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Contemporary Metaphysics

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Contemporary Metaphysics

Instructor: David Squires
Office Hours/Location: T 1pm-4pm or by appointment/Check Homepage

Course Description

This is a contemporary metaphysics course that I aim to teach in the near future.  It is designed for undergraduate philosophy majors, but could easily be adapted to suit either undergraduate non-majors or graduate students by lowering or raising its difficulty/work load.  The student who successfully completes the course will have a solid foundation in contemporary metaphysical topics upon which they may base further study.  The course covers topics in properties, contemporary hylomorphism, material beings, grounding, modality, and metaontology.

Required Texts

All texts for this course will be handed out via “The Chain,” described below.

Assignments and Academic Policies

Papers: there will be three paper assignments over the course of the semester (I will specify the length limit at the time of handing out the assignment). The papers are weighted equally (at 25% each). Papers are graded for substance (i.e. understanding the prompt, answering the prompt completely, producing good arguments, etc.), as well as for the quality of writing (i.e. grammar, usage, organization, style, etc.). For the sake of fairness, do not exceed the length limit. You should not need to make use of outside sources. Papers are due at the beginning of class, in hard copy, on the Thursday of the week that they are due. Late papers will be penalized.

Participation: Your participation score measures your engagement in terms of philosophical discussion. The best scores will go to students who show a sustained pattern of thoughtful contribution and questioning in class, especially if that contribution demonstrates that you have read the assigned material diligently. This can take the form of asking questions to me or other students, answering questions that I ask you by offering your interpretation of a text, producing or analyzing arguments, comparing different texts, etc. In general, think of the readings and class participation as an act of citizenship, through which each individual and the collective body is responsible for the class experience. You must bring to class the text we are reading each day. If the assignment is from an electronic text that I distribute, you should print it out and bring it to class. You can also better your participation score by responding to The Chain (described below) with intelligent questions or commentary. Class attendance is an essential part of participation. Only university required absences will be excused—i.e. those described in this policy: Multiple unexcused absences will result in significant penalties to your participation score. Lastly, before completing the second or third paper you must see me in person at my office hours to discuss the grade you received on the prior paper. This applies to everyone and the point of it is to have an opportunity to provide the best feedback about how to approach the second and third papers.

“The Chain”: The Chain is a string of emails that I’ll send you throughout the semester (chained together so as not to gum up your inbox—hence the name). Each email in The Chain will have three parts—1) the Afterthought: a brief summary of the latest reading, which should be very handy when it comes time to review ideas before writing a paper, 2) the Forethought: a few guiding comments or questions for the next reading, and 3) a Funny Thought: a place for me to post philosophical memes, videos, articles, and, in all likelihood, pictures of my cat, Alice. If there are readings to be handed out, they will be attached to The Chain. Reading/viewing The Chain is entirely optional, but reading the attached assignments is not optional. If you find yourself struggling with the readings, consider at least reading the Forethought.

Summary: Each of the papers counts for 25% of your grade, Participation 25%. Rubric: A: 93%, A-: 90%, B+: 87%, B: 83%, B-: 80%, C+: 77%, C: 73%, C-: 70%, D+: 67%, D: 63%, D-: 60%

Disabilities: The university’s policies regarding disabilities can be found at: concerning Sara Bea Disability Services can be found at:

Academic Integrity: Don’t Cheat!  This includes plagiarism of any variety, including having others do your work for you or merely syntactically or terminologically altering the work of others (e.g. plugging in a few different words into a paragraph written by someone else).  Any instances of cheating discovered will be dealt with swiftly according to university policy.

Laptop and Mobile Device Policy: Laptops and Mobile devices should not be used during class. The results are in: scientific studies show that screens mean less glean. Science giveth the iPhone X Plus and science taketh it away!


Week 1: Introduction, What is Metaphysics?
Class 1 (m/dd) Introduction to the course
Class 2 (m/dd) George Schlesinger: “What is Metaphysics?,” Kit Fine: “What is Metaphyiscs?”


Week 2: Properties: Noteworthy Problems
Class 3 (m/dd) Alex Oliver: “The Metaphysics of Properties,” sections 17-21, 24&25
Class 4 (m/dd) David Armstrong: “Four Disputes about Properties”

Week 3: The Universal-Particular Distinction
Class 5 (m/dd) F. P. Ramsey: “Universals”
Class 6 (m/dd) Fraser MacBride: “The Universal-Particular Distinction: A Dogma of Metaphysics?”

Week 4: Two Realisms
Class 7 (m/dd) Peter Van Inwagen, “A Theory of Properties”
Class 8 (m/dd) David Armstrong, “Universals as Attributes”

Week 5: Nominalism
Class 9 (m/dd) Nelson Goodman: “A World of Individuals,” Henry Fitzgerald, “Nominalist Things”
Class 10 (m/dd) H. H. Price: “Universals and Resemblances,” Keith Campbell “The Metaphysic of Abstract Particulars”
First Paper Due (m/dd)

Contemporary Hylomorphism

Week 6: Contemporary Interpretations of Classical Hylomorphism
Class 11 (m/dd) Michael Loux: “Aristotle’s Constituent Ontology,”
Class 12 (m/dd) Kathrin Koslicki: “Aristotle’s Mereology and the Status of Form”

Week 7: Neo-Aristotelian Ontology
Class 13 (m/dd) Kit Fine: “Things and Their Parts,” “A Puzzle Concerning Matter and Form”
Class 14 (m/dd) Kathrin Koslicki: “Essence, Necessity, and Explanation,” Mark Johnston: “Hylomorphism”

Material Beings

Week 8: Material Constitution; Composition
Class 15 (m/dd) Peter Van Inwagen: Material Beings Chapters 7-9
Class 16 (m/dd) Michael Burke, “Dion & Theon,” Michael Rea, “Sameness without Identity”
Mid-Term Break

Week 9: The Problem of the Many
Class 17 (m/dd) Peter Unger: “The Problem of the Many”
Class 18 (m/dd) Hud Hudson: “The Many Problematic Solutions to the Problem of the Many”


Week 10: Metaphysics and Fundamentality
Class 19 (m/dd) Jonathan Schaffer: “Monism: The Priority of the Whole,” “On What Grounds What”
Class 20 (m/dd) Lauri Paul: “Building the World from Its Fundamental Constituents,” “A One Category Ontology”

Week 11: Metaphysics and Explanation
Class 21 (m/dd) Lauri Paul: “Metaphysics as Modeling”
Class 22 (m/dd) Carrie Jenkins: “Explanation and Fundamentality”
Second Paper Due (m/dd)


Week 12: Modal Metaphysics; Lewisian Modal Realism
Class 23 (m/dd) Michael Loux: “Introduction to The Possible and the Actual
Class 24 (m/dd) David Lewis: “A Philosopher’s Paradise,” “Modal Realism at Work: Properties”

Week 13: Abstract Modal Realism
Class 25(m/dd) Peter Van Inwagen: “Two Concepts of Possible Worlds”
Class 26 (m/dd) Alvin Plantinga: “Actualism and Possible Worlds”


Week 14: Quinean Metaontology
Class 27 (m/dd) W. V. O. Quine: “On What There Is?”
Class 28 (m/dd) Peter Van Inwagen: “Being, Existence, and Ontological Commitment”

Week 15: Against Ontology
Class 29 (m/dd) Stephen Yablo: “Does Ontology Rest on a Mistake?”
Final paper due: (by 5pm on the day of the final in hard copy in my Malloy mailbox)