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Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
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Jaegwon Kim
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Saul Kripke
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Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
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John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
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James Martineau
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Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
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Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
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David F. Pears
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Derk Pereboom
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R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
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Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
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Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
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Joshua Greene
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Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Peter Unger

In 1980 Peter Unger formulated what he called "The Problem of the Many." It led Unger to propose that nothing exists and that even he did not exist, a position known as nihilism.

Today this is the metaphysical problem of material composition and of vagueness.

The Problem of the Many
In 1999 Unger redescribed the problem in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics
let us start by considering certain cases of ordinary clouds, clouds like those we sometimes seem to see in the sky.

As often viewed by us from here on the ground, sometimes puffy ‘‘picture-postcard’’ clouds give the appearance of having a nice enough boundary, each white entity sharply surrounded by blue sky. (In marked contrast, there are other times when it’s a wonder that we don’t simply speak singularly of ‘‘the cloud in the sky’’, where each visible cloudy region runs so messily together with many other cloudy ‘‘parts of the sky’’.) But upon closer scrutiny, as may happen sometimes when you’re in an airplane, even the puffiest, cleanest clouds don’t seem to be so nicely bounded. And this closer look seems a more revealing one. For, as science seems clearly to say, our clouds are almost wholly composed of tiny water droplets, and the dispersion of these droplets, in the sky or the atmosphere, is always, in fact, a gradual matter. With pretty much any route out of even a comparatively clean cloud’s center, there is no stark stopping place to be encountered. Rather, anywhere near anything presumed a boundary, there’s only a gradual decrease in the density of droplets fit, more or less, to be constituents of a cloud that’s there.

With that being so, we might see that there are enormously many complexes of droplets, each as fit as any other for being a constituted cloud. Each of the many will be a cloud, we must suppose, if there are even as many as just one constituted cloud where, at first, it surely seemed there was exactly one. For example, consider the two candidates I’ll now describe. Except for two ‘‘widely opposing’’ droplets, one on one side of two overlapping cloudy complexes, way over on the left, say, and another way over on the right, two candidate clouds may wholly overlap each other, so far as droplets goes. The cited droplet that’s on the left is a constituent of just one of the two candidates, not a component of the other; and the one on the right is a component of the other candidate, not the one first mentioned. So each of these two candidate clouds has exactly the same number of constituent droplets. And each might have exactly the same mass, and volume, as the other.

In his 1990 book Material Beings, Peter van Inwagen said Unger's original insight that there are many ways to compose a cloud from innumerable water droplets should be called "mereological universalism".

Van Inwagen denies there is any way for simples to compose anything other than themselves, which van Inwagen calls "mereological nihilism.

The Problem of Free Will

"In the terms of our dominant Scientiphical Metaphysic, it's hard to think of myself as an entity that engages in activity he himself chooses from available alternatives for his action."

"Rather than discussing a form of Incompatibilism discussed for centuries, I'm now trying to introduce for discussion new forms of Incompatibilism."

Compare Peter Van Inwagen's Jane
Let's return to consider our Scientiphical Jane. Composed of very many Particles, and nothing else metaphysically basic, all Jane's powers must derive, in such a straightforwardly physical fashion, from the basic propensities of her quite simple physical constituents.

With less departure from Scientiphical Metaphysics, here's a second sketchy suggestion: Each of us may be a complex constituted of simpler physical entities, and each may have many Scientiphically Respectable derivative powers; but, unlike many more boring physical complexes, we'll also have radically emergent mental powers, powers with no Scientiphically Respectable derivation. Salient among these radical powers, there is our power to choose what to do from among actually available alternatives for ourselves, and, in particular, our power to choose what to think about.

On this view, it's a misleading simplification to say, with no amplification, that we're physical complexes. For, we may be mental beings just as much as we're complex physical entities. Among our very most central and peculiar powers, there'll be mental powers that have no Scientiphically Respectable derivation from any, or all, of our physical features. To avoid misleading, maybe we should say we're physical-and-mental complex beings: As with mere rocks, we have physical powers that don't (Respectably) derive from anything mental and, more peculiarly, we have mental powers that don't (Respectably) derive from anything physical.

Let's imagine ourselves as Cartesian beings who may choose, fully and freely, to move our bodies in certain ways-to wiggle our Blue thumbs, for example. So, our imaginative thought runs, we're nonphysical radically emergent mental entities that, at least from time to time, influence the course of physical reality. Now, this thought conflicts with a proposition that's accepted by almost all philosophers who, in recent decades, have written prominently on central questions of mind and body. Often going under the name "the causal closure of the physical," it's the proposition that, insofar as anything determines the course of (events in) physical reality, it's always only some sort of purely physical things that do so-some wholly physical events, perhaps.

Nothing non-physical is required, only non-material
But, if we Cartesian beings succeed in wiggling our thumbs, perhaps because we choose to move our bodies in that way, then there'll be some nonphysical things-we Cartesian beings-determining some of the course of physical reality. So, then there'll be the failure of the (so-called) causal closure of the physical. And, perhaps less poignantly, there's this same consequence should we suppose ourselves to be physical-and-mental complex beings, with an emergent mental power to choose bodily movements.

there's an effect on physical reality that's brought about through the effective exercise of a mental power of mine, not Respectably derived from features of physical reality.

Is an Exemption from Natural Law Required for Full Choice? for a being to have full choice, she must not be wholly subject to these laws; there must be at least some respects in which, at least to some degree, she is exempt from the natural laws...The laws must leave some things open to her; maybe it's left open to her to choose to increase the chance that she'll experience orange, or maybe to choose to decrease the chance she'll think that yellow is quite like orange; anyhow, there must be some powers she has that aren't wholly lawful propensities, or else she won't have a power of full choice.

As anticipated, I've not been able to make a very strong case for any Scientiphical Incompatibilism, not nearly as strong, anyway, as the case for thinking full choice incompatible with Inevitabilism, or Determinism. Why? Well, with this attempt at disclosing Scientiphical Incompatibilisms, we don't yet have much of an idea as to what it is about, say, one's having all her powers be propensities for mutual interaction, that should have full choice be ruled out for one should all one's powers be just such powers.

For future philosophical exploration, then, these avenues all but present themselves: First, and on the one hand, some should explore the possibility that, though there's an apparent clash between Scientiphical statements and our belief in our full choice, there isn't a real incompatibility here. Those wanting to uphold the Scientiphical Metaphysic should explore this avenue most energetically.

Second, and on the other hand, some might explore how we might fill the void of understanding lately remarked, so that we might come to see what it is about our Scientiphical suppositions, and what it is about full choice, that means a conflict between the two.

Third, and finally for now, there should be attempts to develop metaphysical alternatives to the Scientiphical Metaphysic, worldviews that may be more conducive to our having full choice. Perhaps, we should begin this work by energetically exploring philosophical alternatives that mean only a pretty modest departure from Scientiphicalism, our currently dominant metaphysical conception.

A view much like that just sketched may be offered in the final chapter of Timothy O'Connor's fine new book, Persons and Causes, Oxford University Press, 2000.

More philosophers now take an urgent interest in another issue concerning full choice that, at least nowadays, may be the real heart of “the problem of free will.” This more urgent issue may be presented by way of an argument strikingly forceful for reasoning so sketchy and bare:
First Premise: If Determinism holds, then, as everything we do is inevitable from long before we existed, nothing we do is anything we choose from available alternatives for our activity.

Second Premise: If Determinism doesn’t hold, then, [while some things we do may be inevitable from long before our existence and, as such, it’s never within our power to choose for ourselves] it may be that some aren’t inevitable - but, as regards any of these others, it will be a matter of chance whether we do them or not, and, as nothing of that sort is something we choose to do - nothing we do is anything we choose from available alternatives for our activity.

Third Premise: Either Determinism holds or it doesn’t.


Conclusion: Nothing we do is anything we choose from available alternatives for our activity.

This argument is quite disturbing. Indeed, nowadays, able thinkers often take it to suggest that our concept of full choice is an incoherent idea, never true of any reality at all.

Unger, P. (1979). Why There Are No People. Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 4(1), 177-222.
Unger, P. (1980). The problem of the many. Midwest studies in philosophy, 5(1), 411-468.
Unger, P. (1999). Mental Problems of the Many. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, 23, Chapter 8. p.195.
Unger, P. (2002). Free Will and Scientiphicalism. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 65(1), 1-25.

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