Metaphysics, it has been claimed, is the study of the most fundamental aspects of the structure of reality, and in this sense precedes empirical science. So what is metaphysics, and how does it relate to science? Before we conclude the course by considering its relation to science, we will discuss many questions that can be thought to delineate metaphysics. Among them are the following:

How can a thing change over time and yet remain that thing? Is it possible that we could have found ourselves in a world where entirely different laws of nature hold? What does it mean to say that an event caused another, and is it possible that we change the past? Do we live in space and time, and if so, what is the nature of space and time? By virtue of what is a left hand different from a right hand? Is time travel possible? And finally, do humans have free will?

This class will engage these questions with an emphasis on contemporary views and debates. Accordingly, our approach will be topic-oriented, rather than historical.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc will be made available as they will be used in class.

Special assignment for the class on 16 October:

Paper prompt:

Information concerning plagiarism and guides on how to write a smashing philosophy paper can be found in the sidebar of the top page of the teaching section. The leaflet concerning plagiarism is absolutely mandatory reading.

The following materials are mandatory for this course:

  • Book: E J Lowe, A Survey of Metaphysics, Oxford UP, 2002. This book is $59.95 (new) or $45.00 (used) at the Price Center bookstore.
  • A number of readings for this course are available from e-reserves: Link to this course's e-reserves page (the password for this course is 'cw130')

Additional Readings and Materials

Note: These additional materials will not be tested in exams. They serve to give you some background or to offer some additional food for thought.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is an excellent source for academically serious, yet relatively accessible survey articles on many, many topics in philosophy, including metaphysics. For this course, the following articles are relevant:

A relatively new, but outstanding, source of very accessible material to many issues covered in this class are the Philosophy Bites podcasts of top philosophers interviewed by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton. They are absolutely free. So next time you ride to school, make sure to upload some of them beforehand to your iPod! I will try and search for some relevant to this class when I get to it. If you have suggestions, please let me know!

Grading Comments

Quiz 1: The average was 3.8. Some comments concerning specific questions follow.

Question 1 and 2
  • Look them up if you didn't get them right. You should generally do that for every question you get wrong.
Question 3
  • Generally well solved.
Question 4
  • Many didn't say this quite correctly even though they had probably more or less the correct answer in mind. In philosophy, you have to be precise!
  • Look up the notation on relations we used!
  • Make sure you answer all the parts of the questions.
  • 'is the mother of' is not symmetric alright, but it also not transitive!
Question 6
  • Note that it is not enough to simply relate the story.

Quiz 2: The average was 3.55, with a quite remarkably bimodal distribution.

Question 3
  • The answer can be found in the last section of Chapter 5 in the textbook.
Question 4
  • Just so you get the hang of it, the second example reads: 'If it is necessary that if p, then q, then if it is necessary that p, then it is necessary that q.'
Question 5(a)
  • Many people didn't know how to complete this sentence. But this is very important--this possible worlds semantics was introduced because it is so powerful! Anyway, here is the solution: '... it is true in some possible world which is accessible to the given possible world.'
Question 6
  • Make sure to mention the notion of 'atomic states of affairs' and to state that Armstrong's view is actualist.

Midterm paper: The average was 16.56, with the highest score being 24 and the lowest 2.

  • As I said in class, every student chose the first topic!
  • To those of you who defended mereological essentialism: you should have given me a reason to grade your paper, given that I will have to give a different, albeit very similar, student--not you!--a grade at the end of the term. Anyway, I will return the papers to those students most similar to those who submitted the paper last week.

Quiz 3: The average was only 2.7.

Questions 1 and 2
  • A lot of you thought that these questions were about causation--they are not!
Question 3
  • Many said that the condition doesn't guarantee x to be sufficient for y; that's true, but not a problem, since the analysis only seeks necessary conditions.
Question 4
  • Correlation is symmetric, causation is usually considered asymmetric.

Quiz 4: The average was 3.72, a significant improvement!

Questions 2
  • The point is that God couldn't have a sufficient reason to place all the material bodies in the world in the same position rather than 10 meters to the left or any other possible way which leaves all relative distances invariant.
Question 3
  • I was surprised to see only three students use a figure to explain the bucket.
Question 4
  • Why did no one use a figure?
Question 5
  • Please use an empirical generalization that is relevant in a special science and that has physically heterogeneous realizers.

Quiz 5: The average was 4.6, the best so far!

Question 1
  • Explain why the relationalist cannot account for the handedness of the solitary hand.
Question 2b
  • It's valid, but not sound. Check slide p. 35 and 36 of 'Spacetime 1'.
Question 3
  • Definition on p. 38
Question 4
  • Definition on p. 3 of 'Spacetime 2'.
Question 5
  • Cf. p. 11 of 'Spacetime 2'.

Final: The average for the final was 27.2 (out of 40), not shabby at all. Happy Holidays to all!