Metaphysics: The Big Questions - Preface
Van Inwagen (Peter) & Zimmerman (Dean)
Source: Van Inwagen & Zimmerman - Metaphysics: The Big Questions
Paper - Abstract

Paper SummaryText Colour-Conventions

Preface (Full Text)

  1. The problems of metaphysics are many. Some arise upon the least reflection about the world and our place in it. Others are less obvious, appearing as problems only to those willing to think very hard about highly abstract questions. The reader of this anthology will find philosophers grappling with metaphysical problems of both sorts - although we have deliberately decided to favor the less abstract, more immediately accessible problems, since this anthology is intended as an introduction to the subject. The essays and excerpts are largely free of unexplicated technical terminology and symbolism. And the topics covered complement those of a number of popular single-author introductions to metaphysics.
  2. With the exception of the final group of essays, all the readings are made to fall under a series of questions about "the world." We assume that the world includes everything that there is - that is, all that exists.
  3. The first and largest part, "What are the most general features of the world?," includes readings on
    • the problem of universals1,
    • the nature of particular things and the manner of their persistence through time,
    • rival theories of the passage of time,
    • absolute space and incongruent counterparts,
    • causation2, and
    • a budget of paradoxes: McTaggart's paradox, paradoxes of motion, of the infinite, of time travel, and of intrinsic change.
  4. The second, and second largest, part asks, "What is our place in the world?" Here are questions about
    • the relation between the way things appear to us and the way they are (sense data, secondary qualities),
    • personal identity (two forms of materialism, a version of Cartesian dualism, and Derek Parfit's "Buddhism"),
    • the nature of phenomenal experience, and
    • free will.
  5. Part Three raises the question of "anti-realism": Is there just one world, one complete inventory of what there is? Or does what there is vary from community to community or person to person?
  6. Part Four begins with reflection on whether there could be an answer to the question, "Why is there a world?" - that is, why is there something, rather than nothing? The part ends with two attempts to answer the question by appeal to a necessary being (the Deity of the cosmological and ontological arguments).
  7. The final part includes challenges to the very possibility of metaphysics from both positivist and postmodern perspectives.
  8. Although most of the readings have appeared elsewhere, a few have been written especially for this volume:
  9. The introductions to the sections serve three purposes:
    • (i) to indicate how the readings in the section are related to one another;
    • (ii) to point out connections between these selections and readings in other parts of the anthology; and
    • (iii) to suggest supplementary readings.
  10. An undergraduate course in metaphysics could profitably use this text alongside a wide variety of books, including classics4 such as Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy, Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, and Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy. Here are some more recent introductory books that take up many of the questions addressed in this anthology and are, in general, appropriate for an undergraduate audience:
  11. The following anthologies and single-author texts may serve as companions to the volume for more advanced students (e.g., upper-level philosophy majors, or beginning graduate students):
  12. Our lists of supplementary readings include suggestions for matching up chapters from all of these books with our selections. They also include many other books, articles, and (in a few cases) stories we think could be used to teach metaphysics to beginners.
  13. The dedication is offered in gratitude from two philosophers happy to have been on the “Chisholm Trail”.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: See "Zimmerman (Dean) - Distinct Indiscernibles and the Bundle Theory".

Footnote 4: See, eg, Footnote 5: This shows Van Inwagen + Zimmerman’s Christian Bias.

Footnote 7: See, maybe,

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - June 2018. Please address any comments on this page to File output:
Website Maintenance Dashboard
Return to Top of this Page Return to Theo Todman's Philosophy Page Return to Theo Todman's Home Page