PHIL 1660 (Metaphysics) F14

PHIL 1660
Fall 2014
Objects, People, and Possible Worlds
Nina Emery
214 Corliss-Brackett
[email protected]
Office Hours: Wednesdays 3:00 to 5:00pm
Class meetings:
Tuesday, Thursday 2:30 to 3:50pm
Smith-Buonanno 207
Course Description
Metaphysics is the study of what the world is like. Metaphysicians are interested in questions
about the nature of objects, persons, time, space, and causation and many other features of the
world that we take for granted in our everyday lives. The rigorous study of these features has
often led metaphysicians to make surprising claims. Plato thought that alongside the observable,
concrete world there was a realm of eternal, unchanging abstract entities like Goodness, Beauty,
and Justice. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz claimed that the world was composed of tiny indivisible
souls, called monads. Even today contemporary metaphysicians have been known to doubt the
existence of ordinary objects, deny the possibility of free will, and argue that our world is just one
of a plurality of worlds.
The course will be focused on these sorts of radical metaphysical claims. In each of the three
main sections—on objects, on persons, and on possible worlds—we will identify a series of
assumptions that we take for granted about everyday aspects of our world, and examine the
various ways in which those assumptions have been questioned by metaphysicians. Along the way
we will encounter questions about the nature of properties, causation, explanation, and laws of
nature, as well as metametaphysical questions like: What makes one metaphysical theory better
than another? What makes metaphysical inquiry different from scientific inquiry? Can
philosophical reasoning ever overturn common sense? And under what sorts of conditions do we
consider a metaphysical dispute settled?
All students should have taken one previous college-level philosophy course. If you do not meet
that requirement you are welcome to sit in on the first few meetings of class and get a sense of
the material and the level of difficulty. If you still want to take the course at that point, set up a
time to come talk to me about waiving the requirement.
All assignments, and announcements will be posted on the course Canvas site. It is your
responsibility to check the site regularly.
There are no required textbooks for this course. All readings will be posted on the course Canvas
site. You are expected to print the readings out and bring them to class. Note that relative to
other humanities courses this course will not require an enormous amount of reading, but the
reading that is required is difficult and will take time.
You are expected to attend all class meetings. This is in your best interest as the material
discussed in class will often go beyond the readings and questions about that material will often
appear on assignments.
In-class activities
There will be regular in-class activities. These will include short writing prompts, quizzes, games,
and small group projects. These will not be very difficult and will be graded leniently—anyone
who has made a good-faith effort to engage with the material will get full credit. In-class activities
count for 20% of your grade.
Short assignments
There will be 4 short assignments due at regular intervals during the course. They will be a mix
of short answer questions and longer essay topics. None will require more than 5 pages of
writing. These assignments will be graded out of 10 points. Late assignments will be penalized 3
points for every day they are late, unless the student has received an extension in advance. With
rare exceptions, I will only grant extensions for illnesses, family emergencies, or religious
observances. The short assignments will count for 40% of your final grade.
Final Paper
At the end of the term, students will write an 8-10 page paper on one of the topics discussed
during the course. Topics will be posted in mid-November and the final paper will be due on
December 15, 2014. No late papers will be accepted unless an extension has been granted in
advance. I will only grant extensions for illnesses, family emergencies, or religious observances.
The final paper counts for 40% of your final grade.
Collaboration and Academic Honesty
I highly encourage you to collaborate with your fellow students on any and all assignments for the
course, however the work that you submit must be your own. That means you should feel free to
get together to discuss the assigned questions with other students, but you should write up your
answers on your own, and in your own words. If you do not understand what this means, ask!
When you draw on someone else’s ideas, you need to give that person proper credit. That means
that any time you paraphrase someone else’s writing you must make it clear that you are doing so,
and anything quoted verbatim must be accompanied by a parenthetical citation or a footnote
that identifies its source. I do not care what citation format you follow, but you must always
include the author’s name, the title of the work, and the relevant page number(s). Anything short
of that is plagiarism. I take this very seriously, as does the administration. The Brown University
policy on plagiarism can be found in the Academic Code (
Extra Assistance
Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students, as am I. Students who, by nature
of a documented disability, require academic accommodations should contact me or speak with
Student and Employee Accessibility Services at 401-863-9588 to discuss the process for
requesting accommodations.
Anyone needing extra help with writing is urged to take advantage of the Brown University
Writing Center:
Tentative schedule
Contact Professor Emery ([email protected]) for a detailed list of class topics and readings.
Section I: Objects
Thursday, September 4
Do ordinary objects exist?
Tuesday, September 9
Thursday, September 11
An introduction to ontology
The sorities argument for nihilism
Tuesday, September 16
Thursday, September 18
A puzzle about coinciding objects
Four-dimensionalism to the rescue?
Tuesday, September 23
Thursday, September 25
The special composition question
Composition as a brute metaphysical fact?
Tuesday, September 30
Section II: People
Thursday, October 2
What makes a person the same person over time?
Tuesday, October 7
Thursday, October 9
Physical and psychological continuity criteria
Duplication and survival
Tuesday, October 14
Thursday, October 16
Freedom and determinism
Are we free to break the laws?
Tuesday, October 21
Thursday, October 23
Agent causation
Causation: a whole other can of worms
Tuesday, October 28
Thursday, October 30
The counterfactual account of causation
Other accounts of causation
Section III: Possible Worlds
Tuesday, November 4
Thursday, November 6
A plurality of worlds
Modal realism
Tuesday, November 11
Thursday, November 13
Ersatz possible worlds
Can we do without possible worlds?
Tuesday, November 18
Thursday, November 20
De re modality I: counterpart theory
De re modality II: Essentialism
Tuesday, November 25
Are there impossible worlds?
No class November 27 (Thanksgiving)
Tuesday, December 2
Thursday, December 4
Why does the world exist?
Reading period optional classes December 9, 11
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