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Introduction

There is no general agreement or consensus about how to define metaphysics. The word itself derives
from the title of one of Aristotle’s books, one that deals with decidedly metaphysical issues, but intuitively
metaphysical issues are discussed by Aristotle as much in his other works as in the Metaphysics.
Contemporary metaphysics ranges over a broad set of questions: questions about what reality is like, at its
most fundamental; questions about the nature of human agency and perception; questions about the
legitimacy of metaphysics itself. The only way to know what contemporary metaphysics is about is to
understand the relevant texts, issues, and figures. Hence this article, which presents important and
influential background readings in the various subareas of metaphysics. These “areas” of metaphysics (like
the various “areas” of philosophy) are deeply interconnected, to say the least. Indeed the quotes used here
indicate doubts about the very idea of distinct “areas.” On this score, the artificiality of the divisions
employed here cannot be overemphasized. This article is concerned with contemporary metaphysics in the
“analytic” tradition, and as such it ignores some important philosophers. Most importantly, this article
does not cover the historical background to contemporary analytic metaphysics, which includes the
Aristotelian tradition that still shapes contemporary metaphysical thinking; the Humean empiricism and
Kantian idealism to which analytic metaphysicians owe so much; and finally, the “Absolute Idealism” of
F. H. Bradley (the negative reaction to which helped spawn “analytic” philosophy as we know it). Nor
does it cover early-20th-century analytic philosophy, including logical positivism, or ordinary language
philosophy. The aim here is to provide background reading for those concerned with contemporary
metaphysics. The texts selected are mostly from the last half of the 20th century, and, for the most part,
they are those that have had the most impact on contemporary debates.

Anthologies and Textbooks


The anthologies listed here (Kim, et al. 2012, Loux 2008, van Inwagen and Zimmerman 2008) are useful
reference texts for researchers and would be suitable for courses on metaphysics for upper-division and
graduate students. Some fine textbooks are also available for such courses, including van Inwagen 2008
and Ney 2014. For anthologies on more narrow areas of metaphysics, see Reference Works. For a taste of
the state of the art, readers should consider Blackwell’s Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics (Sider, et
al. 2007).

Kim, Jaegwon, Daniel Z. Korman, and Ernest Sosa. Metaphysics: An Anthology. 2d ed. Malden,
MA: Blackwell, 2012.

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An anthology of contemporary texts, with sections on ontology, modality, universals, persistence,


causation, and objects.

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Loux, Michael J. Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. 3d ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

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A textbook with an emphasis on universals and particulars, propositions and modality, causation,
time, and persistence.

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Loux, Michael J., ed. Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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An anthology of contemporary texts, with sections on universals and particulars, modality,


causation, time, persistence, and realism.

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Lowe, E. J. A Survey of Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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A textbook with an emphasis on persistence, modality, agency, space and time, and universals.

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Ney, A. Metaphysics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2014.

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A textbook with chapters on (among others) ontology, meta-metaphysics, persistence, modality,


causation, and the metaphysics of race.

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Sider, Theodore, John Hawthorne, and Dean W. Zimmerman. Contemporary Debates in


Metaphysics. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

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A collection of essays by leading researchers on abstract entities, causation, modality, personal


identity, time, persistence, free will, composition, and metaontology.

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van Inwagen, Peter. Metaphysics. 3d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008.

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A textbook that emphasizes theism, the mind-body problem, free will, and realism.

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van Inwagen, Peter, and Dean W. Zimmerman, eds. Metaphysics: The Big Questions. 2d ed.
Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.
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An anthology of contemporary and historical texts, with sections on ontology, properties, time,
persistence, the mind-body problem, free will, modality, and theism.

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Guides, Companions, and Handbooks


Blackwell’s Guide (e.g., Stich and Warfield 2003), Oxford’s Handbook (e.g., Loux and Zimmerman 2005,
Kane 2005), and Routledge’s Companion volumes (e.g., Le Poidevin, et al. 2009) all collect longer entries
from specialists on key topics in a given area. Blackwell’s Companion volumes (e.g., Kim, et al. 2009,
Guttenplan 1996) are encyclopedia-style volumes, with short entries on key ideas and figures.

Guttenplan, Samuel. A Companion to the Philosophy of Mind. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1996.

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Covers topics from “action” to “Wittgenstein.”

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Kane, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195178548.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation


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A collection of entries written by specialists, with sections on fatalism, determinism,


incompatibilism, “Frankfurt counterexamples,” libertarianism, and other topics.

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Kim, Jaegwon, Ernest Sosa, and Gary S. Rosencrantz. A Companion to Metaphysics. 2d ed. Malden,
MA: Blackwell, 2009.

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An encyclopedia of metaphysics, from “Abelard” to “Zeno.”

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Le Poidevin, Robin, Peter Simons, Andrew McGonigal, and Ross Cameron. The Routledge
Companion to Metaphysics. London: Routledge, 2009.

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A collection of entries from specialists, with sections on the history of metaphysics, ontological
issues, and metaphysics and science.
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Loux, Michael J., and Dean W. Zimmerman. The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. New York:
Oxford University Press, 2005.

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Includes sections on universals, ontology, modality, time and persistence, events and causation, the
поменять
прокси
mind-body problem, free will, and vagueness.

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McLaughlin, Brian P., Ansgar Beckermann, and Sven Walter, eds. The Oxford Handbook of
Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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Includes sections on the mind-body problem, consciousness, intentionality, and the self.

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Stich, Stephen P., and Ted A. Warfield. The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind. Malden,
MA: Blackwell, 2003.

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Contains entries on dualism, mental causation, the mind-body problem, and other topics.

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Reference Works
Researchers and teachers interested in contemporary metaphysics may also be interested in more
specialized texts, as well as some that give a taste of the state of the art. Oxford and Blackwell both offer a
series of reference works on more narrowly defined topics, suitable for upper-division and graduate
courses. The volumes of Oxford Studies in Metaphysics consistently include important papers, and the
entries in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy are almost always excellent as far as mapping
out specific issues. (The Stanford entries also include substantial bibliographies.)

Blackwell Readings in Philosophy. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2001–.

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A series of anthologies of contemporary texts on specific areas of philosophy, including some


helpful volumes in metaphysics, such as Perception, edited by Robert Schwartz, and Free Will,
edited by Robert Kane.
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Oxford Readings in Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967–.

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A series of anthologies of contemporary texts on specific areas of philosophy, including excellent


volumes on some specific areas of metaphysics, including “Free Will,” “Causation,” “The Problem
of Evil,” and “The Philosophy of Time.”

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The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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This ever-expanding online encyclopedia includes frequently updated entries on every topic of
philosophy; it is now the standard philosophical reference text. The best way to find information on
a specific area is to enter the topic in the search field, as many topics are discussed in multiple
entries. Entries are usually fairly up-to-date on important new work.

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Zimmerman, Dean, ed. Oxford Studies in Metaphysics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004–.

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A series of collections of new papers in metaphysics, covering such topics as existence, identity,
modality, time, and causation.

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Abstract Objects
The central, though definitely not the only, metaphysical issue in the philosophy of mathematics is
ontological: Do abstract mathematical entities exist, and if so, what sorts of entities are they?
Contemporary theorists have focused on two kinds of argument in favor of realism about abstract objects
(Platonism): a posteriori neo-Quinean indispensability arguments (Colyvan 2001) and a priori neo-Fregean
arguments based on abstraction principles (Hale and Wright 2001). (Maddy 1990 offers an unorthodox
third kind of defense of Platonism.) Platonism, in turn, faces two basic kinds of objections: those based on
the epistemological charge that abstract objects, if they existed, would be unknowable (Benacerraf 1973),
and those based on metaphysical worries about the nature of abstract entities (Benacerraf 1965). Much
recent discussion has centered on varieties of fictionalism (Field 1980, Yablo 2001), which treats talk of
abstract objects as being in some important way analogous to nonliteral language, such as storytelling or
metaphor. See also Metametaphysics and Concrete Particulars.

Benacerraf, Paul. “What Numbers Could Not Be.” Philosophical Review 74.1 (1965): 47–73.
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Raises an objection for Platonists who would identify natural numbers with sets: it seems that there
are different sets that would do the job equally well.

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Benacerraf, Paul. “Mathematical Truth.” Journal of Philosophy 70.19 (1973): 661–679.

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Proposes a dilemma for Platonism: if the view is right, either the semantics for mathematical talk
will need to be radically (and implausibly) different from the semantics for the rest of our language
or else the epistemology for mathematics will need to be radically (and implausibly) different from
epistemology as we know it. A central worry, echoed by many anti-Platonists, is the absence of
causal interaction with abstracta, which interaction seems to be a necessary condition on knowledge.

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Colyvan, Mark. The Indispensability of Mathematics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

DOI: 10.1093/019513754X.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Develops and defends an indispensability argument for Platonism.

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Field, Harty H. Science without Numbers: A Defence of Nominalism. Princeton, NY: Princeton
University Press, 1980.

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Provides a sustained response to Quinean indispensability arguments, advancing a form of


fictionalism about mathematical entities.

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Hale, Bob, and Crispin Wright. The Reason’s Proper Study: Essays towards a Neo-Fregean
Philosophy of Mathematics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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A collection of essays in defense of neo-Fregeanism, the basis of which is the obvious (a priori)
truth of such principles as “two lines are parallel if they have the same direction.” The existence of
parallel lines, along with this a priori principle, entails the existence of directions.

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Maddy, Penelope. Realism in Mathematics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

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Provides a defense of a novel brand of Platonism, combining Quinean naturalism and a defense of
mathematical intuition.

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Yablo, Stephen. “Go Figure: A Path through Fictionalism.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 25.1
(2001): 72–102.

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A useful, sympathetic overview of various forms of fictionalism.

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Action
Action theory concerns the question, What is it for a person to perform an action, as opposed to, for
example, something happening to her? Contemporary action theory begins with Donald Davidson’s causal
theory of action (Davidson 1963), which characterizes genuine intentional actions as those caused in the
right way by a person’s reasons, and which represented a break from a previous orthodoxy, according to
which reasons could not be causes (e.g., Anscombe 1963). Critics reject the characterization of action in
causal terms (Ginet 1990). A central issue here is that of action individuation. Anscombe 1963 and
Davidson 1963 maintain that action individuation is coarse-grained. Thus, when Jones flips a switch (to
turn on the lights), and thereby (unbeknownst to him) alerts a prowler to his presence, her action can be
described in two ways: as a turning on of the light or as an alerting of the prowler. Other theorists reject
this view (Goldman 1970 and Ginet 1990). These questions are importantly connected to those discussed
under Free Will.

Anscombe, G. E. M. Intention. 2d ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1963.

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Articulates some basic problems of intentional action, and draws out connections between the
concepts of action, intention, and reasons for action.

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Davidson, Donald. “Actions, Reasons, and Causes.” Journal of Philosophy 60.23 (1963): 685–700.

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A canonical articulation of a causal theory of action, on which an intentional action (of the sort that
can be rationally explained) is caused by the agent’s “primary reason” for acting as she did: a pro-
attitude toward actions of a certain kind, and a belief that acting in such a way would constitute an
action of that kind. Reprinted in Davidson 2001 (pp. 3–20).
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Davidson, Donald. Essays on Actions and Events. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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Essays 1–5 develop Davidson’s causal account of action. First published in 1980.

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Ginet, Carl. On Action. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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Ginet rejects both the causal analysis of action, opting for an account in terms of volitions (which
can be identified by their phenomenology), and the coarse-grained individuation of actions.

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Goldman, Alvin I. Theory of Human Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1970.

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Defends a causal theory of action but rejects the coarse-grained individuation of actions. An
excellent overview of diverse issues in action theory.

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Causation and Laws


Some of the hardest questions in metaphysics concern the causal and nomological structure of the world.
What is it for one event to cause another, and what is it for some generalization to be natural law? These
questions belong together in part because a rich empiricist tradition, going back at least to Hume, attempts
to treat both as matters of (nothing more than) regularity. A broadly Humean approach to causation and
laws says (very roughly, and in its most basic form) that for x to be a cause of y is for there to be a constant
and regular pattern of events like y following events like x, which (on this account) is just to say that there
is a law of nature to the effect that if an x-event happens, then a y-event will happen. The details get messy
fast, but see Lewis 1973, Lewis 1994, and Mackie 1974 for important versions of this basic idea.
Contemporary discussions of causation and laws have centered on the thesis known as “Humean
supervenience,” according to which everything—including the facts of causation and the laws of nature—
supervenes on “the spatiotemporal arrangement of local qualities throughout all of history, past and
present and future” (Lewis 1994, p. 226; see also entries cited under Fundamental Reality). For Lewis, this
includes the arrangement of qualities in a plurality of concrete possible worlds, but the Humean austerity is
preserved: causation (Lewis 1973) and laws (Lewis 1994) are just a matter of how local (i.e., natural and
intrinsic) qualities are distributed throughout the whole of reality. Opponents of this Humean picture
include those who conceive of laws of nature as relations between universals (Armstrong 1983) and those
who conceive of causation as a physical process (Salmon 1984, Dowe 2000), as well as those who are
skeptical of the notion of laws (van Frassen 1989).

Armstrong, D. M. What Is a Law of Nature? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139171700Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Presents a sustained critique of regularity theories of laws and develops an alternative that conceives
of laws as relations between universals.

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Dowe, Phil. Physical Causation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511570650Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Articulates and defends a “conserved quantity” account of causation, which is presented as a


sympathetic improvement on physical process and energy transfer accounts. Chapter 1 draws a
helpful distinction between empirical analyses of causation (e.g., Dowe’s project) and analyses of
our ordinary concept of causation (i.e., conceptual analyses).

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Lewis, David. “Causation.” Journal of Philosophy 70 (1973): 556–567.

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A defense of causation as counterfactual dependence, and a critique of (standard) regularity theories


of causation. Reprinted, with a postscript, in Lewis 1986 (pp. 159–213). The postscript includes
important discussions of causation by omission and overdetermination.

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Lewis, David. Philosophical Papers. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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The introduction provides a statement and discussion of Humean supervenience and an overview of
Lewis’s views of laws, causation, counterfactuals, etc. The volume collects Lewis’s seminal papers
on counterfactuals, causation, and probability.

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Lewis, David. “Humean Supervenience Debugged.” Mind 103.412 (1994): 473–490.

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A further defense of Humean supervenience, developing a Ramseyan “best-system” account of laws


(and chance). Reprinted in Lewis’s Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology (Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 224–247.
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Lewis, David. “Causation as Influence.” Journal of Philosophy 97.4 (2000): 182–197.

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Provides a further refinement of causation as counterfactual dependence, dealing with problems of


preemption and overdetermination.

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Mackie, J. L. The Cement of the Universe: A Study of Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1974.

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A canonical contemporary defense of a regularity theory of causation, based on the idea that a cause
is an “INUS” condition for some effect: an insufficient but nonredundant part of an unnecessary but
sufficient condition for that effect.

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Salmon, Wesley C. Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World. Princeton, NJ:
Princeton University Press, 1984.

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Defends an empirical analysis of causation, according to which causation is a physical process


involving the transmission of a local difference in structure.

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van Frassen, Bas C. Laws and Symmetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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The first half of this volume gives a sustained critique of realism about laws of nature.

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Color
Material things are presented in perception as having certain qualitative intrinsic properties; a paradigmatic
example of this is the presentation of objects in color perception. With a variety of motivations,
philosophers since the 17th century have, for the most part, avoided the view that colors are qualitative
properties of external objects, instead arguing that colors are nonqualitative, physical properties of objects
(Byrne and Hilbert 2003), dispositions of objects to cause certain experiences in humans (Peacocke 1984,
Johnston 1992), or properties “projected” onto external things by our perceptions of them and not
instantiated by the objects around us at all (Boghossian and Velleman 1989, Averill 2005).

Averill, E. W. “Toward a Projectivist Account of Color.” Journal of Philosophy 102.5 (2005): 217–
234.

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A critique of the physicalist view of color, and an articulation of a projectivist alternative.

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Boghossian, Paul A., and J. David Velleman. “Colour as a Secondary Quality.” Mind 98.389
(1989): 81–103.

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A defense of the projectivist view of color, and a critique of physicalist and dispositional views.

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Byrne, Alex, and David R. Hilbert. “Color Realism and Color Science.” Behavioral and Brain
Sciences 26 (2003): 3–64.

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A defense of the physicalist view of color. Available online.

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Johnston, Mark. “How to Speak of the Colors.” Philosophical Studies 68 (1992): 221–263.

DOI: 10.1007/BF00694847Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A defense of dispositionalism about colors. Johnston presents an extremely helpful articulation of


the ordinary concept of color by appeal to “core” common-sense beliefs about color. Reprinted,
with a postscript, in Readings on Color, Vol. 1, The Philosophy of Color, edited by Alex Byrne and
David R. Hilbert (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), pp. 137–176.

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Peacocke, Christopher. “Colour Concepts and Colour Experience.” Synthese 58.3 (1984): 365–381.

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Peacocke defends the view that redness is a disposition to produce experiences with a certain
qualitative property, dubbed “red.”
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Concrete Particulars
Questions about the nature of concrete particulars—things like tables, statues, and living organisms—have
been at the center of metaphysical discussion since Aristotle. Three related issues have been of particular
concern to contemporary metaphysicians: (1) composition (in particular, Peter van Inwagen’s “special
composition question” [van Inwagen 1990]), (2) constitution (in particular, the relation between a material
thing and the matter that it is intuitively “made of”), and (3) the persistence of concrete particulars over
time.

Composition and Constitution


Peter van Inwagen’s Material Beings (van Inwagen 1990) poses the “special composition question”:
When do some things add up to, or compose, another thing? Answers to this question (with diverse
motivations) include never, always (Lewis 1986, van Cleve 1986), and sometimes (van Inwagen 1990,
Markosian 1998). Some have responded to the question with skepticism about the debate itself (see
Metametaphysics). A second cluster of questions concerns the relationship between a concrete particular
and the matter that it is “made of.” It is natural at first to think that a statue, for example, just is (i.e., is
identical to) its matter, but the statue and the matter seem to have different properties (the matter, but not
the statue, can survive a radical change in shape, such as when a bronze statue is melted into an ingot). See
Wiggins 2001 (cited under Persistence) and Fine 2003 for further discussion of this issue.

Fine, Kit. “The Non-identity of a Thing and Its Matter.” Mind 112.446 (2003): 195–234.

DOI: 10.1093/mind/112.446.195Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Argues against saying that a statue and the clay that it is “made of” are in fact one “thing” that is
simply described differently as “the statue” or “the clay.”

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Koslicki, Kathrin. The Structure of Objects. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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Articulates an account of material composition on which material things have both formal and
material parts.

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Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

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In the course of broader arguments concerning modality, Lewis presents the argument from
vagueness, in defense of unrestricted composition (pp. 211–213).
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Markosian, Ned. “Brutal Composition.” Philosophical Studies 92.3 (1998): 211–249.

DOI: 10.1023/A:1004267523392Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A defense of restricted composition, based on the idea that the facts about composition are “brute
facts” that admit of no further explanation.

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Sider, Theodore. Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time. Oxford: Oxford


University Press, 2001.

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In chapter 5 (“In Favor of Four-Dimensionalism, Part 2: The Best Unified Theory of the Paradoxes
of Coincidence” [pp. 140–208]), Sider develops a version of Lewis’s argument from vagueness, in
defense of unrestricted composition.

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van Cleve, James. “Mereological Essentialism, Mereological Conjunctivism, and Identity through
Time.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11.1 (1986): 141–156.

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A defense of unrestricted composition, on the ground that restricted composition would involve
unacceptable metaphysical arbitrariness.

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van Inwagen, Peter. Material Beings. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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An elegant and impressive defense of an answer to the special composition question, in which the
only material composites that exist are living organisms. This is essential reading on the issue of
material composition.

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Persistence
A third set of questions concern the persistence of concrete particulars over time: Do concrete particular
persist over time, and if so, how do they do it? A central debate is between defenders of perdurantism, the
view that some objects have temporal parts and are, in that sense, extended in time, just as they are
extended in space (Quine 1953, Lewis 1986, Sider 2001), and endurantism, which denies this view
(Chisholm 1976, Fine 1999, Wiggins 2001). Much hinges on the truth of the doctrine of mereological
essentialism, on which a composite thing cannot survive a change in, or loss of, its parts (Chisholm 1976,
van Cleve 1986).

Chisholm, Roderick M. Person and Object. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1976.

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In chapter 3, Chisholm proposes a mereological essentialist response to the Ship of Theseus puzzle,
taking ordinary concrete particulars (e.g., what we call tables) to be “logical constructions.”
Appendix A critiques perdurantism; appendix B defends mereological essentialism.

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Fine, Kit. “Things and Their Parts.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23.1 (1999): 61–74.

DOI: 10.1111/1475-4975.00004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Proposes a distinction between timeless and temporary parts and defends a hylomorphic conception
of material things, as opposed to the perdurantist picture.

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Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

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In chapter 4, in the course of broader arguments concerning modality, Lewis presents the argument
from temporary intrinsics, in defense of perdurantism (pp. 201–204).

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Quine, W. V. O. From a Logical Point of View. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953.

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On pp. 65–79, Quine presents a classic articulation of the perdurantist picture as a solution to the
puzzles surrounding change over time.

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Sider, Theodore. Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time. Oxford: Oxford


University Press, 2001.

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A sustained and careful defense of perdurantism; essential reading when it comes to the
metaphysics of concrete particulars. Includes survey of arguments for, and objections to,
perdurantism.

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van Cleve, James. “Mereological Essentialism, Mereological Conjunctivism, and Identity through
Time.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11.1 (1986): 141–156.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4975.1986.tb00491.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A defense of mereological essentialism.

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Wiggins, David. Sameness and Substance Renewed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press,
2001.

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A revised edition of Sameness and Substance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980).
Defends (among other things) endurantism, the absoluteness of identity, and the idea that a concrete
particular falls essentially under a particular sortal (relative to which it is individuated and its
persistence conditions determined).

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The Existence of God


A number of theological issues are of interest to contemporary metaphysicians, including the problem of
evil, the problem of freedom and foreknowledge, and the “fine-tuning” argument for the existence of God.
Recent discussions of the problem of evil have focused on the evidential version of the problem (Howard-
Snyder 1996), as opposed to the logical problem of evil (presented in Mackie 1955 and criticized in
Plantinga 1977). The free will solution to the problem of evil (according to which human beings, and not
God, are responsible for worldly evil) leads naturally to the problem of divine foreknowledge and human
freedom. Zagzebski 1991 provides an excellent overview of solutions to the problem; Adams 1977,
Plantinga 1977, and Flint 1998 defend specific solutions. Regarding the fine-tuning argument,
cosmologists tell us that certain fundamental physical constants—such as the speed of light and the mass
of certain fundamental particles—could have been other than they are, and that had these constants been
(anything more than very minimally) other than they are, it would have been impossible for life to evolve.
Some theists maintain that this fact can serve as a premise in a cogent argument for the existence of God—
an intelligent being that intentionally created a universe containing life. The canonical presentation of this
argument is provided in Swinburne 2004; for an excellent critical discussion, see Sober 2003.

Adams, Robert M. “Middle Knowledge and the Problem of Evil.” American Philosophical
Quarterly 14.2 (1977): 109–117.

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A critique of Molinism and a presentation of an alternative solution to the problem of evil.


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Flint, Thomas P. Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1998.

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A sustained defense of Molinism, according to which God knows what free agents will do in any
situation.

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Howard-Synder, Daniel, ed. The Evidential Argument from Evil. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1996.

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A collection of papers on the problem of evil from contemporary philosophers of religion.

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Mackie, J. L. “Evil and Omnipotence.” Mind 64.254 (1955): 200–212.

DOI: 10.1093/mind/LXIV.254.200Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A canonical defense of atheism via the logical problem of evil.

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Manson, Neil A., ed. God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern Science. New York:
Routledge, 2003.

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Collection of papers on design arguments, cosmology, and biology, with extensive discussion of the
“fine-tuning” argument.

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Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977.

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A critique of the logical problem of evil, and a defense of Molinism. Plantinga argues that God
cannot create any possible world, but only possible worlds compatible with truths about what free
human beings would choose.
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Sober, Elliot. “The Design Argument.” In God and Design: The Teleological Argument and Modern
Science. Edited by Neil Manson, 27–53. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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An overview of various design arguments; includes a critique of the fine-tuning argument.

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Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199271672.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation


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Presents an overview of arguments for the existence of God. Chapter 8 (“Teleological Arguments”
[pp. 153–191]) presents the fine-tuning argument.

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Zagzebski, Linda. The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1991.

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A survey of historical and novel solutions to the problem of foreknowledge and freedom.

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Free Will
Contemporary discussion of the ancient problem of free will has centered on a debate between
compatibilists (Strawson 1962, Frankfurt 1971), who maintain that free will is compatible with
determinism, and incompatibilists (Chisholm 1998, van Inwagen 1986, Kane 1996), who deny this. Free
will is conceived by different theorists as a certain kind of causal-psychological structure (Frankfurt 1988),
an ability to be the uncaused cause of one’s actions (Chisholm 1998), or the ability to determine one’s
own ends (Kane 1996).

Chisholm, Roderick M. “Human Freedom and the Self.” In Metaphysics: The Big Questions. Edited
by Peter van Inwagen and Dean W. Zimmerman, 356–364. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998.

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Argues for incompatibilism and proposes an “agent causal” account of free will, by which human
agents are the uncaused causes of their free actions. First presented as the Lindley Lecture at the
University of Kansas in 1964.
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Frankfurt, Harry G. “Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility.” Journal of Philosophy 66.23
(1969): 828–839.

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Attacks the principle that a person’s action is free only if she or he could have done otherwise.
Reprinted in Frankfurt 1988, pp. 1–10.

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Frankfurt, Harry G. “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person.” Journal of Philosophy 68.1
(1971): 5–20.

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Argues that a person is a being capable of having a free or unfree will, and provides the classic
articulation of Frankfurt’s compatibilist conception of free will in terms of second-order desires
(desires about one’s first-order desires). Essential reading when it comes to compatibilism.
Reprinted in Frankfurt 1988, pp. 11–25.

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Frankfurt, Harry G. The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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Essays 1–6 develop Frankfurt’s compatibilist picture and respond to some objections to it. Frankfurt
develops a picture of free action as that which flows from a person’s desires with which the person
reflectively “identifies.”

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Kane, Robert. The Significance of Free Will. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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Defends an incompatibilist account of free will as the ability to be the ultimate source of one’s own
ends and purposes. Also defends the compatibility of free will and quantum indeterminism, often
rejected by compatibilists and agent-causation theorists.

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Strawson, P. F. “Freedom and Resentment” Proceedings of the British Academy 48 (1962): 1–25.
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Defends a version of compatibilism, based on the irrelevance of determinism to our adoption of


“reactive attitudes” (e.g., resentment and gratitude) toward one another.

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van Inwagen, Peter. An Essay on Free Will. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

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Chapter 3 (“Three Arguments for Incompatibilism” [pp. 55–105]) presents a canonical defense of
incompatibilism, including a statement of the famous “Consequence Argument.” Essential reading
when it comes to the contemporary debate on free will.

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Fundamental Reality
It has seemed to many that reality can be divided into the fundamental and the derivative (or ordered
according to the relation “more fundamental than”). Such a division raises a number of metaphysical
questions: Just what does it mean to say that this portion or aspect of reality is fundamental, and that this
other portion or aspect is derivative? What is the relationship between the fundamental and the derivative?
And, most important of all, just what portion or aspect of reality is fundamental? (There are also a number
of metametaphysical issues here; see Fine 2001 and Metametaphysics.) A central issue in recent
philosophy has been the defense and criticism of metaphysical naturalism; a central issue in contemporary
metaphysics is the formulation, defense, and criticism of physicalism, a particular brand of naturalism that
takes the physical to be fundamental, with all else dependent on the physical (Lewis 1986). But what does
this dependence amount to? Many philosophers have appealed to the notions of supervenience and
reduction (Hempel 2001, Kim 1993), or a kind of minimal physicalism that says that all supervenes on the
physical. A more robust physicalism says that all is reducible to the physical. Some recent work in
metametaphysics suggests the usefulness of the concept of one portion or aspect of reality grounding
another (Fine 2001, Schaffer 2009). Reductive physicalism, and metaphysical naturalism more generally
(however it is formulated), has encountered spirited resistance from various directions. First, there is a
worry that mental phenomena, such as consciousness and intentionality, cannot be reduced to the physical
(see Kim 1993 and works cited under the Mind-Body Problem). Second, there is a worry that the domains
of the special sciences, in general (including psychology, but also biology, economics, etc.), cannot be
reduced to the physical (Fodor 1974). Third, there is a worry that normativity is irreducible (Parfit 2006).
Finally, one can challenge the realist metaphysic that physicalism assumes (Putnam 1981, Lewis 1984).

Fine, Kit. “The Question of Realism.” Philosopher’s Imprint 1.2 (2001): 1–30.

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Articulates realist conceptions of metaphysical ground, reduction, and fundamentality. Available


online.

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Fodor, J. A. “Special Sciences, or the Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis.” Synthese 28.2
Fodor, J. A. “Special Sciences, or the Disunity of Science as a Working Hypothesis.” Synthese 28.2
(1974): 97–115.

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A classic argument for the physical irreducibility of the special sciences.

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Hempel, Carl G. “Reduction: Ontological and Linguistic Facets.” In The Philosophy of Carl G.
Hempel. Edited by James H. Fetzer, 189–207. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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A discussion of the metaphysics of reduction. Presents Hempel’s famous dilemma for physicalism
concerning the definition of “physical.” Originally published in 1969.

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Kim, Jaegwon. Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays. New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1993.

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Essays 4, 5, and 8 develop the notion of supervenience. Essays 14, 16, and 17 contain Kim’s “causal
exclusion argument” against nonreductive physicalism (e.g., Fodor 1974).

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Lewis, David. “Putnam’s Paradox.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 62.3 (1984): 221–236.

DOI: 10.1080/00048408412340013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A critique of Putnam’s argument against metaphysical realism. Provides an important articulation of


Lewis’s notion of “natural properties”—those that “carve nature at the joints”—which he employs
in his formulation of “Humean supervenience” (see Lewis 1986). Reprinted in his Papers in
Metaphysics and Epistemology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 56–77.

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Lewis, David. Philosophical Papers. Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

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In the introduction, Lewis articulates his version of naturalism, Humean supervenience, on which
everything supervenes on the distribution of intrinsic, natural properties at points in space-time.

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Parfit, Derek. “Normativity.” In Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Vol. 1. Edited by Russ Shafer-
Landau, 325–380. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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Argues that normativity is an irreducible feature of reality, against various naturalist and anti-realist
opponents.

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Putnam, Hilary. Reason, Truth, and History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511625398Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Presents a variety of worries about “metaphysical realism,” including a version of the influential
“model-theoretic argument” (chapter 2), and develops an alternative metaphysic on which “the mind
and the world jointly make up the mind and the world” (p. xi).

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Schaffer, Jonathan. “On What Grounds What.” In Metametaphysics: New Essays on the
Foundations of Ontology. Edited by David Manley, David Chalmers, and Ryan Wasserman, 347–
383. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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Advocates for the centrality of questions about fundamentality (as opposed to questions about what
exists or does not exist) in metaphysics.

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Structure and Kinds


The notion of a natural kind has come to enjoy a central position in contemporary metaphysics, in large
part due to the work of Saul Kripke and Hilary Putnam (see Kripke 1980 and Putnam 1975) in developing
an externalist account of the meaning of “natural kind terms” such as “gold,” “water,” “tiger,” etc. (Their
work also revived Aristotelian essentialism about kinds; see Modality.) This realism about natural kinds
(cf. Lewis 1983, Sider 2011) has been resisted by those who reject objective metaphysical structure, or
“joints in nature” (Goodman 1978, as well as Putnam herself; see Fundamental Reality). Others have
challenged the idea that biological categories are natural kinds, at least in the sense intended by Kripke
and Putnam (Dupré 1981). More recently, some theorists have turned their attention to the categories of
race and gender, with many arguing that such categories are not biologically real (Mills 1998, Glasgow
2009), and others developing the idea that races and genders are socially constructed (Haslanger 1995).

Dupré, John. “Natural Kinds and Biological Taxa.” Philosophical Review 90.1 (1981): 66–90.

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Provides a critique of Kripke’s and Putnam’s claim that biological kinds are natural kinds.
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Glasgow, Joshua. A Theory of Race. New York: Routledge, 2009.

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Provides a defense of anti-realism about race, including an overview of positions in the literature.

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Goodman, Nelson. Ways of Worldmaking. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1978.

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A classic defense of anti-realism about natural kinds and a rejection of objective categories, or
“joints in nature.”

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Haslanger, Sally. “Ontology and Social Construction.” Philosophical Topics 23.2 (1995): 95–125.

DOI: 10.5840/philtopics19952324Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Explores the different ways in which something can be said to be “socially constructed,” with a
critical discussion of Catherine MacKinnon’s arguments against the notion of objectivity.

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Kripke, Saul A. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

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Articulates a realist view of natural kinds, putting them to use in developing a causal/externalist
account of the meaning of natural kind terms.

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Lewis, David. “New Work for a Theory of Universals.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 61
(1983): 343–377.

DOI: 10.1080/00048408312341131Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A defense of realism about natural properties, the sharing of which makes for objective
resemblance—that is, things that share natural properties are to that extent of the same type or kind.
Reprinted in his Papers in Metaphysics and Epistemology (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 1999), pp. 8–55.
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Mills, Charles W. “‘But What Are You Really?’ The Metaphysics of Race.” In Blackness Visible:
Essays on Philosophy and Race. By Charles Mills, 41–66. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1998.

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Canvasses possible positions on the question of the reality of race and provides a battery of real and
imagined cases with which to pump intuitions.

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Putnam, Hilary. “The Meaning of ‘Meaning.’” In Language, Mind, and Knowledge. Edited by Keith
Gunderson, 131–193. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 7. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1975.

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Appeals to realism about natural kinds in defense of semantic externalism.

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Quine, W. V. O. “Natural Kinds.” In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. By W. V. O. Quine,


114–138. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

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Develops a conception of “natural kind” terms as those for which induction works: the Fs and the
Gs are natural kinds to the extent that observed Fs are Gs supports all Fs are Gs.

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Sider, Theodore. Writing the Book of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199697908.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation


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An articulation and defense of realism about structure, including ontological, logical, temporal, and
modal structure.

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Metametaphysics
Metaphysics enjoys a healthy degree of skepticism about its legitimacy. This skepticism belongs in the
domain of “metametaphysics,” which deals with questions about metaphysics. Two related skeptical
worries can be raised. The first is epistemological: How is it possible for us to acquire knowledge of the
answers to metaphysical questions? The second and closely related worry is semantic: Do metaphysical
questions (either in general or in particular cases) have determinate answers at all? (It is important to
distinguish these worries from less interesting worries about the importance or practical value of
metaphysics: it is one thing to say it is pointless to find out how many angels can dance on the head of a
pin; it is another thing to say that there is no fact of the matter, or that it is impossible for us to know.)
Consider an example from Carnap’s Pseudoproblems in Philosophy (1928): If two geographers, one a
defender of idealism (the world is mental/spiritual) and the other a defender of realism (the denial of
idealism), were to survey the same mountain, they would produce identical reports. If Carnap is right,
what this seems to reveal, at a minimum, is that at least some metaphysical disputes cannot be settled by
appeal to empirical evidence. This then raises the question of how such disputes are to be settled, and the
absence of a clear answer to this question would seem to be an embarrassment for metaphysicians (see
Quine 1953 [cited under Persistence] and van Frassen 2004). Carnap and other positivists took this kind of
case to show that the realism/idealism issue is a “pseudo-problem,” and that the theses of realism and
idealism are meaningless. Carnap further refined this into the view that metaphysical disputes hinge on the
selection of a “linguistic framework” (Carnap 1950). This idea has inspired many contemporary
metaphysicians (cf. Hirsch 2005, Sosa 1999, Thomasson 2014). For a critical discussion, see Sider 2001.
(It is a matter of controversy where Quine’s metametaphysical views fit into this picture; see Quine 1969.)
Many philosophers writing about these issues have examined the question of material composition (see
Hirsch 2005, Sosa 1999, Sider 2001, and the works cited under Concrete Particulars).

Carnap, Rudolf. “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology.” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 4


(1950): 20–40.

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Essential reading for metaontologists. Carnap proposes a distinction between questions internal to a
linguistic framework and questions external to linguistic frameworks, and he offers a pragmatic and
ecumenical account of the latter. Reprinted in his Meaning and Necessity: A Study in Semantics and
Modal Logic (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 205–221.

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Hirsch, Eli. “Physical-Object Ontology, Verbal Disputes, and Common Sense.” Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research 70.1 (2005): 67–97.

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Argues that metaphysical disputes over the existence of composite objects are verbal disputes, and
therefore should be settled by appeal to common sense.

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Quine, W. V. O. “On What There Is.” Review of Metaphysics 2 (1948): 21–28.

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Canonical presentation of the metaontological view that “to be is to be the value of a variable”;
essential reading for metaontologists. Reprinted in Quine 1953 (cited under Persistence), pp. 1–19.

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Quine, W. V. O. “Ontological Relativity.” In Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. 26–68. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1969.

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Argues, on the basis of the indeterminacy of translation and reference, that questions of ontology are
meaningful only relative to a background theory.

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Sider, Theodore. “Introduction.” In Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time.


Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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Offers a critique of quantifier variance and the Carnapian rejection of metaphysics.

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Sosa, Ernest. “Existential Relativity.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23.1 (1999): 132–143.

DOI: 10.1111/1475-4975.00007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Tentative defense of a moderate “relativism” about ontology.

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Thomasson, Amie L. Ontology Made Easy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199385119.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation


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Defends a neo-Carnapian approach to ontological disputes.

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van Frassen, Bas C. “Lecture 1: Against Analytical Metaphysics.” In The Empirical Stance. By Bas
C. van Frassen, 1–30. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2004.

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Presents a criticism of “analytic metaphysics” on empiricist epistemological grounds.

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The Mind-Body Problem
The metaphysical mind-body problem, in its most basic form, starts with a question about the relationship
between the mental (e.g., minds, mental properties, or consciousness) and the physical (e.g., bodies,
brains, or physical properties). On the one hand, the relationship appears to be extremely close, given the
obviousness of mental causation, or causal interactions between mind and body (such as occur in
perception and intentional action). But, on the other hand, the relationship appears to be not very close at
all, given how easy it is to imagine the mental and the physical coming apart. Contemporary discussion of
the mind-body problem was kick-started by Thomas Nagel’s infamous argument that scientific knowledge
(e.g., of physical features of the brain) is, in principle, insufficient for knowledge of consciousness, the
irreducible “what it’s like” of subjective experience (Nagel 1974). A similar idea reemerges with the
“zombie argument” presented by David Chalmers in his now-classic The Conscious Mind (Chalmers
1997). A simple identification of the mental with the physical is prima facie implausible, given the
considerations concerning consciousness that Nagel and Chalmers bring to the table, but dualism is prima
facie equally implausible, given the problem of mental causation (Kim 2000); thus, the mind-body
problem. Contemporary views on the matter range from eliminativism about consciousness (Dennett
1988) through various forms of reductive physicalism (Armstrong 1968, Lewis 1980, Kim 2000) and
nonreductive physicalism (Davidson 1970, Nagel 1974) to a substance dualism that attempts to solve the
problem of mental causation (Hart 1988). For more on physicalism, and in particular on the important
notions of supervenience and reduction, see the works cited under Fundamental Reality.

Armstrong, D. M. A Materialist Theory of the Mind. London: Routledge, 1968.

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A classic defense of the theory that mental states are identical to brain states, based on a
functional/causal-role analysis of various mental states. A revised edition was published in 1993.

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Chalmers, David. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1997.

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Hugely influential, and the starting point for much of the contemporary discussion of the mind-body
problem. Chalmers draws crucial distinctions between several notions of consciousness and defends
the “zombie argument” against physicalism.

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Davidson, Donald. “Mental Events.” In Experience and Theory. Edited by Lawrence Foster and
L. W. Swanson, 79–102. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1970.

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A defense of “anomalous monism,” Davidson’s version of nonreductive physicalism. Reprinted in


his Essays on Actions and Events (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 207–229.

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Dennett, Daniel C. “Quining Qualia.” In Consciousness in Contemporary Science. Edited by
Anthony J. Marcel and Edoardo Bisiach, 42–77. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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Argues that qualia—the ineffable, intrinsic, private, and directly apprehensible features of our
experience—do not exist.

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Hart, W. D. The Engines of the Soul. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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A careful defense of dualism, based on the conceivability of disembodiment. The core of Hart’s
book addresses the problem of mental causation.

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Kim, Jaegwon. Mind in a Physical World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.

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Presents a “causal exclusion argument” against nonreductive physicalism and articulates a model of
functional reduction, according to which almost all mental properties are reducible to physical
properties.

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Lewis, David. “Mad Pain and Martian Pain.” In Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology. Vol. 1.
Edited by Ned Block, 216–222. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

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Defends a causal-role/functional account of pain, applying it to problem cases of, first, a creature for
whom pain seems to play a different functional role than it does for humans, and, second, a creature
for whom the pain role is played by something physically different from what plays that role for
humans. Reprinted, with a postscript, in Lewis’s Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1983), pp. 122–132.

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Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” Philosophical Review 83.4 (1974): 435–450.

DOI: 10.2307/2183914Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A canonical articulation of the notion of phenomenal consciousness, qualia, or the “what it’s like” of
subjective experience; argues that consciousness is physically irreducible. Reprinted in Nagel’s
Mortal Questions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 165–180.

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Modality
The metaphysics of modality concerns the notions of possibility and necessity. Contemporary
metaphysicians of modality address themselves to two big and interrelated issues. (Here, to the extent
possible, important issues and texts on formal modal logic—the formal systems logicians have developed
to make sense of possibility and necessity—are ignored.) The first is the nature of modality, which can be
approached by asking after the nature of modal claims: what does it mean to say that something is possible
or necessarily true, or that something would have happened, had something else happened, and so on.
Answering these questions matters, as a broad range of metaphysically important notions can be made
sense of if we can make sense of these modal notions. (See chapter 1 of Lewis 1986.) By the end of the
20th century, the development of modal logic was complete; what remained controversial were its
semantic foundations. Contemporary discussions of the metaphysics of modality jump off from David
Lewis’s monumental On the Plurality of Worlds (Lewis 1986), which proposes the real, concrete existence
of possible worlds, and the reduction of modal notions to quantification over possible worlds. Those who
deny the real existence of possible worlds (actualists) seem forced to invoke modality as a primitive
feature of the actual world or of actual individuals (Stalnaker 1976, Plantinga 1979), develop an anti-realist
account of modality (Rosen 1990), or eschew modal notions altogether (Quine 1953). The second big issue
for metaphysicians of modality is essentialism. Quine’s rejection of essentialism, orthodox in that
midcentury positivistic climate, has given way to various contemporary defenses of essentialism (Kripke
1980, Plantinga 1979, Fine 1994, Mackie 2006).

Fine, Kit. “Essence and Modality.” Philosophical Perspectives 8 (1994): 1–16.

DOI: 10.2307/2214160Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Argues against (the contemporary orthodoxy of) conceiving of essences in modal terms.

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Kripke, Saul A. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

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A classic articulation of semantic externalism, realism about natural kinds, essentialism, and realism
about modality. Essential reading when it comes to modality (among other things).

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Lewis, David. “Counterpart Theory and Quantified Modal Logic.” Journal of Philosophy 65 (1968):
113–126.

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Develops, among other things, a linguistic account of essences that, with Quine, rejects de re
modality. Reprinted with a postscript in Lewis’s Philosophical Papers, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1983), pp. 26–46.

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Lewis, David. On the Plurality of Worlds. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986.

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Essential reading that presents a sustained defense of the existence of concrete possible worlds, on
the basis of theoretical utility. With this ontology in hand, Lewis provides possible-worlds-based
accounts of modality, properties, propositions, and counterfactual conditionals. Paradigmatic of the
Quinean ontological methodology (see Metametaphysics) and of the systematic, theory-centered
“analytic” metaphysics of the late 20th century.

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Mackie, Penelope. How Things Might Have Been: Individuals, Kinds, and Essential Properties.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

DOI: 10.1093/0199272204.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Criticism of essentialism including “sortal essentialism” and the essentiality of origins, with
discussion of de re modality and transworld identity.

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Plantinga, Alvin. The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

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Presents a sustained defense of essentialism and actualist modal realism.

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Quine, W. V. O. “Reference and Modality.” In From a Logical Point of View. By W. V. O. Quine,


139–159. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953.

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Classic defense of skepticism about modal logic, based on commitment to anti-essentialism (and,
though this goes unsaid, actualism).

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Rosen, Gideon. “Modal Fictionalism.” Mind 99 (1990): 327–354.


DOI: 10.1093/mind/XCIX.395.327Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Compares talk of possible worlds to talk of fictional characters: modal claims are strictly and
literally false, but true according to the fiction of possible worlds.

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Stalnaker, Robert. “Possible Worlds.” Noûs 10 (1976): 65–75.

DOI: 10.2307/2214477Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

A critique of Lewisian modal realism in favor of a more “moderate” account of possible worlds.
Revised and reprinted in Stalnaker’s Ways a World Might Be: Metaphysical and Anti-metaphysical
Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 25–39.

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Perception
The metaphysics of perception is concerned with the nature and ontology of our ability to perceive the
world. This includes questions about the ontology of perception (e.g., the existence of sense-data) and the
nature of the connection between a perceiver and the perceived (parts of the) world. In the first half of the
20th century, “analytic” philosophy was dominated by logical positivism, which typically assumed what
has come to be known as the “sense-datum theory” of perception, according to which one’s perception of
external things is always mediated by one’s direct awareness of subjective, mental entities called “sense-
data” or “sense experiences” (Jackson 1977). By the second half of the century, this view was under attack
(see Chisholm 1957 and Austin 1962), and many came to see it as discredited. (It is worth noting that
philosophers in the phenomenological tradition, such as Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty, had been
advancing alternative views of perception for some time.) Alternatives, which form the foundation for
contemporary discussions of perception, have included the adverbial theory of perception (Chisholm
1957), disjunctivism (Austin 1962, McDowell 1986), and intentionalism (Tye 1995). (The sense-datum
theory is a form of what is called indirect realism, according to which perception is mediated by
perceptual experience; disjunctivism, on the other hand, is a form of direct realism, according to which
our perceptual access to the world is direct. The “realism” tag is meant to distinguish these views from
phenomenalism and idealism, which refrain from positing external things.) See also Color.

Austin, J. L. Sense and Sensibilia. Reconstructed from the manuscript notes by G. J. Warnock.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.

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Classic polemic against the sense-datum theory. Early articulation of disjunctivism and direct
realism.

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Chisholm, Roderick. Perceiving: A Philosophical Study. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press,
1957.
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An examination of epistemological and metaphysical issues of perception. Articulates and defends


an adverbial account of perception.

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Jackson, Frank. Perception. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

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Classic contemporary defense of indirect realism and the sense-datum theory.

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McDowell, John. “Singular Thought and the Extent of Inner Space.” In Subject, Thought, and
Context. Edited by Philip Pettit and John McDowell, 137–168. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1986.

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Criticism of Cartesian indirect realism and a defense of disjunctivism, in which perception and
hallucination are not the same kind of mental state and (more importantly) do not have in common
anything like an inner, subjective experience. Reprinted in McDowell’s Meaning, Knowledge, and
Reality (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), pp. 228–259.

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Noë, Alva. Action in Perception. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006.

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Defends the view, orthodox for decades in phenomenological circles, that perceiving is a way of
acting, a “skillful activity on the part of the animal as a whole” (p. 2).

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Tye, Michael. Ten Problems of Consciousness: A Representational Theory of the Phenomenal Mind.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

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A sustained defense of an intentionalist (or representational) account of conscious mental states,


including perceptual states.

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Personal Identity
The question of personal identity concerns the conditions of numerical identity between “two” persons, an
understanding of which is crucial for understanding the persistence of persons over time. Interest in the
metaphysics of personal identity revived in the 1960s and 1970s, with many offering neo-Lockian
psychological theories (Shoemaker 1970, Lewis 1976), the most powerful argument for which is based on
the seeming possibility of two people switching bodies (brain and all) by transferring (somehow) the
memories and personality of the one into the brain of the other (and vice versa). Bernard Williams’s
classic essay “The Self and the Future” (Williams 1970) presents a powerful objection to this neo-Lockian
argument. One of the most important contemporary contributions to debates about personal identity is
Parfit 1984, which argues that scalar relations of psychological connectedness are what matter for most
philosophical purposes, not the problematic relation of numerical identity. At stake in these debates is the
nature of the self: Is the self a unified whole, something with an “identity”, or is what we call the self
nothing more than a series of causally and psychologically connected stages (as Parfit suggests)?

Lewis, David. “Survival and Identity.” In The Identities of Persons. Edited by Amélie Oksenberg
Rorty, 17–40. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

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A defense of a version of the neo-Lockian view that persons are appropriately psychologically (and
causally) related aggregates of “person-stages.” Reprinted with a postscript in Lewis’s Philosophical
Papers, Vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 55–77.

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Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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Part 3 is an expansive discussion of personal identity, defending the view that relations of
psychological connectedness, and not personal identity, are what matters.

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Shoemaker, Sidney. “Persons and Their Pasts.” American Philosophical Quarterly 7.4 (1970): 269–
285.

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A defense of the view that memory is constitutive of, and a criterion of, personal identity. Reprinted
in Shoemaker’s Identity, Cause, and Mind (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp.
19–48.

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Snowdon, P. F. “Persons, Animals, and Ourselves.” In The Person and the Human Mind: Issues in
Ancient and Modern Philosophy. Edited by Christopher Gill, 83–107. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1990.
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Defends animalism, on which we are to be identified with human animals; this is opposed to the
view that personal identity is a matter of psychological continuity.

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Williams, Bernard. “The Self and the Future.” Philosophical Review 79.2 (1970): 161–180.

DOI: 10.2307/2183946Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Critique of the “body switch” argument for the psychological theory of personal identity. Argues
that the phenomenon of concern for one’s future is important for debates about identity.

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Time
One way of setting up the basic metaphysical issue in contemporary philosophy of time is by asking if
there is any objective difference between the present, the past, and the future. Those who say that the
present is objectively different from the past and/or the future are A-theorists of time (Prior 1996). Those
who say that past, present, and future are not objectively different are B-theorists (Williams 1951, Sider
2001). This view is naturally (to say the least) accompanied by an ontological position on the reality of the
future and the past known as eternalism, according to which the past, the present, and the future exist and
are (if this means something more) equally real. An obvious route for A-theorists, though not obviously
their only route, is to cash out the objective difference between the present and the past and/or future in
ontological terms. Thus, there are two alternatives to eternalism: presentism, on which only the present
exists (Prior 1970), and the growing-block theory, on which only the past and the present exist (Tooley
1997). (The shrinking-block theory, on which only the present and the future exist, provides the standard
“gap in the literature.”) Many other important metaphysical issues concern time, of course, including the
doctrine of fatalism, according to which everything that happens is unavoidable (Taylor 1962), and the
question of why time has (or seems to have) a direction (Sklar 1974). (Here, important issues and texts on
tense logic—particularly the pioneering work of A. N. Prior, which sets the stage for the contemporary
metaphysical debate—are ignored; two of Prior’s nontechnical essays are included.)

Prior, A. N. “The Notion of the Present.” Stadium Generale 23 (1970): 245–248.

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Classic articulation and defense of presentism.

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Prior, A. N. “Some Free Thinking about Time.” In Logic and Reality: Essays on the Legacy of
Arthur Prior. Edited by Jack Copeland, 47–51. Oxford: Clarendon, 1996.

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An articulation and defense of the A-theory.


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Putnam, Hilary. “Time and Physical Geometry.” Journal of Philosophy 64.8 (1967): 240–247.

DOI: 10.2307/2024493Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Argues that special relativity is incompatible with the notion of the present required for presentism.

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Sider, Theodore. “The Four-Dimensional Picture.” In Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of


Persistence and Time. By Theodore Sider, 1–10. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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Offers a battery of arguments against presentism, based on the seeming existence of cross-temporal
relations, on the need for truth-makers for past- and future-tensed sentences, and on special
relativity’s rejection of the notion of an absolute present.

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Sklar, Lawrence. Space, Time, and Spacetime. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.

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An empirically informed discussion of the metaphysics of spacetime. Chapter 3 addresses special


relativity; chapter 4 addresses the question of the direction of time.

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Taylor, Richard. “Fatalism.” Philosophical Review 71 (1962): 56–66.

DOI: 10.2307/2183681Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Argues for fatalism on the basis of the law of excluded middle and several innocuous-seeming
principles.

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Tooley, Michael. Time, Tense, and Causation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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Develops and defends the growing-block, A-theory of time.

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Williams, Donald C. “The Myth of Passage.” Journal of Philosophy 48 (1951): 457–472.

DOI: 10.2307/2021694Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

Classic defense of eternalist B-theory, on which the passage of time is an illusion and all that exists
is a “four-dimensional manifold.”

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Universals and Particulars


Consider two things that weigh a kilogram, like a gold ingot and a sack of flour. We are inclined to say
that there is something the two have in common, some property that they both have. Such a repeatable
entity, instantiated by different individuals, is a universal; nonrepeatable entities are particulars. How are
we to understand this talk of universals, properties, or of a thing that the ingot and the sack share? Realists
about universals say that there is something that both instantiate, a universal of weighing one kilogram
(Armstrong 1989); nominalists deny this (Quine 1953, Devitt 1980). An influential alternative to the
standard universals/particulars picture is the trope theory, proposed in Williams 1953, which offers an
ontology of particular property instances (tropes); “bundles” of these are what we ordinarily think of as
particular objects. Thus, the sameness in weight of the ingot and the sack amounts to the existence of two
exactly resembling tropes, one a part of the ingot and one a part of the sack. A central question for
metaphysicians in this area is the nature of resemblance: the objective reality of resemblance is a premise
in most realist arguments (Armstrong 1989). As such, there is substantial overlap between these issues and
those discussed in Structure and Kinds.

Armstrong, David M. Universals: An Opinionated Introduction. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1989.

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Presents a defense of realism about universals and an overview of the issue.

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Devitt, Michael. “‘Ostrich Nominalism’ or ‘Mirage Realism’?” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 61


(1980): 433–439.

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A defense of nominalism.

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Linsky, Bernard, and Edward N. Zalta. “Naturalized Platonism vs. Platonized Naturalism.” Journal
of Philosophy 92 (1995): 525–555.

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An argument for the reality of properties.


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Quine, W. V. O. “On What There Is.” In From a Logical Point of View. By W. V. O. Quine, 1–19.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1953.

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Classic defense of nominalism, on the ground that “to be is to be the value of a variable,” combined
with the argument that quantification over properties and/or universals can be avoided. Original
version published in the Review of Metaphysics 2 (1948): 21–38.

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van Cleve, James. “Three Versions of the Bundle Theory.” Philosophical Studies 47.1 (1985): 95–
107.

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Provides criticism and unsympathetic articulation of the bundle theory.

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Williams, Donald C. “The Elements of Being.” Review of Metaphysics 7 (1953): 3–18.

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Classic articulation of trope theory and the “bundle theory” of particulars.

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