PHIL 431, Sec. 02: MW 3pm-4:20pm in 142 Blair Hall
The College of William and Mary
Fall 2002

Instructor: James Woodbridge
email address:
Course Webpage:
Office Hours: T 10am-11:30am, W 4:30pm-5:30pm, and by appointment
Office: 126 Blair Hall
Office Phone: 221-2713
Dept. Phone: 221-2735


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. In this course we will approach metaphysics from this more general perspective (as opposed to focusing on questions specifically about, say, the metaphysics of persons). We will begin with a brief look at the subject of metaphysics itself, but then quickly turn to more particular questions of ontology, that is, questions about the kinds of things that exist. After considering the general issue of ontological commitment (what it is to be committed to the existence of some kind of thing), we will take up the traditional question of whether reality is composed entirely of particular things, or if it contains "general" or "repeatable" things (universals) along with particulars. Next we will investigate the nature of particulars, looking at different views about their fundamental structure. Broadening the scope of our inquiry some, we will then consider the topic of possible worlds, focusing on how this notion can be used to clarify other philosophical issues (such as the natures of necessity and possibility, properties, and propositions) and on how to understand possible worlds themselves. Next, we will broaden our inquiry further and consider the question of whether there is any sense to the thought that reality as a whole has a structure that is independent of our minds. Finally (time permitting) we will consider questions about the nature of truth, including whether there is any such nature.



Hales, Steven D. Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1999.

Mellor, D.H. and Alex Oliver. Properties. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

The books for the course are available at The William and Mary Bookstore located in the basement of Barnes and Noble in Merchant's Square. (They are also on reserve at the Library.)

There will also be additional required readings which will be available either on-line or as photocopies on reserve.


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

Class Participation......................................................20%
First Paper...................................................................30%
Second Paper...............................................................30%
Final Exam..................................................................20%

About the Requirements:

Class Participation--One thing this requirement covers is your class attendance (if you don't attend class you can't participate in it). However, to get an "A" for class participation you must do more than just show up; you have to contribute to class discussion. To this end, each student will, once during the term, serve as discussion leader for one of the readings. This will entail providing at least 3 substantive questions (beyond any already provided with a reading) to get discussion going. In any case, you are expected to show up having read the assignment for the day and ready to talk about it.

The First Paper--There will be a 7-9 page paper due on Friday, Oct. 25th. Topics will be distributed 2 weeks before the paper is due. Papers are due by 4pm on the due date. Late papers are subject to a substantial grade reduction (you really don't want to find out how much).

The Second Paper--There will be a second 7-9 page paper due on Friday, Dec. 6th (the last day of classes). Again, topics will be handed out 2 weeks before due date, and all papers are due by 4pm on that day. Late submission is still not a good idea.

The Final Exam--There will be a 2-hour final exam given during the scheduled exam time for the class (Tuesday, Dec. 10th at 8:30am). The exam will cover the whole course, and will consist of short answer questions and essay questions based on the readings and class discussions.


This is a seminar class, so although I will present certain material, most of the class should involve discussion. I hope that you will all form views about the topics we will address, and I want you to express and explore those views. It is endemic to philosophical inquiry that people's views on various issues will differ. You are encouraged to question your classmates (and me) when anyone says something you disagree with, but everyone should always keep in mind that 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 toward it.


Most of the readings will be from the Hales textbook. They are listed below by author with just their chapter numbers (or page numbers) in parentheses. The reading from Mellor and Oliver's Properties are listed by author with "P" and their chapter number in parentheses. Readings not from these sources are listed by author and labeled either "photocopy" or "on-line".

A note about the readings: Philosophical writing is often subtle and difficult. Most of these readings should be read at least twice. I recommend a first time straight through and then a second time slowly while taking notes (however, the opposite might work better for you).

The course units and readings for them are as follows.

1. The Subject of Metaphysics

Hales, "Preface to the Student" (pp. xv-xvi)
Aristotle, from Metaphysics (on-line)
Lowe, "Introduction: The Nature of Metaphysics" (photocopy)

2. Ontology and Ontological Commitment

Quine, "On What There Is" (14 or P, V)
Carnap, "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology" (15)

3. Universals

Hale, "Introduction to Abstracta" (pp. 197-206)
Plato, from Phaedo and Parmenides (on-line)
Russell, "The World of Universals" and "Our Knowledge of Universals" (P, II and III)
Armstrong, "Universals as Attributes" (19)
Devitt, "'Ostrich Nominalism' or 'Mirage Realism'?" (P, VII)
Armstrong, "Against 'Ostrich' Nominalism: A Reply to Michael Devitt" (P, VIII)
Campbell, "The Metaphysics of Abstact Particulars" (P, X)

4. Particulars

Aristotle, from Categories and Metaphysics (on-line)
Locke, from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (on-line)
Lowe, "Introduction to Substance" (pp. 371-376)
Van Cleeve, "Three Versions of the Bundle Theory" (26)
Simons, "Particulars in Particular Clothing: Three Trope Theories of Substance" (28)
Allaire, "Bare Particulars" and "Another Look at Bare Particulars" (photocopy)
Chappell, "Particulars Re-Clothed" (photocopy)

5. Possible Worlds

Leibniz, from Monadology, Discourse on Metaphysics (on-line), and
     "Necessary and Contingent Truths" (photocopy)
Lewis, "Possible Worlds" and from On the Plurality of Worlds (photocopy)
Stalnaker, "Possible Worlds" (on-line)
Kripke, from Naming and Necessity (photocopy)
Plantinga, "Transworld Identity or Worldbound Individuals?" (photocopy).

6. Idealism, Realism and Anti-Realism

Russell, "Idealism" (on-line)
Blackburn, "Introduction to the Realism Debates" (pp. 47-51)
Putnam, "Why There Isn't a Ready-Made World" (5)
Sosa, "Putnam's Pragmatic Realism" (6)
Devitt, "A Naturalistic Defense of Realism" and "Postscript" (7 and 8)

7. Truth

Schmitt, "Introduction to Truth" (pp. 107-118)
Haack, "The Pragmatist Theory of Truth" (10)
Rescher, "Truth as Ideal Coherence" (11)
David, "Truth as Correspondence" (13)
Horwich, "The Deflationary View of Truth" (12)