PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS by Robert Nozick

PHILOSOPHICAL EXPLANATIONS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

I, too, seek an unreadable book,"" Harvard philosophy professor Nozick begins, ominously. What Nozick aspires to is a book so full of insights that the reader has to constantly stop and reflect. He admits he hasn't attained his precise goal, but he needn't be too discouraged because this massive tome is unreadable for a simpler reason: it's self-important and often unintelligible. Nozick lays out all the Big Questions, like ""Does life have meaning?"" and ""Do we have free will?,"" and sets out to answer them in sections with headings of ""Metaphysics,"" ""Epistemology,"" and ""Value."" Using the tools of the most arcane schools of contemporary academic philosophy--lots of mathematical functions and set theory--he satisfies himself that the individual is an autonomous moral agent who exercises free will, that there is ""truth"" in the physical world, and that the individual who ""tracks"" truth is acting in a moral and ""valuable"" way. So much for Scepticism, Reductionism, etc. For the autonomous individual trying to get through the argument there are passages like this: ""When I reflexively self-refer, I know I am referring to myself--unlike Oedipus. When I reflexively self-refer, I intentionally produce a token with the knowledge that its sense is such that in any possible world, any producer of X of it refers to X in virtue of a property (being the producer) bestowed upon him in the producing of the token 'I'."" Of course, the extra-terrestrial being who is almost requisite in analytic philosophy makes its appearance too: ""We hold that a Martian is in the same state as we when he is in a state with the same functional interconnections, and the configuration (if any) in virtue of which his state realizes this role is the same as the configuration whereby ours does, provided (?) his state has the same function of realizing this role as ours does."" Nozick's occasional forays into English are sometimes comical (""Death wipes you out""), but generally confirm the strong suspicion that some very simple ideas have been hideously camouflaged. Nozick's individualist political tract Anarchy, State, and Utopia won him a National Book Award and a following among neoconservatives--so there will be inquirers, however few tenacious readers.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0674664795
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press