I've now read van Inwagen's "Metaphysics" three times, cover to cover, and have more or less internalized the book. It is one of the best introductions to the subject, bar none; indeed, this is the book that first made me realize what metaphysics *is*. This book is suitable for the general reader, even if he has no previous background in philosophy, provided he is willing to think hard. It is equally suited to the beginning student of metaphysics. Van inwagen characterizes metaphysics, accurately in my opinion, as the study of ultimate reality. The metaphysician, in other words, is the inquirer who seeks to say exactly how the world really is. As such, the metaphysician cannot be content with anything less than the strict, literal, and precise truth about all things. The metaphysician's subject can be organized succinctly around three questions:
(1) What is the world really like? What are its most general features, and how is it organized? (2) Why is there a world at all? Why does the world have the general features and organization that it has? (3) What is our place in the world? How, if at all, do we fit into the scheme of things?
(These are paraphrases of questions that van Inwagen puts to the reader in the introduction of his book.)
The book can be seen as an introduction to metaphysical inquiry, by way of actual examples of how metaphysicians have attempted to answer these questions, and more specific questions that fall under them. Thus, van Inwagen examines, among other things, individuality (monism, nihilism, pluralism, Spinoza's & Bradley's arguments for monism), externality (Berkeley's subjective idealism), objectivity (Realism and anti-Realism), the cosmological, ontological, and teleological arguments, in several different forms, mind-body dualism and physicalism, free will vs. determinism, composition and persistence through time, and personal identity. In the course of this inquiry, van Inwagen makes no effort to maintain a fine neutrality; he forthrightly states his own opinions and argues for them, examines and criticizes opposing views and arguments, and offers his conclusions. On some matters, he finds no solutions, but only enduring mysteries. The book concludes with a meditation on mystery, and a suggestion that metaphysical problems may be beyond human power to solve (or resolve), and that it is no surprise if that is in fact the case. I happen to disagree with these sentiments, at least to a degree, and I certainly disagree with many of van Inwagen's conclusions. But that's the point. Learning metaphysics isn't learning a set of established facts, it is learning how to form something resembling an intelligent opinion on matters metaphysical. If, by the end of this book, you have learned enough to *disagree* with van Inwagen intelligently, the book has done its job. It certainly did for me.