Laws, Modality, and Properties in Naturalistic Metaphysics

Note: This class is co-taught with Tomasz Bigaj.

This seminar focuses on core problems in naturalistic metaphysics, i.e. metaphysics informed by science and relevant to scientific investigations. Our first core topic is the nature and status of laws of nature. Two main camps in the debate on the metaphysical character of laws are usually distinguished: a Humean regularist approach and anti-Humean necessitarianism. In this seminar, we will study this debate and discuss contemporary variations of Humeanism and of anti-Humeanism (such as dispositionalism and primitivism), as well as anti-realism and the structural approach to laws of nature. Humeans usually subscribe to the thesis known as 'Humean supervenience', which states, roughly, that all facts (and properties) about complex systems supervene on the individual facts (and properties) about their fundamental components. We will analyze the implications of modern science (in particular of physics) for Humean supervenience. These discussions lead directly to further metaphysical questions regarding the status of modalities and fundamental properties. Regarding the former, we will investigate whether a cogent distinction can be made among various types of necessity--such as logical, metaphysical and nomic necessity--, and what the grounds of nomic necessity might be. Regarding properties featuring in fundamental laws, our main interest will be in the question of their essential character, i.e., whether they are essentially dispositional or categorical, intrinsic or extrinsic.

Prerequisites: Graduate standing or permission of the instructor.

Distribution requirements: This course can be counted towards the fulfillment of the distribution requirement in philosophy of science or in metaphysics (but not both).

Course Materials

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

Most texts will be made available through e-reserves: Link to this course's e-reserves page (link not active yet; password is 'cw285')

Excellent background material for this class can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.