PHIL 318
Necessity and Possibility Spring 2010
Division II Writing Skills
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Class Details

You are reading this course description right now. However, it seems true to say that you might have been doing something else, something more fun, instead. In other words, while it is true that you are reading, it doesn’t seem to be necessary that you are reading. It seems to be possible for you to be doing something else. On the other hand, some claims seem to be necessarily true. For example, it seems to be necessary that anything that is reading this description exists, and it seems to be necessary that two plus two is equal to four. In other words, it is impossible that two plus two be anything other than four, or that something read without existing. Furthermore, while there are some things about you that seem to be accidental, other things about you seem to be essential. You might not have been a Williams student, on the other hand I don’t think that you could have been a goldfish. While being a Williams student seems accidental to you, being human seems to be part of your essence. But what is it for a claim to be necessary? Is necessity a matter of the way that we think about the world, or is necessity a feature of reality independently of the way we think of it? If necessity is a feature of reality, what sort of feature is it? What is it for a feature to be essential to a thing? In this course, we will examine a series of questions about necessity and possibility raised in contemporary metaphysics, logic, and philosophy of language. Central readings in the class will be drawn from the work of Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege, Rudolf Carnap, W. V. O. Quine, Saul Kripke, David Lewis, David Kaplan, and Kit Fine. This class will be quite technical, and it is strongly recommended that students have a familiarity with first-order logic.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 10-15
Class#: 3026
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: several short response pieces, two 10-page papers that will involve substantial revision in light of instructor feedback, active participation in seminar meetings
Prerequisites: Philosophy 102 or permission of instructor; it is strongly recommended that students have also taken Philosophy 103 or an equivalent class
Enrollment Preferences: Philosophy majors
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills

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