(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The intent of Peter Strawson’s Individuals: An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics, in accord with the linguistic philosophy that characterized the philosophy being conducted at Oxford when Strawson wrote his book, was to give an accurate description of the fundamental features of “our” conceptual system, not (as in most of traditional metaphysics) of the world itself. The intended system is “ours” in that it is shared by everyone, learned or unlearned, Greek or barbarian, wise or unwise, living ten thousand years ago or now.

The justification for taking the scheme to be “ours” in this wide sense, Strawson contends, is that everyone who is able to think and experience at least begins with this system of concepts. Of course, even philosophers who agree that there is such a conceptual system, possession of which is fundamental to thought and experience, may differ in the way in which they describe this scheme. For example, Greek philosopher Aristotle and German philosopher Immanuel Kant, both of whom influenced Strawson, offer a theory of categories or basic concepts whose logical interconnections define a cognitive system. However, while there are significant points of agreement among them, there are also differences. Any effort to offer a description of our conceptual system will have to include a defense of the claim that our system is as described. All such endeavors are subject to the question of why one should think that our concepts are properly mapped by the offered account. Even with such a defense, a descriptive metaphysic will face competitors.