In this letter to Armstong Lewis corrects some misconceptions about his PhD supervisor Quine’s attitudes towards metaphysics and the role of D.C Williams. He also discusses tropes, states of affairs, and mereology.
Quine’s Place in the History of Metaphysics
Lewis thanks Armstrong for his draft of a homage to D.C. Williams, a noted metaphysician whose course Lewis had taken. Lewis had been fond of Williams, and enjoyed the paper, but takes issue with some of Armstrong’s points. Armstrong had expressed the now popular view that Williams had kept metaphysics alive in anti-metaphysical times. He also held that Quine had been a key anti-metaphysical force. Lewis did not think either of these claims were true. He takes Armstrong to task for spreading misconceptions about the history of philosophy. Lewis wryly remarks that he once failed an exam (based on Williams’ course) because he had been reading only Quine. He admits he ought to have read some Williams. But he does not think he had been so far wrong as to study completely the wrong subject. Quine, he claims, was a systematic metaphysician, too. Quine had some points in common with Williams. In other respects they differed, like almost any two metaphysicians do.
Tropes and States of Affairs
Lewis also quizzes Armstrong on the difference, according to Armstrong, between states of affairs and non-transferable tropes. Since non-transferable tropes and states of affairs share their modal properties, they supervene upon each other. By his doctrine of the supervenient `free lunch’, Armstrong has reason to believe that if one exists, the other comes for free. Lewis seems to suggest that that is halfway to believing they are identical.
For more on the interpretation of this letter, see p. 6 of Frederique Janssen-Lauret and Fraser MacBride (2018) `David Lewis’s Place in the History of Late Analytic Philosophy’, Philosophical Inquiries, 5(1), pp. 1-22.