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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

David Lewis (1941 – 2001) was an American philosopher of Logic, Language Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Ethics at Princeton. You claim to be able to break the very laws of nature. And with so little effort! A marvelous power indeed! Can you also bend spoons? 

David Kellogg Lewis

David Lewis


Quotations from David Lewis

One comes to philosophy already endowed with a stock of opinions. It is not the business of philosophy either to undermine or justify these pre-existing opinions, to any great extent, but only to try to discover ways of expanding them into an orderly system. A metaphysician’s analysis of mind is an attempt at systematizing our opinions about mind. It succeeds to the extent that (1) it is systematic, and (2) it respects those of our pre-philosophical opinions to which we are firmly attached. Insofar as it does both better than any alternative we have thought of, we give it credence. There is some give-and-take, but not too much: some of us sometimes change our minds on some points of common opinion, if they conflict irremediably with a doctrine that commands our belief by its systematic beauty and its agreement with more important common opinions. Quoted in – Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Truth and its Deformities edited by Peter A. French, Howard Wettstein

Surely it is our use of language that somehow determines meaning. But if we try to say how, we must face the fact that only a tiny part of our language, or any human language, is ever used. There are many reasons why a meaningful sentence might never be suited to serve anyone’s conversational purposes, and so might go unused. For instance, take length. Even the most abominable stylist will never write a sentence more than, say, a hundred words long. (Never? – Well, hardly ever.) But almost all of the infinitely many meaningful sentences of English, all but a finite minority, are longer than a hundred words. Almost all are longer than a thousand words, almost all are longer than a million words . . . So almost all sentences have meaning without use. Papers in Ethics and Social Philosophy:, Volume 3 – Page 145

Speakers of very long sentences are,  “trying to win a bet or set a record, or feigning madness or raving for real, or doing it to annoy, or filibustering, or making an experiment to test the limits of what it is humanly possible to say and mean.”

If worlds were creatures of my imagination, I could imagine them to be any way I liked, and I could tell you all you wish to hear simply by carrying on my imaginative creation. But as I believe that there really are other worlds, I am entitled to confess that there is much about them that I do not know, and that I do not know how to find out.

Are there other worlds? I say there are. I advocate a theses of plurality of worlds, or modal realism…that holds that our world is but one world among many. There are countless other worlds, other very inclusive things. Our world consists of us and all our surroundings, however remote in time and space; just as it is one big thing having lesser things as parts, so likewise do other worlds have otherworldly things as parts. The worlds are something like remote planets; except that most of them are much bigger than mere planets and they are not remote. Neither are they nearby. They are not at any spatial distance whatever from here. They are not far in the past or future, nor for that matter near; they are not at any temporal distance at all from now. They are isolated: there are no spatiotemporal relations at all between things that belong to different worlds. Nor does anything that happens at one world cause anything to happen at another. David Lewis quoted in Necessity and Possibility: The Metaphysics of Modality By Michael Tooley page 204

You claim to be able to break the very laws of nature. And with so little effort! A marvelous power indeed! Can you also bend spoons? p. 370 Philosophical Inquiry: Classic and Contemporary Readings

If the chances of events could be determined antecedently to the laws being determined, we could let facts about chances be treated more or less like any other fact for the purposes of our ‘competition’.

Some tweets derived from David Lewis as quotes ???

I’m a commonsensical chap.

All there is in the world is a vast mosaic of local matters of particular fact, just one little thing and then another.

Soft determinism is the doctrine that sometimes one freely does what one is predetermined to do…

The truthful speaker wants not to assert falsehoods, wherefore he is willing to assert only what he takes to be very probably true.

We have supervenience when there could be no difference of one sort without differences of another sort

The titles of some of David Lewis’s works are like quotes.

Counterpart Theory and Quantified Modal Logic

Policing the Aufbau

How to Define Theoretical Terms.

Completeness and Decidability of Three Logics of Counterfactual Conditionals

Psychophysical and Theoretical Identifications

Utilitarianism and Truthfulness

Counterfactuals and Comparative Possibility

Intensional Logics Without Iterative Axioms

Semantic Analyses for Dyadic Deontic Logic

Survival and Identity

Buy Like a MADman, Use Like a NUT

The Punishment that Leaves Something to Chance

Evil for Freedom’s Sake?

Desire as Belief II

Illusory Innocence?

How Many Lives has Schrödinger’s Cat?

Void and Object

Divine Evil


Sources for David Lewis quotes; Twitter,  Stanford eduNecessity and Possibility: The Metaphysics of Modality. Papers in Ethics and Social Philosophy.


COMMENTS on David Lewis

You claim to be able to break the very laws of nature. And with so little effort! A marvelous power indeed! Can you also bend spoons? This is a wonderful quote to state at many an encounter with people who make extravagant claims about supernatural occurrences. Actually it is probably better employed as a general retort to a statement using the person’s own referents.

But as I believe that there really are other worlds, I am entitled to confess that there is much about them that I do not know, and that I do not know how to find out. There are something like 10 to the 22nd (that’s 10 with 22 zeros) stars in the Universe, and as is now observed most stars have planets, it is likely that there are vast numbers of planets with life, but as they are so very far away it is impossible to say much about the specific interactions between living things. Some people may blithely tell you in great detail fabrications about fantastic creatures, and become offended when you ask for physical demonstrations, because it challenges their honesty. But, an honest observer would say, there are almost certainly other beings in the Universe but I perceive no way we will ever have any interaction with them.

One comes to philosophy already endowed with a stock of opinions. It is not the business of philosophy either to undermine or justify these pre-existing opinions, to any great extent, but only to try to discover ways of expanding them into an orderly system. Here we come to science as a philosophically orderly system that has a foundation in physical reality, and to religious traditions that have systems that also have orderly relationships to the mental reality of their believers. Also, there are political systems that try to organize the social relationships between people based on a coherent philosophy. There are probably many other systems, some purely fantastical, that make order out of chaos, and one might assume that every personality creates a philosophy at every moment that makes their present reality into a coherent system. They do this so they might interact with their reality effectively to maintain their equilibrium; we constantly philosophize to create a kind of personal self-balancing reality.

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