Metaphysics (Peter Van Inwagen)

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Puritanboard Clerk
PVI sets out to defend the Common Western Metaphysic: basically the common-sense view in the west that there is a ready-made, external world independent of our mind. This text is divided into three parts: The Way the World is, Why the World Is, and the Inhabitants of the World.

Throughout he covers all of the basic problems and terminology in metaphysics today: inviduation, externality, objective realism, free will, mind-body problem, etc.

He covers the Ontological argument, albeit in its modal form (from Plantinga and others).

In terms of the mind-body problem, PVI is critical of dualism and opts for a physicalist approach. He does admit that physicalism (i.e., all properties of a person, mental and non-mental, are simply physical properties) is hard-pressed to overcome the problem of identity (see Ship of Theseus discussion).

He gives a mostly good account of free will and defends incompatibilism. That's rather strange, since most defenders of free-will theism opt for a dualist approach to the mind-body problem.

Determinism: the thesis that it is true at every moment that the way things then are determines a unique future, that only one of the alternative futures that may exist relative to a given moment is a physically possible continuation of the state of things at that moment (254).

agent causation: a person causes an action or a series of actions

event causation: occurs when a change that occurs at a certain time is due to a change that occurred at an earlier time. This is often used to underwrite physicalism and determinism. I did something because of an event, say an electrical firing in the brain, happened.


The book is very well-written and surprisingly easy to read. It is accessible to the Beginner-Intermediate student. As for criticisms of the book, I am not persuaded that PVI fully dealt with Leibniz’s charge about a physical thing thinking. He says the dualist must likewise own up to the mystery of a non-physical thing (e.g., God) thinking (221). I don’t see how this is a problem for the dualist. The dualist isn’t bound to think of physical explanations for everything like the physicalist is
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