Experience and Reality (PHIL 230/001)

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Instructor: Christian Loew. This course meets Monday – Friday from 9:45 a.m. – 11:15 a.m. in Caldwell 213.

In this class, we examine what our experience of the world tells us about what the world is really like. If you are like me, you have plenty of theories about the world and your place in it. For example, I believe that I often make free choices; that I am identical to a certain person on a high-school graduation photograph taken several years ago; that time flows; that no two things can exist at the same place at the same time; and many more.

We will examine what these theories tell us about what the world is like. For example, what does it mean for a choice to be free or for time to flow? We will also look at alternative theories that seem to explain the same experiences. Maybe I do not really make free choices but I am only determined to believe and feel that I do; or maybe time does not flow like a river but is static like a frozen sea and I only believe that it flows because different temporal parts of me occupy different locations in time. We will examine and try to come up with arguments for and against these theories, and raise broader questions, such as what makes one theory better than another and how we can know what the world is really like.

The class will introduce you to many of the most central topics in contemporary metaphysics, such as free will, personal identity, time, possibility and necessity, constitution and causation. Some of the riddles we will encounter in trying to understand reality, include:

• The grandfather paradox: Is time travel impossible? If it were possible, I could travel back in time and kill my grandfather. But then I would not have been born and could not travel back in time and could not kill my grandfather.

• Puzzles of free will: Everything that happens has a prior cause. But if my current decision is caused by earlier things that were not up to me, how can my choices ever be free?

• Puzzles about constitution: If you hold a statue in your hand, you are actually holding two objects, a statue and a lump of clay. For if you smash the statue, the statue is destroyed, but the lump still exists.

• Puzzles about personal identity: What makes me today identical with a certain person two years ago, given that every single cell in my body has been gradually replaced in the meantime, so that I and this earlier person have literally nothing in common?

Required Text:

Riddles of Existence: A Guided Tour of Metaphysics by Earl Conee and Theodore Sider

We will watch several movies that raise the question of what our experience of the world tells us about what the world is really like.

Christian Loew’s webpage