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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
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
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Heraclitus
R.E.Hobart
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
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
Parmenides
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Protagoras
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

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
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Martin J. Klein
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Abraham Pais
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
John Stachel
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Vlatko Vedral
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
David Foster Wallace

As a young philosopher, David Foster Wallace (later a popular writer of fiction with philosophical themes), wrote an undergraduate philosophy thesis in 1985 on Richard Taylor's famous article "Fatalism," which had appeared in The Philosophical Review, v. 71, n. 1, 1962. Wallace claimed to disprove Taylor by showing that his arguments were merely semantic and could not establish metaphysical truths such as determinism.

Taylor's article is important because it shows how a few important presuppositions, ones commonly accepted by academic philosophers, imply that determinism is true. This is most ironic, because anyone familiar with Taylor's work (he was an agent causalist) would know that this was not his position on free will. Nevertheless, several philosophers tried to show in the 1960's that Taylor's arguments in "Fatalism" were invalid. Taylor's article is still widely anthologized, with the result that many philosophers today regard Taylor as a fatalist!

Taylor's arguments are essentially versions of the ancient problems of Future Contingency and Diodorus Cronus' Master Argument, still implicit in many philosophers work on the problem of free will. Even in ancient times, such arguments were derided, by Epictetus, for example, in his Discourses, Bk 2, Ch 1, "Against those who embrace philosophical opinions only in words."

Modern thinkers with similar conclusions, albeit for different reasons, include C. W. Rietdijk, Hilary Putnam, J. J. C. Smart, Michael Lockwood, and Michael Levin, who like to think that the future is "already out there" in the relativistic space-time continuum of a "tenseless" "block universe."

Wallace's arguments are quite powerful in the sense that much of what Taylor was doing (perhaps with tongue in cheek?) and other analytical language philosophers tried to do was simply not possible to do, discover truths about the physical world from logic and language.

Information philosophy goes "beyond logic and language."

Wallace describes fatalism as collapsing all possibilities into actuality. Only the actual is possible, they claim. Fatalism is a form of Actualism. Modern "actualists" include Harry Frankfurt, and Daniel Dennett. Wallace writes:

By what reason, other than mere habit or inclination, ought we to reject out of hand a modal system in which possibility, actuality, and necessity are collapsed? Would it somehow be meaningless or uninteresting? The fatalist can point out that no less a non-fatalist than G. H. von Wright does not think it would. In discussing a system with just such a feature, von Wright maintains that "This 'collapsing' of the distinction between the possible and the necessary does not make the system uninteresting as a modal logic. Quite to the contrary, speaking in the traditional modal terms, one can call it a modal logic of a universe of propositions which has no room for contingent propositions but in which every truth is a necessity and every falsehood an impossibility." (In other words, a fatalistic modal logic.) Some philosophers have argued that the collapse of modal distinctions apparently implied by the Taylor problem results in the very concept of "necessity" itself becoming vacuous, and so renders the fatalist's contention that everything that happens is "necessary" empty and benign. But the fatalist is clearly going to want to hold that since the relevant collapse is from possibility and actuality into necessity, it is only necessity which has any real meaning as a modal concept, and it is the others which are really empty. Where does this leave us? Again an attempted refutation of Taylor's argument boils down to an attack upon a fatalistic intuition which we can only reject, not refute.
Wallace concludes his thesis by concluding that fatalism entails determinism:
the metaphysical doctrine of determinism [is] the idea that,
This is of course Laplacian determinism
given a precise and total state of affairs at one instant, and the physical laws that govern the causal relations between states of affairs, there is one and only one possible state of affairs that could obtain at the next instant. The fatalist, then, would appear to be able to preserve the validity of his Taylor-argument against [Wallace's] analysis only by embracing the metaphysical doctrine of determinism, by being a determinist.

And what exactly is a determinst? Let's have a look at Richard Taylor's own definition:

A determinist is simply, if he is consistent, a fatalist about everything; or at least, he should be. For the essential idea that a man would be expressing by saying that his attitude was one of fatalism with respect to this or that event — his own death, for instance — is that it is not up to him whether, or when or where, this event will occur, that it is not within his control. But the theory of determinism, once it is clearly spelled out and not hedged about with unresolved 'ifs' entails that this is true of everything that ever happens, that it is never really up to any man what he does or what he becomes, and that nothing ever can happen, except what does in fact happen.
So what are we to say about the fatalist's asserting the truth of determinism in order to save the validity of an argument for the truth of fatalism, when determinism, by Professor Taylor's own enthusiastic admission, is simply a stronger, more general version of fatalism? At our harshest we might simply reject the fatalist's response here as assuming in the first place the very thing for which he purported to have an independent argument. We might accuse the fatalist here of just begging the question, precisely the charge we saw the fatalist level at his poor critics in section (II).

But it is more fair to an ingenious and very important argument (and I think more interesting) to say something else. Taylor's claim was never really that fatalism was actually "true," only that it was forced upon us by proof from certain basic logical and semantic principles. This essay's semantic analysis has shown that Taylor's proof doesn't "force" fatalism on us at all. We should now recall that Taylor was offering a very curious sort of argument: a semantic argument for a metaphysical conclusion. In light of what we've seen about the semantics of physical modality, I hold that Taylor's semantic argument does not in fact yield his metaphysical conclusion. And now the fact that it appears as though he can get his metaphysical conclusion from his semantic argument only by positing at the outset the truth of a doctrine thoroughly metaphysical, seems to warrant the following conclusion of our own: if Taylor and the fatalists want to force upon us a metaphysical conclusion, they must do metaphysics, not semantics. And this seems entirely appropriate.

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Notes

1.

Bibliography

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