MacDonald, Cynthia. Varieties of Things: Foundations of Contemporary Metaphysics.
or as a commentary alongside original articles. The book is divided into three parts.
Part I is called "Metaphysics and its Tools." It offers an account of metaphysics as an ontological investigation into what exists and the nature of fundamental reality. The tools that are presented include criteria for ontological commitment, principles of individuation, and principles of identity, such as Leibniz's Law. Macdonald discusses in good detail the competing conceptions of metaphysics outlined by Aristotle and Kant, Strawson's distinction between descriptive and revisionary metaphysics, and Carnap's distinction between internal and external questions. The working conception of metaphysics Macdonald offers is called "real metaphysics," which is a revisionary metaphysical project where one identifies conceptual frameworks as sets of sentences and adopts a criterion of ontological commitment in order to determine what kinds of things exist, as well as what their fundamental nature is.
In Part II, "Particulars," Macdonald discusses are material substances, persons, and events. Part II is by far the longest section of the book. In the chapter on material substances Macdonald rejects two reductive accounts of substances: the Bundle Theory of substances, which attempts to capture substances as bundles of properties, and the Bare Substratum Theory, which attempts to capture substances as bundles of properties plus a nonrepeatable constituent that is necessarily without properties and bare. Some of the reasons the Bundle Theory is rejected is because it cannot explain how a substance is a unified thing and how substances persist and survive change. If a substance is just a bundle of properties how does the bundle get unified in a way that is present in a substance? If a substance survives change, then what is the part of the substance that survives change when it undergoes a change? The Bare Substratum Theory is supposedly an improvement over the Bundle Theory, because by positing an essentially bare nonrepeatable constituent for every particular it can account for how material substances survive change. After considering various glosses, however, Macdonald argues that the Bare Substratum Theory is incoherent. If a bare substratum is just a property-less constituent of a substance, how can we make sense of the idea that it is the part of a particular material substance wherein the properties inhere? How can a property-less thing be that in which properties inhere?
Macdonald's own view is called the property exemplification account of substances. It is a nonreductive account of substances that countenances a partition of the properties that a substance has into individuating properties and identity characterizing properties. Some properties of an apple are essential and kind individuating, but not identity characterizing. For example, the property of being an apple is a kind individuating property of any given apple, two red apples and a green apple share the essential property of being an apple, the red apples and green apple differ in their color, an accidental property of each of the particular apples, which are further distinguished by their spatiotemporal location. On Macdonald's account, material substances are exemplifications of substance-kind properties in places at times, and where a and b are substances, a = b if and only if a and b are exemplifications of the same atomic substance-kind properties in the same place at the same time.
In Chapter 4, Macdonald discusses our ontological commitment to persons and various accounts of what it is to be a person. Her discussion includes psychological accounts, pure physical accounts, the closest continuer theory, and the multiple occupancy thesis. She defends a continuity account of persons, whereby persons are psychological things that are constituted by physical things much in the same way that a statue is constituted by clay.
In Chapter 5, Macdonald discusses events, beginning with Donald Davidson's classical work. Three important criteria for the identity of events are discussed: spatiotemporal coincidence, necessary spatiotemporal coincidence, and sameness of cause and effect. Macdonald eventually defends a property exemplification account of events by exploring the work of Jaegwon Kim and Lawrence Lombard.
Macdonald's discussion of particulars reveals a realist bias: little attention is given to antirealism, such as social constructivist views of particulars. Only in Part III, "Universals," is discussion given to serious antirealist theories. Here the extreme nominalism of Nelson Goodman, and moderate nominalist positions, such as resemblance nominalism and trope nominalism, are discussed at length. Macdonald closes with a good discussion of how a Platonic account of universals might answer the notorious "Third Man Argument."
Varieties of Things is also a good book for anyone interested in getting back up to speed on contemporary metaphysics, it is written clearly, with illuminating examples and engaging discussion.--Anand Vaidya, San Jose State University.
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|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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