Course Description

The status of metaphysics has long been controversial, in philosophy as well as in other disciplines. The work of Armstrong, Kripke, Lewis and others has made ‘analytic metaphysics’ today a thriving branch of philosophy. But recent years have seen a reaction within philosophy and surrounding fields challenging its legitimacy. Many claim that authority on central metaphysical questions has been ceded to physics and other sciences. Philosophers of science have a particular interest in evaluating this claim. We believe that recent physical science is the source of many of the most interesting and profound issues in contemporary metaphysics, and has provoked some of the most exciting work on questions about what there is, on the nature of time, causation, identity, and composition. We will explore some of this work and raise questions about where the authority on these issues ultimately lies. Should metaphysics be naturalized (as proposed by the authors of the recent polemic Every Thing Must Go), or is naturalism itself a metaphysical view? Is metaphysics as currently practiced a poor substitute for scientific investigation, or does metaphysics have its own distinctive method or sphere of investigation? Does science itself involve metaphysical presuppositions, and is there any clear boundary between scientific and metaphysical questions? Enrolled students will have the opportunity to make a presentation to the seminar on at least one metaphysical topic in preparation for a term paper. Because Martin Luther King day is a university holiday, the first meeting of the seminar will not be until January 26th. So we can hit the ground running, participants should have completed the reading for January 26th before that meeting.


The course meets on Mondays in Social Sciences 311 from 3:30 to 5:50 p.m. Professor Healey will be in his office (Social Sciences 214) 3-4 p.m. on Thursdays, but he can stay later if necessary and/or make an appointment for another occasion: the phone number there is 621-7109. His email is . Professor Jenann's email is : her office hours will be established when she arrives, after Spring Break.

Course Texts

Every Thing Must Go, by James Ladyman and Don Ross. Oxford University Press, 2007.
The Metaphysics Within Physics, by Tim Maudlin. Oxford University Press, 2007.
Causation, Physics and the Constitution of Reality, edited by Huw Price and Richard Corry. Oxford University Press, 2007.(Pbk.)

Course Requirements

Intelligent and informed participation in every seminar meeting. Two presentations of original work, one during each half of the semester. A seminar paper, to be submitted electronically by Wednesday, May 13th. Each week any registered student can also expect to be selected to introduce our discussion of one paper or book chapter from the assigned readings on the weekly seminar topic.

Course Topics

Note: what follows is a tentative plan for the course. Readings will be added to this syllabus, and changes may be made to the topics and/or readings, as the course progresses. Anyone planning to attend, and especially registered students, should consult the topics and readings listed frequently. In particular, each week you should consult the topic and readings for the following Monday meeting to take note of any changes.

January 26th Introduction: the Status of Metaphysics vis à vis Science
Readings    Rudolf Carnap*, "The Elimination of Metaphysics Through Logical Analysis of Language"
        Carnap*, "Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology" (N.B. this web version has some typos, including occasional omissions of the 'meta' in 'metaphysics'!
        Quine, "On What There Is", in From a Logical Point of View
        Quine, "On Carnap's Views on Ontology", in The Ways of Paradox
        Huw Price*, "Quining Naturalism"
(Optional Extra: Price*, "Metaphysics after Carnap: The Ghost who Walks")
        Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Chapter 1; sections 1.1,1.2
    (* = available on line, either at this link or as an electronic journal in the library)
February 2nd    Ladyman and Ross’s Pragmatist Verificationism
Readings    Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Chapter 1; sections 1.3-1.7
        Hilary Putnam*, “Pragmatism”, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 95, 1995: 291-306 (on JSTOR)
        Bas van Fraassen*, The Empiricist Stance, chapters 1,2 (you can read this on line as an ebook by logging in to the university library)
(Optional Extra: Hawley's review of Every Thing Must Go
February 9th    Identity I: Metaphysics of Leibniz’s Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles
Readings    Ian Hacking*, “The Identity of Indiscernibles”, Journal of Philosophy LXXII, 1975: 249-56.
        Robert Adams*,  “Primitive Thisness and Primitive Identity”, Journal of Philosophy LXXVI, 1979: 5-26.
        Hacking*, "On the Reality of Existence and Identity", Canadian Journal of Philosophy VIII, 1978: 613-632.
        Gordon Belot*, "The Principle of Sufficient Reason", Journal of Philosophy XCVIII, 2001: 55-64 and section IX.
February 16th Identity II: Spacetime and the Identity of Indiscernibles
Readings    Steven French*, “Hacking away at the Identity of Indiscernibles”, Journal of Philosophy XCII, 1995: 455-466.
        Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Chapter 3, first three pages, then section 3.2
        Earman and Norton*, “What price space-time substantivalism? The hole story”,
        British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 38, 1987: 515-25.
        Richard Healey*, “Substance, Modality and Spacetime”, Erkenntnis 42, 1995: 287-316.
        (Optional: Maudlin, "Epilogue")
February 23rd Identity III: Quantum Theory and the Identity of Indiscernibles
Readings    Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Chapter 3, section 3.1
       Ghirardi* Sneaking a Look at God's Cards, chapter 14: Systems of Identical Particles
       Schroedinger* "What is an elementary particle?"
       French*, "Identity and Individuality in Quantum Theory"
       Muller*, "Whithering Away Weakly"
(Optional:       Saunders*, "Are Quantum Particles Objects?")
March 2nd     Rainforest Realism and the Unity of Science
Readings    Ladyman and Ross, Every Thing Must Go: Chapter 4 (omitting section 4.3)
        Dennett*, "Real Patterns"
March 9th     Student Presentations

March 16th     SPRING BREAK

March 23rd     Causation I
Readings    Maudlin, “Causation, Counterfactuals and the Third Factor”, chapter 5 of The Metaphysics Within Physics
    Norton, “Causation as Folk Science”, chapter 2 of Causation, Physics and the Constitution of Reality
March 30th      Causation II
Readings    Price and Cory, "Introduction" to Causation, Physics and the Constitution of Reality
    Woodward, “Causation with a human face”, chapter 4 of Causation, Physics and the Constitution of Reality
    Field*, “Causation in a physical world”
(Optional Extra Judea Pearl*, Lecture on Causality)
April 6th     Causation III
Readings    Price, “Causal Perspectivalism”, chapter 10 of Causation, Physics and the Constitution of Reality
    Ismael*, "Causation, Intervention, and Perspective"
Price and Weslake* "The Time-Asymmetry of Causation"
April 13th     Laws and Counterfactuals
Readings    Maudlin, ch. 1 "A Modest Proposal..."
    Loewer*, "Humean Supervenience"
    Maudlin, ch. 6, "The Whole Ball of Wax"
Optional Extras:
Loewer*, "Time and Law", Maudlin, ch2. "Why be Humean?"
April 20th     Time
Readings    Earman* "Thoroughly Modern McTaggart"
    Healey* "Change Without Change..."
    Healey* "Can Physics Coherently Deny the Reality of Time?"
(Optional Extra Maudlin* "Thoroughly Muddled McTaggart" )
April 27th    Things, Composition and Dynamical Systems
Readings    still to come!
May 4th    Student Presentations