Metaphysics - A Contemporary Introduction by Loux, Crisp

 This is a self study section on Metaphysics where I'm studying from the book: Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction by Loux, Crisp

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The book starts out trying to explain what is metaphysics. Illustrated is how difficult it is. There's the older philosophers like Aristotle that viewed it as being qua being, where everything is categorized. More modern philosophers expanded this into more topics like free will.

Book completed May 2 2020

Chapter 1 The Problem of Universals I: Metaphysical Realism

Realists claim that where objects are similar or agree in attribute, there is some one thing that they share or have in common. Nominalists deny this. Realists call these shared entities universals.

Universals - are entities that can be simultaneously exemplified by several different objects. And they claim that universals encompass the properties things possess, the relations into which they enter, and the kinds to which they belong.

Realism and Nominalism

We can categorize things in a variety of ways; color, shape (square, round), kind (elephant, tree). This is an important part of our experience. We group things. Most concede that we classify objects that reflect our interest, goals and values. Plato said that things instantiate, exhibit, or exemplify a single property, quality or attribute. This schema has been known as metaphysical realism. Those that are critics are nominalists.

Nominalists argue that there are deep conceptual problems with the metaphysical machinery implied by the Platonic Schema.

The debate between realists and nominalists is one of the oldest debates in metaphysics.

The Ontology of Metaphysical Realism

Metaphysical realists insist that attribute agreement presupposes a distinction between types of categories/objects: particulars & universals.

Particulars - a regular person would refer to this as "things" - familiar concrete objects like human beings, animals, plants, inanimate material bodies, etc.

A particular occupies a single space at a given time.

Universals - Contrasting particulars, repeatable entities. At any given time numerically one and the same universals can be exhibited. For example, people with the same virtue, cars with the same shape, houses with the same color.

There are more than one type of universal.

Monadic Universals - they are universals that exemplify individually or one by one. All the examples above apply to this. There are also relation universals, like being a mile apart or being next to.

These examples are symmetrical relations because they go both ways. Ie: A is related to B, so B shares the same relationship to A.

Asymmetrical is a relationship in a certain order. Ie: A being the father of B, doesn't mean B is the father of A. This example is a dyadic relation or two place, but there is many chains to the n-place relation. These are known as polyadic universals.

Relations are polyadic universals, but colors, virtues, and shapes are all monadic.

Aristotelian can be broken down further to kinds and properties.

Kinds - are things like the various biological species and genera.

Properties - objects exemplify properties.

A simple summation is objects exemplify properties by possessing them, things exemplify kinds by belonging to them. Kinds constitute particulars that exemplify them as what they are, properties merely characterize particulars. This viewpoint in practice becomes quite complex. A cat and a dog can be kind mammal, but two dogs are closer related than that of the dog and cat. Then there are relationship universals that each one brings more universals to each, becoming a never ending chain.

Despite this complexity, realists insist this helps with explaining a wide range of phenomena.

Realism and Predication

The most basic form of discourse is the subject-predicate sentence.

  1. Socrates is courageous,
  2. Plato is a human being,
  3. Socrates is the teacher of Plato.

Essentially we have a particular and we say something about it. If (1) is true, it depends on what (1) says as a composition and that it is relevant to the world. So a linguistic and a nonlinguistic structure.

Predicates express or connote properties, kinds, and relations; and where we have a true subject-predicate sentence, the universal expressed by the predicate is exemplified by the referent of the sentence's subject term. A realist views that Socrates is courageous is also the same as Socrates exemplifies courageousness or better put a exemplifies F-ness.

Realism and Abstract Reference

The most obvious appearance for this is in abstract singular terms, which are expressions like triangular, wisdom, mankind and courage. They are all singular terms, but they also pair with expressions that can play the predicate role (general terms) - triangularity/triangular, wisdom/wise, mankind/man, courage/courageous, and red(noun)/red(adjective). The moral realist insists that the pairs are related in a distinct way: abstract singular term are for picking out a certain property/kind and the general term appears to be an expression of objects that exemplify that property/kind.

Realists insist that the abstract singular term is referring to the universal as they're functioning as referential roles.

Triangularity is a shape - triangularity is the kind, but the universal is triangle.

Restrictions on Realism - Exemplification

A view among realists is that you can't have a completely unrestricted view of the subject-predicate sentence discussed above. This type of unrestricted view causes problems. There is a paradox with a particular example. Let's say does not exemplify itself. For A to not exemplify itself is exemplifying this. The point being that there shouldn't be an unrestricted/unlimited choices when it comes to universals precisely because of this paradox.

Another issue is with a regress of explaining subject-predicate truth.

(1) a is F, how is this explained? Well (2) a exemplifies F-ness. The problem here is that the answer to (1) is (2), but (2) is another subject-predicate. How do we explain (2)? Well, (3) a exemplifies the exemplification of F-ness - another subject-predicate. This is a regress that goes on infinitely because (1) is validated by (2), but for (2) to be validated, (3) needs to be validated and on and on.

Realists have argued that relations bind objects together only by the link of exemplification. Exemplification links objects into relational facts without any further links.

Further Restrictions - Defined and Undefined Predicates

Another issue that comes up is the predicate of "bachelor". What universal would this be? Being a bachelor. The problem is that this universal is a property of being a male, human and unmarried. Wouldn't there be no need for such the universal of bachelor as it can be broken down into three universals? This led to some realists calling for restrictions on predication.

This is where the distinction between undefined and defined predicates emerged. Simply put, thee are predicates that are not defined in terms of other predicates - also known as primitive predicates (undefined). Defined predicates can be explained by reference to the universals correlated with the primitive predicates which they are defined.

This is a good explanation, but it brings problems. The central one is the difficulty in neatly dividing primitive and defined.

The predicate "game" illustrates this point. What does game break down into? Competition, but some games are literally throwing a ball against a wall by oneself. Sport, but are card games, or board games sports?

Are There Any Unexemplified Attributes?

This particular section has a pretty good discussion regarding the differences between Aristotle and Plato's view of exemplifying.

The Platonist view is that there are properties, kinds and relations that are not exemplified - never have and never will. The Aristotelian view is one that universals are ones that we can perceive being exemplified in spatiotemporal objects (existing in space and time).

The Platonist's are embracing "two worlds" ontology where universals are independent of the concrete world of space and time. They arrive at this view as universals are things that presuppose the exemplification. One must know of the universal square prior to seeing an object exemplify squareness.

Chapter 2 The Problem of Universals II: Nominalism

A nominalist denies that there are universals and the big motivator for this is the view that belief of our metaphysics should be based on the simplicity of theory. The idea is that if you have two theories that have the same explanatory power, the one that has fewer irreducibly distinct kinds of things is preferable.

The Motivation for Nominalism

Nominalists deny there are universals, but why? There isn't a single answer ,but here are a few:

  1. Multiple exemplifications: The view is incoherent that different particulars can exemplify one and the same universals as others.
  2. It is impossible to provide a noncircular account of the identity conditions for things like properties, kinds and relations.
  3. Realism is regressive: Realists find themselves in an infinite regress by explaining attribute agreements by properties, kinds and relations.

A lot of this critique is based on the notion that universals occupy space. Bertrand Russell denies that universals have any location at all. Being north of is no spatial location for being north of.

Austere Nominalism

The theory that only concrete particulars exist. For example, individual persons, individual plants, individual animals, etc. There are varying degrees of philosophers with this austere version. There are very scientific ones that is of an eliminativist stripe that holds only things proven by physics exist.

So how is something like yellow explained? Well since some objects are yellow and there are no facts to explain that. They just are. Essentially, what makes a is F true is that a is F.

Also with dealing with realist sentences like:

​ (1) Red is a color

Is replaced by

​ (1a) Red objects are colored red.

Metalinguistic Nominalism

This version of nominalism believes it can have the simplicity of austere nominalism ontology and the explanatory simplicity of realism. They agree with the austere nominalist that there are only particulars, but reject the analysis of abstract reference.

The only real difference between austere and the metalinguist is the idea that it's a matter of language claims rather than the nonlinguistic objects language is about. Wildred Sellar came up with a system for translating realist sentences into something that fits metalinguistic.

Trope Theory

Unlike the last two theories, this theory holds that in addition to concrete particulars, there are such things as attributes, but deny they are multiply exemplifiable entities. Essentially things like colors are particulars. So a ball can be red, but it is a red nothing else can have. Same thing with the shape of the ball.


A more radical claim is that sentences that reference existence of universals are false.

The ball is red is false.

Unlike the austere nominalist who will translate a sentence, the fictionalist will not. This particular form of nominalism has grown in popularity recently.

Chapter 3 Concrete Particulars I: Substrata, Bundles, and Substances

There is a view among philosophers that concrete particulars are wholes that are made up of metaphysically more fundamental constituents. From this there have been two main competing theories: substratum theory and bundle theory.

Substratum Theory

Concrete particulars is a whole made up of various properties associated with the particular together with an underlying subject or substratum that has an identity independent of the properties - a bar substrata. This view is a big odd because the properties that make up a concrete particular are the ones exemplifying the property and not the particular. So a red ball is not red. The property of red is exemplifying red, the ball itself isn't. And this also applies to it being circular. Each attribute is its own subject.

One of the main critiques of substratum theory is the notion of bare substrata, which is a thing that has no characteristics and merely a tool for explaining numerical entities.

Bundle Theory

There is no underlying substrata. Ordinary particulars are constituted exclusively by the properties associated with them. They are just bundles or clusters. An objection to this by realists is the view that objects can change, but if an object is merely a bundle of attributes - this would mean a change is a completely new particular. Another objection is the notion of subject-predicate discourse. When we produce a sentence like this the ball is red we are referring to an object and not merely a bundle of attributes.


There is another theory that differs from that of the previous two that Aristotle came up with. Substratum and bundle theory have their problems and objections. Aristotle referred to things like plants, animals, and persons as fundamental entities that cannot be reduced to more basic entities. This particular view denies the constructivist approach of concrete particulars having underlying pieces - both of which substrata and bundles are.

Substance theory includes the use of kinds. These are universals, but ones that a concrete particular belongs. The concrete particular Socrates belongs to the kind human being. A big benefit of this is that there can be a near endless list of attributes that make up an individual human, but with the kind human being one doesn't have to have an endless list of attributes - and still know one is a kind human being. It also deals with the numerical aspect of concrete particulars.

Chapter 4 Propositions and Their Neighbors


Philosophers of the realist persuasion have claimed that propositions are also abstract entities. They describe propositions as language-independent and mind-independent abstract entities that function as the objects of acts of assertion/denial and acts of thinking. They are also the referents of that-clauses and they are the primary bearers of truth values.

Those skeptical to this notion claim that we can accommodate all the phenomena of interest without introducing propositions into our ontology.

Some other entities realists state are facts, states of affairs and events.

The Traditional Theory of Propositions

Take the following statement,

(1) Socrates is courageous.

We have looked at this sentence before with a simple look at a subject, Socrates, and some another universal - the property of courage. But a realist will insist that our speaker is doing more than just uttering some words, but they're performing a referring act. Realists believe that this act of assertion deny that this is some sort of sentence or refers to the objects.

When it comes to an asserting, there must be a required speaker to be identified,

(2) Chris asserts that Socrates is courageous.

With the changed sentence we've identified the speaker with a that-clause. This concept also applies to thoughts as well.

(3) Hillary doubts Bill Clinton will be reelected.

The odd aspect of this whole argument by realists is that they have stated that these propositions are language-independent and mind-independent abstract entities. This means that one doesn't have to think or assert these propositions for them to exist.

Whether there is a proposition has been said or thought, it exists forever and is available to a person to say or think.

These propositional attitudes are bearers of truth values, necessarily or essentially. A proposition like two plus two equals four is necessarily true because it fails to ever be false. Another proposition such as a triangle has four sides is necessarily false because it is impossible to be true. Other propositions such as Trump is President is contingently true because they are true, but as a proposition they could be false. There will be a time when Trump isn't President and the proposition will no longer be true. The same holds for Trump is the President of France is contingently false because it is false, but there is a possibility it may be true.

Nominalism about Propositions

Nominalists have a lot of the same critiques that were discussed in early chapters, such as the bloated ontology and this "two-world" ontology where you have things that aren't really physical. It's no surprise that the idea of a proposition as an entity is not something a nominalist likes.

The big critique is the notion that these propositions are merely are merely metalinguistic claims, which are claims about sentences. One argument is the idea of a sentence being used to express a truth and falsehood, that something other than the sentence itself is the primary truth vehicle. Take the sentence,

(4) I am going where you have just been.

In some contexts this will be truth and in others it will be false. Metalinguistic followers deny that this sentence can be any sort of truth vehicle.

Facts, States of Affairs, and Events

Metaphysicians that defend the proposition ontology will often claim there are entities like facts, states of affairs, and events.

Facts: are the things in the world that make true propositions true.

States of Affairs: are things like Big Ben's being the tallest structure at Westminster. They are situations, the sorts of things that have essentially or necessarily the property of obtaining or failing to obtain. Some states of affair obtain necessarily such as two plus two's equaling four. Others obtain contingently such as Bill Clinton being a slow runner. Other contingently fail, such as the Patriots winning the Superbowl.

Events: not everyone thinks that events is a separate ontological category from states of affairs, but Donald Davidson has a view. He believes that we need events to function as the terms of the causal relation and to provide an account of the behavior of adverbs in sentences like,

(5) The water boiled quickly in the kitchen this morning.


I'll admit that this was a harder chapter to summarize as notes for this page. As it isn't a big deal to read, but I always find this sort of linguistic based argument to be so convoluted and stupid. I enjoyed the epistemology book that I read, but I've found there is more linguistic elements involved in the discussion of metaphysics.

Chapter 5 The Necessary and Possible


There has been a debate by empiricists whether the notions of necessity and possibility even belong in an ontology. Others have tried to come up to the challenge of empiricists by developing modal logic.

Modal/Modality: Modal statements tell us something about what could be or must be the case.

Nothing can be rectangular and circular at the same time. (Necessary truth)

Bill Clinton left the house yesterday. (Possibly)

The heart of modal semantics is the idea of a plurality of possible worlds. They claim that this is a perfectly reasonable belief and that this helps in clarifying the concept of de dicto modality and also the notion of de re modality.

De dicto: the notion of necessity or possibility as ascribed by a proposition.

De re: the notion of a thing's exemplifying a property necessarily or contingently.

Two different versions of possible worlds have been adopted. Some view that possible worlds provides the materials for a reductive nominalism. This is David Lewis's approach and it requires us to accept that all possible worlds are as equally real and fully concrete entities.

Other philosophers follow a different approach illustrated by Alvin Platinga. The notion of a possible world is taken to be one element in a network of interrelated concepts including the notion of a property, a proposition, de dicto modality and de re modality. We cannot reduce the concepts to concepts outside the network, but we can clarify concepts in the network by showing their relationships to each other. This is a Platonistic view; the actual world is the maximally possible state of affairs.

Problems About Modality

Many philosophers believe there are serious issues with modal notions. Critics of modal notions tend to be empiricists and challenge that our appeal to these concepts cannot be traced back to our empirical experience of the world. They argue that experience never reveals what is necessarily the case or possibly the case, but only what is the case. The argument is simply since we don't experience anything in the world that is modal, that we shouldn't use modal notions. When it comes to notions of talking about the necessary or possible is merely based on language and not the nonlinguistic world. Putting it simple, that bachelors are unmarried is true only in the virtue of the meaning of the words bachelor and unmarried.

Possible Worlds

The concept of possible worlds has been something developed for dealing with modal logic. A possible worlds metaphysician would say criticism is a misplaced reaction. Even though the average person doesn't speak of possible worlds, there is a deep intuitive roots that exist in humans and the framework of possible worlds is traced back to prephilosophical beliefs we all share.

The way that they describe this is that we have all thought about the way things may have been otherwise. What may have been different if you failed that test or got a flat tire on the way to work. We have the capacity to think of a different world that went differently than the one we are living. The term 'possible worlds' is merely giving a name to this idea.

Possible Worlds Nominalism

There appears to be a connection between ascriptions of both de dicto and de re modality and talk about the way things might have been, talk about various possible worlds. How do we interpret this connection? Not all possible world metaphysicians answer this question the same way. There are two main views:

One group insists that the notions of possible worlds, of propositional necessity, possibility, and contingency, and of essence and accident are all components in a network of interconnected and mutually supporting concepts. The view is that it is impossible to understand any of these concepts by reference to concepts that are not a part of the network.

Another group claim to find in the framework the resources for carrying out the reductive project of a very austere nominalism.

The opposition of these two groups is a central theme in recent metaphysics.

Possible Worlds Nominalism - David Lewis

Lewis tells us that if we want to know what kinds of things possible worlds are, we don't need to do anything sophisticated, all we have to do is look at the actual world around us. His view is "more things of that sort, differing not in kind but only in what goes on at them." Lewis doesn't believe in the "actual world" as all the worlds are real, exist and are equally valid. His view of the actual world is just one of the total ways things might have been and it is nothing more than myself and all my surroundings.

Since we have all these possible worlds there could be the concrete objects of transworld individual. An individual that exists in more than one world, living their respected lives, pursuing several different goals. This is a difficult concept for people to grasp. Lewis agrees with this notion that presupposes the falsehood of the principle of Indiscernibility of Identicals. Simply put if you have a concrete object with the same properties that exist, that they have to be the same object. If world 1 individual pursues different goals than world 2 than the individual isn't the same.

In Lewis' view, each individual exists in just one possible world, there are only world-bound individuals. Lewis explains it as follows:

You are in the actual world and no other, but you have counterparts in several other worlds. Your counterparts resemble you closely in content and context in important respects. They resemble you more closely than do the other things in their worlds. But they are not really you. For each of them is in his own world, and only you are here in the actual world.

Actualism and Possible Worlds - Alvin Platinga

Many philosophers don't like Lewis' view of things as they view it more as a science fiction fantasy than anything real. Lewis' ontology is one we might call possiblism, he holds that possible, but nonactual objects. There are also actualists like Platinga. As he sees it, the only concept of existence we have is that of a thing that actually exists. So obviously the idea of all these worlds with real concrete objects occupying space and time is science fiction.

Platinga does have a view of possible worlds, so this might all seem very strange. His view is that since he has the resources for showing how the claim that there are possible worlds that are not actual is compatible with a strong version of actualism. Platinga believes in a Platonistic account of abstract entities. On the view, all properties are necessary beings; they all exist necessarily. They are not however, all exemplified, so properties can exist even though they may not be exemplified.


This wasn't a tough chapter to read, but the summation of information is a bit tough. The arguments presented are quite annoying and the possible world 'games' is a bit much. I find that people really go out of their way to correct some sort of issue in metaphysics by inventing even more strange ideas.

The possiblism presented by David Lewis seems quite stupid from the point of view of metaphysics and explaining existence. Actualism, as per the definition, seems more appropriate to me, but the actualism presented by Alvin Platinga seems like a similar version of stupid.

Chapter 6 Causation


Traditional metaphysicians have always viewed causation as a modal notion. They held that causes necessitate their effects. Hume, as an empiricist, attacked this idea because one cannot empirically observe these modal sequences. He argued that causation is constant conjunction or regularity of succession. Kant, a defender of the traditional approach, insists that causation is an a priori concept.

Hume's Account of Causation

There is a view in the modal approach that there is a power, energy or special force that is the cause. Hume holds that all our ideas are observable from experience itself. Causality is this case is observing the first billiard ball striking a second, causing it to move. Basically we get impressions of temporal succession and spatial contiguity. We see one event succeeding another in a narrowly circumscribed region of space; not power, energy or necessitation.

The same thing applies to thoughts. We have a mental event that is followed by a physical event. I'm tired, but I remembered I need to do the dishes, so I get up and do them.

The Response to Hume

One type of critique is that Hume's approach is too broad. Critics point out that there are noncausal patterns that regularly follow by events of another kind. A few simple example is,

The day is followed by the night.

A plant in London blows at a whistle at 9am for the start of the work day. Immediately after the whistle, workers in another plant in Manchester start work.

These examples show that the regularity of these events fit Hume's approach, but these aren't causal events. The night isn't caused by the day. The plant in Manchester doesn't start work at 9am because of a whistle going off at 9am in London, they just start the day at that time.

A second critique, is that there are difficulties for the regularity theory since it is presented by singular causal judgments (first ball strikes the second causing it to move). The problem here is that we have to say some individual episode causes some individual episode. There are many examples where there are many moving parts that don't make it easy to identify any sort of causal event. For example, the assassination of Ferdinand caused the First World War, but it is unlikely that one is going to identify this with Hume's approach.

The big shot that Human makes at the traditional metaphysicians is that power, energy and necessitation are not observable. Those sympathetic with the traditional approach will concede this point. Kant, for example, views that these things are just a priori or just innate/intuition.

Neo-Humean Approaches

The more popular approach is with Hume versus modal. These people do believe in the Hume approach, but believe that they need to supplement the analysis to fortify it against counter examples.

If one believes in the regularity approach they due owe a reply to the objections in the previous section. Neo-Humean's view the second objection as the least serious. They view that our judgment is an assimilation of the case before us to some familiar pattern where we already have the regularity. For example, Ferdinand is assassinated and that leads to military tensions between two countries. This leads to other players picking sides, etc.

The other difficulty presented is seeing regularity of events that are not causal. John Stewart Mill tried to remedy by saying that causal regularity if unconditional; it holds no matter what - it does not hinge on conditions that need not obtain. In the case of the day/night case, fails this test because Mill claims that the sun could extinguish or the earth could cease rotating in the appropriate way.

Another strategy that has originated was proposed by the Logical Positivists. There view is what distinguishes a genuinely causal succession of events from merely accidental correlation is that the former has a status of a law of nature or is derivable from something that has that status.

Another approach is the notions of necessary condition and sufficient condition. J.L. Mackie is the most influential of this approach. Mackie thinks there is a background context that he calls a causal field. It's basically the context in which we take our cause to operate. An example will help illustrate this better.

There is a house fire and the fire investigator determines that the cause of the fire is an electrical short circuit.

Mackie claims that we aren't being told that the necessary condition of the house fire; they know there are a variety of factors that resulted in the house catching fire at the time it did. Nor is the electrical short circuit necessary to start the fire. There were other factors such as the flammable rags near by and the sprinklers being defective. The cause of the fire is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition. It is an indispensable component in a large bundle of factors - which were all present.

Mackie refers to this as INUS conditions, which are the first letters from the following sentence: What experts are calling the cause, then, is an insufficient, but necessary component in a bundle of factors that was unnecessary, but sufficient for the occurrence of the fire.

David Lewis also has a counter factual approach, where he views it as such: if c were not to occur, e would not occur. This fits into his possible worlds approach.

Chapter 7 The Nature of Time


The starting point of the most recent metaphysics on time can be shown by arguments by McTaggart. He viewed that events and times can be order in two ways:

B-Series: the ordering of events and times into tenseless relations of being earlier than and later than.

A-Series: the ordering of events and in terms of the tensed properties of past, present and future.

McTaggart also viewed that B-series presupposes (or is built off of more fundamentally) A-series. His argument is that A-series is a contradiction and since B-series presupposes A-series he concludes that time is unreal.

McTaggart's Argument

There has been some scholarly debate about the interpretation of McTaggart's argument, but here are the main themes without getting into the debate.

From B-series we have events e1 and e2, either e1 is earlier than e2, e1 is later than e2, or e1 is neither earlier than nor later than - but simultaneous with e2. An event or time has an unchanging position in this series. e1 being earlier than e2 will always be true and hold that relationship. It's static and unchanging.

The A-series is a series that takes us from the distant future through the present and into the remote past. This series differs from B-series because it isn't unchanging/static, it is dynamic. Events and times change. Events move from the future, into the present and finally ending up in the past.

As mentioned earlier, McTaggart has two particular arguments (1) that B-series presupposes A-series and (2) A-series is a contradiction.

(1) Why does McTaggart think that B-series presupposes A-series? His claim is that the items making up the B-series constitute that temporal framework only in virtue of being subject to the various A-determinations (past, present and future)

(2) McTaggart argues that the properties of past, present and future are incompatible with each other. An event in the future is not present nor past, an event in the present is not future nor past, and an event in the past is not future nor past. With this reasoning he sees how events travel through future, present and past - therefore a contradiction.

Since A-series is a contradiction and B-series presupposes A-series, therefore time is unreal.

The B-Theory

Metaphysicians that view B-Theory as correct have two main responses to McTaggart's argument. (1) that McTaggart fails to show that B-series presupposes A-series and (2) he fails to show that that the idea of events and times are subject to attributions of the various A-properties.

(1) B-theorists view the theory just like McTaggart's argument of B-series. They see time as eternally fixed framework structured by the tenseless relations of being earlier than, later than and simultaneous with. In this view, time is a dimension along with the three spatial dimensions. B-theorists hold that all the spatial locations and their contents, the various temporal locations or times and the things they contain have the same ontological status. All times and their contents are equally real.

McTaggart's main argument against this view is that if these events are real and unchanging for all time, it is impossible for something to gain a property or cease to have it - it always has it. B-theorists respond by saying this by saying that this is confusing time-indexed properties at a time t and the non-time-indexed property of just existing.

(2) If we take the following sentence, it snowed yesterday, we have a tense. B-theorists believe that such sentences can be captured in the tenseless by changing it to something like, it snows on December 24 2012. Another example is, it is snowing now, vs, it is snowing simultaneously to this utterance.

The A-Theory

The big rebuttal from A-theorists is that time isn't some fixed and permanent framework in which every time, event and thing has an unchanging or equally real position. A-theorists also disagree with the B-theorists rewriting of the sentences in the above (2) because the first sentence doesn't exactly mean the same thing as the second.

There is another view among A-theorists that it isn't the events and things that move from future, to present, to past. It is the present that moves along a road of events.

There are various views that come out of the A-Theory such as there being no such things that make up the future events and others that think the past has no more events. The only thing really living is the present.

The New B-Theory

The new B-theorists agree with the defenders of the old tenseless theory. They deny that tensed language can be translated into tenseless language. They reject the idea that the A-theorist's claim that the ineliminability of tensed language shows that time itself is tensed.

Chapter 8 Concrete Particulars II: Persistence Through Time


When it comes to concrete particulars and how they persist through time, there are two different accounts: endurantism and perdurantism.

Endurantism: for a concrete particular to exist through time is for it to exist completely at different times.

Perdurantism: it is impossible for the same concrete particular to exist at different times - a concrete particular is made up of different temporal parts.

Two Theories of Persistence - Endurantism and Perdurantism

In the first section on concrete particulars (chapter 3), it was just assumed that concrete particulars are entities with temporally bounded careers. They come into existence at some point, they pass out of existence at a later time, and they exist at all the times in between. This is the general everyday view most people would agree with.

The endurantists believe that concrete particulars exist whole and completely at each of several different times. The NoLasagna of yesterday and NoLasagna of today are the same particular. The perdurantists believe in temporal properties, therefore the Nolasagna of yesterday and NoLasagna of today are not the same thing. The endurantist doesn't believe in these temporal parts. They simply believe in a simply three dimensions.

We have concrete particulars that exist in the three spatial dimensions and the only things that count as the concrete particular is the parts that make up that spatial area; such as hands, legs, etc. I exist wholly and completely at a time and persistence through time is merely existing at different times. Perdurantists view concrete particulars as four dimensional beings. In addition to the spatial dimensions there is also a temporal extension - concrete particulars take up time as well as space.

Persistence and the Nature of Time

How do these theories of persistence relate to the discussed views on the nature of time?

B-Theory really meshes quite well and naturally with persistence. Some claim that endurantism also works with B-theory, but this requires some definitional changes. In B-theory, it is viewed that the world is four dimensional and view that all times and their contents are equally real. And the view is that concrete particulars are like a spacetime worm. There are other people that view A-theory as something that is also compatible with perdurantism.

The Ontology of Perdurantism

So this is going to get a little wild with views. When it comes to temporal properties that can be divided up, such as NoLasagna of yesterday and NoLasagna of today - it is viewed that these divisions are arbitrary in how the pieces are divided up and analyzed. This is similar to earlier views that we have a concrete particular of 'man' that it is made up of arms, legs, etc, but these divisions are arbitrary since you could have finger nails, skin, or atoms and molecules.

When it comes to this view we can see how far the cuts can go with times. We can claim there is a thing 'blah1', that is Jim Carrey in July 12 1992, the Sears Tower bottom half on May 5th 1968 and other things that most of us would associate with unrelated.

Essentially we are talking about gerrymandering of both spatial and temporal slices of matter.

An Argument for Perdurantism - Change in Properties

A big argument against endurantism is that it doesn't account for change. Take my car. Brand new it is in good shape, it works well and running optimally. When it hits 10 years old, it has some different parts, there is some rust and it doesn't seem to run the same as it used to. Endurantists contend that concrete particulars exist wholly and completely through time, but the car has changed.

Perdurantists contend that this is a violation of Identity of Identical. If the properties are different, they can't be the same thing. Since perdurantism has temporal properties, it accounts for the changes that occur, without actually violating this principle.

A Second Argument for Perdurantism - Change in Parts

Another view can be summed up in an example of someone, NoLasagna, losing a hand. Let's say I lose my hand at time t. t+ is time after t, and t- is time before t.

Perdurantists claim that endurantists will hold the following:

​ (1) NoLasagna t- is numerically identical with NoLasagna t+.

Let's make another part, the NoLasagna part that is everything except my hand as NoLasagna-Minus.

​ (2) NoLasagna-Minus t+ is numerically identical with NoLasagna-Minus t-.

​ (3) NoLasagna t+ is numerically identical with NoLasagna-Minus t+ is true.

The view here is that endurantists have to agree with (1), (2) and (3).

​ (4) NoLasagna t- is numerically identical with NoLasagna-Minus t-.

The argument is that (4) is obviously false that NoLasagna with a hand isn't the same as NoLasagna without a hand, but if you agree with (1), (2) and (3) you must be committed to (4). Endurantists reject that they agree with all the truths listed. One of these arguments is mereological essentialism, where they deny that objects remain identical through a change in their parts. Another argument is from Chisholm who has views on something that is 'strict and philosophical' and something more casual 'loose and popular' - so when we speak of NoLasagna we are not merely speaking of all these parts that make up this human, but an essence of what he is.

Chapter 9 Concrete Particulars III: Parts and Wholes


There is a common sense view that there are such things as planets, rocks, tables, organisms, etc - all of them wholes or aggregates made up of parts. This belief in aggregates creates metaphysical puzzles. One of the more discussed puzzles is Peter Unger's Problem of the Many.

Basically the Problem of the Many can be illustrated as such: You have a cloud in the sky made up of an aggregate of many water particles. Consider a larger aggregate of all these water particles plus some water particle floating nearby. Is this latter aggregate itself a cloud? It would be strange to not think it so since it is extremely similar to the former aggregate, just a smaller aggregate, equally well deserving of the label cloud. The right thing to think here is that the cloud in the sky isn't just a cloud, but many overlapping clouds. This doesn't seem implausible for a cloud, but what about a cat - which is also a cloud of microparticles. Is a cat just many overlapping cats?

The Problem of the Many

Looking at the cloud example again, from a far we get a clearly defined line between cloud and not cloud, but when looking up close the boundary is not so sharp. At the edges the density of water particles fades gradually. The question becomes whether we should count these fainter or less defined cater particles.

Why is particle A on the edge any less deserving than particle B to be cloud since they're very similar. Each seems to be proper for fitting the label of cloud. So in this case we end up with many clouds, hence the problem of the many. Some may say the example of clouds is too easy, but the problem crops up with everything because things are really clouds of microparticles, even organisms.

Summing it up in a formula:

​ (1) There is a cat on the mat, Tibbles, an aggregate of many, many tiny particles.

​ (2) There is no more than one cat on the mat.

Tibbles is an aggregate of Tibbles and all the borderline parts of Tibbles, p1, p2,…pn. We can think of Tibbles as the aggregate of Tibbles plus all the borderline parts except p1, and Tibbles plus all the borderline parts except p2, etc. If we take it as c1 is Tibbles plus all the borderlines except p1, c2 everything except p2, etc we assume then;

​ (3) There are such things as c1, c2,…

Next, we assume that c1, c2, etc are cats as Tibbles is very similar to c1, c2,…

​ (4) Each of c1, c2,… is a cat.

Finally, we assume cats c1, c2 are not the same cat. Why are they different? Because c1, has different parts than c2, c3, etc. Remember c1 is the aggregate of Tibbles plus the borderline parts except p1.

​ (5) For each of c1, c2,…, it is not the same cat as any other c1, c2,….

Mereological Nihilism

The mereological nihilist believes there are no aggregates, no wholes with parts. The material world is composed entirely of simples: objects with no parts. There is no planets, rocks, tables , chairs nor organisms.

Even though there are strong evidence of planets, rocks, tables, etc, they just appear planet-wise, rock-wise, table-wise, etc. We can't determine if there is something even higher up, a further object that these arrangements make up.

The appeal to this view is that by not believing in things like planets, rocks, tables, etc allows you to avoid all these metaphysical puzzles.

Mereological Moderatism

Peter van Inwagen came up with a question known as the Special Composition Question: What are the conditions under which several things compose a whole made up of those things?

Van Inwagen coined the term nihilism for the answer of no conditions. He viewed that we have a spectrum with nihilism at one end. The other end can be summed up like this: the condition under which several things compose a larger thing is just that several things exist. If nihilism is when there no conditions then when there are always conditions you have universalism. So if we have somethings that are a, b, c, they are just an aggregate of something.

Moderatism suggests there are conditions where composition occur and other conditions where it doesn't. Moderatism can be broken down into parts:

Principled Moderatism

Offers a simple, nontrivial statement of the conditions under which composition occurs. How? Several things a,b,c,… compose something x if and only if x is an aggregate of a,b,c,….

Brutal Moderatism

There are circumstances under which several things compose something, circumstances under which several things don't compose anything, and there is a simple, nontrivial description of what makes the difference between these circumstances.

It is a brute fact that arranging matter Tibbles-wise makes for composition of a cat and it's a brute fact that arranging matter c1-wise, c2-wise, etc does not make the composition of a cat.

Vague Moderatism

There are conditions which composition happens and conditions under which it does not, but there are also conditions in which it is neither definitely true nor definitely false.

Arranging matter Tibbles-wise makes for composition of a cat, but arranging matter c1-wise, c2-wise, etc is not definitely a cat - something along the lines of a probability of being a cat.

Mereological Universalism

Universalism is the view that if there are things a,b,c,… they compose other things; so there are things like planets, rocks, tables, etc. The problem with this account is that you also have things like table-rocks (spatially scattered wholes composed of tables and spatially distant rocks). The view is that there are more material objects than can be dreamed of by the commonsense opinion.

Constitution Metaphysics

The idea is to distinguish between the masses of feline flesh which are c1, c2, and so forth, and the cat, Tibbles, they constitute. C1, c2, etc aren't cats, but cat-constituting masses of feline.


This is the idea that c1, c2,… aren't in fact many cats. This idea came from Hud Hudson. He pointed out that philosophers typically treat the parthood relation as either a two-place relation of a part to whole. For example, the tire is a part of the car. Or a three-place relation of part to whole and time, the tire is a part of the car yesterday. Hudson argued for a slight amendment to this.

Relative Identity

Last chapter Peter Geach suggested that there are many kind-relative identity relations: the relation of being the same human. But these relations can happen where one doesn't apply to the other; the same person can be the mayor of the town and also the President of the school board, but it's not true that mayor of the town is some official personage as the president of the school board.

Geach views that this idea can be also applied to Tibbles and c1, c2, … cn. C1, c2, … cn are all masses of feline flesh, are the same cat, though not the same mass of feline flesh. One cat, many masses of flesh.

Simple Universalism

David Lewis defends what is best described as simple universalism. An answer to the Special Composition Question, with classical, nonvague existence and identity, no constitution, and no multiple location.

Lewis would say there are billions of cats on the mat with Tibbles (cats are made up of many microparticles). It sounds crazy, but Lewis would say this depends on the context. In a philosophical context there is nothing wrong with this view, but in unphilosophical context this would be crazy. How does he remedy this?


One proposal is the semantics of vague terms. Terms like tall, thin or bald. The problem with these terms is that no one has clearly defined the boundaries of what makes someone tall, thin or bald. In each case, at what point does one cease to be average and become tall, average and become thin, or enough hair to having not enough? There are obviously clear cases of tall, thin and bald, and there are borderline ones. In everyday social talk we can discern enough of what is being stated.

Lewis views that this relates to our same issue with Tibbles.

Almost Identity

For everyday contexts, what matters isn't identity but almost identity. He suggests things are not completely identical, not completely distinct; they are some of each. When things are closer to the identity end, sharing almost all their parts in common, they are almost identical.

Chapter 10 Metaphysical Indeterminacy


We have gone over some examples that are vague, such as Frida being tall, or Ed is thin. In some cases there isn't a clear line, so we just don't know. Many theorists hold that often there is no definitely correct answer. Propositions that are karmically perfect are sometimes indeterminate - neither definitely true nor definitely false.

There are metaphysical indeterminacy that dispute the claim that this only applies to vague terms like tall, thin, bald, etc and that we have indeterminacy, not because of some linguistic wording, but the facts of the nonlinguistic world are themselves unsettled.

What is Metaphysical Indeterminacy?

Simply put, it is the indeterminacy rooted in unsettledness in the nonlinguistic world. Others have viewed this as vagueness in the linguistic aspects of how we describe things. An example of this is the 'liar' paradox.

​ (1) This sentence is false.

It appears that this is a simple statement that is saying something is the case. Well, it the sentence is false than it is true. If it is true than it is false. Simple logic dictates that the sentence can be both true or false.

The two approaches to metaphysical indeterminacy breaks down as such: First, vagueness in words like tall, thin, bald. Second, in unsettledness of the nonlinguistic world.

Epistemic Indeterminacy

If we were to assume that statements are definitely true or definitely false. What happens if you acquire a fact by luck or chance? A classic example is looking way off in a field and seeing a sheep, you declare that there is a sheep in the field. The reality, is that you saw a rock that looked like a sheep, but behind the rock is a sheep. Since you can't guarantee yourself against errors than you don't know that it is definitely true or definitely false.

Examples of Metaphysical Indeterminacy?

Are there clear examples of this sort of thing? Is there good reason for thinking such a thing ever happens? Unsurprisingly, metaphysicians aren't of one mind about this.

Composition and Metaphysical Indeterminacy

Last chapter the Special Composition Question was discussed, "what are the conditions under which several things compose or form a larger thing made up of those several things?" There were a lot of metaphysical approaches to answering this question. One of those answers was life. But when you think about it, that term is vague. There will be borderline cases on this particular view and this leads to something that is indeterminate.

Future Contingents and Metaphysical Indeterminacy

When bringing time into the mix, you find that there is various views that come up. Presentism, which is that only the present exists - therefore the future is not written, would find indeterminacy in future events.

​ (2) There will be a battle tomorrow.

This may be something planned for tomorrow, but it's not definitely true that it will happen. It's indeterminate. "Battle" may be a vague term, but it's not the reason for the indeterminacy of the statement.

Quantum Physics and Metaphysical Indeterminacy

Not really much to add to this section, but since much of quantum mechanics is not understood than things are viewed in probability that an electron will be located here at a specific time. Of course it's not guaranteed to be there.

Linguistic and Metaphysical Indeterminacy

The rules of language governing vague terms leave unsettled whether these terms can definitely apply to specific things.

Moral Indeterminacy and Metaphysical Indeterminacy

The example given in the book is that you're at the park with your two year old daughter and notice a young child wandering nearby lost. Is it permissible to leave your daughter for a short period of time to attend to the lost child? If it is 1/4 of a second? Probably fine. 1/2 second? 10 seconds? 10 minutes?

​ (3) It is morally permissible to divert attention from your daughter for n seconds in order to help this stranger

is neither definitely true nor definitely false. Allies of epistemic vagueness contend that the term "permissible" determines a precise, but unknowable cut off point for n.

Evans's Argument Against Vague Identity

So what are the reasons for rejecting metaphysical indeterminacy?

Suppose there is something A and something B and it is indeterminate whether A is identical with B. If so, then B has this property: being indeterminately identical with A. But, one thinks, it is not indeterminate whether A is identical with A. If so, then A lacks the property being indeterminately identical with A. So A and B have different properties, and by the Principle of Nonidentity of Discernibles, we may conclude that A and B are not identical

A critique of this particular argument is that things don't have the property of being indeterminately identical with another.

Chapter 11 The Challenge of Anti-Realism


The traditional view holds that there is a mind-independent world which we form beliefs and make statements. The truth of such beliefs and statements is based on how they correspond to the world. Truth is a property that transcend our ability to determine whether or not it obtains.

Simple terms: There is a world outside our mind that exists independent of us. Truth is something corresponds to this world out there. Even though we may not be able to perfectly figure out that world, the truth corresponds to this world.

We call this traditional view Realism.

Anti-Realism is something that has become more popular over the last few centuries as a critique to Realism. There is the Michael Dummett approach that the semantical theory underlying Realism fails to provide an adequate account of the meaning of undecidable statements. Hilary Putnam extends Quine's arguments for inscrutability of reference to show that the word-world relations presuppose by a Realist theory of truth do not obtain.

The big divide here, which wasn't in the overview of this chapter is that the tradition metaphysics holds the characterization of being qua being. The modern conception is concerned with the cauterization of human conceptual structures.

Two Views about the Nature of Reality

Those that reject the idea of the traditional approach, reject the idea that reality exists independent of our means of conceptualizing and knowing it. The debate comes down to whether reality (the world and our place in it) is something that exists independent or is it something that is mental or at least conceptualized from the mental.

Simple: mind-independent structures versus construction whose materials include human forms of conceptual representation.

Anti-Realists come in a broad range of positions, only aligned by their critique of Realism. There are some that think that everything that exists is from some Absolute Spirit thinking. Other think that the external world is a construction of our sense content and impressions whose only existence is our mind, such as Berkeley believed. Also you have Kant who concedes a distinction between things as they are in themselves and things as they appear by our ways of experiencing them - that the "world" or "reality" is just exclusively the world of appearances.

Dummett's Anti-Realism

Dummett's claim is that the dispute between Realism and Anti-Realism is a dispute about the meaning appropriate for assertoric (asserting something is the case) or statemental discourse. Dummett claims that Realism has it's root in truth-conditional theory of meaning. The theory basically says that a statement gets it's meaning by being correlated with a particular situation or state of affairs in the world. The state of affairs is the statement's truth condition. This correlation is secured by (1) the referential relations that individual terms bear to objects in the world, (2) by the ways they are combined with each other to form the relevant statemental sentence.

Dummett rejects this key part of Realism for another theory called the epistemic theory of meaning. He rejects the truth-conditional theory and that meaning is analyzed in terms of correlations between statements and mind-independent states of affairs. Dummett's truth is simply warranted or justified assertability; for a statement to be true is for its assertion to be capable of being justified or warranted.

Essentially, for Dummett this comes down to philosophy of language.

The Inscrutability of Reference

According to Dummett, traditional Realism's idea of a mind-independent world, that gets represented by our thought and language, has its expression in the view that our statements have a meaning that enables them to reach out to states of affairs whose obtaining transcends our power of detection. Dummett's criticism is that the view cannot provide a satisfactory account of a speakers understanding of undecidable statements.

Putnam's Anti-Realism

Putnam holds that the traditional Realism that we have two sets of objects, one consisting exclusively of linguistic items and the other involving mind-independent items, standing in a determinate referential relation is incoherent. He embraces the view that the very concept of an object is relative to a prior scheme of description and classification.

Putnam sees a sentence as having two kinds of constraints: what he calls the operational and the theoretical constraints.

Operational: The observational data available to the interpreter.

Theoretical Constraints: The standard methodological principles guiding theory selection.

Putnam views that these sentences leaves the referential force undetermined.

​ (1) The cat is on the mat

The "cat" and the "mat" are undetermined. Why? They can be interpreted in alternative ways: three dimensional objects, their temporal parts, etc.

Summing it up, even though when we talk about something we are making a relation between objects with a single conceptual scheme and that we can't reference words to items outside all conceptual structures.

Realism or Anti-Realism?

When you get right down to it, anti-realism does show a challenge to realism, but does it actually present anything better. Realism is good.

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