Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World

Robert Nozick

Published by Belknap Press, 2001
ISBN 10: 0674006313 / ISBN 13: 9780674006317
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Recent scientific advances have placed many traditional philosophical concepts under great stress. In this pathbreaking book, the eminent philosopher Robert Nozick rethinks and transforms the concepts of truth, objectivity, necessity, contingency, consciousness, and ethics. Using an original method, he presents bold new philosophical theories that take account of scientific advances in physics, evolutionary biology, economics, and cognitive neuroscience, and casts current cultural controversies (such as whether all truth is relative and whether ethics is objective) in a wholly new light. Throughout, the book is open to, and engages in, the bold exploration of new philosophical possibilities.

Philosophy will never look the same. Truth is embedded in space-time and is relative to it. However, truth is not socially relative among human beings (extraterrestrials are another matter). Objective facts are invariant under specified transformations; objective beliefs are arrived at by a process in which biasing factors do not play a significant role. Necessity's domain is contracted (there are no important metaphysical necessities; water is not necessarily H2O) while the important and useful notion of degrees of contingency is elaborated. Gradations of consciousness (based upon "common registering") yield increasing capacity to fit actions to the world. The originating function of ethics is cooperation to mutual benefit, and evolution has instilled within humans a "normative module": the capacities to learn, internalize, follow norms, and make evaluations. Ethics has normative force because of the connection between ethics and conscious self-awareness. Nozick brings together the book's novel theories to show the extent to which there are objective ethical truths.

Review: Robert Nozick is a heavyweight among philosophers, and Invariances is just what one might expect from him. The book takes up a battery of core metaphysical questions: the nature of truth, objectivity, necessity, consciousness, and ethics. "My own philosophical bent is to open possibilities for consideration, not to close them," he writes. To that end, Invariances asks at least as many questions as it answers. Nonetheless, Nozick tackles his themes rigorously, making this a closely argued and engaging book.

Nozick is a political as well as theoretical thinker, and he is among the staunchest proponents of libertarianism. Here he widens his scope to investigate the metaquestions of philosophy and spells out his original conception of objectivity in the world. Nozick, who is Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard, writes with an analytic inclination that can be challenging for lay readers, but his arguments are always intelligent and intriguing. --Eric de Place

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Title: Invariances: The Structure of the Objective ...
Publisher: Belknap Press
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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