David Malet Armstrong
David M. Armstrong receiving his doctor of letters (h.c.) at Nottingham University, UK on 13th December 2007
|Born||8 July 1926
|School||Australian Realism, Analytic philosophy|
|Main interests||metaphysics, philosophy of mind|
David Malet Armstrong (born 8 July 1926), often D. M. Armstrong, is an Australian philosopher. He is well known for his work on metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, and for his defence of a factualist ontology, a functionalist theory of the mind, an externalist epistemology, and a necessitarian conception of the laws of nature. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2008.
Armstrong's philosophy is broadly naturalistic. In Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics, Armstrong states that his philosophical system rests upon "the assumption that all that exists is the space-time world, the physical world as we say". He justifies this by saying that the physical world "seems obviously to exist" while other things "seem much more hypothetical". From this fundamental assumption flows a rejection of abstract objects including Platonic forms.
Armstrong's development as a philosopher was influenced heavily by John Anderson, David Lewis, and J.J.C. Smart, as well as by U.T. Place, Herbert Feigl, Gilbert Ryle and G. E. Moore. Armstrong collaborated with C. B. Martin on a collection of critical essays on John Locke and George Berkeley.
In metaphysics, Armstrong defends the view that universals exist (although Platonic uninstantiated universals do not exist). Those universals match up with the fundamental particles that science tells us about. Armstrong declares himself to be a scientific realist.
Armstrong notes that his view of universals is that they are "sparse": not every predicate will have an accompanying property, but only those which are deemed basic by scientific investigation. The ultimate ontology of universals would only be realised with the completion of physical science. Mass would thus be a universal (subject to mass not being discarded by future physicists). Armstrong realises that we will need to refer to and use properties that are not considered universals in his sparse ontology—for instance, being able to refer to something being a game (to use the example from Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations). Armstrong then suggests that a supervenience relation exists between these second-order properties and the ontologically authentic universals given to us by physics.
Armstrong's theory of universals treats relations as having no particular ontological difficulty: they can be treated in the same way non-relational properties are. How Armstrong's theory of universals deals with relations with varying adicities has been raised as an issue by Fraser MacBride. MacBride argues that there can be relations where the number of terms in the relation varies across instances. Armstrong's response is to affirm a theory he describes as the Principle for Instantial Invariance, wherein the adicity of properties as essential and invariant. According to Armstrong, complex relations which seem to challenge the principle are not ontologically real but are second-order properties that can be reduced to more basic properties that subscribe to the Principle of Instantial Invariance.
Armstrong rejects nominalist accounts of properties that attempt to align properties simply with classes. Coextension is a problem they face: if properties are simply classes, in a world where all blue things are also wet, class nominalists are unable to draw a distinction between the property of being blue and being wet. He provides an analogy to the argument in Euthyphro: to say that electrons are electrons because they are part of the class of electrons puts the cart before the horse. They are part of the class of electrons because they are electrons.
In Armstrong's view, nominalisms can also be criticised for producing a 'blob' theory of reality. Objects have structure: they have parts, those parts are made of molecules, which are in turn made up of atoms standing in relation to one another, which are in turn made up of subatomic particles and so on. Blobbiness also threatens Platonic universals: a particular instantiating a universal in a world of Platonic universals becomes a matter of the blob-particular having a relation to a universal elsewhere (in the Platonic heaven, say), rather than having an internal relation in the way that a chemical element does to a constituent atom.
States of affairs 
Central to Armstrong's philosophy is the idea of states of affairs ("facts" in Russell's terminology): in Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics, Armstrong claims that states of affairs are "the fundamental structures in reality". A state of affairs roughly put is an instantiation of a particular and a universal: a state of affairs might be that a particular atom exists, instantiating a universal (say, that it is of a particular element, if chemical elements are ultimately accepted as part of Armstrong's universals). The particulars in Armstrong's ontology must have at least one universal—just as he rejects uninstantiated universals, he also rejects "unpropertied particulars".
Armstrong argues that states of affairs are distinct things in ontology because they are more than the sum of their parts. If some particular a has a non-symmetric relation R to another particular b, then R(a,b) differs from R(b,a). It may be the case that R(a,b) obtains in the world but R(b,a) does not. Without states of affairs instantiating the particulars and universals (including relations), we cannot account for the truth of the one case and the falsity of the other.
Laws of nature 
Armstrong's theory of universals gives him the basis for an understanding of laws of nature as being relations between universals, a non-Humean account of laws of nature proposed independently by Armstrong, Michael Tooley, and Fred Dretske. Armstrong's theory posits that the relations between universals are truthmakers for the statements about physical laws. Armstrong's theory is realist as it accepts that laws of nature are a feature of the world rather than just a way we talk about the world. Armstrong identifies the laws as holding between universals rather than particulars as an account of laws involving just particulars rather than universals would not adequately explain how laws of nature operate in the case of counterfactuals.
Armstrong rejects dispositionalism, the idea that dispositional properties (or 'powers' as they are sometimes referred to) are ontologically significant and have an important role in explaining laws of nature. Armstrong believes that the challenge that dispositionalism presents for his account of laws of nature is not in the case of manifested dispositions (say, a glass dropping on the ground and breaking) but unmanifested dispositions (the fact that counter-factually if one were to drop the glass on the ground, it would break). Armstrong simply states that the disposition is simply in the nature of the instantiated properties of the thing which is supposed to have the disposition.
Truth and truthmakers 
Regarding truth, Armstrong holds to what he describes as a "Maximalist" version of truthmaker theory: he believes that every truth has a truthmaker, although there doesn't necessarily exist a one-to-one mapping between truth and truthmaker. The possibility of one-to-many relations between truths and truthmakers is a feature that Armstrong believes allows truthmaker theory to answer some of the criticisms levelled at older correspondence theories of truth (of which he believes truthmaker theory to be an improved version). Negative truths have truthmakers in Armstrong's account: he gives the example of a wall that is painted green. The wall being painted green is a truth for the proposition that it is not painted white and the proposition that it is not painted red and so on.
The difficulty in providing an adequate account of truthmakers for events in the past is one reason Armstrong gives for rejecting presentism—the view that only the present exists (another reason being the incompatibility of such a view with special relativity). Presentists, Armstrong argues, must either deny that truthmakers are needed for statements about the past, or account for them "by postulating rather strange truthmakers".
Armstrong holds to a physicalist, functionalist theory of the mind. He initially was attracted to Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind and the rejection of Cartesian dualism. Armstrong did not buy into behaviourism though and instead developed a theory he referred to as the "central-state theory", which identifies mental states with the state of the central nervous system. In A Materialist Theory of Mind, he accepted that mental states such as consciousness exist, but stated that they can be explained as physical phenomena.
Armstrong's view of knowledge is that the conditions of knowledge are satisfied when you have a justified true belief that you arrived at through a reliable process: that is, the belief was caused by some factor in the external world (hence the label of externalism). Armstrong uses the analogy of a thermometer: as a thermometer changes to reflect the temperature of the environment it is in, so must one's beliefs if they are reliably formed. The connection between knowledge and the external world, for Armstrong, is a nomological relationship (that is, a law of nature relationship). Here, Armstrong's view is broadly similar to that of Alvin Goldman and Robert Nozick. The intuitions that lead to this kind of externalism led Alvin Plantinga towards an account of knowledge that added the requirement for 'properly-functioning' cognitive systems operating according to a design plan.
Life and career 
After studying at the University of Sydney, Armstrong did a B.Phil at the University of Oxford and a Ph.D at the University of Melbourne. He taught at Birkbeck College in 1954–55, then at the University of Melbourne from 1956–63. In 1964, he became Challis Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney, where he stayed until his retirement in 1992. During his career, he was a visiting lecturer at a number of institutions including Yale, Stanford, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Texas at Austin and Franklin and Marshall College.
In 1974, when the University of Sydney's Philosophy department split into two departments—the Department for General Philosophy and the Department for Traditional and Modern Philosophy—Armstrong joined the latter along with David Stove and Keith Campbell, while the former department pursued more radical politics and taught courses on Marxism and feminism. The two departments were reunified in 2000.
In 1950, Armstrong formed an Anti-Conscription Committee with David Stove and Eric Dowling, all three former students of John Anderson. Anderson supported conscription and also believed that anti-conscription opinions ought to be suppressed.
- Berkeley's Theory of Vision: A Critical Examination of Bishop Berkeley's Essay towards a New Theory of Vision. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1960.
- Bodily Sensations. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1962.
- Perception and the Physical World. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1961. [ISBN 0-7100-3603-5]
- A Materialist Theory of the Mind. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1968. [ISBN 0-415-10031-3]
- Belief, Truth and Knowledge. London: Cambridge University Press, 1973, [ISBN 0-521-08706-6]
- Universals and Scientific Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. [ISBN 0-521-21741-5]
- The Nature of Mind and Other Essays. Cornell University Press (1981). [ISBN 0801413532 ]
- What is a Law of Nature? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. [ISBN 0-521-25343-8]
- A Combinatorial Theory of Possibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. [ISBN 0-521-37427-8]
- Universals: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989. [ISBN 0-8133-0772-4]
- A World of States of Affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. [ISBN 0-521-58064-1]
- The Mind-Body Problem: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999. [ISBN 0-8133-9056-7]
- Truth and Truthmakers. Cambridge University Press, 2004. [ISBN 0-521-83832-0]
- Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford University Press, 2010. [ISBN 0199590613]
Selected Articles 
- "Is Introspective Knowledge Incorrigible?" Philosophical Review 72 (1963), 417-32.
- "Meaning and Communication". Philosophical Review 80 (1971), 427-47.
- "Alan Ker Stout, 1900-1983", Proceedings of the Australian Academy of the Humanities 12 (1982–83): 106–109, retrieved 2009-02-18.
- (with Peter Forrest) "An Argument against David Lewis' Theory of Possible Worlds". Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (1984), 164-8.
- "Classes are States of Affairs". Mind 100 (1991), 189-200.
- Black Swans: The formative influences in Australian philosophy, in Rationality and Irrationality, (Proceedings of the 23rd International Wittgenstein Symposium, Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austria, 2000) ed. B. Brogaard & B. Smith, Wien.
- "Interview". In Lee Jobling and Catherine Runcie (eds.), Matters of the Mind: Poems, Essays and Interviews in Honour of Leonie Kramer. Sydney: University of Sydney, 2001, 322-332.
See also 
Further reading 
- R.J. Bogdan (ed.), D.M. Armstrong Dordrecht: Reidel, 1984. [ISBN 90-277-1657-9]
- John Bacon, Keith Campbell & Lloyd Reinhardt (eds.), Ontology, Causality, and Mind: Essays in Honour of D.M. Armstrong. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. [ISBN 0-521-41562-4]
- J. Franklin, Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia (Macleay Press, 2003), chs 9, 11, 12,
- S. Mumford, David Armstrong. Acumen, 2007. [ISBN 1844651002]
- Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers, London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 31–32, ISBN 0-415-06043-5
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780199655915.
- Peter Forrest, D.M. Armstrong in A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand (Oppy and Trakakis)
- D. M. Armstrong; C. B. Martin (1969). Locke and Berkeley: A Collection of Critical Essays. Macmillan.
- D. M. Armstrong (1989), Universals, Boulder: Westview Press, ISBN 0-8133-0763-5, 0813307635
- D. M. Armstrong (November 28, 1980), A Theory of Universals, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-28032-7, 052128032X
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 19–20. ISBN 9780199655915.
- MacBride, Fraser (2005). "The Particular–Universal Distinction: A Dogma of Metaphysics?". Mind 114 (455): 565–614.
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 23–25. ISBN 9780199655915.
- Mumford, p. 23–24
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 36. ISBN 9780199655915.
- Mumford, p. 29
- D. M. Armstrong (1989), Universals, Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 88–94, ISBN 0-8133-0763-5, 0813307635
- In What is a Law of Nature (1983).
- Tooley, Michael (1977). "The Nature of Laws". Canadian Journal of Philosophy 7 (4): 667–698.
- Dretske, Fred. "Laws of Nature". Philosophy of Science 44 (2): 248–268.
- Mumford, p. 45
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Dispositions
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 48–53. ISBN 9780199655915.
- Mumford, p. 171
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 61—66. ISBN 9780199655915.
- Truths and Truthmakers, p. 24
- Armstrong, D.M. (2010). Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 9780199655915.
- Mumford, p. 133-140
- Lehrer, Keith. (2000), Theory of knowledge, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, p. 178, ISBN 0-8133-9053-2, 0813390532
- John L. Pollock (1999), Contemporary theories of knowledge, Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, p. 13, ISBN 0-8476-8936-0, 0847689360
- Alvin Plantinga (1993), Warrant and proper function, New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-507863-2, 0195078632
- Paul Crittenden. "Sydney, University of, Department of General Philosophy". A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand.
- Duncan Ivison. "Sydney, University of, Department of Philosophy (Reunification – 2009)". A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand.
- Andrew Chrucky. "An Interview with Professor David Armstrong".
- Aubrey Townsend. "Anderson, John, and Andersonianism". A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand.
- Cambridge Catalogue -- Ontology, Causality, and Mind
- Guide to the Papers of David Armstrong
- David Armstrong's Curriculum Vitae
- P. Forrest, 'Armstrong, D.M.' in A Companion to Philosophy in Australia and New Zealand
- Armstrong's Pufendorf Lectures 2004