ARMSTRONG David Malet—one of the most eminent contemporary Australian philosophers, b. 1926 in Melbourne.
He was educated in Dragon School (Oxford) and in Geelong Grammar School (Australia). In 1945 and 1946 he served in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), then studied philosophy under the direction of J. Anderson at the University of Sydney. He graduated with honors in 1950. He continued his philosophical studies at Oxford (Exeter College) primarily under the direction of H. H. Price. After finishing these studies he worked briefly at Birkbeck College in London. In 1955 he returned to Australia and in 1956 he became a lecturer at the University of Melbourne where he earned his doctoral degree in 1960. In 1964 he took the chair at the University of Sydney following J. L. Mackie (as Challis Professor of Philosophy). He held the chair until he became professor emeritus in 1991. He was a guest lecture at many American universities (including Yale, Stanford, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame). He is a member and founder of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.
Although Armstrong studied at Oxford at the height of the analytic philosophy of ordinary language, his investigations are systematic in character. Under the influence of Anderson, Armstrong emphasized the need to practice philosophy in various aspects: systematic, metaphysical, naturalistic, and empirical. In his works he considered the classical problems of epistemology and metaphysics. The two major fields that interest Armstrong are the nature of the mind and its various states (perception, knowledge, beliefs) which he investigates from an univocally materialistic point of view, and purely metaphysical problems (the laws of nature, the universals). His general philosophical program is an attempt to formulate a naturalistic metaphysics, which he understands as the doctrine that nothing exists apart from the temporal-spatial world. In his works he emphasizes that the results of philosophers’ investigations must be reconciled with knowledge obtained by the particular sciences (the physical sciences).
Armstrong’s works also follow the shape of the doctrines he defends, and they follow the way philosophy is practiced in Australia. Armstrong’s most important works are: Berkeley’s Theory of Vision (Melbourne 1960); Perception and the Physical World (Lo 1961); Bodily Sensations (Lo 1962); A Materialistic Theory of the Mind (1968, 1993², Materialistyczna Teoria umysłu [Materialistic theory of the mind], Wwa 1982); Belief, Truth and Knowledge (C 1973); The Nature of Mind and Other Essays (St. Lucia-Queensland 1980); What is a Law of Nature? (C 1983); Consciousness and Causality: a Debate on the Nature of Mind (with N. Malcolm; Ox 1984); Universals: an Opinionated Introduction (Boulder 1989); A Combinatorial Theory of Possibility (C 1989); A World of States of Affairs (C 1997); The Mind-Body Problem: An Opinionated Introduction (Boulder 1999).
In Perception and the Physical World Armstrong considers various theories of perception from the point of view the answers they provide to the question of what in perception is the direct object of our consciousness. Representionism and phenomenalism regard sense data or sense impressions as this object. Armstrong however defends direct realism, according to which material objects that exist independently of our experience are given directly in perception. Perception is also for Armstrong a way of acquiring beliefs that allow him to explain the difference between sensory illusion, which does not lead to true beliefs, and perception, which leads to true beliefs.
In his best known and most influential book, A Materialist Theory of the Mind, Armstrong develops a general theory of mental states and concepts. According to Armstrong, when we ascribe to someone a mental state (e.g., pain) we in fact affirm that the person is found in a definite state cause by a definite stimulus (e.g., a burn on the finger), and this state becomes (along with other factors) a cause of a definite behavior (putting his hand into cold water). An analysis of mental states still does not answer the question of what mental states are. Armstrong thinks that mental states are identical with physical states of the central nervous system, and that this identity is established not by conceptual analysis but by empirical scientific investigations. Armstrong is convinced that an identity can be established at the level of types of corresponding mental states and neurophysiological states, hence this position is considered as a so-called typical theory of the identity of mind and body. These types of mental states are established and identified when we consider the causal role these states perform. This is a functionalist idea and in this measure Armstrong may be regarded as a precursor of functionalism (his theory has not been described in this way), although full functionalism rejects the typical theory of identity.
Armstrong also includes convictions or beliefs among mental states. Following F. P. Ramsey, Armstrong regards them as a kind of map on the basis of which we undertake actions. These actions are effective to the extent the map is precise. This position, developed in Belief, Truth and Knowledge, is an alternative to the theory of beliefs as internal propositions (internal sentence theory of belief). Armstrong defends a definite version of the correspondence theory of truth, that beliefs are true if definite states of affairs in the world correspond to them. In the question of knowledge, Armstrong is a reliabilist: if x knows that p, then x is convinced that p, and it is true that p. According to Armstrong, not all true beliefs are knowledge. Beliefs that are true only accidentally or by mistake are not knowledge. Only beliefs that constitute a credible sign of the occurrence of the states of affairs they concern are knowledge.
One of the concepts Armstrong employs is that of “truth-maker”: if a proposition is true, then something must exist that makes the proposition true; if a predicate is predicated of an individual object, then in the object must exist something that makes this predication true. According to Armstrong, predication is possible because individual objects are an instance of universals—properties and relations. He develops this idea in Univerals and Scientific Realism and in the question of universals he chooses realism as opposed to conceptualism and nominalism. This realism, however, is not of the Platonic type, which Armstrong called a priori realism and which regards the meanings of general terms as universals. There are no universals without exemplification, and so a universal does not correspond to every general concept. Universals exist only as features of individual things, for example, if in the world there were no white things, there would be no universal called whiteness. Armstrong defends a posteriori or “scientific” realism, according to which what universals really exist should be established only in the light of science as a whole. Moreover, the same universal allows us to predicate many semantically different predicates of an individual object (the so-called frugal theory of universals).
Armstrong uses the theory of universals to define what laws of nature are. In What is a Law of Nature? he rejects the conception that these laws are merely generalizations, and he develops the theory that the laws of nature as general assertions express stable relations between universals. Armstrong called this relations “nomic necessitations”. The assertion: “every S is P is a law of nature if S by necessity entails the existence of P. We may in light of this distinguish laws of nature from accidental regularities: a “necessitating” relation between universals entails a corresponding regularity, while an accidental regularity does not entail this relation. Armstrong extends this theory to functional and probabilistic laws.
In A Combinatorial Theory of Possibility, Armstrong develops his position on possible worlds. He favors a combinatorial approach to possible words and is opposed to radical realism. Possible words are generated in thought from systems of real objects and their features.
In A World of States of Affairs, Armstrong gives an example of his metaphysics. He thinks that a certain collection of conceptual categories most adequately renders the metaphysical structure of reality. This collection comprises a fact or state of affairs, an individual object (particulare), properties and relations. Armstrong defends this adequacy by sayings that the world is variously configured states of affairs, and a given state of affairs exists if and only if an individual object possesses some such property or if between two or more individual objects occurs some such relation. The hypothesis of factualism, says Armstrong, must be reconciled with naturalism (i.e., the thesis that the totality of all beings is a uniform temporal-spatial system of which the particular sciences provide knowledge) and it must be reconciled with physicalism (i.e., the thesis that the only individual objects in time and space are physical beings governed by laws to be discovered by physics). The subordination of factualism to the requirements of naturalism and physicalism, according to Armstrong, comes from the point of view of scientific philosophy, and it is best grounded by naturalism and then by physicalism, and at least by factualism.
D. M. Armstrong, Dor 1984; Ontology, Causality and Mind, C 1993; F. Jackson, REPh I 441–443.