PHIL 241
Contemporary Metaphysics Fall 2018
Division II Writing Skills
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Class Details

In this course, we will examine a number of issues in contemporary metaphysics through a discussion of the nature of kinds. The problem of universals has vexed philosophers at least since the time of Plato. Oscar is a dog and Annie is a dog. Oscar and Annie aren’t identical but they have something in common; each of them is a dog, each of them belongs to a single kind and they share the property of being a dog. But what is going on here? We, at least most of us, are happy to say that Oscar and Annie exist. But is there a third entity that we need to countenance: the universal caninity? If we do think that there is such a thing as caninity, what sort of thing is it? If we don’t, what accounts for the truth of our judgment that Oscar and Annie have something in common? Scientists often give explanations for the behavior of objects in terms of their properties. What role do properties play in causation, explanation and laws of nature? Finally there are different kinds of kind. Some kinds or properties seem to be pretty natural, e.g. being an electron or a dog. Other kinds seem to be less natural and seem somehow to be socially constructed, e.g. being a work of art, an American or a sausage. But are there really natural kinds? Can we, as Plato put it, “carve nature at the joints”, or are all kinds constructed rather than discovered? Furthermore what is involved in the social construction of a kind? Finally, the nature and existence of some kinds is a hotly contested political matter. How should we think about racial kinds or about gender kinds? While we will be concerned to place our discussions of these issues in historical context, most of the reading for the class will consist in articles written by contemporary philosophers.
The Class: Format: lecture and discussion
Limit: 18
Expected: 10-15
Class#: 1994
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: one -10 page midterm paper and one -15 page final paper which will involve draft and revision, possible short response papers, and active participation in class
Prerequisites: one PHIL course; familiarity with formal logic helpful but not required; or permission of instructor
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills
Attributes: PHIL Contemp Metaphysics + Epistemology Courses

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