Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics
Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds.
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
Colour-ConventionsDisclaimerBooks / Papers Citing this BookNotes Citing this Book


Back Cover Blurb

  1. Is personal identity psychological or physical? Determinism and freedom: are they incompatible? Do abstract entities -universals, propositions, and numbers - really exist? Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics addresses these and many more of the most contentious issues in the field today.
  2. An introductory essay on the nature of metaphysics prepares the reader for the text's distinctive format - a series of head-to-head debates by eighteen leading professionals in metaphysics. Squaring off on opposite sides of the issues, they debate nine of the deepest and most puzzling topics in contemporary metaphysics.
  3. Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics is an excellent resource for advanced students and professional philosophers alike.
  4. Reviews
    • Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics is a terrific book - 18 essays by some of the most distinguished voices in contemporary philosophy which collectively represent and define the state of the art in this ancient discipline. The writing is fresh and clear throughout, accessible to beginners but rigorous enough to satisfy the most exacting specialists. This is no bland survey of the subject: the book is structured as a series of debates, with partisans of opposed positions clashing directly on the page. For those who want to see how contemporary metaphysics is done, there is no better introduction to the subject.
      → Gideon A. Rosen, Princeton University
    • This is an incredibly good collection of original papers about the central problems of metaphysics. I will certainly use the book as a text in my yearly introductory graduate seminar on metaphysics.
      → Peter Van Inwagen, University of Notre Dame
    • Until now we've had to choose between traditional texts, where the author pretends to be arguing with him/herself, and anthologies, where the reader pretends the authors are arguing with each other. This book has genuine focussed exchange between some of the best metaphysicians around. The introduction by Sider is a gem. What a great way to learn metaphysics.
      → Prof. Stephen Yablo, MIT
    • What might one want in a contemporary metaphysics reader? There are plenty of volumes that reprint the 20th century precursors to current debates; no need for another one of those. What would be great is a collection of first-rate essays by leading philosophers which effectively engage the most important issues in the field and give attention not only to the substantive debates but the meta-philosophical questions such as: what is metaphysics and how is it possible? And now we have it: Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics does it all.
      → Sally Haslanger, MIT
  5. Authors
    • Theodore Sider is Professor of Philosophy at New York University. He is the author of Four-Dimensionalism and (with Earl Conee) Riddles of Existence.
    • John Hawthorne is Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Metaphysical Essays, and has published widely in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and Leibniz studies.
    • Dean W. Zimmerman is Associate Professor in the Philosophy department at Rutgers University. He is editor of Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, and author of numerous articles in metaphysics and philosophy of religion.

Amazon Book Description
  1. In a series of thought-provoking and original essays, eighteen leading philosophers engage in head-to-head debates of nine of the most cutting edge topics in contemporary metaphysics.
  2. Explores the fundamental questions in contemporary metaphysics in a series of eighteen original essays - 16 of which are newly commissioned for this volume
  3. Features an introductory essay by the editors on the nature of metaphysics to prepare the reader for ongoing discussions
  4. Offers readers the unique opportunity to observe leading philosophers engage in head-to-head debate on cutting-edge metaphysical topics
  5. Provides valuable insights into the flourishing field of contemporary metaphysics

    Notes on contributors.
  1. Abstract entities.
    • "Swoyer (Chris) - Abstract Entities"
    • "Dorr (Cian) - There are No Abstract Objects"
    • Introduction: “Concrete” entities are the entities with which we are most familiar: tables, chairs, planets, protons, people, animals, and so on. "Abstract" entities are less familiar: numbers (for example, the number seven), properties (for example, the property of being round), and propositions (for example, the proposition that snow is white). Do abstract entities really exist?
      • No one has ever seen, touched, or heard an abstract entity; but Chris Swoyer argues that they exist nevertheless.
      • Cian Dorr argues that they do not.
  2. Causation and laws of nature.
    • "Carroll (John W.) - Nailed to Hume's Cross?"
    • "Schaffer (Jonathan) - Causation and Laws of Nature: Reductionism"
    • Introduction: It just happened to be true, let us suppose, that everyone who ate at the Mar-T Cafe on April 8, 1990, wore a blue shirt. Other events are not so "accidental." For example, it's no accident that when the cook let go of the French fries, they fell into the fryer. In some sense, the fries had to fall, given that the cook let them go. When an event is caused, and when there is a law of nature governing its occurrence, it is in some sense necessary that the event occurs. Where does this necessity come from?
      • Jonathan Schaffer argues that the necessity boils down to mere regularities. The necessity of the fries’ falling boils down to the fact that fries everywhere, and every time, in fact do fall when they are released.
      • John Carroll argues that there is more to it than this; causal and lawful necessity go beyond mere regularity.
  3. Modality and possible worlds.
    • "Bricker (Phillip) - Concrete Possible Worlds"
    • "Melia (Joseph) - Ersatz Possible Worlds"
    • Introduction: The twentieth-century writer Rex Stout wrote detective fiction, but he might have become a real detective instead. In some other possible world, he really does become a detective. In yet another world. Stout has yet another occupation: he is a salesman. For every occupation that Stout could have had, there is a possible world in which Stout has that occupation. Many things vary between different possible worlds: Stout has different occupations, different clothes, different hair color, different friends, and so on. The only things that hold constant in all possible worlds are the necessary truths: in every possible world, Stout is either a salesman or he isn't. Philosophers found it convenient to speak in this way of "possible worlds," but what are possible worlds, really?
      • Phillip Bricker argues that we should take possible worlds talk at face value. Other possible worlds, containing other Rex Stouts with their different occupations, clothes, and friends, really exist.
      • Joseph Melia disagrees; we should instead regard talk of possible worlds as really being talk of more mundane entities; for example, stories that describe the alternate occupations of Rex Stout and other non-actual matters.
  4. Personal identity.
    • "Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - People and Their Bodies"
    • "Parfit (Derek) - Persons, Bodies, and Human Beings"
    • Introduction: You were once a young child. You, not someone else, did the things that you remember doing many years ago. But the person you are now is very different from the person you were then. Your experiences have changed you psychologically, and you have changed physically as well. What makes a person the same over time? What sorts of changes to a person count as changes to the same person? After all, there are some alterations that destroy a person, for example melting a person down into a kind of person soup.
      • Judith Jarvis Thomson argues that a person remains the same so long as her physical body continues intact.
      • Derek Parfit argues instead for a more psychological criterion for being the same person.
  5. Time.
    • "Zimmerman (Dean) - The Privileged Present: Defending an 'A-Theory' of Time"
    • "Smart (J.C.C.) - The Tenseless Theory of Time"
    • Introduction: Time and space are analogous in various ways. Objects exist in both time and space; events can be separated by distances in both time and space; matter moves continuously through space and time. In recognition of the analogies, physicists lump the two together under the heading of "space-time." How far does this analogy go?
      • Very far indeed, answers J. J. C. Smart. Just as objects that are distant in space are real (for instance. Mars), objects that are distant in time are real (for instance, dinosaurs). Just as there is nothing special about here (beyond the fact that it is the place where I) am, there is nothing special about now (beyond the fact that it is the time when I am).
      • Dean Zimmerman rejects these alleged analogies. The present is special; it is the only time whose events and objects are truly real.
  6. Persistence.
    • "Sider (Ted) - Temporal Parts"
    • "Hawthorne (John) - Three-dimensionalism vs. four-dimensionalism"
    • Introduction: Chapter 5 dealt with certain facets of the analogy between time and space; this chapter deals with a further facet. Objects that take up space are spread out in space. An office building, for example, is spread out over a certain region of space. If you look at a part of this region, the upper half, say, you will find a mere part of the building: the part consisting of the upper floors. Lower parts of the region contain other parts of the building, namely, the lower floors. Furthermore, if the building is dirty at the top and clean at the bottom, this is because of features of the parts: the upper parts are dirty and the lower parts are clean.
      • According to Theodore Sider, objects that last over time are analogous; they are spread out in time. If the building was built in 1900 and torn down in 2000, it was only a mere part of the building - a temporal part - that existed in 1900. Separate temporal parts existed in 1901, 1902, and so on, just as separate parts of the building (the floors) are located in different regions of space. And if the building was originally built white but later painted red, the building was initially white because its earlier temporal part was white, and it was later red because its later temporal part was red. Some philosophers wholly reject the idea that objects are spread out in time; they claim that temporal parts do not exist.
      • John Hawthorne rejects only part of the idea. While he agrees that temporal parts exist, he does not agree that the building was first white and later red because of the colors of its temporal parts. Instead, its temporal parts had its colors because of the colors had by the building itself. Hawthorne goes on to deny other components of the picture that objects are "spread out in time."
  7. Free will.
    • "Kane (Robert) - Incompatibilism"
    • "Vihvelin (Kadri) - Compatibilism, Incompatibilism, and Impossibilism"
    • Introduction: Suppose that science could predict everything that happened in the world, down to the last motion of the last subatomic particle. Science could then predict exactly what a human being would do, in any circumstance. At first glance, this clashes with our ordinary picture of ourselves as free. Your choice to read a book on metaphysics was a free one; you could have spent the day watching television instead.
      • Kadri Vihvelin argues that there is in fact no such clash. Given a proper understanding of what free will is, a person can be free even if she is determined to do what she does.
      • Robert Kane disagrees. If we are to have free will, the laws of nature cannot be fully deterministic; they cannot fully specify how each and every object behaves.
  8. Mereology.
    • "Van Cleve (James) - The Moon and Sixpence: a Defense of Mereological Universalism"
    • "Markosian (Ned) - Restricted Composition"
    • Introduction: A house is made up of parts: bricks, wooden boards, wires, bathroom tiles, and so on. These bricks, boards, wires, and tiles are parts of the house; the house is a single object that is composed of them. After the house is torn down, and the bricks, boards, wires, and tiles have been carted off to various junkyards, they obviously no longer compose a house. But do they compose something? This something would, like a deck of cards or a galaxy, be a scattered object, since its parts would not be in close proximity to one another.
      • James Van Cleve says "yes," the scattered bricks, boards, wires, and tiles do compose something. Indeed, any objects whatsoever compose a further object.
      • Ned Markosian says "no." Although the bricks, boards, wires, and tiles composed something before they were scattered (namely, the house), after they were scattered they composed nothing at all.
  9. Metaontology.
    • "Hirsch (Eli) - Ontological Arguments: Interpretive Charity and Quantifier Variance"
    • "Eklund (Matti) - The Picture of Reality as an Amorphous Lump"
    • Introduction: Metaphysicians often disagree about ontology, about what exists. They disagree over whether there exist abstract objects (chapter 1), possible worlds (chapter 3), past and future objects (chapter 5), temporal parts (chapter 6), composite objects (chapter 8), and other entities. But some find these disagreements baffling. Suppose philosopher X argues that holes exist. According to him, there exist holes in pieces of cheese, shirts, and so on. Philosopher Y disagrees. She says that all that exist are the pieces of cheese and the shirts; to say that "there are holes" in these objects is just a figure of speech. Now, a third philosopher, philosopher Z, is mystified by this debate. Nothing is really at issue in the debate between philosophers X and Y, thinks philosopher Z. They are merely using words differently.
      • Eli Hirsch defends the outlook of philosopher Z (as applied to debates over temporal parts and composite objects);
      • Matti Eklund argues against this outlook.


Wiley-Blackwell (12 Dec. 2007)

"Sider (Ted) - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics: Introduction"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

"Swoyer (Chris) - Abstract Entities"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Abstract
  1. One of the most puzzling topics for newcomers to metaphysics is the debate about abstract entities, things like numbers (seven), sets (the set of even numbers), properties (triangularity), and so on. The major questions about abstract entities are whether there are any, if so which ones there are, and if any do exist, what they are like. My aim here is to provide a brief and accessible overview of the debates about abstract entities. I will try to explain what abstract entities are and to say why they are important, not only in contemporary metaphysics but also in other areas of philosophy. Like many significant philosophical debates, those involving abstract entities are especially interesting, and difficult, because there are strong motivations for the views on each side.
  2. In the first section, I discuss what abstract entities are and how they differ from concrete entities and in the second section, I consider the most compelling kinds of arguments for believing that abstract entities exist. In the third section, I consider two examples, focusing on numbers (which will be more familiar to newcomers than other types of abstract objects) and properties (to illustrate a less familiar sort of abstract entity). In the final section, I examine the costs and benefits of philosophical accounts that employ abstract entities.

"Dorr (Cian) - There are No Abstract Objects"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction1
  1. Suppose you start out inclined toward the hard-headed view that the world of material objects is the whole of reality. You elaborate: 'Everything there is is a material object; the sort of thing you could bump into; the sort of thing for which it would be sensible to ask how much it weighs, what shape it is, how fast it is moving, and how far it is from other material objects. There is nothing else.' You develop some practice defending your thesis from the expected objections, from believers in ghosts, God, immaterial souls, Absolute Space, and so on. None of this practice will do you much good the first time you are confronted with the following objection:
      What about numbers and properties? These are obviously not material objects. It would be crazy to think that you might bump into the number two, or the property of having many legs. One would have to be confused to wonder how much these items weigh, or how far away they are. But obviously there are numbers and properties. Surely even you don't deny that there are four prime numbers between one and ten, or that spiders and insects share many important anatomical properties. These well-known truths evidently imply that there are numbers, and that there are properties. So your thesis is false. Not everything is a material object.
  2. This disconcertingly simple objection is probably quite unlike anything you expected to have to deal with when you first announced your thesis. It is confusing precisely because it is so very simple: if the argument did lead you to give up your initial materialist beliefs, the fact that you ever held those beliefs in the first place should seem profoundly puzzling. How on earth could you have failed to notice the inconsistency between your belief that spiders and insects share many important anatomical properties and your belief that everything is a material object? Seeing this, you will quite naturally wonder whether your disagreement with the objector might not be merely verbal. You may want to begin your reply by making distinctions: “Of course there is in a sense such a thing as the number two; but in another important sense it is true that material objects are all there are.”
  3. While I have no particular interest in defending the view that the world of material objects is the whole of reality, I think that this reply is right on target.

In-Page Footnotes ("Dorr (Cian) - There are No Abstract Objects")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!

"Carroll (John W.) - Nailed to Hume's Cross?"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction1
  1. Some scientists try to discover and report laws of nature. And, they do so with success. There are many principles that were for a long time thought to be laws that turned out to be useful approximations, like Newton's gravitational principle. There are others that were thought to be laws and still are considered laws, like Einstein's principle that no signals travel faster than light. Laws of nature are not just important to scientists. They are also of great interest to us philosophers, though primarily in an ancillary way. Qua philosophers, we do not try to discover what the laws are. We care about what it is to be a law, about lawhood, the essential difference between something’s being a law and something's not being a law. It is one of our jobs to understand lawhood and convey our understanding to others.
  2. Causation is also central to science and to philosophy. Molecular bonding, planetary orbits, human decisions, and life itself are all causal processes. A scientific explanation of an event will include some mention of the causes of that event - you something did happen without identifying what made it happen. Just as in the case for lawhood, qua philosophers, one job we have is to understand causation and then to share this understanding with others.
  3. As a result of the work of David Hume, many philosophers are influenced by a metaphysical concern and a skeptical challenge that have shaped what is counted as providing understanding of lawhood and causation. Hume's argument against the idea of necessary connection contains the plausible premise that we lack any direct perceptual or introspective access to the causal relation:

In-Page Footnotes ("Carroll (John W.) - Nailed to Hume's Cross?")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!

"Schaffer (Jonathan) - Causation and Laws of Nature: Reductionism"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Abstract
  1. Causation and the laws of nature are nothing over and above the pattern of events, just like a movie is nothing over and above the sequence of frames. Or so I will argue. The position I will argue for is broadly inspired by Hume and Lewis, and may be expressed in the slogan: what must be, must be grounded in what is.
  2. Roadmap: In sections 1 and 2, I will clarify the reductionist thesis, and connect it to a general thesis about modal and occurrent entities. In section 3, I will argue halfway towards reductionism, by arguing that causation reduces to history plus the laws. In section 4, I will complete the case for reductionism, by arguing that the laws themselves reduce to history.

"Bricker (Phillip) - Concrete Possible Worlds"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction1
  1. Open a book or article of contemporary analytic philosophy, and you are likely to find talk of possible worlds therein. This applies not only to analytic metaphysics, but also to areas as diverse as philosophy of language, philosophy of science, epistemology, and ethics. Philosophers agree, for the most part, that possible worlds talk is extremely useful for explicating concepts and formulating theories. They disagree, however, over its proper interpretation. In this chapter, I discuss the view, championed by David Lewis, that philosophers' talk of possible worlds is the literal truth. There exists a plurality of worlds. One of these is our world, the actual world, the physical universe that contains us and all our surroundings. The others are merely possible worlds containing merely possible beings, such as flying pigs and talking donkeys. But the other worlds are no less real or concrete for being merely possible. Fantastic? Yes! What could motivate a philosopher to believe such a tale?
  2. I start, as is customary, with modality. Truths about the world divide into two sorts: categorical and modal. Categorical truths describe how things are, what is actually the case. Modal truths describe how things could or must be, what is possibly or necessarily so. Consider, for example, the table at which I am writing. The table has numerous categorical properties: its color, perhaps, and its material composition. To say that the table is brown or that it is made of wood is to express a categorical truth about the world. The table also has numerous modal properties. The table could have been red (had it, for example, been painted red at the factory), but it could not, it seems, have been made of glass, not this very table; it is essentially made of wood.
  3. Just where to draw the line between the categorical and the modal is often disputed. But surely (I say) there is some level - perhaps fundamental physics - at which the world can be described categorically, with no admixture of modality. Now, suppose one knew the actual truth or falsity of every categorical statement. One might nonetheless not know which truths are necessary or which falsehoods are possible. One might be lacking, that is, in modal knowledge. In some sense, then, the modal transcends the categorical.

In-Page Footnotes ("Bricker (Phillip) - Concrete Possible Worlds")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!

"Melia (Joseph) - Ersatz Possible Worlds"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction
  1. The philosophical benefits that possible worlds offer are rich indeed. Everyday modal statements such as 'there are many different ways the world could have been' can be taken at face value, as talking about possible worlds other than the actual one. A wide range of concepts can be analyzed in terms of possible worlds in a logic that is familiar and well understood. Problematic and capricious de re modal statements can be tamed and understood. Physical necessity, deontic obligation, and other strengths of modality can be given unifying analyses in terms of possible worlds. Previously unanswerable questions about modal validity can be resolved. Once obscure intensional logics can be given a possible worlds model theory, and completeness and soundness results will have genuine philosophical significance. Unifying ontological reductions - propositions as sets of possible worlds, properties as sets of possible individuals - become available once we help ourselves to possible worlds.
  2. Though not conclusive, the fact that possible worlds enable us to unify and simplify our theories in such ways speaks in their favor. True, one can wonder whether the simplification and systematization that result are reason for thinking the resultant theory more likely to be true; harshly stated, such criteria can appear to be aesthetic rather than rationally compelling. But appeals to simplicity and unification are not restricted to philosophical theories; they appear in the theoretical sciences and in certain parts of common sense. When one doubts whether such theoretical virtues are worth having, one runs the risk of thereby being skeptical about a great deal more than just possible worlds.
  3. For all this, it is hard to accept David Lewis's view of possible worlds. On Lewis's view, merely possible worlds are like the actual one, concrete island universes containing - well, just about anything you care to think of, really. If it's possible, it'll literally be part of one of Lewis's possible worlds. The view that there is an infinite number of concrete island universes containing talking donkeys and stalking centaurs sits uneasily with common sense. The view that every possible object exists is an appalling violation. Though the kinds of simplicity and unification that possible worlds bring to our theories may be theoretical virtues worth having, simplicity of ontology, of the entities that a theory postulates, is a theoretical virtue too. Here, Lewis's theory of possible worlds scores very badly. One could grant the entire case for possible worlds' theoretical utility, grant that the theoretical benefits are great, yet still rationally believe that they are simply not worth the massive ontological costs.
  4. If only there were a way of getting all, or most, of the theoretical benefits that possible worlds have to offer without the excessive ontological costs and appalling violation of our common-sense beliefs, the case for possible worlds might be restored. Enter the ersatzer. Like Lewis, the ersatzer is a realist about possible worlds: possible worlds exist, can be referred to and quantified over in our theories and analyses. But the ersatz possible worlds have quite a different nature from Lewis's possible worlds. There may be no ontological free lunch - perhaps the ersatzer will have to invoke unreduced propositions, or states of affairs, or properties - but the ersatzer hopes his theory will be ontologically a lot cheaper than Lewis's and a whole load easier to believe in. The ersatzer's theory may not yield all the benefits that Lewis's theory offers (primitive modal concepts, for example, are hard to eliminate altogether on the ersatzer's scheme) but the ersatzer's laudable aim is to construct an ontologically parsimonious theory of possible worlds capable of getting as many of the theoretical benefits as possible.
  5. It is essentially this goal, rather than any particular thesis about the nature of possible worlds, that unifies the ersatzers. We cannot characterize the ersatzer as one who believes that worlds are abstract rather than concrete, as there are versions of ersatzism where possible worlds come out concrete. We cannot characterize the ersatzer as one who rejects mere possibilia - things that don't actually exist but that could have - for there's no reason why the ersatzer couldn't have ersatz possibilia along with his ersatz possible worlds. Ersatzism is better seen as a program rather than a particular unified position in the philosophy of possible worlds, and there are a number of different versions on the market.

"Thomson (Judith Jarvis) - People and Their Bodies"

Source: Dancy - Reading Parfit, 1997, Chapter 10

Author’s Introduction
  1. The simplest view of what people are is that they are their bodies. That view has other attractions besides its simplicity. I feel inclined to think that this fleshy object (my body is what I refer to) isn't something I merely currently inhabit; I feel inclined to think that it is me. This bony object (my left hand is what I refer to) – isn't it literally part of me? Certainly we all, at least at times, feel inclined to think that we are not merely embodied, but that we just, all simply, are our bodies.
  2. What stands in the way of adopting this simple and attractive view?
  3. Some people would say that the manner in which death ordinarily comes on us stands in the way of adopting it. Some people's deaths issue from total destruction of the body, as in an explosion, but that is not the ordinary case. Suppose Alfred and Bert are people who died of a disease, in their beds. Their bodies did not go out of existence at that time. So if Alfred and Bert went out of existence at that time, then they are not their bodies.
  4. But did Alfred and Bert go out of existence at that time? Don't people who die in bed just become dead people at the time of their deaths? Cats who die in bed become dead cats at the time of their deaths; why should it be thought otherwise in the case of people? Can't there be some dead people as well as some dead cats in a house after the roof falls in? The answer surely is that there can be.
  5. You might have wondered why I have been talking in the plural, of people. I did so because the only available candidate in the singular for the plural 'people' is 'person', and philosophers do not use 'person’ as a mere innocuous singular for 'people': 'person' in the hands of a philosopher trails clouds of philosophy. 'Dead people', like 'dead cats’, causes no one any discomfort; but ‘dead person’, unlike ‘dead cat’, causes a philosopher (though not, I think, a non-philosopher) to feel at best anxious.

COMMENT: Also in "Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics".

"Parfit (Derek) - Persons, Bodies, and Human Beings"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction
  1. Of the possible criteria of personal identity, there were three that I took seriously in book that Judith Thomson discusses (RP, "Parfit (Derek) - Reasons and Persons"). On the Wide Psychological Criterion, for some future person to be me, we must be psychologically continuous. On the Physical Criterion, which I shall here rename the Brain Criterion1, we must have the same brain. On the Narrow Psychological Criterion, we must both be psychologically continuous and have the same brain.
  2. My discussion of these criteria was confused. At one point, I endorsed the Wide Psychological Criterion (RP 208). That was a mistake. As I later claimed, we should not try to decide between these criteria. In the so-called "problem cases," where these criteria conflict, questions about personal identity would be indeterminate, and empty. If we knew the facts about both physical and psychological continuity, there would be nothing further to discover.
  3. According to some writers, even if there is nothing to discover, we should at least consider how we can best refine our concept of a person, by adopting one of these criteria. But that, I believe, is not worth doing. First, as I shall argue again below, personal identity is not what matters. Nor should we try to find some criterion that would make identity coincide with what matters. Such coincidence could not be complete. Unlike what matters, for example, numerical identity2 cannot hold to different degrees. And, if we try to preserve the coincidence between identity and what matters, it will be harder fully to shake off the view that identity is what matters.
  4. Though I believe that we need not choose between my three criteria, we cannot discuss persons without making some assumptions about personal identity. And, in some of my arguments, I assumed
    1. If there will be a single future person who will have enough of my brain to be psychologically continuous with me, that person will be me.
    2. If some future person will neither be psychologically continuous with me, nor have enough of my brain, that person will not be me.
    These claims I shall call my view. This view seemed to me uncontroversial, since the shared or common element in my three criteria.
  5. Judith Thomson rejects my view. She accepts a fourth criterion, which I dismissed, too lazily, in a single sentence.

"Zimmerman (Dean) - The Privileged Present: Defending an 'A-Theory' of Time"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction
  • The following questions go to the heart of the deepest metaphysical disagreement about the nature of time:
    1. Are there objective differences between what is past, present, and future?
    2. Are present events and things somehow more "real" than those wholly in the past or future?
  • I should like to respond, "Yes," to both questions. Affirmative answers sound obvious and commonsensical, at least to me. Indeed, I suspect that, for many of us, belief in a deep distinction between past, present, and future can be given up briefly, if at all; and then only by a mighty effort of will! Over the course of the twentieth century, however, more and more philosophers have argued for negative answers to these questions. In many quarters, the impulse to posit a deep difference between past, present, and future is now taken to be no better grounded than the impulse to suppose that there is an objective "downward" direction, the same everywhere in the universe; or that the earth is stationary, while the sun, moon, and stars are not.
  • There are two parts to my defense of affirmative answers to (1) and (2). First, I describe a number of theories of time that answer "Yes" to (1), and raise a worry about the ones that do not also answer "Yes" to (2). Then I assess reasons to reject or accept a metaphysics of time that answers (1) and (2) affirmatively. I consider some metaphysical and scientific arguments against affirmative answers, and find them wanting. More positively, I argue that belief in a real difference between past, present, and future has a certain positive status: it is "innocent until proven guilty," and guilt remains unproven.

"Smart (J.C.C.) - The Tenseless Theory of Time"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction1
  1. Strictly speaking, the tenseless theory of time is not a theory of time (or space-time) in the way in which, for example, the special theory of relativity is. It has to do with the unimportance for ontology of words such as 'past', 'present', 'future', 'now', and the temporal inflections of verbs, and the tensed 'is', 'will be', 'was', etc. I shall include 'past', 'present', 'future', and 'now' as tenses, no less than the inflections of verbs. I shall distinguish the tenseless 'is' as in '7 plus 5 equals 12'. Some philosophers say that 7 plus 5 always was, is, and always will be equal to 12. It seems to me a pity to sully the purity of mathematics by bringing in time references, even trivial ones. I shall also contend that a tenseless idiom is most appropriate for physical theory. A tensed locution could avoid the tensed inflections of verbs but would say 'is future'. 'is present', and 'is past' with tenseless 'is'. I have been told that Chinese is like this in eschewing tense inflections on verbs. Opponents of the tenseless theory tend to be influenced by the phenomenology of our immediate experience of time, whereas I distrust phenomenology. I hope that such phenomenology can be explained away. There can be metaphysical illusions (Armstrong 1968 and Smart 2006.) Note that I am using the word 'phenomenology' in a relatively sensible way, not as used obscurely by a certain school of German philosophy.
  2. Opponents of the tenseless theory do not treat tenses and words such as 'past' as indexicals, as are 'I' and 'you' and 'here' whose reference depends on who utters them and the time of utterance. The opponents of the tenseless theory generally treat such inflections and words as referring to intrinsic properties in respect of which events change. Thus a person's marriage may be said to have the property of futurity, then of presentness, and then of pastness. The tenseless theorist sees this as, at the very least, highly misleading. All this is sketchy and merely preliminary to details in subsequent sections. I shall use the term 'A-theory' to refer to opponents of the tenseless theory, which I shall call the B-Theory.

In-Page Footnotes ("Smart (J.C.C.) - The Tenseless Theory of Time")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!

"Sider (Ted) - Temporal Parts"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction1
  1. I will argue that temporal parts theory is true, but first we need to get clear on what exactly this theory says. Let’s start with the idea that time is like space. Everyone has seen timelines, in magazines and encyclopedias. For some reason, time is easier to comprehend when represented by a spatial diagram. A timeline is such a diagram.
  2. Diagrams of motion from high school physics take this a step further, by representing one dimension of space in addition to time. Since the diagram contains only a single spatial axis, it can represent only one spatial dimension of the particle’s motion (motion in the x direction).
  3. Space-time diagrams take this a step further, by representing more spatial dimensions alongside time.
  4. All these diagrams represent time as just another dimension, alongside the spatial dimensions. Given how convenient this method of representation is, many philosophers and scientists have wondered whether time itself is in some sense just another dimension. The question amounts to whether, and to what extent, time is like space.
  5. Temporal parts theory is the claim that time is like space in one particular respect, namely, with respect to parts. First think about parts in space. A spatially extended object such as a person has spatial parts: her head, arms, etc. Likewise, according to temporal parts theory, a temporally extended object has temporal parts. Following the analogy, since spatial parts are smaller than the whole object in spatial dimensions, temporal parts are smaller than the whole object in the temporal dimension. They are shorter-lived. The spacetime diagram makes this clear. The whole person is ... spread out from left to right because he lasts over time ...
  6. A person’s temporal part at a time is exactly the same, spatially, as the person at that time, but it exists only for a moment.
  7. Temporal parts have spatial parts, and spatial parts have temporal parts.
  8. The existence of temporal parts is just one way that I believe time to be like space. Here are two others (the nature of time is discussed more fully in chapter 5).
    1. Time is like space regarding the reality of distant objects. Spatially distant objects, such as objects on Mars, are just as real as objects here on Earth. Likewise, I think, temporally distant objects, such as dinosaurs, are just as real as objects we experience now. The belief that temporally distant objects are real is sometimes called “eternalism”. (The main opposing view, “presentism”, says that only objects in the present time exist.)
    2. Time is like space regarding the relativity of here and now. There is no one true here. I think that the word ‘now’ works analogously. The combination of this theory of the function of ‘now’ and eternalism is often called the “B-theory of time”.
  9. It is important to distinguish between the different facets of the space-time analogy, since some philosophers accept some facets while rejecting others. Some accept the B-theory while denying the existence of temporal parts; and some embrace temporal parts while denying that time is like space in one or more ways. What I will defend here, however, is the “B-theory” version of temporal parts theory.
  10. So: is temporal parts theory true? Do temporal parts really exist — do persons and other physical objects really have parts that last only for an instant? Temporal parts theory is a very general and speculative theory about the world, about what objects exist and what they are like. It is speculative because the question of its truth is hard to settle by observation or experiment. Crudely put, objects look the same, whether or not they are made of temporal parts. Experiment and observation would be unnecessary if all rival theories were internally inconsistent; then we could deduce temporal parts theory from pure logic alone. Unfortunately this is not the case; there are internally consistent opposing theories.
  11. We cannot prove temporal parts theory, but never fear! I believe that assessing the philosophical case for temporal parts allows one to make a decent educated guess. I will consider the following arguments for temporal parts:
    1. the problem of change,
    2. the paradoxes of material constitution, and
    3. the argument from vagueness and anthropocentrism.

COMMENT: See Sider: Temporal Parts.

In-Page Footnotes ("Sider (Ted) - Temporal Parts")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily, with diagrams and examples removed!

"Hawthorne (John) - Three-dimensionalism vs. four-dimensionalism"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Abstract
  1. In debates about the nature of persisting material objects, philosophers tend to cluster into two groups, often labeled "three-dimensionalists" and "four-dimensionalists". While no single idea sharply defines either group, some rough and ready characterizations are possible.
    1. Four-dimensionalists contend that there is a deep analogy between the structure of ordinary material objects and the structure of the space-time of modern physics; three-dimensionalists question this analogy.
    2. Three-dimensionalists tend to embrace the slogan "persisting things are wholly present at each time that they exist"; four-dimensionalists tend to reject it.
  2. In what follows, I will clarify what is meant by each of these contentions, and explore some promising strategies for making good on the three-dimensionalist picture. One theme of note will be that some versions of three-dimensionalism are compatible with temporal parts theory, as outlined by "Sider (Ted) - Temporal Parts".

"Kane (Robert) - Incompatibilism"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction
  1. The eighteenth-century philosopher, David Hume, called the free will issue "the most contentious question of metaphysics, the most contentious science". The problem of free will has arisen in human history whenever people have been led to suspect that their actions might be determined or necessitated by factors unknown to them and beyond their control. That is why doctrines of determinism or necessity have been so important in the history of debates about free will.
  2. Doctrines of determinism have taken many historical forms. People have wondered at various times whether their actions might be determined by fate or the decrees of God, by the laws of physics or the laws of logic, heredity or environment, unconscious motives, psychological or social conditioning, and so on. But there is a core idea running through all historical doctrines of determinism that shows why they are all a threat to free will. All doctrines of determinism imply that, given the past and the laws of nature at any given time, there is only one possible future. Whatever happens is therefore inevitable (it cannot but occur), given the past and the laws. It is not difficult to see why people have thought that determinism so understood was a threat to free will. We believe we have free will when we view ourselves as agents capable of influencing the world in various ways. Open alternatives lie before is. We reason and deliberate among them and choose. We feel
    1. it is "up to us" what we choose and how we act; and this means we could have chosen or acted otherwise. This "up-to-us-ness" also implies that
    2. the sources of our actions lie in us and not outside us in something beyond our control.
  3. To illustrate: suppose Jane has just graduated from law school and she has a choice between joining a law firm in Chicago or a different firm in New York. If Jane believes her choice is a free choice (made "of her own free will"), she must believe both options are "open" to her while she is deliberating. She could choose either one. (If she did not believe this, what would be the point of deliberating?) But that means she believes there is more than one possible path into the future available to her and it is "up to her" which of these paths will be taken. Such a picture of an open future with forking paths - a garden of forking paths, we might call it - is essential to our understanding of free will. This picture of different possible paths into the future also essential, I believe, to what it means to be a person and to live a human life.
  4. One can see why determinism would threaten this picture. If determinism is true. it seems there would not be more than one possible path into the future available to Jane, but only one. It would not be
    1. "up to" her what she chose from an array of alternative possibilities, since only one alternative would be possible. It also seems that, if determinism were true,
    2. the sources or origins of her actions would not be in Jane herself but in something else outside her control that determined her choice (such as the decrees of fate, the foreordaining acts of God, her heredity and upbringing or social conditioning).
  5. Described in this way, the conflict between free will and determinism appears self-evident to most people. It has always seemed so to me. But many philosophers and scientists, especially in modern times, have argued to the contrary that the supposed conflict between free will and determinism is not real. Determinism, they say, is really compatible with free will, despite the fact that most people naively think otherwise. This doctrine - compatibilism - has become popular among modem philosophers and scientists because it provides a neat and simple solution to the free will problem. If there is no conflict between free will and determinism, if they really are compatible, then the age-old problem of free will would be solved in one fell swoop. The free will problem would in fact be "dis-solved."

"Vihvelin (Kadri) - Compatibilism, Incompatibilism, and Impossibilism"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction
  1. Debates that claim to be about the free will / determinism problem often aren't. Incompatibilism is usually understood as the claim that the truth of determinism entails the non-existence of free will: that there is no possible world where determinism is true and someone has free will. Compatibilism is the claim that the truth of determinism is compatible with the existence of free will: that there are possible worlds where determinism is true and someone has free will. So one would expect discussions of the free will / determinism problem to focus on determinism (and related questions about the metaphysics of laws, causation, and counterfactuals) and arguments about the relevance (or lack of relevance) of determinism to free will. But the literature is mostly preoccupied with other questions.
  2. Perhaps the main reason for this is that incompatibilists and compatibilists tend, for the most part, to be free will believers, and therefore are quite properly concerned with more than just showing that free will is or isn't compatible with determinism. They also want to show that we in fact have (or at least might have) free will and they believe that they can show this only by providing an analysis of free will. And of course providing a philosophical analysis of anything is notoriously difficult. And in doing this, the energies of both sides get diverted away from the debate between them and towards a different debate, a debate with someone I will call the impossibilist.
  3. The impossibilist is someone who thinks that it is metaphysically impossible for us to have free will, either because she thinks that our concept of free will is incoherent or because she thinks that free will is incompatible with some necessarily true proposition. Neither the compatibilist nor the incompatibilist is an impossibilist (see below, for explanation), but some of the arguments that are presented as arguments for incompatibilism turn out, on closer inspection, to be arguments for impossibilism.
  4. Another reason for the paucity of debate about determinism is that there are other apparent threats to free will which, though logically independent of determinism, tend to be associated with determinism - physicalism and the view that we are part of the natural order of things, subject without exception to the same kind of laws (deterministic or probabilistic) that govern everything else in the universe. Compatibilists typically think of themselves in the business of defending, not just the compatibility of free will with determinism, but also the compatibility of free will with physicalism and naturalism. Sometimes compatibilists assume that an incompatibilist must be someone who believes that free will is incompatible with physicalism and naturalism as well as with determinism. This is a mistake, but of course incompatibilists have traditionally embraced dualism and the doctrine of agent-causation (the view that we cause our actions in something like the way that God is supposed to cause things - by being "prime movers unmoved"). And arguments that are supposed to be arguments for incompatibilism often trade on intuitions that concern physicalism or naturalism rather than determinism; for instance, arguments that try to convince us that if determinism were true, we would not be different, in any relevant way, from merely physical or merely mechanical things - wind-up toys, simple robots, and so on.
  5. My concern in this chapter is only with the free will / determinism problem; that is, only with the debate between the incompatibilist and the compatibilist. I will be defending compatibilism. But before I can do so, it is important to understand exactly what is at stake in this debate.

"Van Cleve (James) - The Moon and Sixpence: a Defense of Mereological Universalism"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Abstract
  1. The thesis I am called upon to defend is this: given any collection of objects, no matter how disparate or widely scattered, there is a further object composed of them all. For example, there is an object composed of my left tennis shoe and the lace that is threaded through its eyelets - so far, perhaps, no surprise.
  2. But there are all of the following objects as well:
    → the object composed of the lace threaded through my left shoe and the lace threaded through my right shoe;
    → the object composed of the Eiffel Tower and the tip of my nose;
    → the object composed of the moon and the six pennies scattered across my desktop.
    For any objects a through z, whatever and wherever they may be, there is an object having those objects as its parts.
  3. This thesis goes by several names:
    → conjunctivism (Roderick Chisholm),
    → unrestricted composition (David Lewis), and
    → mereological universalism (Peter Van Inwagen).
  4. It is often thought to fly in the face of common sense, but it has won the allegiance of several philosophers, and it is a standard element in the formal theory of part and whole as it was developed in the twentieth century.
  5. In what follows I shall explain why I believe it to be true.

"Markosian (Ned) - Restricted Composition"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction
  1. Consider two quarks: one near the tip of your nose, the other near the center of Alpha Centauri. Here's a question about these two subatomic particles: Is there an object that has these two quarks as its parts and that has no other parts? According to one view of the matter (a view endorsed, surprisingly, by a great many contemporary philosophers), the answer to this question is "yes." But according to commonsense, the answer to this question is really "no."
  2. Here's a more general question. Under what circumstances do two or more objects compose a further object? According to one view of the matter (again, a view endorsed by a large number of contemporary philosophers), the answer to this question is that for any group of objects, no matter how disparate or spatially separated, there is an object composed of the members of that group. On this view, there are no restrictions on when "composition" occurs. If there are some objects, on this view, then there is automatically another object composed of those objects. But according to commonsense, it's not the case that for any group of objects, there is automatically an additional object composed of the members of that group. That is, according to commonsense, composition is restricted.
  3. This chapter explores this commonsense view, together with its rival (the view that composition is unrestricted). It will be seen that, although the idea of restricting composition is intuitively very appealing, it proves to be more difficult than one might have thought to come up with a plausible proposal regarding just how composition is to be restricted. But I hope to show that, in the final analysis, it's better to accept the difficulties that go with restricting composition than it is to avoid them by leaving composition unrestricted.

"Hirsch (Eli) - Ontological Arguments: Interpretive Charity and Quantifier Variance"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Abstract
  1. In the first section of this chapter, I introduce a certain kind of defense of commonsense ontology, one that derives from ordinary language considerations.
  2. The defense presupposes that quantifier expressions can have different meanings in different languages, and this idea is discussed in the second section.

Author’s Introduction1
  1. In philosophy we often operate at two levels. At one level we use the language of our community - English, in the present instance - to make assertions about various philosophical topics. At another level we may be thinking about the nature of language, in particular about how linguistic behavior determines meaning. The interaction between these two levels can become problematical when we find ourselves at the second level disagreeing about the meanings of our own assertions at the first level.
  2. Let me try to illustrate the issue I'm driving at by considering the famous debate between Locke and Butler about the identity of a tree. Locke held that we have to distinguish between a tree and the masses of matter that successively constitute it. A tree may lose a branch and still retain its identity as that same tree, though it is now made up of a different mass of matter. Butler insisted, on the contrary, that if we have a different mass of matter then, strictly speaking, we don't have the same tree. According to Butler, no object can persist through a change of parts.
  3. Some philosophers (not all, by any means) will share my own immediate intuitive feeling that this dispute between Locke and Butler is not substantive, that it is in some sense merely verbal2. Locke and Butler agree that we are faced with a situation in which some tree-composing masses of matter are related to each other in certain qualitative, spatiotemporal, and causal ways. ...

In-Page Footnotes ("Hirsch (Eli) - Ontological Arguments: Interpretive Charity and Quantifier Variance")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!

Footnote 2:

"Eklund (Matti) - The Picture of Reality as an Amorphous Lump"

Source: Sider (Ted), Hawthorne (John) & Zimmerman (Dean), Eds. - Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics

Author’s Introduction1
  1. Ontology is the study of what there is. Here are some examples of disputes in modern analytic ontology:
    1. Abstract objects. The nominalist (as the label is used today) denies that there exist abstract objects. The Platonist holds that there are abstract objects. One example is numbers. The nominalist denies that there are numbers; the Platonist typically affirms it. (See chapter 1.)
    2. Ordinary objects. Consider ordinary objects - tables, chairs, animals, rocks, what have you. Commonsensically, we would hold that objects of all these types exist. But some philosophers deny this. Peter van Inwagen ("Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings", 1990) holds that organisms are the only macroscopic objects there are. Cian Dorr ("Dorr (Cian) - What We Disagree about When We Disagree about Ontology", 2005) has argued that there are not any macroscopic objects at all.
    3. Extraordinary objects. Consider the purported object which is the sum of my nose and the Eiffel Tower. Consider "incars2" which, if they exist, are exactly like cars, except that they only exist when or insofar as they are inside garages. Do such objects exist? Commonsense arguably says no. But on a variety of philosophical views they do. (See chapter 8.)
  2. Metaontology, which I will be concerned with, is about what ontology is. It is about the nature of questions like the ones mentioned. Specifically, I will be concerned with one particular dispute in metaontology, what I will call the dispute between robust ontologists and deflationists about ontology. On the robust conception of ontology, questions of ontology are real, genuine questions on a par with questions of science. On the deflationary conception of ontology, questions of ontology somehow fall short of this ideal. These characterizations are, to be sure, rough and impressionistic. But that is in the nature of the topic. The robust and deflationary conceptions of ontology are tendencies rather than full-fledged theses.
  3. Sometimes the following imagery is employed to describe these two different views on ontology. The robust ontologist holds that there are real metaphysical joints in nature. The deflationary ontologist, by contrast, subscribes to the "picture of reality as an amorphous lump" as Michael Dummett puts it (e.g. "Dummett (Michael) - Frege, Philosophy of Language", 1981: 577). The deflationary conception is also sometimes described employing the "cookie-cutter metaphor," according to which reality considered in itself is like some amorphous dough and our concepts are like cookie-cutters, carving up reality into objects. It is worth stressing that these are mere pictures. A lot of philosophical work has to go into actually providing these pictures with definite content.
  4. I will focus on the deflationary conception of ontology. Specifically, I will be concerned with what form an acceptable deflationism about ontology might take. The most well-known and important form of deflationism about ontology has historically been associated with William James and Rudolf Carnap, and among its most important current proponents are Hilary Putnam and Eli Hirsch. (There are important differences between the views of these thinkers, but I will focus on the similarities.)
    • Putnam calls his view the thesis of conceptual relativity.
    • Hirsch calls his view the doctrine of quantifier variance.
    • I will call this general type of deflationary view ontological pluralism.
  5. For most of the paper, I will critically discuss the ontological pluralist view. Then I will discuss whether there are other routes for the deflationist about ontology to take.

In-Page Footnotes ("Eklund (Matti) - The Picture of Reality as an Amorphous Lump")

Footnote 1: Truncated rather arbitrarily!

Footnote 2: See "Hirsch (Eli) - Physical Identity".

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

© Theo Todman, June 2007 - Dec 2019. 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