Philosophical Explanations

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Philosophical Explanations
Philosophical Explanations.jpg
The Harvard University Press edition
Author Robert Nozick
Country United States
Language English
Subject Philosophy
Genre Non-fiction
Published 1981 (Harvard University Press)
Media type Print
Pages 764
ISBN 0-674-66479-5

Philosophical Explanations is a 1981 metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical treatise by Robert Nozick.


Nozick discusses problems in the philosophy of mind, ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics.[1] The issues Nozick explores include personal identity, knowledge, free will, value, the meaning of life,[2] and scepticism.[1]

Observing that philosophers often seek to deduce their total view from a few basic principles, showing how everything follows from their intuitively based axioms, Nozick compares such an approach to building a tower by piling one brick on top of another: if the brick at the bottom crumbles or is removed, everything collapses, and even the insights that were independent of the starting point are lost. He suggests instead that the Parthenon should be the model for philosophy, and advocates an explanatory model of philosophical activity rather than an argumentative or coercive one.[3]

In the Parthenon model, separate philosophical insights are placed one after another, like columns, and only afterwards are they united under a roof consisting of general principles or themes. That way, when the philosophical ground crumbles, something Nozick regards as likely, something of interest and beauty remains standing.[4]

Scholarly reception[edit]

Michael E. Bratman describes Philosophical Explanations as "a rich and wide-ranging exploration of some of the deepest issues in philosophy." He praises Nozick's discussion of free will, writing that there is much about it that is, "fascinating, suggestive, and worth our further reflection."[2] The sections of Philosophical Explanations in which Nozick discusses knowledge and scepticism have received much critical attention.[1]



  1. ^ a b c Wolff 1991. p. 2.
  2. ^ a b Bratman 2002. p. 155.
  3. ^ Nozick 1981. pp. 3-4.
  4. ^ Nozick 1981. p. 3.


  • Bratman, Michael E. (2002). Schmidtz, David, ed. Robert Nozick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00671-6. 
  • Nozick, Robert (1981). Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-66479-5. 
  • Wolff, Jonathan (1991). Robert Nozick: Property, Justice and the Minimal State. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1856-3.