Fall Semester 2012
Metaphysics is a blind alley of
thought into which fiends have conspired these many centuries past to
lure the human intellect to its destruction. 3 units.
The description is someone else's joke. Here is the real catalog description:
Examines arguments concerning the nature of reality. Representative
topics include: substance, space, time, God, free will, determinism,
identity, universals. Emphasis is on contemporary formulations.
Prerequisite: 6 units in philosophy or instructor permission. 3 units.
Textbook: There will be no required textbook. The required reading assignments and videos will be available only on the Internet. In addition, you will receive occasional class handouts, which you should
consider to be required reading.
Grades: Your grade will be determined by three essays and a final exam. The first two are sets of essay questions (20% each). The third is an eight-page essay (30%). It is recommended that you follow the Department's writing guidelines for the third essay; they are posted at http://www.csus.edu/phil/Guidance/WritingGuidelines.html.
Schedule of Topics and Reading Assignments: Click here to see the schedule of weekly assignments and topics.
Prerequisites: Six units of college philosophy. The prerequisite requirement might be waived if you talk to me about your interests and experience.
This course will presuppose that, from other philosophy courses, you have already learned a few philosophical skills. Specifically, (1) you know how to read a philosophy article [as opposed to, say, a novel], compose a summary or abstract of it, and also extract the author's thesis from that article. A thesis is a sentence or two that states the main point the author is trying to make. (2) You know how to define your key terms, and you have some sense of what words need defining and what can be taken for granted. (3) You know how to detect an argument by analogy even if it doesn't use any form of the word "analogy." (4) You know how to construct a philosophical essay, including writing a draft, revising the draft, using quotations, citing outside sources of ideas, and avoiding plagiarism.
Laptops and cell phones: No photographing or recording during class
is allowed without permission of the instructor. During class, turn off your cellphone. Your computers may be used only for note taking, and not for browsing the web, reading emails, or other activities unrelated to the class. If you use a computer during class, then please sit in the back of the room or in a side row so that your monitor won't distract other students.
Disabilities: If you have a documented disability and
require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests,
attendance, note taking, etc., please see me early in the semester so
that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure your full
participation in class. Also, you are encouraged to contact the
Services for Students with Disabilities (Lassen Hall) for additional
information regarding services that might be available to you.
Please do not eat and drink during class, except for water. You are welcome to leave
class anytime if the need arises.
Goals: At the end of our semester, you can
expect to have a good understanding of the difference between
metaphysics and other areas of philosophy. You will know about the
major metaphysical problems and the variety of their solutions. During
our course, you will acquire the ability to read professional-level
writing in metaphysics, and to formulate your own metaphysical
positions. That is, your goal isn't merely to figure out the position
of the author you happen to be reading; it is also to figure out
whether you are going to accept that position and why. As a final
goal for our course, the assignments are designed in part to improve
your writing ability.
Professor: My office is in Mendocino Hall,
room 3022, phone 278-7384. My weekly office hours for Fall semester, 2012 are TuTh 9:30-10:30 and 12:00-12:30. Feel free to stop by or call at any of those
times. If those hours are inconvenient for you, then we can arrange an
appointment for an alternative time. Also, you may send me e-mail any
time at email@example.com
We will study, among other things, the pitfalls of reification, the process of regarding something abstract as a material thing. Here is an example. "The past hit me in the face like a bloody hand," says a hard-boiled buckaroo in a Raymond Chandler novel. But we metaphysicians know the past isn't an object that can do this sort of thing. We can't always take literally the musings of a Montana cowboy. When can we take remarks literally? Ah, there's the rub, and it is one goal for our course.
A major area of academic metaphysics is ontology. It is the study of what exists and what doesn't exist. Here are two ontological questions:
(i) Are there more non-existent objects than existent objects?
But ontology isn't all there is to metaphysics. Here are two metaphysics questions that aren't ontological questions:
(i)What is involved in one event's causing another?
Some areas of metaphysics have to do with what lies beyond--with what is abstract and perhaps transcendent. Our course is influenced by this vision. But we can't do metaphysics merely by revealing our vision to our readers. A metaphysics should be more than merely a poetic vision of what there is. It should be a theory or a systematic group of basic beliefs backed up by convincing arguments intended to compel assent from any rational thinker. Quite a goal, right?
Our course is not historically oriented. We will not march through
metaphysics century by century. Instead, our course is problem-oriented
or issue-oriented. We will pick topics and study them with no
particular attention to history except as it enriches the current
By trading on the imprecision in the word "closer," the proverb makes a
point about the way Indians view the universe. The proverb also raises
a metaphysical problem that is called the problem of personal
identity. To appreciate the problem, consider what it means to say, "I
could have been the coyote." Could you really have been a coyote
instead of a human being? No, say some critics, because you'd lose your
personal identity if you were a coyote. That is, you'd lose what it is
that makes you be you. The Princeton University philosopher Saul Kripke
says you can't be you unless you have the parents you do have, but because
your parents never gave birth to a coyote, it follows that you can't
possibly have been a coyote, and so the Indian proverb is incorrect, if
it is interpreted literally. There are responses to Kripke that
defenders of the proverb might offer, but we won't pursue these now.
Instead, let's just note that we have approached some
metaphysical material within American Indian folklore with the tools of
the analytical philosopher. By asking, "Could you have been a coyote?"
we've asked the kind of question that requires a careful analysis of
what is said and meant, and this is the mark of analytical philosophy.
Study tips: The single best book that covers the material in our course at the same intellectual level is Riddles of Existence by Ted Sider. If you wanted to read more about our course material, I'd recommend your looking at this book.
As you read an article or chapter, itís helpful first to skim it, that is, glance over it, to get some sense of whatís ahead. Look at how it is organized and what clues, if any, the author provides to signify main ideas. The clues might be in the first or last few sentences, in section titles, and via use of italics and bold face type. Make your own notes as you read. Stop every fifteen minutes to look back over what youíve read and try to summarize the key ideas for yourself. This periodic pausing and reviewing and looking ahead will help you maintain your concentration, process the information more deeply, and retain it longer.
Don't forget the bigger picture. Did you notice connections between one article and another, or between the views of one author and those of another? Did you get convinced by what the author said?
Completing a course assignment will require you occasionally to apply your knowledge to new situations not specifically discussed in class nor in the books. This ability to use your knowledge in new situations requires study activities different from memorizing. Your goal is to improve your philosophical skills, not simply to memorize information.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more
information about our course.
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