PHIL 456 A: Metaphysics

Spring 2022
TTh 2:30pm - 4:20pm / SAV 139
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Metaphysics PHIL456 Spring 2022


TTh 2:30pm-4:20pm PST


SAV 139


Anthony Fisher <>

office SAV M282; office hours online Monday 11am-1pm and by appointment.

Course description: Metaphysics is the analytic and speculative study of the structure of reality. This sort of study is concerned with the most abstract, general features of the world. This course will introduce students to some of the liveliest debates in contemporary metaphysics. The topics covered are: properties, modality, time, works of music and art, and the social world. We will evaluate solutions to the problem of what grounds the fact that two things are similar in some intrinsic respect. We will ask how we should account for possibility and necessity and the ontological status of possible worlds. We will reflect on the problem of change and describe our experience of time in an attempt to build a theory of time that settles the question of whether the past, present, and future are all real or whether the present is ontologically privileged. We will think about what ontological category works of music and art belong to and grapple with the metaphysics of the social world, probing the nature of social construction, social groups (things like committees, courts, clubs), and social kinds (e.g., being a women, money, marriage). We will examine these topics using logic, arguments, adjudication of dialectic, and analysis of philosophical concepts. Our approach is to reflect on these abstract, general features of reality in concrete experience in order to uncover our firm but (probably) unjustified beliefs on these topics and thereby place these beliefs in a systematic account of reality.

Required Texts: Armstrong, D.M. 1989. Universals: An Opinionated Introduction (Boulder, CO: Westview Press). Ebook version of relevant chapters will be made available on Canvas. Physical copies of the book are available through the UW bookstore. Other readings will be made available online on Canvas.

Learning outcomes: On successful completion of the course, students will be able to demonstrate: i) a strong and detailed understanding of the concepts, problems, and arguments that motivate contemporary topics in metaphysics, ii) a thorough knowledge of the theories and arguments debated by recent philosophers in metaphysics, and iii) an enhanced ability to examine metaphysical theories critically and present carefully-argued and independent lines of thought in this area of philosophy.


Reading responses: 5% of final grade. For each reading response you must answer the following three questions in bullet points, with section headings for each question:

What philosophical thesis or theses does the author argue for or defend?

What are the reasons that the author gives to support the thesis or theses?

What substantial questions, queries, or criticisms do you have about the reading? (You must raise at least one question. Your questions should be something you would raise in class; and you should be ready to ask your questions in class.)

For the first and second question you should have roughly 4-6 bullet points. Your reading response must be no more than 1 page. You are not allowed to quote from the text or use outside sources.

This assignment is best completed as you read the reading.

See the sample reading response.

Presentations: 10% of final grade. Meaningful contributions and intentional participation are essential for active learning. You need to prepare adequately and actually contribute meaningfully to class discussion. Most weeks in the second class there will be a presentation by the assigned group for that week. The presentation must be insightful, relevant, and philosophically interesting as well as generate discussion. One purpose of the presentation is to lead discussion for that portion of the class. The presentation must be on the reading of the second class.

The format for the presentations should be: one or two arguments are explained (by one group member), each argument presented is then criticised (by another group member), and finally a number of discussion questions are given for others in the class to answer (by another group member). Then the group as a whole takes responses and comments to any part of the presentation and lead the discussion.

Although just one group member presents, say, the discussion questions, other group members can help to construct them in preparing for the presentation. So for instance the person who presents the arguments can come up with a discussion question.

You are strongly encouraged to prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Your group will be allowed to use the classroom technology to present your PowerPoint.

Points are lost for not giving a presentation. You need to sign up for a presentation group under the People menu in Canvas. Do this in the first two weeks of term. End of Week 3 you will be manually put into a group and the ability to self-sign-up will be turned off.

Mid-term exam: 25% of final grade. A mid-term exam taken in Week 5 on Canvas. More information about the mid-term will be provided later. A study guide will be circulated beforehand. The mid-term is to test your understanding and knowledge of metaphysical topics that have been covered so far.

Term paper: 30% of final grade. A philosophy paper has a distinctive argumentative structure that clearly articulates and argues for a specific thesis (it is presupposed that you know what a philosophy paper is and how you should go about writing such a paper). In your paper you will specify a thesis, outline the structure of the paper, and argue for the specified thesis. The centre piece of the given paper is a particular argument that should be discussed in some way throughout the paper.

  • For undergraduate students the term paper must be 4-5 pages in length.
  • For graduate students the term paper must be 6-7 pages in length.

The term paper is to be submitted on Canvas and will be peer reviewed and blind graded; therefore, you must not include your name or ID number in the document anywhere or in the filename. Only .doc and .docx file extensions are accepted.

Topics for the term paper are research based. You will choose a sub-topic in metaphysics (from the list) and then study a set of readings to develop your own paper topic. The sub-topics are: holes, possible worlds, time and truthmaking, ontology of music, social metaphysics.

The term paper consists of the following elements:

  • Draft, 2%, graded credit/no credit
  • Peer review, 2%, graded credit/no credit
  • Final version graded by Instructor, 26%, graded according to rubric.

Further instructions and grading criteria will be provided closer to the due dates.

Final exam: 30% of final grade. A comprehensive exam taken during the final examination period on Canvas. More information about the final exam will be provided later. A study guide will be circulated beforehand. The final is to test your understanding and knowledge of the concepts, theories, and arguments in contemporary debates in metaphysics.


Late work: Late work is not accepted. Exceptions are made only for personal and medical emergencies when documentation is provided. Let me know in advance if you have having trouble!

Conversion: A conversion scale (to the 4.0 system) will be chosen at the end of the quarter, based on the usual grade distribution for classes like this. On any chosen 4.0 conversion scale, however, 96% and above will be sufficient for a 4.0, and 60% and above will be sufficient for passing the course, where ‘passing’ strictly means achieving a 0.7 or higher on the 4.0 system.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism on any assignment will be reported to CSSC and penalised. It is your responsibility to know what counts as plagiarism. It is easy to avoid plagiarism in this class.

See end of syllabus for additional, department-wide policies.

Note on writing credit: Passing this course is enough for earning a W credit.

Class expectations: Each student will have read the reading actively and critically. Active reading means taking notes, underlining text, summarising relevant passages, etc. Critical reading means argumentatively engaging with the author, questioning a premise or a conclusion in some argument, or raising queries or finding something that seems implausible or introducing a relevant consideration that has been overlooked, or identifying an unclear word or phrase or concept. Each student should write out answers to the reading questions and come up with their own questions. In the case of leading class discussion, the student will have prepared discussion questions and lead discussion by introducing the topic and posing questions.

Course expectations: The class is not identical with the course. The class is one part of the course. The other parts of the course involve each student reading the material before class and after class. A student’s understanding of the content of the course should not rest entirely on what unfolds in class. A student should not draw their sole understanding of the material from class, class discussion, class notes, or class handouts and other related material.

Course schedule:

Week 1: Introduction and holes

Tue 29 Mar: Introduction to metaphysics

Thu 31 Mar: David Lewis and Stephanie Lewis ‘Holes’ [7pgs]; reading response 1.2 due; no group presentation

Week 2: Theories of properties 1: problem of universals and nominalism

Tue 5 Apr: D.M. Armstrong, Universals, ch. 1: The problem [20pgs]; reading response 2.1 due

Thu 7 Apr: D.M. Armstrong, Universals, ch. 3: Resemblance nominalism [20pgs]; reading response 2.2 due; Group presentation wk2

Week 3: Theories of properties 2: universals versus tropes

Tue 12 Apr: D.M. Armstrong, Universals, ch. 5: Universals as attributes [38pgs]; reading response 3.1 due

Thu 14 Apr: D.M. Armstrong, Universals, ch. 6: Tropes [21pgs]; reading response 3.2 due; Group presentation wk3; self-sign up for presentation closes

Week 4: Possible worlds 1: modal realism

Tue 19 Apr: Phillip Bricker, ‘Concrete possible worlds’ [24pgs]; reading response 4.1 due

Thu 21 Apr: Peter Forrest, ‘Counting the costs of modal realism’ [11pgs]; reading response 4.2 due; Group presentation wk4

Week 5: Possible worlds 2: ersatzism and modal dispositionalism

Tue 26 Apr: Joseph Melia, ‘Quiet moderate realism’ [32pgs]; reading response 5.1 due

Thu 28 Apr: Sophie R. Allen, ‘From Possibility to Properties? Or from Properties to Possibility?’ [29pgs]; reading response 5.2 due; Group presentation wk5

Fri 29 Apr: mid-term exam; mid-quarter check-in survey

Week 6: Time 1: A-theory versus B-theory

Tue 3 May: Heather Dyke, ‘McTaggart and the Truth about Time’ [16pgs]; reading response 6.1 due

Thu 5 May: Sonja Deppe, ‘The mind-dependence of the relational structure of time’ [18pgs]; reading response 6.2 due; Group presentation wk6

Week 7: Time 2: change and ontic extent of time

Tue 10 May: Mark Hinchliff, ‘Puzzle of change’ [18pgs]; reading response 7.1 due

Thu 12 May: Kristie Miller, ‘Presentism, eternalism and the growing block’ [20pgs]; reading response 7.2 due; Group presentation wk7

Week 8: Ontology of music and art

Tue 17 May: Julian Dodd, ‘Musical works as eternal types’ [17pgs]; reading response 8.1 due

Thu 19 May: Guy Rohrbaugh, ‘Artworks as Historical Individuals’ [29pgs]; reading response 8.2 due; Group presentation wk8

Week 9: Social metaphysics 1: systems and structure

Tue 24 May: Sally Haslanger ‘Failures of methodological individualism’ [23pgs]; reading response 9.1 due

Thu 26 May: Katherine Ritchie, ‘What are groups?’ [16pgs]; reading response 9.2 due; Group presentation wk9; draft of term paper due

Week 10: Social metaphysics 2: kinds

Tue 31 May: Rebecca Mason, ‘The metaphysics of social kinds’ [10pgs]; reading response 10.1 due

Thu 2 Jun: no reading; no group presentation; course evaluations; review for final; peer review of term paper due

Sun 5 Jun: term paper due

Finals: 4-10 Jun: final exam during finals week.

Grades due: 14 Tue Jun by 5pm

Information for Students

University of Washington, Department of Philosophy

Policies and Resources

Academic Misconduct

Academic misconduct, including plagiarism, is prohibited by the Student Conduct Code for the University of Washington (Links to an external site.) and is taken very seriously by the UW. According to the student conduct code, academic misconduct includes:

  1. "Cheating" which includes, but is not limited to:
    1. The use of unauthorized assistance in taking quizzes, tests, or examinations, or completing assignments;
    2. The acquisition, use, or distribution of unpublished materials created by another student without the express permission of the original author(s);
    3. Using online sources, such as solution manuals, without the permission of the instructor to complete assignments, exams, tests, or quizzes; or
    4. Requesting, hiring, or otherwise encouraging someone to take a course, exam, test, or complete assignments for a student.
  2. "Falsification," which is the intentional use or submission of falsified data, records, or other information including, but not limited to, records of internship or practicum experiences or attendance at any required event(s), or scholarly research.
  3. "Plagiarism," which is the submission or presentation of someone else's words, composition, research, or expressed ideas, whether published or unpublished, without attribution. Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:
    1. The use, by paraphrase or direct quotation, of the published or unpublished work of another person without full and clear acknowledgment; or
    2. The unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or acquired from an entity engaging in the selling of term papers or other academic materials.
  4. Unauthorized collaboration.
  5. Engaging in behavior specifically prohibited by an instructor in the course of class instruction or in a course syllabus.
  6. Multiple submissions of the same work in separate courses without the express permission of the instructor(s).
  7. Taking deliberate action to destroy or damage another's academic work in order to gain an advantage for oneself or another.
  8. The recording of instructional content without the express permission of the instructor(s), unless approved as a disability accommodation, and/or the dissemination or use of such unauthorized records.

(Source: WAC 478-121 - Academic Misconduct (Links to an external site.))

Plagiarism may lead to disciplinary action by the University against the student who submitted the work. Any student who is uncertain whether his or her use of the work of others constitutes plagiarism should consult the course instructor for guidance before formally submitting the course work involved.


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Grade Appeal Procedure

A student who believes that the instructor erred in the assignment of a grade, or who believes a grade recoding error or omission has occurred, shall first discuss the matter with the instructor before the end of the following academic quarter (not including Summer Quarter). If the student is not satisfied with the instructor’s explanation, the student, no later than ten days after their discussion with the instructor, may submit a written appeal to the chair of the Department of Philosophy with a copy of the appeal also sent to the instructor. The chair consults with the instructor to ensure that the evaluation of the student’s performance has not been arbitrary or capricious. Should the chair believe the instructor’s conduct to be arbitrary or capricious and the instructor declines to revise the grade, the chair, with the approval of the voting members of his or her faculty, shall appoint an appropriate member, or members, of the faculty of the Department of Philosophy to evaluate the performance of the student and assign a grade. The Dean and Provost should be informed of this action. Once a student submits a written appeal, this document and all subsequent actions on this appeal are recorded in written form for deposit in a School file. (Source: UW General Catalog, Student Guide – Grading System (Links to an external site.))

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If you believe that you are being harassed, seek help—the earlier the better. You may speak with your instructor, your teaching assistant, the undergraduate advisor (363 Savery Hall), graduate program advisor (366 Savery Hall), or the chair of the philosophy department (364 Savery Hall). In addition, you should be aware that the University has designated special people to help you. For assistance you may contact: SafeCampusOffice of the Ombud (Links to an external site.) (339 HUB, 206-543-6028); Title IX Investigation Office (Links to an external site.) (for complaints that a University student has violated the sexual misconduct provisions of the Student Conduct Code); University Complaint Investigation and Resolution Office (Links to an external site.) (for complaints concerning the behavior of University employees, including faculty, teaching assistants, and other student employees).


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University rules define scientific and scholarly misconduct to include the following forms of inappropriate activity: intentional misrepresentation of credentials; falsification of data; plagiarism; abuse of confidentiality; deliberate violation of regulations applicable to research.

Students can report cases of scientific or scholarly misconduct either to the ORMP, to their faculty adviser, or the department chair. The student should report such problems to whomever he or she feels most comfortable.

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If you're concerned, tell someone.

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The health and safety of the University of Washington community are the institution’s priorities. Until otherwise stated face coverings are required per UW COVID Face Covering Policy (Links to an external site.): indoors where other people are present and outdoors when keeping a 6-foot distance may not be possible. This includes all classrooms and buildings/public spaces on each of the UW campuses.

If you physically can’t wear a mask, you choose not to wear a mask, your mask isn’t appropriate/sufficient, or if you aren’t wearing a mask properly (covering both your nose and mouth-diagram below), you CANNOT be in the classroom and will be asked to leave.

If you have a medical condition or health risk as outlined in the UW COVID Face Covering Policy (Links to an external site.), you may request an accommodation. Please contact Disability Resources for Students office BEFORE GOING TO CLASS at (Seattle) (Tacoma) (Bothell).

A face covering must:

  • Fit snugly against the sides of the face
  • Completely cover the nose and mouth
  • Be secured with ties, ear loops, elastic bands, or other equally effective method
  • Include at least one layer of cloth, although multiple layers are strongly recommended
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be capable of being laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape

CDC: How to Wear Masks

Catalog Description:
Examination of such topics as freedom of the will, the nature of persons and personal identity, the existence of God, time, necessary truth, and universals. The emphases vary from year to year.
GE Requirements Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Writing (W)
Last updated:
April 13, 2024 - 3:51 am