Cover image for Invariances : the structure of the objective world
Invariances : the structure of the objective world
Nozick, Robert.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
x, 416 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library BD221 .N69 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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.

Author Notes

Educated at Columbia and Princeton universities, Robert Nozick is Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He rose to eminence in the last quarter of the twentieth century as a creative philosopher who has expressed philosophical truths beyond the reach of analytic argumentation. Honed in the technical intricacies of analytic philosophy, he has nonetheless restored meditation to its proper place in the philosophical canon.

Nozick's first book, Anarchy, State and Utopia (initially published in 1974), won the National Book Award in 1975 and became the fundamental text of the Libertarian movement.

Nozick's second book, Philosophical Explanations, was given the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award of Phi Beta Kappa in 1982. It covers a wide range of basic philosophical topics: the question why there is something rather than nothing, the identity of the self, knowledge and skepticism, free will, the foundation of ethnics, and the meaning of life.

Nozick abandons philosophical proof or argumentation as too coercive and opts instead for methods of explanation that promote understanding. This approach has culminated in his third book, The Examined Life.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

An ambitious, stimulating effort to revitalize the notions of truth and objectivity in a way that takes account of contemporary physics and biology, Nozick's latest book lays out an agenda at once bold and tentative: to propose "new and philosophically interesting" theses, but to aim only at exploration, not at conclusive proof. The Harvard professor's style is accessible, his approach refreshingly nondogmatic. A chapter on truth and relativism builds on quantum mechanics to yield the conclusion that truth is relative to time and place, but conscientiously makes room for the possibility that it is not. Nozick's proposal that truth "is what explains success in acting upon beliefs" is nicely nuanced, as is his argument that an "objective fact is one that is invariant under all admissible transformations." Despite the book's many strong points, there are weaknesses. Nozick is all too ready to accommodate philosophy to present-day scientific opinion, as if the former were the handmaiden of the latter. And although he is avowedly dedicated to opening "possibilities for consideration," he never considers the difference theism might make to his investigations. Even so, the book is a valuable inquiry into truth and objectivity in both the physical and mental worlds. (Oct.) Forecast: Nozick is a well-known philosopher within academia, and most university collections will be a lock for this title, as will many syllabi. Yet lay readers, if encouraged, will find it accessible, but requiring a preexisting commitment to the subject. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Nozick prefers raising questions to answering them. He criticizes competing positions without refuting them and proposes others without trying to establish them. Readers who see philosophy that way may be interested in his "forays" into scientifically influenced metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (including about 100 pages of notes), but those who prefer attempts to prove or to disprove are likely to find tedious the book's assorted unanswered questions, numerous parenthetical hints, and frequent indefinite suggestions to "compare" or "consider." Interested or not, readers will be put off by much diffuse and bulky writing, e.g., "An amount of unpredictability of behavior may not be a side effect" instead of "How unpredictable behavior is may not be simply a side effect." What gold the book contains only patient and robust professional philosophers can dig for. Robert Hoffman, York Coll., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction: On Philosophical Method
I The Structure of the Objective World
1 Truth and Relativism Is Truth Relative?
Who Wants Relativism?
Truth in Space and Time
The Truth Property
Is a Theory of Truth Possible?
Is Truth Socially Relative?
Does Relativism Undercut Itself?
The Correspondence Theory
2 Invariance and Objectivity
Objective Facts Admissible Transformations
Two Types of Philosophical Account
The Ordering of Objectiveness
Intersubjectivity Objective Beliefs and Biasing
Factors Dimensions of Truth
The Objectivity of Science
The Functional View
Underdetermination of Theory Rationality, Progress, Objectivity, and Veridicality
3 Necessity and Contingency
Epistemology of Necessity
On the Supposed Necessity of Water's Being H 2 O
The Withering of Metaphysical Necessity
Explaining Away Necessities
Logical and Mathematical Necessity
Degrees of Contingency
The Nature of Actuality
The Ultimate Theory of the World
II The Human World as Part of the Objective World
4 The Realm of Consciousness
The Function of Consciousness
Gradations of Awareness
The Context of Consciousness
The Zoom-Lens Theory
Synthesizing and Filtering Data
Common Knowledge
The Functions of Phenomenology
Mind-Body Relations
5 The Genealogy of Ethics
The Theory of Ethics
The Ubiquity of Ethics
Coordination to Mutual Benefit
Coordination via Ethical Norms
The Evaluation of Systems of Coordination
The Core Principle of Ethics
Normative Force and the Normativity Module
Evaluative Capacities
Higher Layers of Ethics
Ethical Truth and Ethical Objectivity
The Unpredictability of Human Behavior
Ethics and Conscious Self-Awareness

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