Philosophy 10106: Introduction to metaphysics & epistemology


Tuesday & Thursday, 11:00-12:15 in the Carey Auditorium on the 1st floor of Hesburgh Library


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 students learning how to formulate, defend, and respond to objections to their 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.


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.

Class participation is the single biggest component of your grade. Participation in the class will be evaluated in three main ways: (1) participation in discussion days, (2) participation in Slack discussions in lecture, including in-class polls, and (3) participation in the Slack channel for your discussion group. Every student should contribute at least one thought or question in between each class.

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


8/27 Introduction to the course [pdf]
Does God exist?
8/29 The first cause argument [pdf] Aquinas, "The second way"
9/3 The cosmological argument [pdf] Leibniz, "On the ultimate origination of things"
9/5 [class canceled]
9/10 & 9/12 The fine-tuning argument [pdf] White, "The argument from cosmological fine-tuning"
9/17 The argument from evil [pdf] Mackie, "Evil and omnipotence"
9/19 The free will defense [pdf] van Inwagen, "The free will defense"
9/24 Discussion day watch: A Serious Man

10/1 Paper #1 due

Are you free?
9/26 Freedom vs. determinism [pdf] van Inwagen, "The powers of rational beings" (excerpt)
10/1 Free will vs. fate and foreknowledge [pdf] Edwards, Freedom of the Will (excerpt)
Taylor, "Fate" (excerpt)
Chiang, "What's expected of us"
10/3 Freedom vs. neuroscience [pdf] Libet, "Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity" (excerpt)
10/8 Discussion day watch: Hang the DJ

You, and time
10/10 Are you a material thing? [pdf] van Inwagen, "Dualism and personal identity"
Jackson, "What Mary didn't know"
10/15 Are you a psychological thing? [pdf] Locke, "Of identity and diversity"
Parfit, Reasons and Persons (selection)
10/17 Midterm exam
[fall break]
10/29 Are you an immaterial thing? [pdf] Descartes, Meditations (excerpt)
Correspondence between Elisabeth and Descartes
Parfit, Reasons and Persons (selection)
10/31 Is there life after death? [pdf] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura (excerpt)
Plato, Phaedo (excerpt)
Sider, "Hell and vagueness" (excerpt)
11/5 You and artificial intelligence [pdf] Chalmers, "The singularity" (selection)
11/7 Discussion day watch: San Junipero

11/12 Paper #2 due

What should you believe?
11/12 The rules of belief [pdf] Descartes, Meditation I
Moore, "Proof of an external world"
11/14 Does good belief require arguments? How should I respond when people disagree with me? [pdf] Plantinga, "Is belief in God properly basic?"
11/19 Should you believe what will make you happy? [pdf] James, "The will to believe" (excerpt) Pascal, Pensees (excerpt)
11/21 Discussion day watch: Inception

How should you live?
11/26 Is morality real? Is it relative? [pdf] Ayer, "Language, truth, and logic" (excerpt)
Benedict, "Anthropology and the abnormal" (excerpt)
11/28 Thanksgiving
12/3 Do the ends justify the means? [pdf] Mill, Utilitarianism (excerpt)
Nozick, "The experience machine" (excerpt)
Rawls, A Theory of Justice (excerpt)
Thomson, "Killing, letting die, and the trolley problem"
12/5 What makes a good life? [pdf] Parfit, "What makes a life go best?"
12/10 Discussion day watch: Nosedive
12/12 Concluding lecture none

12/13 Paper #3 due

Final exam
Official exam time: Friday, December 20, 10:30-12:30 in the Carey Auditorium
Alternate exam time: Friday, December 13, at 11:00-1:00 in 118 Nieuwland Science Hall

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 three 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: Wednesdays 11-12 & Thursdays 12:30-1:30 in the 1st floor alcove in Malloy Hall
Benjie Kilcran
office hours: Wednesdays 12-1 & Thursdays 3-4 in the 1st floor alcove in Malloy Hall
Oliver Traldi
office hours: Mondays 2:00-3:00 & Tuesdays 3:30-4:30 in the 1st floor alcove in Malloy Hall

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.