The generic description of Philosophy 425, as it standardly appears in the Liberal Arts course catalogue, is helpful by being general: it tells you in very broad terms what sorts of things get discussed in the Metaphysics course, by enumerating topics traditionally judge to fall under this one of the four or five main areas in philosophy. But various of those topics are now ignored, now covered from one time to another when the course is offered. Here is the description of this course at it appeared in the Fall 1999 Philosophy Department course description packet, which comes a little closer to saying what will go on in the course this time around:
Metaphysics is the study of what there is and the nature of what there
is. Traditional topics in a proper study of metaphysics include the
concepts of existence, properties and individuals (universals and particulars),
change, causality, time, matter, mind, and God. We wonít be able
to cover all of those in the course of one semester. Issues of primary
concern will be: (i) Ontology, (ii) Modality and Essentialism, and
(iii) Identity, Persistence and Change. In connection with (i), weíll
figure out how to approach and evaluate claims such as the following:
-- If Plato showed courage and courage is a virtue, then there exist at least two things: Plato, and courage.
-- "Everything" is the correct (and important) answer to the question "What exists?"
-- My cheese has four holes and your cheese has five; there are numbers; but there are no holes.
In connection with (ii), weíll think about things such as this:
-- Since nine is the number of planets, and the number of planets could have been greater than it is, nine isnít essentially
-- It is logically impossible for me to have had different parents.
-- If a claim is necessarily true, that is owing to the meanings of words (think of "All bachelors are unmarried"). But of
course no claim to the effect that thus-and-so exists can be true owing to the meanings of words. So, nothing exists
necessarily, not even God or the number five.
And, in connection with (iii), such claims as these:
-- According to Leibnizís Law, if x = y, then x canít have properties that y lacks. The offspring of Jack and Eunice Cover,
born on 26 June 1958, weighed seven pounds. Professor Jan Cover weighs 134 pounds. So, Professor Cover canít be
the offspring of Jack and Eunice Cover.
-- Since Lois believes that Superman can fly, Superman has the property of being believed by Lois to be able to fly. Since
Lois doesnít believe that Clarke Kent can fly, Clarke Kent lacks the property of being believed by Lois to be able to fly.
So then, Superman has a property the Clarke lacks, and hence by Leibnizís Law Clarke isnít Superman. But Clarke is
Superman. Thus, Leibnizís Law is false.
-- Either there is no such thing as Descartesí right hand, or else two things can exist in the same place at the same time.
That comes a little closer, by describing the sort of stuff we will
be covering in this course. Depending in large part upon your familiarity
with philosophy, the description will be worthwhile or nearly worthless
to you. If the description is nearly worthless to you, this
is, I suspect, at least partly because you do not have a good philosophy
course under your belt. Let me say that if you do not have a good
philosophy course under your belt, you are at a distinct disadvantage
perhaps an overwhelming one. But that remains to be seen. (It
remains to be seen by you: I am sorry that I cannot tell you straight
off whether youíll have trouble. My advice would probably be that
you give the course a few days, and then make a judgment on your own.)
This course is designed (i) to introduce you to some of the traditionally
important problems in metaphysics, and (ii) to help you develop the critical
tools necessary for thinking clearly about them for yourselves. Since
some of you will have the misfortune of having no good philosophy course
under your belt, I shall try, but cannot promise, to get everyone up to
speed on item (ii) during the first couple weeks of the semester.
This material will be new to a few of you, and review to others.
The more meaty core material in item (i) will also be new to some, and
less new to others. For those to whom it is not new, my hope
and certainly my intention is that it will be more than just old
hat: since this is a 400-level course, your familiarity with the
material is less important to me than your ability to think hard about
it, and go further with it than you have in the past. Indeed, that
is my overarching hope for the entire semester that all of us will
learn how to think hard and discuss important and difficult metaphysical
topics. I care about the topics too, of course a lot, as youíll
discover. But the tools are just as important.
In addition to the odd handout, there is one required text. Itís
main title is (fittingly) Metaphysics, written by Michael J. Loux, published
by Routledge (1998), with a subtitle of "A Contemporary Introduction."
This is a relatively new text on the market, and Iím trying it for the
first time: weíll see how it goes. I shall also be assigning
some smallish number of articles for you to read, as I see fit along the
way, and sorry Iíll have to ask you to pay a little bit to
break even on copying charges, since the Philosophy Department is poor.
(Come to think of it, thatís the way we expect philosophers and philosophy
departments to be. This is a slightly different point, but itís just,
well, unseemly for philosophers to be rich.)
Four-fifths (80%) of your grade will be determined by your performance on four equally-weighted written exercises. One exercise will be a short paper, assigned quite early on in the course. In addition there will be three short exams, one in-class and two take-home. (You might cheer, under your breath, for the appearance of "short" in the previous two sentences, but do remember that ëshortí doesnít mean though of course itís consistent with "easy".) Iíll review the nature and content of these exams prior to their arrival. I expect all written work will be in proper English, free of grammatical and spelling errors, with no Freshman-style fluff. This is a 400-level course, so 200-level work will not be satisfactory. (Satisfactory work, which is just fine with me, will receive a grade of ëCí.) If you cannot write in proper English, then I really must insist that you drop the course.
That leaves one-fifth (20%) of your grade to be determined by class-room participation and attendance. You donít want to give me evidence that you arenít doing the reading (by being unable to participate in discussion), and you donít want the 11th week of the semester to dawn with me still ignorant of your first name. If you are very shy, I will figure this out by the fourth session or so, and will cut you a little bit of slack. A little bit. Everyone can, and hereby I announce my expectation that everyone will, come to class with questions for me about their reading. Who knows; I might call on you to share your question with us. As far as attendance goes: I expect you to come to class. As it turns out, the University officially shares that expectation: "Students are expected to be present for every meeting of classes in which they are enrolled" (University Senate Document 91-8, Part 2, Section VI). My initial policy, herewith explicitly and formally and bindingly stated, is to lower this fifth of your final grade on the basis of unexcused absences, according to a purely subjective, seat-of-my-pants judgment about how I feel when I look at the number of your absences at the end of term. Weíve got thirty sessions, this term; if you miss three of them, I guess that means youíve missed 10 percent of our meetings; at that point, I start getting itchy. So, three unexcused absences is an absolute threshold: if you have more, itíll hurt. If you have a lot more than that, itíll hurt a lot. (If you have a lot fewer, Iíll like you a whole lot.)
A tentative schedule for the course appears beginning over on the next
page. Please pay special note of its contents throughout the semester,
and (again) do keep up with the readings: they are not burdensome.
Date Topics Reading
I. Getting Up To Speed
August T 24 Introduction stuff Loux, pp. 3 - 17
Th 26 Logic and language van Inwagen, "Fiction andÖ"
T 31 contíd. Quine, "On What there Is"
September Th 2 Ontological commitment [Assign first little paper]
II. Universals and Particulars
T 7 Realism about universals Loux, pp. 21 - 34
Th 9 contíd. Loux, pp. 34 - 48
T 14 Nominalism about universals Loux, pp. 53 - 69
Th 16 contíd. Loux, pp. 69 - 87
T 21 Bundle Theory Loux, pp. 93 - 111
Th 23 contíd. handout
T 28 Substratum and Aristotelian substance Loux, pp. 111 - 127
Th 30 contíd. and review
October T 5 Exam
Th 7 Introduction Loux, pp. 167 - 175
T 12 Octoberbreak: no class
Th 14 Contíd. Plantinga, Nature of Necessity
T 19 Possible Worlds I Lewis handout; Loux, 175-187
Th 21 Possible Worlds II Loux, pp. 187 - 199
T 26 Possible Worlds III Plantinga or van Inwagen
Th 28 Actualism/possiblism Adams, Plantinga
November T 2 Contíd. [Assign second paper]
Th 4 Spillover
IV. Identity, Persistence and Change
T 9 Introduction
Th 11 Persistence: two views Loux, pp. 203 - 212
T 16 Mereological essentialism Roderick Chisholm
Th 18 Perdurantism / 4D-ism Loux 212 222;
T 23 contíd. Judith Thompson
Th 25 Thanksgiving Vacation: no class
T 30 Interlude van Inwagen
December Th 2 4D-ism again Loux, 222-31; Heller
T 7 contíd.
Th 9 Spillover