Aristotle defines metaphysics as the study of being as being. Although there has been considerable subsequent disagreement about the meaning of this definition, and even more disagreement about what the subject matter of metaphysics really is, most philosophers would agree that metaphysicians are interested in something very basic; as a contemporary metaphysician puts it, “Metaphysics, at the bottom, is about the fundamental structure of reality” (Sider 2011, p. 1). What are the most fundamental things in the world? Are they universals or particulars? What do particulars consist of, and how can they endure through time? What is time, anyway, and what does it mean to say that they ‘can’, or that something is ‘possible’? These are just a few of the questions metaphysicians have examined, starting at least from the Presocratic period. In this class, we are going to look at how they were tackled by some 20th-century philosophers, mostly belonging to the analytical tradition. Along the way, we will also glance at parts of the long history of the discipline.
2022 Spring syllabus
2019 Spring syllabus
2018 Spring syllabus
Class Schedule, 2022 Spring
What is metaphysics all about?
- Feb. 17: Peter van Inwagen and Meghan Sullivan, “Metaphysics” (SEP, sel.)
In everyday language, we often speak of individual objects being in this or that way, or having such and such properties. But what are, precisely, the bearer of these properties? Is there a bare object, when we peel off all the properties, or is it just properties, all the way down?
- Feb. 24: Max Black, “The Identity of Indiscernibles”
- Mar. 3: Edwin B. Allaire, “Bare Particulars”
Modality and Possible Worlds
The concepts of ‘necessity’, ‘contingency’, or ‘possiblity’ and ‘impossibility’ are called modal concepts. When I say that ‘Hilary Clinton could have been elected US president in 2016’, I mean that things could have gone in such a way in 2016 that she was elected US president. But what grounds such a claim? And what are the principled ways of talking about the ways things could have gone?
- Mar. 10: David Lewis, “Possible Worlds”
- Mar. 17: Alvin Plantinga, “Actualism and Possible Worlds”
What is time? As Augustine notes already in the 4th century, “If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know” (Confessions, XI). Philosophers has always found time puzzling. Does it exist? If so, what properties does it have? Can it have contradictory properties? And what about objects that persist in time? What does it mean to say that object persists in time?
- Mar. 24: J.M.E. McTaggart, “Time”
- Mar. 31: C.D. Broad, “Ostensible Temporality”
- Apr. 21: David Lewis, “Counterparts or Double Lives?”
- Apr. 28: Trenton Merricks, “Endurance and Indiscernibility”
What does it mean to say that one thing (or event) causes another? Does that involve some kind of necessary relation between the cause and effect? How do we perceive this relation, if we perceive it at all?
- May 5: David Lewis, “Causation”
- May 12: Elizabeth Anscombe, “Causality and Determination”
- May 19: paper-writing workshop