Philosophy 10106: Introduction to metaphysics & epistemology


Tuesday & Thursday, 12:30-1:45 in 104 Bond Hall


Metaphysics is the study of the ultimate nature of reality. Epistemology is the study of what we can know about reality. This introduction to metaphysics and epistemology will focus on a few clusters of big questions: The focus of the class will be on learning how to formulate, defend, and respond to objections to your own answers to these basic questions, rather than on learning how others have answered these questions (though of course we will do some of the latter as well).

The course is divided into five sections, with each section devoted to one of the big questions listed above. At the end of each section of the course, we'll meet for a discussion day, in which the class will break into small groups. Part of each discussion day will be devoted to discussion of a film or TV episode which addresses the topic of that section of the course.

Readings for the course are very short; often they are only 1 or 2 paragraphs. You should do the readings before the lecture. Rather than spending a lot of time on readings before class, you should spend a lot of time thinking about the material after lecture.

After each lecture, one or more questions will be added to a web page on which you'll record your developing philosophical views over the course of the semester. You should update this "My Philosophy" page after every class meeting.


All readings will be made available in PDF form via links from the syllabus.


Students will write three papers. There will also be a midterm and final exam.


Your grade will be determined as follows: To pass the class, students need to complete every assignment. Late papers will be penalized three points per day.

Participation in the class will be evaluated in three main ways: (1) participation in discussion days, (2) participation in lecture, including in-class polls, and (3) participation in the Slack channel for your discussion group.

Notre Dame has no official way of indexing numerical grades to letter grades. This is the system that will be used in this course:

A 94+ B- 80-82 D 60-69
A- 90-93 C+ 77-79 F 59-
B+ 87-89 C 73-76
B 83-86 C- 70-72


1/14 What is philosophy? [pdf]
Does God exist?
1/16 The first cause argument [pdf] Aquinas, "The second way"
1/21 The cosmological argument [pdf] Leibniz, "On the ultimate origination of things"
1/23 The fine-tuning argument [pdf] Hawthorne & Isaacs, "Fine-tuning fine-tuning"
1/28 The argument from evil [pdf] Mackie, "Evil and omnipotence"
1/30 The free will defense [pdf] Excerpts from van Inwagen, Mackie, Swinburne, Adams, and Rowe
2/4 Evil and life after death [pdf] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
Sider, "Hell and vagueness"
2/6 Discussion day watch: White Christmas

2/13 First paper due

Are you free?
2/11 Freedom vs. determinism [pdf] Excerpts from van Inwagen, "The powers of rational beings" & Hume, Treatise on Human Nature
2/13 Free will vs. fate and foreknowledge [pdf] Excerpts from Aristotle's De Interpretatione, Edwards' Freedom of the Will, & Aquinas' Summa Theologica
Chiang, "What's expected of us"
2/18 Free will vs. neuroscience [pdf] A Frankfurt case
Libet, "Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity" (excerpt)
2/20 Discussion day watch: Hang the DJ

You, and time
2/25 Identity and survival [pdf] Excepts from Locke and Reid
2/27 Are there immaterial souls, and could you be one? [pdf] Descartes, Meditations (excerpt) and Correspondence between Elisabeth and Descartes
3/3 Psychological continuity, spectrum arguments, & uploading [pdf] Excerpts from Parfit, Reasons and Persons and Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
Chalmers, "The singularity" (optional)
3/5 Midterm exam
[extended spring break]
3/24 Fission and survival [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] Excerpts from Parfit, Reasons and Persons
3/26 Discussion day watch: San Junipero

3/31 Paper #2 due

What should you believe?
3/31 The rules of belief [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] Excerpts from Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy and Moore's "Proof of an external world"
4/2 Does good belief require evidence? [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] none
4/7 Should you believe the findings of science? How should you respond when people disagree with you? [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] none
4/9 Discussion day watch: Inception

[Easter break]
How should you live?
4/14 Is morality real? Is it relative? [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] Ayer, "Language, truth, and logic" (excerpt)
Benedict, "Anthropology and the abnormal" (excerpt)
4/16 Do the ends justify the means? [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] Excerpts from Mill, Nozick, Rawls, Thomson
4/21 What makes a good life? [pdf] [video lecture] [Q&A] Parfit, "What makes a life go best?"
4/23 Discussion day watch: Nosedive
4/28 Concluding lecture none

4/29 Paper #3 due

5/5 Final paper (in place of scheduled final exam)

Contact information

You should feel free to get in touch with me or your designated teaching assistant if you have any questions about the course, or about how you're doing in the course, or if you just want to pursue some of the topics we're discussing further. You can always get in touch with me by email, and this often the easiest route if you just have a quick question about the readings or assignments. You can book a time to meet with me here. If none of the listed times work for you, just let me know.

Teaching assistants

There are two teaching assistants for the class, who do the grading for the course, hold office hours, and are in general available outside of class to help you with the material. While there are no discussion sections for the course, each student is assigned to a TA. (I'll distribute these assignments in the second week of class.)

Abigail Holmes
office hours: Wednesday 2-3 and Thursday 11-12, in the 1st floor alcove of Malloy Hall
Chelsie Greenlee
office hours: Monday and Tuesday, 3:30-4:30, in the Philosophy Library (Malloy 117)

Honor code

In all of their assignments, students are responsible for compliance with the University's honor code, information about which is available here. You should acquaint yourself with the policies and penalties described there.

Sometimes, it can be hard to know what, exactly, the honor code implies with respect to different disciplines. For this reason, the philosophy department has prepared a document explaining, using examples, what the honor code requires of students when writing a philosophy paper. I strongly recommend that you read this document, which is available here. It is possible to violate the honor code without intending to do so; the best way to avoid this is to carefully read through the philosophy department's guidelines.

The most common type of honor code violation occurs when a student reads an internet source while working on a paper and — either intentionally or unintentionally — uses material from that source in his or her paper, but does not cite the source. If you read something not assigned in this course as part of your work on a paper, you must cite the source, whether or not you quote anything from that source.

If you are in doubt about what the honor code requires of you in a particular case, please ask me or your TA.