Metaphysics

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This page is a collaborative space for students enrolled in PHIL 450A: Metaphysics

Please contribute to these collaborative notes to help us all prepare for the final exam.

Please start each article with a clear thesis.

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Papers Covered in Course

Black, "The Identity of Indiscernibles"

Black argues against the identity of indiscernibles. For any X and Y, if x and y share all the same properties than X is identical to Y.

Shows this idea to be false through counter example: Provide a model for a possible world where two distinct objects share all the same properties. (Ex: Perfectly symmetrical universe which contains only two perfectly identical spheres.)

To illustrate his point much of the paper is a conversation on the topic between two opposing parties. In the course of their conversation they cover several key issues related to Black's thesis.

  • Significance of verifiability: One could never travel to the identical sphere universe without altering the possible world itself.

Perry, "The Same F"

Perry's paper is a response to Geach's paper on identity (which puts fourth that identity is relative), his general thesis: Geach argues that is makes no sense to judge whether x & y are 'the same' unless we add or undertand some general term: 'the same F. Perry' discusses the implications of Geach's view, arguing that there are no convincing reasons for adopting it, furthermore he provides some strong reasons to reject Geach's view.

In his paper Perry makes reference to Frege to strengthen his position:

Geech thinks that 'the same F as' is like 'being a better golfer than'. In that 'being better than' makes no sense by itself, therefore such a phrase cannot be broken into two separate predicates.

Perry referencing Frege argues that 'the same F as' is like 'being a red haired brother of' which can be split into two predicates. 'being red haired' and 'being a brother'.

The view Perry advocates (which he believes to be Frege's) is that the role of the general term is to identify the referents - not to identify the 'kind of identity' asserted.

Frege cannot allow the possibility that X and Y are the same F but different G's.


Plantinga, "Modalities: Basic Concepts & Distincitons"

Defends modality 'de re' pertains to the possibility or necessity of things & substances.

Some things such as the number '9' have their properties necessarily.

Chisholm, "Identity of Indiscernibles"

Believes that

Adam & Noah ID through possible worlds.

Via transitive properties of identity are able to cruise through possible worlds changing until they become each other.

Adams, "Primitive Thisness & Primitive Identity"

Response to Chisholm

Changes via trasitive prop of ID is 'suchness' not 'thisness'.

'Thisness' Some sort of intangible something which makes your ID your ID.

There can be transworld ID

Quine, "Natural Kinds"

Argues for the existence of 'natural kinds', a natural grouping of things

Kindhood is logically primitive (there is no lower level)

It doesn't matter how or why induction works, only that it does work.

Putnam, "On Properties"

Is concerned with properly describing or identifying properties.

Armstrong, "Universals as Attributes"

Armstrong Opposes Platonic theory: Platonist view accepts uninstantiated universals. This view holds that there are two realms: a type of Platonic heaven (holding both instantiated and uninstantiated universals/properties) and an ordinary world of space time (holding particulars). The problem with this view is that it runs into the problem of universals.

Problem of Universals: How can a universal be in two places at once?

Supports Principle of Instantiation: there can be no uninstantiated properties/universals; it is not possible for a property to exist that is not expressed or exemplified in some object. Eg. Since laptops didn't exist 2000 years ago, the property or universal of being a laptop also did not exist 2000 years ago. Additionally, if for some reason there was a point in time where everything and everyone was happy, then at that time, the property of being sad would go out of existence.

There are States of Affairs (SOA) or facts (includes both actual and possible facts)
- SOA are the things that make every contingent truth in the world true
- SOA are not the same as propositions: a SOA is what gives truth to a true proposition
- Eg. "John loves Mary" = Proposition; a particular John in the world bearing a loving relationship to a particular Mary = the SOA (this is contingent)
- SOA = particular + universal + instantiation + possible relations (if necessary)

Shoemaker, "Causality & Properties"

"...in order to give a satisfactory account of the distinction between 'real' and 'mere' properties, changes, similarities and differences, we must make use of a the notion of causality."

Shoemaker explains term first proposed by Geach to describe change in a property.

'Cambridge Criterion': x has changed if F(x) is true @ t1 and false at t2.

Shoemaker than expands on, and introduces sub-categories.

'Genuine Cambridge Change': change in a property where the object itself has changed. No relation to another object is necessary to describe this sort of property. (ex. a golf ball having the property of being dimpled) A property of this sort can be verified through direct observation.

'Mere-Cambridge Change': properties which in which the difference lies in an objects relation to other things; relational properties; (ex. being grue, or being shorter than someone else) A property of this sort cannot be directly observed.

Shoemaker wants to extend this sort of distinction not only to change and properties, but also to similarities and differences. To show this he makes several distinctions.

Distinction between different sorts of predicates:

  1. Standard Dispositional Predicates: (ex. flexible, malleable, poisonus)
  2. Non-Dispositional Predicates: (ex. square, round, made of copper); there are causal powers associated with this sort of predicate. (ex. copper conducts electricity)

Distinction between powers and properties which lead to those powers.

  1. Power: Can be thought of as a function where circumstances lead to effects.
  2. Property: Things have casual powers in virtue of the having properties; Two different properties might lead to the same power. (ex. consider two poisonous things, one might attack the nervous system, while the other attacks the liver, both will result in death by poisoning if consumed.)


Properties can be thought of as 'clusters' of conditional-powers (a power which only manifests under certain conditions, such as the presence of certain other powers)

Objects to multiple realization on the grounds that it will make all descriptions non-unique and therefore moot. There is greater parsimony in a theory with immutable causal potentialities properties and laws.

Thus a central tennant of Shoemaker's view is that 'genuine cambridge-properties' are immutable, where as 'mere-cambridge properties' (such as grue) are not.

Shoemaker further states that if properties/laws are immutable across time they must also be immutable across possible worlds. In order to account for differences across possible worlds, he posits that a given property there exists a subset of causal potentialities which constitute it's essence.

Epistimological extension of shoemaker's view: There are no situations which are logically possible but not causally possible. Objects to concievability criterion, as this would contradict the immutability he ascribes to causal potentialities/laws.

Williams, "The Elements of Being"

The traditional paradigm holds that: -Universals are: abstract, known by reason, unreal, possible not to act. -Particulars are: concrete, known empirically, real, actual, causal power.

Williams REJECTS this paradigm. He breaks universals and particulars into four categories:


Wants to clarify the distinction between universals and particular. Breaks distinction into 4 subcategories: Concrete Universals Abstract Universals Concrete Particulars (Objects) Abstract Particulars (Tropes)

Particular is a sum of co-located tropes.

Universal is a set of similar tropes.

Objects that are a sum of co-located tropes.

Defines similarity in depth: Partial Similarity: partial similarity = total similarity in some (but not all) parts; lollipop example; share some of the same tropes; Total Similarity: qualitatively identical but not numerically identical (same sort of trope but different numerical) such as the 2 spheres.

Tropes address the 'problem of universals'

Williams challenges the traditional distinction between concrete and abstract. Williams rejects that: Universals: abstract, known by reason, unreal, possible not able to act. Particulars: concrete, known empirically, real, actual, causal power. [[1]|Chart]

Fodor, "Special Sciences"

Thesis: In opposition to reductionism Fodor argued that Physics is the most basic & general science. All things which can be described by a 'special science' (e.g. psychology, chemistry, botany, etc.) can also be described by physics. This view can is called 'token-physicalism'. Any special science event (such as pain) can is = to some physical event.


Rejection of reductionism: Fodor objected on the grounds that reductionism did not allow for multiple realization (when two different causes lead to the same effect).

Token-reductionism holds supervenience to be true. A change in a mental state requires depends on a change occurring in a physical state.

Kim, "Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction"