Philosophical Explanations

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Philosophical Explanations
File:Philosophical Explanations (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Robert Nozick
Country United States
Language English
Subject Epistemology, metaphysics
Published 1981 (Harvard University Press)
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)
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

Philosopher Bernard Williams writes that Nozick provides "the most subtle and ingenious discussion of propositional knowledge that I know."[5] According to philosopher Jonathan Wolff, the sections of Philosophical Explanations in which Nozick discusses knowledge and scepticism have received much critical attention.[1] 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]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Wolff 1991. p. 2.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bratman 2002. p. 155.
  3. Nozick 1981. pp. 3-4.
  4. Nozick 1981. p. 3.
  5. Williams 1993. p. 218.


  • Bratman, Michael E. (2002). Schmidtz, David (ed.). Robert Nozick. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00671-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Nozick, Robert (1981). Philosophical Explanations. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-66479-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Williams, Bernard (1993). Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Hammersmith, London: FontanaPress. ISBN 0-00-686001-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wolff, Jonathan (1991). Robert Nozick: Property, Justice and the Minimal State. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1856-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>