PHIL 441/641, Sec. 1001: MW 11:30pm-12:45pm in CBC C219
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Fall 2017

Professor: James Woodbridge
email address:
Course Webpage:
Office Hours:  M 2:30pm-4pm, T 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 issue of universals, in its more contemporary guise. Next we will take up the nature of concrete particulars and whether there is more to them than the attributes they possess. After that we will address 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. Finally, 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, Max Black, J.J.C. Smart, A.N. Prior, David Lewis, David Armstrong, Alvin Plantinga, Saul Kripke, Gideon Rosen, and Ted Sider.

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.
Bigaj, T. Metaphysics: A Guided Tour for Beginners. Warsaw: Philosophy of Being Cognition
     and Value, 2012.

The books for the course is available at The UNLV Bookstore.
There will also be several 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 October 21 and three after.

The First Paper--There will be a 6-8 page paper due in mid October. 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 early December. 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 Wednesday, December 13, 2017 at 10:10am 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, Instagram, or 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, engaged in our cooperative project, 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). Readings from Metaphysics: A Guided Tour for Beginners, by Tomasz Bigaj are labeled by author and chapter title, followed by page numbers (in parentheses). 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)
Bigaj, "Introduction" and "Existence and Identity" (pp. 1-12)
Alston, "Ontological Commitments" (online)
Carnap, "Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology" (online)
Quine, "On Carnap on Ontology" (online)
2. Universals
Loux, "The Problem of Universals" (pp. 3-13)
Bigaj, "Universals and Particulars" (pp. 20-38)
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. Particulars
Bigaj, "Existence and Identity" (pp. 13-19) and "Universals and Particulars" (pp. 39-44)
Loux, "The Ontological Structure of Concrete Particulars" (pp. 95-103)
Black, "The Identity of Indiscernibles" (pp. 104-113)
Allaire, "Bare Particulars" (pp. 114-120)
Sider, "Bare Particulars" (online)
Van Cleve, "Three Versions of the Bundle Theory" (pp. 121-133)
Casullo, "A Fourth Version of the Bundle Theory" (pp. 134-148)
4. Modality and Possible Worlds
Bigaj, "Possibility and Necessity" (pp. 45-59)
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)
Kripke, Naming and Necessity, Lecture I, selections (online)
Rosen, "Modal Fictionalism" (online)
5. Time and Persistence
Bigaj, "Time and Temporal Objects" (pp. 60-93)
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.