PHIL 441/641, Sec. 1001: TTh 1pm-2:15pm in WRI C235
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Spring 2014

Professor: James Woodbridge
email address:
Course Webpage:
Office Hours:  T 4pm-5pm, W 12:30pm-2pm, and by appointment
Office: CDC 426
Office Phone: 895-4051
Dept. Phone: 895-3433


Metaphysics can be thought of as inquiry into the most basic and general features of reality. Aristotle called this inquiry "first philosophy" and thought of it as the study of being qua being, that is, the study of existence as such. This course provides an introduction to contemporary metaphysics by examining a few topics via methods developed in the twentieth century. We will approach metaphysics from a more general perspective (as opposed to investigating questions specifically about, say, the metaphysics of persons). Our central focus will be on questions of ontology, that is, questions about the kinds of things that exist. We will start by considering the general issues of the natures of metaphysical questions and of ontological commitment (what it is to be committed to the existence of some kind of thing). We will then turn to the classic issue of universals, in its more contemporary guise. Next we will take up the topic of modality (possibility, necessity, actuality) and how the notion of possible worlds can be used to clarify it, before turning to the issue of how we should understand possible worlds themselves. After that we will turn to the issue of time and the debate between the "dynamic" and "static" views, before considering questions about what is involved in something's persisting through time (and, time permitting, questions about the possibility of time-travel). Among the thinkers we will study are Bertrand Russell, J.M.E. McTaggart, C.D. Broad, W. V. O. Quine, Rudolf Carnap, J.J.C. Smart, A.N. Prior, David Lewis, David Armstrong, Alvin Plantinga, Saul Kripke, and Gideon Rosen.

Learning Objectives:
To demonstrate knowledge about central problems in metaphysics
Upon completion of the course, students should be able to:
     Identify central issues or debates in metaphysics,
     Articulate and, when appropriate, compare or contrast, different views that might be taken with
          respect to these issues,
     Summarize major motivations or arguments for these alternative positions,
     Present significant objections that have or could be raised to these positions,
     Assess the relative merits of these arguments and objections.


Loux, M. (ed.). Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings (Second Edition). New York: Routledge, 2008.

The book for the course is available at The UNLV Bookstore.
There will also be several photocopied or online required readings.


Requirements.............................................Percent of Final Grade

Class Participation......................................................10%
First Paper...................................................................30%
Second Paper...............................................................30%
Final Exam..................................................................30%

About the Requirements:
Class Participation--This requirement covers a couple of things things. First, there is your contribution during class. Class attendance is thus necessary. However, to do well you must do more than just attend. You are expected to show up having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it. Second, everyone must make at least six contributions to the Electronic Discussion Board (accessible through WebCampus) during the term: three before March 15 and three after.

The First Paper--There will be a 6-8 page paper due in early March. Paper topics will be distributed 12 days before the paper is due.

The Second Paper--There will be a second 6-8 page paper due in late April. Again, topics will be distributed 12 days before the paper is due.

The Final Exam--There will be a timed (2 hour), in-class final exam given on Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 1pm in our regular classroom. The final will consist of a choice of essay questions.

Note: All course requirements must be satisfactorily completed in order to pass the course.


This is an upper-level philosophy course, so while I will present a lot of the material, our class meetings should also include a lot of student discussion, not just lectures. I hope that you will all have views about the theories we are going to examine, and I want you to express and explore those views whenever possible. It is typical of philosophical topics that people's views on them will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) whenever anyone says something you disagree with, but on either side of this sort of exchange, everyone should always keep in mind that expressing disagreement is not a personal attack. Philosophical discussion thrives under this kind of interaction and often stems from disagreement. At the same time, philosophical discussion aims at reaching some sort of agreement. We probably won't reach agreement every time, but we should aspire towards it.


In recent years it has become necessary to make a further comment about classroom etiquette. Engaging in activities like text messaging, surfing the web, checking Facebook, tweeting, IMing, etc. during class is entirely inappropriate. In fact, it is extremely rude and highly disrespectful of our joint enterprise of teaching and learning. Whether you are sitting in the back and presume you are not interfering with anyone else is irrelevant. It is not a question of what you are caught doing; it is a matter of what you do, noticed or not. I expect everyone to behave appropriately during class, engaging with our cooperative project and refraining from inappropriate activities at all times.


Readings from the Loux anthology, Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings (Second Edition), are indicated by author, selection title, and page numbers, in parentheses. Photocopied/online readings are labeled as such.
A note about the readings: As you well know, philosophical writing is often subtle and difficult. This is especially true of many readings for this course, as they are also somewhat technical; most of them should be read at least twice. It also helps to take notes on separate paper while reading.
The course units and readings for them are as follows.

1. Metaphysics and Ontological Commitment
Quine, "On What There Is" (pp. 42-56)
Alston, "Ontological Commitments" (online)
Carnap, "Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology" (online)
Quine, "On Carnap on Ontology" (online)
Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (online)
2. Universals
Loux, "The Problem of Universals" (pp. 3-13)
Russell, "The World of Universals" (pp. 14-19)
Price, "Universals and Resemblances" (pp. 20-41)
Williams, "The Elements of Being" (pp. 57-64)
Campbell, "The Metaphysic of Abstract Particulars" (online)
Armstrong, "Universals as Attributes" (pp. 65-91)
3. Modality and Possible Worlds
Loux, "Modality and Possible Worlds" (pp. 151-159)
Lewis, "Possible Worlds" (pp. 160-167)
Lewis, from On the Plurality of Worlds, Ch. 1 (online)
Plantinga, "Actualism and Possible Worlds" (pp. 168-188)
Lewis, "Counterparts or Double Lives?" (pp. 198-218)
Rosen, "Modal Fictionalism" (online)
4. Time and Persistence
Loux, "Time: The A-Theory and the B-Theory" (pp. 341-349)
McTaggart, "Time" (pp. 350-361)
Broad, "Ostensible Temporality" (pp. 362-368)
Taylor, "Time and Eternity" (pp. 369-378)
Prior, "The Notion of the Present" (pp. 379-383)
Prior, "Thank Goodness That's Over" (online)
Smart, "The Space-Time World" (pp. 384-393)
Mellor, "The Need for Tense" (pp. 394-407)
Loux, "Endurantism and Perdurantism" (pp. 411-417)
Heller, "Temporal Parts of Four-Dimensional Objects" (pp. 418-442)
Merricks, "Endurance and Indiscernibility" (pp. 443-463)
*The instructor of this course reserves the right to change any aspect of the syllabus, with the understanding that any such changes will be announced in class.