Physics and Philosophy


Physics and Philosophy

Philosophy 317: Metaphysics


Spring 2016

Instructor:Dr. Joshua Spencer

Office: 613 Curtin Hall

Phone: (414) 229-5215


Office Hours:Tuesdays 3:00-4:30 or by appointment

Coffee Hours: Wednesdays 12:30-1:30 (to be held at Roast)

Course Description:

Metaphysics is the study of the fundamental nature of reality (or something like that). In this class, I propose that we learn what metaphysics is by doing metaphysics. We’ll seek answers to some of the following question: What is it for something to exist? What is space? What is time? What is possibility? And what are they all like? What is causation and what are the laws of nature? How, exactly, do we fit into the world? Are we just another body governed by the laws of nature and if so do we ever act freely? We’ll explore answers to these questions by reading and discussing recent work in metaphysics.

Textbook: None, all readings will be posted on D2L.

Course Requirements:


You are expected to be in class on time with all your homework completed. Many of the skills you learn in this class will build on previously learned skills. Regular attendance along with completed homework will make it more likely that you will be able to learn and master these skills. If you must miss any day of class, then give the reason for your absence in advance of that day. Your absence will be excused only if your reason is acceptable. Acceptable reasons include serious illness or emergency situations.

Homework and Classwork(40%)

There will be several short assignments to be done as homework or as in-class assignments. These are designed to help you practice summarizing the key portions of essays and critiquing arguments. These assignments usually involve writing one or two paragraphs in response to a question about the reading. Most (though not all) of these assignments will involve contributing to the discussion board on D2L.

Formal Take-Home Essays (15%, 20%, and 25%; total of 60%)

There will be three longer essay assignments for this class. Each of these essays should be about 3-5 pages long. More details will be given about each writing assignment in class.

Expected Time Commitment

This 3 credit course meets for 2 1/2 hours of lecture/discussion per week during the semester. Students are expected to put in at least 6 1/2 hours per week (on average) studying and working on assignments to achieve the learning objectives of this course.

Classroom and University Policies:

Late Work Policy

All homework assignments should be turned in on time. Any homework that is turned in late will be penalized one full letter grade for each day that it is late. No late homework will be accepted after two days have passed.

All formal essays assignments should be turned in on time. If the final draft of your formal writing assignment is late, then you will be penalized one third of a letter grade for each calendar day that it is late.

Certain exceptions to these policies will be made for students if prior arrangements are made or in extreme and unexpected circumstances.

Academic Respect

In this class we will be critically evaluating the views of others and emphasizing the importance of using arguments to support various positions. A well written paper will focus on various reasons in support of a position and will consider and evaluate reasons for opposing positions. Class discussions will follow a similar pattern. In this class you will be asked to provide reasons for the claims that you make during a discussion. Moreover, you will be expected to be respectful toward others while engaging in debate. Condescending and belligerent tones hinder academic discussion. Such tones are unacceptable in this kind of atmosphere.

Electronics Policy

In my classroom, you are not permitted to use laptops, cell phones or other devices with internet capabilities. Recent studies have shown that the average grades of students who use such devices are lower than those of students who do not. This seems to be an instance of a more general phenomenon. Using internet capable devices in class tends to lead to multitasking. However, recent studies have shown that people who multitask tend to perform those tasks less well than those who perform the same tasks in succession.

Academic Dishonesty

No one may use the ideas expressed in (or quote from) a paper, book or website without properly citing the source. No one may have another person write a paper (in part or in whole) and pass it off as one’s own. No one may use ideas that originated from another person through the course of a conversation without properly acknowledging that that other person is the source of those ideas. This list of prohibited activities should not be construed as exhaustive.

For more information about academic dishonesty and the procedure for dealing with cases of academic dishonesty, please consult the following university website:

Students with Disabilities

If you will need accommodations in order to meet any of the requirements of this course, please contact me. For more information please consult with the Student Accessibility Center:

Other University Policies:

Tentative Schedule

Week 1:Ontology


1/27David Lewis & Stephanie Lewis: “Holes”

Week 2: Space

2/1Gottfried Leibniz: “The Leibniz-Clarke Correspondences”


Week 3: Space

2/8Brian Greene: The Fabric of the Cosmos


Week 4: Space

2/15James van Cleve: “Incongruent Counterparts and Higher Dimensions”


Week 5: Time

2/22J.M.E. McTaggart: “The Unreality of Time”

2/24Judith Jarvis Thomson: “McTaggart on Time”

Week 6: Time

2/29Alyssa Ney: “Time” from Metaphysics an Introduction

3/2Arthur N. Prior: “Some Free Thinking About Time”

Week 7: Time

3/7Ned Markosian “How Fast Does Time Pass?”

3/9First Essay Due

Week 8: Spring Break

3/14No Class

3/16No Class

Week 9: Composition

3/21Ted Sider: Excerpt from Four Dimensionalism

3/23Trenton Merricks: Composition and Vagueness;

Elizabeth Barnes: Vagueness and Arbitrariness

Week 10: Composition/Persistence

3/28Peter van Inwagen: “The Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts”

3/30Jennifer Wang: “The Ship of Theseus” (Video)

Week 11:Persistence

4/4Sally Haslanger: “Persistence Through Time”


Week 12: Reconciliation

4/11Eli Hirsch: “Physical Object Ontology, Verbal Disputes, and

Common Sense”


Week 13: Free Will

4/18Peter van Inwagen:An Essay on Free Will

4/20Second Essay Due

Week 14: Laws of Nature

4/25D.M. Armstrong: What is a Law of Nature?


Week 15:Possibility

5/2David Lewis: Counterfactuals and On the Plurality of Worlds


Week 16:Goodbye!


5/16Third Essays Due