Phil 230: Experience and Reality

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Introduction to Metaphysics. Instructor: Luke Elson. Monday – Friday from 9:45 to 11:15, in Caldwell 213.

Preliminary syllabus: (pdf)

This course is an introduction to metaphysics. No philosophy background needed.

What is the world like? And how can we know about it? Metaphysics is about the ‘fundamental structure of reality’. It seems like chairs and tables exist – I’m using them right now. But what about persons, laws of nature, time and space? We’ll introduce general metaphysical debates and techniques, and look at some of these topics.


We’ll look at questions like:

Personal identity Are you the same person you were 15 years ago? If so, why? Most of the cells in your body have been replaced, so maybe having the same body isn’t what makes you the same person. Would you be the same person if your mind was uploaded to a computer?

Freedom and determinism Do you have free will? Here’s a reason to think you don’t. Your whole body, including your brain, is made up of physical particles. But those particles move according to the laws of physics. If the laws of physics determine all your actions, there doesn’t seem to be much room for free will.

Time Is time real? Is time like space, or is it something different? Here’s another way of putting the question. We are in Chapel Hill. Intuitively, things now in Oxford really exist, even though they are 4000 miles away, and are not here. But what about something that existed in Chapel Hill 100 years ago … does it exist, but not here, or does it not exist anymore?


Readings and General Information

We’ll read John Carroll and Ned Markosian’s excellent Introduction to Metaphysics, and I’ll supply some philosophical papers (historical and modern, men and women). There will also be a couple of relevant movies.

For more information, please see Luke Elson’s webpage.