Preface for Instructors1
- Metaphysics is not only one of the oldest, but also one of the most diverse fields in philosophy. No single volume could offer readings from every area of a field as multiplex as metaphysics, and in fact there has been a conspicuous dearth of anthologies that make any attempt at all. The selections in the present book represent those topics and viewpoints at the forefront of contemporary metaphysical inquiry. These are the seminal, cutting-edge articles that have advanced the frontiers of knowledge; indeed, the numerous original pieces in this book contribute to that advance. The volume in your hands presents precisely the issues with which advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students need to be familiar in order to understand what metaphysicians care about and why. Some issues in metaphysics, such as modality and possible worlds semantics, have not been included here because an adequate treatment of them requires too much logical sophistication for undergraduates. Other topics, such as free will, causation2, and personal identity, are not treated in this volume because in some respects they have become cul-de-sacs on the map of late twentieth-century metaphysics. Though they are important topics in their own right, they lack the interconnectedness that unifies the ontological core of metaphysics. It is this core that the current book attempts to capture.
- One may think that it is too much to expect undergraduates to step up to the rarified realms of recent metaphysics. This is not so! The selections in this book were specifically selected for their accessibility and lack of logical formulae, so that students with little or no background in symbolic logic can make sense of them. Even so, the language and background assumptions of some of the articles may be challenging for the philosophically uninitiated. That is why each of the nine parts of the book is introduced by a leading expert on the topic of the part. These parts are
In addition, there is a previously unpublished article by Michael Devitt defending realism, along with a postscript in which Devitt addresses the interpretation of his position that Simon Blackburn gives in the introduction to this part. These introductions provide the historical context of the issue they introduce, explain what the debate concerns and why it is important, and outline the major positions taken. They serve to bring students up to speed and provide an appetizer for students before they tackle the entrees. In addition to the introductions, detailed study questions accompany each selection that will enable students to quickly apprehend the main points and argumentative structure of the articles they read. For more advanced students, or anyone wishing to delve more deeply into the topics of this book, extensive lists of further readings accompany each part.
- existence (introduced by Michael Burke),
- the realism/anti-realism debate (Simon Blackburn),
- truth (Frederick Schmitt),
- abstract objects (Bob Hale),
- secondary qualities (Edward Averill),
- events (Jonathan Bennett),
- substance (E. J. Lowe),
- dependent particulars (H. Scott Hestevold), and
- mereology (Peter Simons).
- I teach at a mid-sized comprehensive state university in rural Pennsylvania and have successfully used these readings with upper-division undergraduates. You can, too. And when you do, your students will really know what contemporary metaphysics is all about.
- I wish to thank …
Preface for Students3
- Metaphysics is one of the oldest and most central divisions of philosophy, and its study is found in full flower among the Greeks of the fifth century BCE. The word metaphysics itself comes from a first-century BCE edition of certain collected writings of Aristotie, assembled under the title To Meta ta Phusika, which means no more than "what comes after the writings on nature" (ta phusika). The topics treated by Aristotle in this posthumous edition became the focus of the specialty of metaphysics.
- Aristotle set out three main tasks in Ta Meta ta Phusika.
In the past two thousand years,
- The first was the study of the first principles of logic and causation4.
- The second chore was the reasoned investigation of the nature of divinity.
- The third was ontology; the exploration of being qua being, or the intrinsic nature of existence.
- The first assignment has been divided variously among logicians, philosophers of science, and scientists.
- The second task has become the specialized subject of the philosophy of religion.
- It is the third task, that of ontology, which remains to metaphysics proper today.
- Ontology has three primary objectives. The first is to establish the basic categories of what there is, or the taxonomy of the ultimate furniture of reality. In one respect, a kind of taxonomy is implied by the very divisions of this book, in which, for example, an entire part is devoted to one kind of thing (such as truth) and another whole part is devoted to another kind of thing (such as events). In another respect, debate about which entities are the real denizens of the ontological zoo and which are mere pretenders is a theme that runs throughout the selections. As you will see, in Part V, entitled "Secondary Qualities," some philosophers believe that colors are real things in the world and others maintain that colors are just illusions of the mind. In Part IV, "Abstracta," you will see a similar debate over properties, numbers, and propositions; in Part VIII, "Dependent Particulars," the same question is asked about holes, surfaces, and boundaries. In a very general way, Part II on "Realism/Anti-Realism" asks whether reality even has a determinate, mind-independent structure, thus putting the entire taxonomic enterprise on the table for debate.
- The second task of ontology is to investigate the relations that hold among different types of things. This question too arises throughout the volume. What is the relationship between a true sentence and the nonlinguistic facts of the world. How about between properties and the predicates that express them (the relationship might be identity)? What is the real difference between substances (your eye) and events (your eye moving across this page)? In what way are surfaces dependent on the substances that have them? Could we remove only the surface from an object? If so, how?
- The third objective of ontology is to delineate the relations that obtain among things in the same category. This is the focus of Part IX, "Mereology." How are parts related to their wholes? Are they essential, so that if a whole were to lose a part it would go out of existence? If you replace a tire on your car, is it a new car? How about if you replace the engine and half the body? Part I, "Existence," also addresses relations that obtain among things in the same category by focusing on the very broadest category — that of entity. Of everything there is, why does it exist rather than not? Are there facts about what exists that explain why there is something rather than nothing at all?
- Though no single book could cover every issue in metaphysics, the volume you are holding surveys some of the most prominent topics in contemporary metaphysics. Each of the nine parts of the book is introduced by a leading scholar on the topic of that part, and each of the articles is accompanied by study questions to help you quickly grasp the key points of the article. In addition, extensive further readings at the end of each part allow you to delve more deeply. All study questions and further lists of readings have been written or compiled by the editor, with the exception of the study questions in Part VIII, which were written by H. Scott Hestevold.
Footnote 1: Full Text.
Footnote 3: Full Text.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
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