Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Course: Metaphysics - 42150 - HPHI 475A - 01

Course web page:

Syllabus @

Days: MWF.

Time: 9 AM currently; perhaps will change to 10, 11, or later

Place: depending on the size of the class, hopefully we can find a seminar room for a better learning environment.

Instructor: Dr. Nathan Nobis (,

Office: Philosophy & Religion Department, Sale Hall 113

Office Hours: 10-12 MWF and by appointment (but please let me know if you want to meet)

In this course, we will survey the range of answers to challenging philosophical questions in metaphysics, including:

  • How is that you are the same individual you were last week, or when you were 10 (or 5, or 1, or birth, or before..?), given all the changes that have occurred to you? What makes a person the same person over time, despite such drastic changes?
  • It seems that everything that happens has a cause (whether we know what it is or not). But if everything is caused, and so our actions are caused, then can we have free will?
  • Two red things have something in common, namely that they are red. But what is this “redness”? Is it a thing of some kind? Or is this just a way we talk about things?

Other issues concern whether anything is fated; the nature of time (and time travel); whether God exists; why anything exists; the relation between objects and their parts; the nature of possibility and necessity; the challenging (and peculiar) question, “What is metaphysics anyway?” and more.

All the issues in this class are extremely intellectually challenging. These are hard philosophical problems and require a lot of careful and critical thinking. The challenge, however, can reap great rewards!:)

Required Books: (Many are available used – and often cheaper – online at,, etc.)

Our main two texts that we will read first:

1. Riddles of Existence by Ted Sider and Earl Conee (Oxford). The first chapter is available here:

2. Reading Metaphysics: Selective Texts with Interactive Commentary (Blackwell) by Julian Dodd and Helen Beebee.

We will then revisit free will and related issues:

3. A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, by Robert Kane (Oxford)

And then revisit personal identity and related issues:
4. A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality, by John Perry (Hackett)

Finally, we will investigate the possible relevance of metaphysics to ethics/bioethics:
5. Bioethics and Human Identity by David DeGrazia (Cambridge).


Midterm Exam 25 percent

Final Exam 25 percent

Argumentative Research Paper 25 percent

Readings Homework and Presentations 25 percent

Attendance variable impact

Accommodation for Students with Disabilities: In accordance with Title 5, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Acts of 1990, reasonable accommodation will be provided to any student who has followed Morehouse College procedures. To begin the process, please contact The Learning Center at the beginning of the semester. Once the need for accommodations has been officially established, the student should consult with the instructor to insure that the student’s needs may be met as effectively as possible.

Basic Responsibilities:

  1. Always do the readings. Do them carefully, in the proper (quiet, distraction-free) environment and with adequate time given to them. Come to class so we can have an informed, responsible and intelligent discussion of them and the issues they raise. Always bring the assigned and have them out since we cannot do anything without them: much of our class time will be spent reading the texts and discussing them very carefully.
  2. Chronic tardiness to class will not be tolerated. Certainly, sometimes circumstances cause one to be late for class but these times should be the exception. Students who cannot make it to class on time are encouraged to change their habits or drop the course. If you do come in late, please do so in a quiet manner so that you do not disrupt class.
  3. Attendance and participation are mandatory. After three unexcused absences, your final grade for the class will be lowered by one letter grade. Subsequent unexcused absences will continue to lower your final grade at the same rate. Each class period a sign-in sheet will be passed around to take role. It is your responsibility to sign it. If your name is not on the sheet, then you will be counted absent for that day.
  4. Distractions are prohibited. No using cell phones, PDA’s, Sidekicks, text messaging, listening to music on headphones, reading a newspaper or doing work for other classes. Computers can only be used for taking notes and other class-related work, not web surfing. Anyone using such devices for unacceptable purposes, doing work for other classes and is otherwise disengaged or disruptive will be asked to leave.
  5. No eating in class.
  6. “Help me help you”: The instructor should be informed of medical, family, or other problems that necessitate missing class or that interfere with your work. In addition, students are encouraged to visit with the instructor during his office hours if they are having difficulty reading or understanding the materials presented in class. If you ever have any questions about anything, please just ask!


“The Division of Humanities & Social Sciences at Morehouue College endorses the highest standards and expectations of academic honesty and integrity. Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. Sanctions for violation of these standards include possible suspension or dismissal from the College. It is each student’s responsibility to be familiar with the expected codes of conduct as outlined in the College Catalogue and Student Handbook.”

Cheating and plagiarism are forms of lying (to the instructor, the school, future teachers and employers, and yourself, among others) and theft (of other people’s ideas and words) and are grounds for failing the course. If you submit a plagiarized paper (e.g., a paper you took in whole or in part from the internet or some other illegitimate source), the instructor (with the help of will notice this and you will then fail this course immediately: no excuses will be accepted. It is your responsibility to know what plagiarism is.
Here are some suggestions to avoid plagiarism: do not check the internet for anything related to your papers: instead use the texts required for the course and think for yourself; do not take phrases from the texts; put all of your writings in your own words; do not cut and paste anything from the internet into your paper; do not visit Wikipedia; do not take articles from online encyclopedias; do not visit online dictionaries; use an acceptable citation method (e.g., MLA, APA, etc.), which you learned to do in Introductory English courses. If you would like additional sources to learn more about a topic, see the instructor.



  • The first writing assignment is to reflectively develop and defend answers to these questions: what is philosophy? What is it to think philosophically? How does one think philosophically? What is it to be a philosopher? What is the value in thinking philosophically and/or being a philosopher? Are there any risks to thinking philosophically and/or being a philosopher? Due Monday 8/27.
  • The first reading assignment is Riddles, Ch. 1. and the Introduction of Reading Metaphysics. Due Monday 8/27.
  • ASAP email the instructor at to let him know that you are going to be in this class. The email should say which class you are, your name, your major and ask a question or give a comment about the class so far. This will help the instructor make an email list for the class.

The tentative order of readings is below. The exact schedule of readings will be announced in class; our rate of progress depends on the nature of our discussions.

Additional materials and assignments will be announced or given out in class. Since this class will be conducted in seminar style using the Socratic Method, specific reading assignment dates will be adjusted throughout the semester to allow for discussion of issues that may take more class time. If you have any questions about your reading assignment, please do not hesitate to ask the instructor for clarification. Please bring your books to class since we will read important passages together and sometimes read selections that were not included in that day’s assignment.


READING METAPHYSICS: Ch. 1 Personal Identity
Derek Parfit, 'Personal Identity'
Commentary on Parfit
Marya Schechtman, 'Personhood and Personal Identity'
Commentary on Schechtman
Further Reading
Essay Questions






Peter van Inwagen, 'The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism'
Commentary on van Inwagen
Daniel Dennett, 'Could Have Done Otherwise' (extract from Elbow Room)
Commentary on Dennett
Further Reading
Essay Questions


READING METAPHYSICS Ch. 6 Persistence over Time
David Lewis, extract from On the Plurality of Worlds
Commentary on Lewis
Sally Haslanger, 'Endurance and Temporary Intrinsics'
Commentary on Haslanger
David Lewis, 'Tensing the Copula'
Commentary on Lewis
Further reading
Essay questions


READING METAPHYSICS Ch. 4 Realism and Nominalism
Michael Devitt, '"Ostrich Nominalism" or "Mirage Realism"?'
Commentary on Devitt
D. M. Armstrong, 'Against "Ostrich" Nominalism: A Reply to Michael Devitt'
Commentary on Armstrong
Further reading
Essay questions


David Lewis, extract from Counterfactuals
Commentary on Lewis
Saul Kripke, extract from Naming and Necessity
Commentary on Kripke
Further reading
Essay questions

READING METAPHYSICS Ch. 3 Realism and Anti-realism
Donald Davidson, 'On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme'
Commentary on Davidson
Thomas Nagel, 'Thought and Reality' (extract from The View from Nowhere)
Commentary on Nagel
Further reading
Essay questions


Next, revisit free will and related issues: A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will, by Robert Kane (Oxford)

Next, revisit free will and related issues: A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality, by John Perry (Hackett)

Finally, investigate the possible relevance of metaphysics to ethics/bioethics: Bioethics and Human Identity by David DeGrazia (Cambridge).

Note: A syllabus is not a contract, but rather a guide to course procedures. The instructor reserves the right to alter the course requirements and/or assignments based on new materials, class discussions, or other legitimate pedagogical objectives.

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