PHIL 311: Issues in Metaphysics
PHIL 311: Issues in Metaphysics
The Generic Catalogue Description
Typical issues include transcendence, being, existence in its individual and communal dimensions, causality, relations, analogy, purpose, the possibility of metaphysics, and the relations of metaphysics to other disciplines.
PHIL 311: Issues in Metaphysics: Metaphysics & the Realist Tradition
While many philosophers in recent years have been highly pessimistic about the prospects for developing a positive, rationally justified set of beliefs concerning the fundamental nature of reality, there are still philosophers who regard such a project not only as possible, but also as a central element of any serious philosophical system. For present purposes, let us call philosophers who believe that philosophical inquiry can generate justified positive belief in the area of ontology or metaphysics “realists.” Some realists argue that our choice isn’t whether to adopt metaphysical positions, but whether to adopt them reflectively on a basis of rigorous reflection or to hold them unreflectively as a matter of dogmatism or intellectual fashion. In addition to the intrinsic interest of metaphysical issues, some argue, metaphysical understanding is a prerequisite for reasoned appraisal of competing moral theories: one cannot engage in productive reflection on how people ought to be treated without an understanding of what people are. Similar points can be made about the relation of metaphysical reasoning to theology, to the sciences, and to the social sciences.
In this course, we will study and evaluate some important positions within the realist metaphysical tradition. For example, we will reflect on theories of substance, essence, natural kinds, universals and particulars, properties, and relations as elements of a theory of the nature of reality. We will consider objections to traditional metaphysics based on empiricism, scientism, nominalism, skepticism, and other positions. In addition, we will discuss how fundamental metaphysical issues bear on selected particular questions, such as the existence and nature of God, the relation of mind and body, and freedom of the will.
PHIL 311: Issues in Metaphysics: Realism
James Murphy, sj
Metaphysical realism (as opposed to anti-realism) is the theory that the world and (at least some) objects exist independently of our knowing of their existence and our conceptualization of them. It is a doctrine, not about what exists, but about what it is to exist. Influential in the ancient Greco-Roman world and dominant in the medieval era, it lost ground to anti-realism (e.g. idealism) from 1600 onwards. In the 20th century, realism began to be taken seriously again, although anti-realism remains dominant in the social sciences and in much popular culture.
This course first explores realism and its commitments. That involves looking at traditional sources of opposition to it, e.g. empiricism, conceptualism, scientism, and skepticism. Second, it distinguishes between realism and truth. Third, it explores the relative merits of substance-ontology and fact-ontology, and engages with essentialism (the theory that substances have natures).
Typical readings: Aristotle, Metaphysics; Aquinas, Being and Essence; D.M. Armstrong 1997, A World of States of Affairs; Michael Devitt 1991, Realism and Truth; John Heil 2003, From an Ontological Point of View; Joshua Hoffman and Gary S. Rosenkrantz 1994, Substance among other categories; E.J. Lowe 2006, The Four-Category Ontology; David S. Oderberg 2007, Real Essentialism.