Philosophy 10106: Introduction to metaphysics & epistemology


Tuesday & Thursday, 12:30-1:45 in 102 DeBartolo


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. They are all available via links from the syllabus. 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.


There will be three paper assignments; students must complete two. In place of a midterm and final exam, students will hand in their work to date on their 'My Philosophy' page. You can think of these as take home exams that you will be working on over the course of the semester.


Your grade will be determined as follows: Students may, if they choose, write all three papers. In that case, their two highest grades will count. Unexcused late assignments will be penalized three points per day, including weekends.

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

8/24 What is philosophy?
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]

Does God exist?
8/26 The first cause argument
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
8/31 The cosmological argument
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/2 The fine-tuning argument
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/7 The argument from evil
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/9 [class canceled]
9/14 The free will defense
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/16 Evil and life after death
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/21 Discussion day
[watch: White Christmas]

9/28 First paper due

Are you free?
9/23 Free will vs. fate & foreknowledge
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/28 Free will vs. determinism
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
9/30 Free will vs. science
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
10/5 Discussion day 
[watch: Hang the DJ]

10/7 Midterm exam due
[My Philosophy guide and rubric] [How to hand in your midterm exam]

You, and time
10/12 Identity and survival
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
10/14 Consciousness and immaterial souls
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
10/26 Puzzles of survival
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
10/28 Life after death and technological immortality
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
11/2 Discussion day
[watch: San Junipero]

11/9 Second paper due

What should you believe?
11/4 Should I believe without certainty?
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
11/9 Should I believe science?
[lecture] [pdf]
11/11 Should I believe without evidence?
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
11/16 Discussion day
[watch: Inception]

How should you live?
11/18 Is morality real? Is it relative?
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
11/23 Right and wrong, good and bad
[reading] [lecture] [pdf]
11/30 What is justice?
[lecture] [pdf]
12/2 Discussion day
[watch: Nosedive]
12/7 Concluding lecture

12/10 Third paper due

12/13 Final exam due
[My Philosophy guide and rubric] [How to hand in your 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 and we will figure out a time that does work.

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. Contact information for your TA will be pinned to the top of the channel for your discussion group on Slack.

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.