2 raise serious objections against the main currently prevailing forms of antirealism about material objects. Chapter 3 then sets forth a realist position on material objects. It articulates the connections between realism about the existence of material objects and realism about the two forms of sameness discussed in chapter 1, and shows what a realist ontology that incorporates all three elements must look like.

The book then turns to the opponents of common-sense ontology. As puzzles such as the ship of Theseus have made vivid for millennia, familiar objects, if real at all, seem to survive across a messy variety of alterations — and not just of loss and gain of component particles, but of hard-to-delimit qualitative alteration. Here the desire for a cleaner ontology may motivate an ontological preference for entities that are temporally smaller than familiar objects appear to be — for temporal stages, each of which lasts no longer than the shortest possible physical change. Such temporally tiny entities can explain away the appearance that there are familiar objects that persist over long careers by serving as the truth-makers for claims expressing that appearance. If a temporal stage of the right qualitative character stands in temporal counterpart relations to other stages having the right qualitative character, then, say stage theorists, a sentence that asserts or presupposes the persisting of a familiar object can be rendered true. But I argue that temporal counterpart relations — if they are not going to saddle us with an explosivist account of the world's persistences — constitute an illegitimate projection downward from the careers and powers of familiar objects.

The second group of opponents are the causal exclusionists. From the time of Plato's Eleatic stranger it has seemed plausible that familiar objects, if real, must be capable of bringing about effects. But any familiar object is wholly composed of entities that, spatially, are vastly smaller — in particular, the microparticles of physics. If physics is closed and complete, it may seem, then, that the several doings of the component microparticles must between them cause anything which the familiar object may be said to cause. We have apparent overdetermination, which is apparently intolerable, and the appar-ent victory goes to the microparticles. But to which microparticles? When, I shall argue, microparticles are grouped in the ways rele-vant for awarding them efficacy over the effects that common-sense attributes to familiar objects, they are grouped in ways that illegit-imately project downwards, from the level of the familiar objects themselves. Causal exclusion arguments, focused on familiar objects, generally fail. They fail in particular for the apparent exclusion of mental causation. Mental causation is the case I shall use to focus the debate about whether a familiar object's microparticles steal away the apparent efficacy of that familiar object. That is, I shall discuss whether beliefs and desires — states of that most familiar of familiar objects, a person — genuinely cause behavioral outcomes. But I will indicate how the argument generalizes to the ca.ses of other familiar objects.

The third group of opponents are the sceptics about composition. It seems secure, to these opponents, that tiny entities entirely occupy any volume in which common sense supposes a familiar object to be present. But is there also the one large object which these entities seem to compose? These philosophers begin with uncertainty about what, in general, composition might amount to, and proceed to scepticism about whether there objectively is any such phenomenon at all. It unquestionably appears that microparticles compose such (relatively) large objects as dogs and trees and desks — but that appearance may amount to no more than that the microparticles themselves are "dogwise" (or "treewise" or "deskwise") arranged. I argue that such adverbial arrangements are a projection downwards from familiar objects. They are, indeed, perfectly real if the objects from which the projection proceeds are themselves real. That is, there is a genuine phenomenon Iof microparticles' being dogwise or treewise or desk-wise arranged, if this phenomenon just amounts to the fact that those microparticles jointly occupy (and are confined to) the entire volume in which a dog or tree or desk exists. If that sort of fact obtains, indeed, it likewise provides the analysis of what it is for those microparticles to compose a dog or tree or desk. But the opponents in this third group want to explain away, rather than affirm, the reality of such familiar objects. And if familiar objects do not really exist, the phenomena of dogwise or deskwise arrangedness are purely imaginary.

A fourth group of opponents thinks that composition is not some-thing which microparticles owe to the reality of the familiar objects within which they are found, but something that they possess in their own right. Indeed any plurality of entities whatever composes something, says this fourth group. Composition is a "free lunch" (in Armstrong's phrase), which comes automatically with the bare existence of the components. This is the doctrine of universal mereological composition (UMC). The proponent of this doctrine qualifies as a third false friend of the ontology of common sense. The proponent appears to be a friend because, at any moment at which common sense supposes a familiar object to exist, she will find a mereological sum of microparticles that occupies just that volume which common sense supposes the familiar object to occupy (with the small qualification that the mereological sum will have relatively precise boundaries, while the familiar object apparently has vague boundaries). But the proponent of UMC is a false friend, not just because of her explosivist commitments, but because, as I shall argue, her stand-ins for familiar objects are compositionally brittle, while familiar objects themselves are compositionally flexible. That is, across the phases of its existence, a familiar object might have incorporated different microparticles from those that it did; not so, I argue, the mereological sum of microparticles that is located where that familiar object is. UMC is a false doctrine, I shall argue. The composed objects which it countenances would in general be characterized only by certain structural properties, properties that fail to contrast to greater and lesser degree with their own proper contraries. But determinate contrast-with-contraries is constitutive of the very identity of any genuine property.

The argument of this book is defensive. The book identifies inadequacies in contemporary attempts to "explain away" familiar objects, attempts intended to show that no familiar objects really exist. Some readers may find themselves wishing to see positive arguments in favor of familiar objects. As responses to the contemporary opponents of familiar objects, these would be arguments to the effect that some familiar objects are perfectly real — not necessarily that every familiar object posited by common sense, or by one of the special sciences, is real. I will offer no argument for that more limited conclusion, because I believe that any such argument would be question-begging: it would have to proceed from premises that assume that at least some familiar objects exist. For the proponent of familiar objects, as I see matters, the situation is exactly that of Neurath's boat. We can suspect individual planks of rot, can remove them and examine them, and can even replace them if need be. But we do this while afloat on the boat — while standing on other planks. There can be no systematic justification for standing-on-planks-in-general-and-as-such.

The history of post-Cartesian philosophy of course contains many efforts at establishing the reality of familiar objects — objects such as trees and dogs, stars and cells, perhaps even desks and pencils. These arguments all proceed from premises, allegedly more secure than the conclusions to be established: that we exist, and engage in various cognitive and perhaps practical activities. But if we ourselves are familiar objects — human organisms, say — and if our featured activities engage and are directed at other familiar objects, then these arguments are question-begging in just the way I have indicated. The only alternative is to start from a picture of ourselves as transcendental egos, and to secure the existence of familiar objects by virtue of their relation to transcendental mental activity. This runs counter to the naturalist position, to which I subscribe, that we are objects in the world of familiar objects, distinguished mainly by the history of natural selection that has fashioned us. Beyond that, the only reality which such an argument can deduce for familiar objects is a mind-conferred, mind-dependent reality.

Not here. The thesis of this book is that familiar objects — at least some of them — are mind-independently real. Their detractors seek to impugn the ontological status of familiar objects by using shadows which those objects cast, while denying that the shadows have a source.

Judgements asserting one or another of two kinds of sameness are crucial, I shall argue, both for our practical mastery of the world and for our theoretical understanding of it. On the one hand, there are judgements saying that one object is the same in kind as other objects, or that some matter is the same in kind as matter found elsewhere. On the other hand, there are judgements saying that the object in front of us is numerically the same object, or that the matter is the very same matter, as we encountered earlier or will encounter later.

In making these judgements we call upon observation and under-standing. In order to affirm sameness in kind, we must observe that various similarities obtain between one object and others, or between matter here and matter elsewhere. In order to affirm persistence across a single episode of observation, we must observe that an object (or some matter) has moved continuously, while retaining largely the same features, and in order to affirm persistence across separate episodes, we must observe that the object (or the matter) now before us presents features appropriately related to those observed in an object (or some matter) encountered at other times. But we must also under-stand which sorts of similarities indicate sameness in kind, which sorts of relations mark out persistences. We must understand, for example. that sameness in chemical microstructure indicates sameness in kind. as between two portions of matter, while sameness in color does not. and neither do sameness in heft or in location. We must understand that specific sorts of sameness or change are to be expected in a persisting object of the kind to which the object observed earlier and the object observed later belong, and specific spatiotemporal relations to the place of the earlier observation.

Our judgements of kind-sameness and of numerical persistence have particular purposes — purposes having to do with inductions. Explosivism does not treat these purposes seriously enough. These two kinds of sameness-judgements often succeed in their purposes just because they often are geared to world-given clusterings of properties — where the property clusters in question underlie reliably repeating patterns of continuity and alteration among accidental properties. Conventionalism does not treat seriously enough the ways in which these sameness-judgements are geared to such world-given phenomena. Now in calling these sameness-judgements "pushmi-, pullyu representations," I have been claiming that it is constitutive of their very nature that they serve inductive purposes, and do so by virtue of corresponding to world-given clusterings of properties. Thus my charge is that explosivism and conventionalism each ignores something constitutive of the very nature of our judgements about these two forms of sameness.

The widely prevailing agenda in metaphysics takes it as uncontroversial that the contents of many regions of the world are dogwise arranged or treewise arranged or baseballwise arranged. I agree. But we will be able to identify the right regions, I have argued, only if we say that within them there are not just many microparticles but also dogs or trees or baseballs. And the real bearers of dogwise and tree-wise and baseballwise arrangement — since these are fundamentally causal phenomena — are dogs and trees and baseballs themselves. Once one has affirmed that there are in the world the phenomena of dogwise and treewise and baseballwise arrangement, therefore, it is far, far too late to raise questions about whether there really are in the world dogs and trees and baseballs.



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Familiar Objects and their Shadows by Crawford Elder (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy: Cambridge University Press) Most contemporary metaphysicians are sceptical about the reality of familiar objects such as dogs and trees, people and desks, cells and stars. They prefer an ontology of the spatially tiny or temporally tiny. Tiny microparticles 'dog-wise arranged' explain the appearance, they say, that there are dogs; microparticles obeying microphysics collectively cause anything that a baseball appears to cause; temporal stages collectively sustain the illusion of enduring objects that persist across changes.