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Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World [Hardcover]

Robert Nozick
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

16 Oct 2001
Contemporary scientific advances have placed many traditional philosophical concepts under great stress. In this book, the philosopher Robert Nozick rethinks and transforms the concepts of truth, objectivity, necessity, contingency, consciousness, and ethics. Using an original method, he presents 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 exploration of alternative philosophical possibilities. 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.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 428 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (16 Oct 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674006313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674006317
  • Product Dimensions: 3.5 x 16.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,941,095 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"rich in details and breathtaking in sweep...." -- The Economist, 1 February 2002

About the Author

Robert Nozick was Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University. His book Anarchy, State, and Utopia received a National Book Award. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nozick at his best 23 Dec 2003
By A Customer
Robert Nozick was both the most innovative and imaginative of 20th Century philosophers and his early death is a huge loss. What was remarkable about Nozick was his breadth and the ambition of his thought. Moreover, he usually succeeded in making a serious contribution the areas he turned his mind to.

This best part of this book is that it offers a significant contribution to the debate on relativism and absolutism. Indeed social constructionists will have serious difficulty in rebutting Nozick's arguments.
Parts of this book are difficult, particularly for those without a scientific background. However, making the effort pays off with some wonderful insights on relativism, the nature of objective knowledge and the place of ethics.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding 15 Dec 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This brilliant book is Nozick's reply to Hawking's challenge to philosophers (or those claiming to practice philosophy) today at the end of "A Brief History of Time": why is the tail of science wagging the metaphysical dog (this image is borrowed from Nozick)? Physicists today are asking the good and serious questions in philosophy by making bold hypotheses, and thereby stretching metaphysical possibilities. Meanwhile philosophers are still largely enraptured by the illusion of necessary truths and certainty in all possible worlds. The idea of objectivity as expressed by the notion of invariances is a useful and enlightening tool Nozick has provided not just for understanding better the concepts of necessity and contingency (and how similar they actually are), but how they can be used to understand the way the mind and ethics work. A must read for anyone interested in philosophy. Nozick's clarity of thought, style and wonderful sense of humour make this a highly readable work.
39 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind sharpener 26 Sep 2001
By William Sullivan - Published on Amazon.com
Any Nozick book will leave you more clever than it found you and Invariances is no exception. As Nozick more or less says in his Introduction, this book is not so much about getting the correct answers to questions, as it is about posing new and interesting questions (or, better, posing old questions in new and interesting ways). The value here is that thinking about the world in news ways puts our current ideas in jeopardy (which is a good thing) and forces those ideas to step up to bat in order to remain our current ideas.
Invariances will make some ideas which you may have dismissed as foolish seem plausible (even though you'll still probably dismiss them) and force you to confront some new thoughts in epistemology, philosophy of science, and ethics. Nozick is an antidote to the not fully explored idea. What you don't know might hurt you, but what you half-know will.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Memoriam 10 Sep 2002
By Flounder - Published on Amazon.com
This is a fine book by an important veteran philosopher. It's Nozick's last published book before his unfortunate death.
I also recommend: Williams, Truth and Truthfulness; Krausz, Relativism; Nagel, Last Word; Nozick, Philosophical Explanations; and Putnam, Realism with a Human Face; Searle, Social Construction; Searle, Rediscovery...Mind; Dummett, Logical Basis....
Chapter One is on truth and relativism. Nozick situates truth in space-time and discusses objective facts (and the attractions of a correspondence theory of truth). Chapter Two extends his discussion on objective facts; he brings in the philosophy of science. Chapter Three discusses modality (necessity and contingency), and the most interesting material here is on mathematical and logical necessity (see Dummett, Putnam, and Stroud). Chapter Four is on consciousness and the mind-body problem (compare with Searle, Chalmers, and McGinn). Chapter Five is a discussion on normative ethics.
I highly recommend this book. It is often quite clear and rigorous in parts.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Steep Gradient 28 Aug 2005
By D. R. Greenfield - Published on Amazon.com
Filled to overflowing with ideas and insights, this book is best taken in small doses. For me, it was very hard to follow, and quickly became a chore to read, something I am unaccustomed to, since I mainly read for pleasure. It was only the exposure to Nozick's trenchant analytical prose and the chance of encountering his occasionally brilliant insights that convinced me to press on. Certainly the book will require more than one reading, with only about 70 percent comprehension the first time around.

The book concerns the philosophy of science, and how the mathematical concepts relating to invariance under "all admissible transformations" can be applied to the notion of truth. The essential thesis is that objective, empirical truth is that which is invariant "under all admissible transformations". Ideas from special relativity and quantum mechanics are marshalled to support Nozick's argument that empirical truth is fundamentally relative with respect to space-time, but not relative with respect to social classes. Contemporary science is the filter through which all truths and questions about truth are passed. Though emphatically not reader-friendly, if you spend serious time with this book, you will no doubt come away with many fresh insights about the world. In summary, rewarding; but a rocky, steep climb.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy is Back 20 Mar 2004
By N N Taleb - Published on Amazon.com
Philosophy has been under severe challenge from science, literally eating up its provinces: philosophy of mind went to neuroscience; philosophy of language to Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science,etc. This book shows that there is a need for someone to just specialize in the TRUTH, its scructure, its accessibility, its INVARIANCE.
Aside from the purely philosophical answers that scientists were grappling with, the book is like a manual for a new regimen in philosophy. It reviews everything from epistemology to the logic of contingency, with insights here and there about such topics as the observer biases (about computing probabilities when our existence has been linked to a particular realization of the process).
I am not a philosopher but a probabilist; I found that this book just spoke to me. It certainly rid me of my prejudice against modern philosophers.
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