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Matters of Metaphysics.

Matters of Metaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. xiii + 295 pp. n.p.--These essays are characterized by meticulous argument in the analytical tradition. The book concerns matters of metaphysics in a broad sense: philosophy of mind and the problems of subjectivity; questions concerning nomological and statistical laws of nature; and, as we would expect, chance and induction.

The first group of five essays concerns mind and the self. Some of the topics are traditional: Are there subjective facts? physicalism, computation and the mind, token reflexive identifiers. There is also an essay in this group that bears the distinctive stamp of Mellor's interest in probability and chance: "Consciousness and Degrees of Belief," in which he defends the Bayesian approach to probability. He does so through the distinction between the actual (that is, causally efficacious) degrees of belief of an agent, and the degrees of belief of which the agent is conscious: "second order" degrees of belief. For example, we may reasonably attribute to an animal degrees of belief as partial explanations for its behavior. But it need not, on this account, be capable of posting odds, or knowing what its degrees of belief are.

We distinguish between assent, which is conscious, and belief, which need not be conscious, and which plays a role like that of force in physics. One advantage of this way of looking at things is that then the lottery paradox is no paradox, but a natural consequence of uncertainty: we should not believe the logical consequences of everything we believe. "I can believe two things without believing their conjunction" (p. 53). I can assent to h on the basis of its high probability, and the same for i, but I need not then assent to h and i.

Unfortunately, as Mellor recognizes, we face a similar problem with regard to single beliefs. Suppose that h actually entails i. Then, since this requires as a matter of probability theory that the probability of i be at least as great as that of h, if I assent to h I am bound to assent also to i. But if i is a logical truth, then it is entailed by anything; and if I assent to anything and I think of i at all, then I must also assent to i. Mellor wrestles with this result by construing "that which is believed" as something that may not carry with it its own truth conditions. This is not an altogether satisfactory response, as he himself acknowledges.

The second group of four essay concerns metaphysics of the most traditional sort: getting clear about natural properties, kinds, and the laws that concern them. Dispositions are basic to this treatment, and, as we should expect, include dispositions corresponding to chances. A fascinating essay, "In Defense of Dispositions," shows Mellor at his best. He begins with Carnap's treatment of dispositions and shows that it is unsatisfactory. He then proceeds to Ryle, for whom dispositions are not properties at all, but features of laws that themselves serve only as "inference tickets." From there he moves on to Armstrong, Quine, and Goodman, and eventually to a view of dispositions as relations among events rather than as properties of things.

Three essays on causation and three on prediction and decision round out the book. In "Chance and Degrees of Belief," Mellor withdraws his earlier claim that indeterminism is necessary to make sense of chance (without, of course, endorsing determinism). This essay makes a close connection between a statistical law and a coherent betting quotient: the former ensures that "in the long run" one will break even on the basis of the corresponding betting quotient. But it is not made clear what the long run comes to: any finite run will reflect a loss or a gain, and in fact as that "run" becomes longer, the expected loss (or gain) will become arbitrarily large. "Breaking even" is not likely in the short run, and it is not clear what it comes to in the infinitely long run.

This is a fine collection of essays. An index would have been helpful.
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Author:Kyburg, Henry E., Jr.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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