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David Malet Armstrong

David Malet Armstrong

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David Malet Armstrong often D. M. Armstrong, is an Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n philosopher. He is well-known for his work on metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 and the philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

, and for his defence of a factualist
State of affairs
The state of affairs is that combination of circumstances applying within a society or group at a particular time. The current state of affairs may be considered acceptable by many observers, but not necessarily by all. The state of affairs may present a challenge, or be complicated, or contain a...

Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

, a functionalist
Functionalism (philosophy of mind)
Functionalism is a theory of the mind in contemporary philosophy, developed largely as an alternative to both the identity theory of mind and behaviourism. Its core idea is that mental states are constituted solely by their functional role — that is, they are causal relations to other mental...

 theory of the mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

, an externalist
Internalism and externalism
Internalism and externalism are two opposing ways of explaining various subjects in several areas of philosophy. These include human motivation, knowledge, justification, meaning and truth. The distinction arises in many areas of debate with similar but distinct meanings...

 epistemology, and a necessitarian
Modal logic
Modal logic is a type of formal logic that extends classical propositional and predicate logic to include operators expressing modality. Modals — words that express modalities — qualify a statement. For example, the statement "John is happy" might be qualified by saying that John is...

 conception of the laws of nature
Physical law
A physical law or scientific law is "a theoretical principle deduced from particular facts, applicable to a defined group or class of phenomena, and expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions be present." Physical laws are typically conclusions...

. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

 in 2008.


Armstrong's philosophy is broadly naturalistic. Armstrong's view of knowledge is that the conditions of knowledge are satisfied when you have a justified true belief that you arrived at through a reliable process: that is, the belief was caused by some factor in the external world (hence the label of externalism). Armstrong uses the analogy of a thermometer
Developed during the 16th and 17th centuries, a thermometer is a device that measures temperature or temperature gradient using a variety of different principles. A thermometer has two important elements: the temperature sensor Developed during the 16th and 17th centuries, a thermometer (from the...

: as a thermometer changes to reflect the temperature of the environment it is in, so must one's belief if they are reliably formed. The connection between knowledge and the external world, for Armstrong, is a nomological relationship (that is, a law of nature relationship). Here, Armstrong's view is broadly similar to that of Alvin Goldman
Alvin Goldman
Alvin Ira Goldman is an American professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He previously taught at the University of Michigan and at the University of Arizona. He earned his PhD from Princeton University and is married to Holly Smith, a well known ethicist, former...

 and Robert Nozick
Robert Nozick
Robert Nozick was an American political philosopher, most prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a professor at Harvard University. He is best known for his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia , a right-libertarian answer to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice...

. The intuitions that lead to this kind of externalism led Alvin Plantinga
Alvin Plantinga
Alvin Carl Plantinga is an American analytic philosopher and the emeritus John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics, and Christian apologetics...

 towards an account of knowledge that added the requirement for 'properly-functioning' cognitive systems operating according to a design plan.

Armstrong's philosophical development has been heavily influenced by John Anderson
John Anderson (philosopher)
John Anderson was a Scottish-born Australian philosopher who occupied the post of Challis Professor of Philosophy at Sydney University in the years 1927-1958. He founded the empirical brand of philosophy known as Australian realism...



  • Berkeley's Theory of Vision: A Critical Examination of Bishop Berkeley's Essay towards a New Theory of Vision. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1960.
  • Bodily Sensations. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1962.
  • Perception and the Physical World. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1961. [ISBN 0-7100-3603-5]
  • A Materialist Theory of the Mind. London: Routledge & K. Paul, 1968. [ISBN 0-415-10031-3]
  • Belief, Truth and Knowledge. London: Cambridge University Press, 1973, [ISBN 0-521-08706-6]
  • Universals and Scientific Realism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. [ISBN 0-521-21741-5]
  • The Nature of Mind and Other Essays. Cornell University Press (1981). [ISBN 0801413532 ]
  • What is a Law of Nature? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. [ISBN 0-521-25343-8]
  • A Combinatorial Theory of Possibility. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. [ISBN 0-521-37427-8]
  • Universals: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1989. [ISBN 0-8133-0772-4]
  • A World of States of Affairs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. [ISBN 0-521-58064-1]
  • The Mind-Body Problem: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999. [ISBN 0-8133-9056-7]
  • Truth and Truthmakers. Cambridge University Press, 2004. [ISBN 0-521-83832-0]
  • Sketch for a Systematic Metaphysics. Oxford University Press, 2010. [ISBN 0199590613]

Selected Articles

  • "Is Introspective Knowledge Incorrigible?" Philosophical Review 72 (1963), 417-32.
  • "Meaning and Communication". Philosophical Review 80 (1971), 427-47.
  • (with Peter Forrest) "An Argument against David Lewis' Theory of Possible Worlds". Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62 (1984), 164-8.
  • "Classes are States of Affairs". Mind 100 (1991), 189-200.
  • Black Swans: The formative influences in Australian philosophy, in Rationality and Irrationality, (Proceedings of the 23rd International Wittgenstein Symposium, Kirchberg am Wechsel, Austria, 2000) ed. B. Brogaard & B. Smith, Wien.


  • "Interview". In Lee Jobling and Catherine Runcie (eds.), Matters of the Mind: Poems, Essays and Interviews in Honour of Leonie Kramer. Sydney: University of Sydney, 2001, 322-332.

Further reading

  • R.J. Bogdan (ed.), D.M. Armstrong Dordrecht: Reidel, 1984. [ISBN 90-277-1657-9]
  • John Bacon, Keith Campbell & Lloyd Reinhardt (eds.), Ontology, Causality, and Mind: Essays in Honour of D.M. Armstrong. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. [ISBN 0-521-41562-4]
  • J. Franklin, Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia (Macleay Press, 2003), chs 9, 11, 12,
  • S. Mumford, David Armstrong. Acumen, 2007. [ISBN 1844651002]

External links