Philosophy 125: Metaphysics

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Branden Fitelson
Office: 132 Moses Hall
Hours: Tu 4–5:30 & W 2–3:30
Tel: 642–0666

Vanessa de Harven (email)
Josh Sheptow (email)
Office: 301 Moses Hall
Hours: Josh: Fri., 3–5
Vanessa: Thurs., 11:15–1:15

159 Mulford

Tu/Th 2–3:30


See our sections page.

TOC: [ Prerequisites ] [ Texts ] [ Requirements ] [ Sections ] [ Website ] [ Synopsis ] [ Tentative Schedule ]

At least two prior courses in philosophy. This prerequisite will be strictly enforced (i.e., if you have not previously taken two or more philosophy courses, you should not enroll in the course – or you should drop the course now if you've already enrolled). I will not, however, presuppose that you have taken (for instance) courses in logic or the philosophy of language or mind. But, I will presuppose that you know how to write a critical analysis of a philosophical argument (i.e., that you have written philosophical essays before). The emphasis in this course will be on the philosophical analysis of arguments found in the texts.
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The following two books are required for the course:

(MCI) Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (second edition), by Michael Loux
(MCR) Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings, by Michael Loux

I will use the names (MCI) and (MCR) to refer to these texts, below. Both required texts are available (in both new and used vintages) at the Campus Bookstore. There will be various supplementary readings from various sources (some of which will be required readings, some not). All supplementary readings will be made available online, via the course syllabus page (see the Tentative Schedule below). I will indicate (again, online) which readings are required, and which are optional, or "further readings". You will not be expected to consult or make reference to readings outside the course reading list, below. In fact, you (undergraduate students, that is!) are encouraged to limit your discussions and papers to the readings listed here (the study questions and paper topics will be focused in this sense). And, you (again, undergraduates) will only be obliged to discuss the required readings. Graduate students will be encouraged to dig a bit deeper into the supplementary/further readings (graduate students should see me about their requirements for the course).
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Students are expected to attend lecture and section regularly and keep up with the reading. Warning: If you do not attend lecture/section regularly during the first week of classes (without a good excuse), you will be unilaterally dropped from the course. This course will move rather quickly, so take care not to fall behind. Grades (for undergraduates) will be based on the following (graduate students should see me for their requirements and section, which will be considerably different):

Section participation will not be formally graded, but enthusiastic and well–informed participation will be taken into account in borderline cases.
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Sections will give you the opportunity to discuss the readings and lectures. Our GSIs are Vanessa de Harven and Josh Sheptow; their contact information can be found on the course website. The section meeting locations, times, and rosters (when they are determined) will be posted on our sections page. Section meetings will begin the second week of classes (September 1). Interested graduate students should talk to me during the first week of classes about the possibility of a graduate student discussion section. If there is sufficient interest, I will run such a section myself (if a graduate section should come into existence, its setting will also be posted on the sections page).
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Current course information (including section assignments, lecture notes, class handouts, paper topics, announcements, study questions, interesting links, and any revisions to the schedule) can be found on the course web site, at:

The home page of our website is reserved mainly for announcements. The purpose of the other pages on our website should be self–explanatory. You should keep an eye on the course website, as it will be updated regularly with various content and announcements pertaining to the course. The site also contains many interesting links to philosophical information (and people). The only two computer applications you will need to view/print, etc. the content on our website are: (i) your favorite web browser, and (ii) Adobe Reader (version 6 or later, or – if you prefer – another program that can read Acrobat PDF version 6 files).

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The course is divided into five substantive units (not including the introductory material covered in the first week). Typically, we will spend 2–3 weeks on any given unit. And, except for unit 4 on causation, we will follow Loux's outline in (MCI) and (MCR) pretty closely. We will begin (week 1) with a general introduction to Metaphysics as a philosophical discipline. This will include some historical remarks about the origin and motivation of contemporary Metaphysics, as well as a brief discussion about what metaphysics is not (note in this connection that the word "metaphysics" has taken on some rather bizarre connotations in modern English!). In unit 1, we will discuss the problem of universals and metaphysical realism. Here, we will carefully examine several arguments for realism about universals (a.k.a, properties, attributes, forms, etc.). These arguments will appeal to regularities (explananda?) in both the world and our language(s) and mind(s). We will pay close attention to the kinds of argumentative strategies employed by metaphysical realists. In particular, the notion of "explanatoriness" will play an important role here. We will also consider various kinds of nominalism (non–realism) about universals. Several challenges to and critiques of metaphysical realism (about universals) will be discussed and analyzed. And, a few alternatives to metaphysical realism will be considered. A more radical kind of opposition to realism – called anti–realism – will be mentioned in this first part of the course; but anti–realism will not be discussed in detail until the final unit of the course (unit 5). In unit 2, we turn our attention to particulars. This will include a discussion of concrete (or material) objects (e.g., persons, plants, electrons, etc.), as well as abstract particulars (e.g., propositions, events, facts, etc.). Unit 3 is about the nature of possibility and necessity. Specifically, we will talk a lot here about "possible worlds". Several theories of possible worlds (and possible world talk) will be analyzed, including both realist and non–realist views. Next, we will skip Loux's chapters on time and persistence through time [chapter 6 in (MCI) and parts IV and V in (MCR)]. Instead, in unit 4, we will read a variety of selections (all available online via the course website – see below) on causation. The emphasis (of course!) will be on the metaphysics of causation (not on the epistemology of causation, or on the psychology of causal belief, which are also very important, popular, and closely related topics in contemporary analytic philosophy). Finally, in unit 5, we will conclude the course by returning to the more radical alternative(s) to metaphysical realism mentioned in the beginning of the course: anti–realism(s). This will bring us back to some of the most fundamental and difficult questions in all of analytic philosophy (a nice way to end – and/or begin! – one's study of contemporary metaphysics).
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Tentative Schedule (subject to change – so stay tuned)
Most of the required readings will be taken from the Loux texts (MCI) and (MCR). There will be some required readings (and many supplementary or further readings) not contained in these texts. All supplementary readings (i.e., all readings not contained in either (MCI) or (MCR)) will be available online – either in HTML or Adobe PDF format. In order to read/print/search, etc. our PDF files (note: all the PDF files available here are fully searchable), you will need Adobe Reader 6 (or another reader that can read PDF version 6 files). I recommend that you download the latest version of Adobe Reader asap (it's free).

Many of the texts below are difficult, and will require careful and repeated reading. Even if you're very experienced when it comes to reading philosophical texts, I highly recommend having a close look at James Pryor's online guide "How to Read a Philosophy Paper". Pryor's advice is particularly useful for this course. We will be reading a wide variety of philosophical texts. Although the texts come from many diverse sources, they are all written in a contemporary, analytical style. Our emphasis will be on comprehension and critical analysis of arguments in the assigned texts.
Particularly useful, important, and/or central supplementary readings will be indicated below by a red arrow "" (if you're going to read any supplementary texts, I would start with these).

Unit 0: Introduction

Day 1 (8/26/03): Introduction & Administration

Unit 1: Universals

Part 1: Realism

Weeks 1–3

Day 2 (08/28/03): Introduction (Cont'd) & The Problem of Universals

Day 3 (09/02/03): Applications of Realism & Some Problems
Day 4 (09/04/03): Realism: Applications & Problems (Cont'd)
Day 5 (09/09/03): Finishing-up Realism & Nominalism I

Part 2: Nominalism

Weeks 3–5

Day 5 (09/09/03): Finishing-up Realism & Nominalism I
Day 6 (09/11/03): Nominalism II (Why be a Nominalist? & Austere Nominalism I)
Day 7 (09/16/03): Nominalism III (Austere Nominalism II & Quine on 'Plato's Beard')
Day 8 (09/18/03): Nominalism IV (Metalinguistic Nominalism I)
Day 9 (09/23/03): Nominalism IV (Metalinguistic Nominalism II & Trope Theory)
Day 10 (09/25/03): Guest Lecture (Ed Zalta on Fictional, Imaginary & Abstract Objects)

Unit 2: Particulars

Part 1: Substrata, Bundles, and Substances

Day 11 (09/30/03): Concrete Particulars I (Introduction and Motivation)
Day 12 (10/02/03): Concrete Particulars II (Bundles and Substrata 1)
Day 13 (10/07/03): Concrete Particulars III (Bundles and Substrata 2 & Aristotelian Substance)
Day 14 (10/09/03): Concrete Particulars IV (Aristotelian Substance & Intro to Propositions)

Part 2: Propositions and their Neighbors

Day 15 (10/14/03): Propositions & Their Neighbors I (Realism & Nominalism About Propositions I)
Day 16 (10/16/03): Propositions & Their Neighbors II (Realism & Nominalism About Propositions II)
Day 17 (10/21/03): Propositions & Their Neighbors III (Facts, States of Affairs, and Events I)
Day 18 (10/23/03): Propositions & Their Neighbors IV (Facts, States of Affairs, and Events II)

Unit 3: The Necessary & The Possible

Day 19 (10/28/03): Modality I
Day 20 (10/30/03): Modality II
Day 21 (11/04/03): Modality III
Day 22 (11/06/03): Modality IV
Day 23 (11/13/03): Modality V

Unit 4: Causation (This unit replaces Loux's chapters on time and change)

Day 24 (11/18/03): Causation I
Day 25 (11/20/03): Causation II
Day 26 (11/25/03): Causation III
Day 27 (12/02/03): Causation IV

Unit 5: Realism & Anti–Realism

[Not covered this term]

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