This will be a seminar on ontology, specifically, the ontology of material objects in time and space. We'll start with some questions about composite objects. Apparently, some objects have others as parts; for example, a lot of electrons are part of me. Objects like me we call "composite". The philosophical question here is: what composite objects exist? Do there exist "scattered" composite objects, like decks of cards? Do we accept the existence of a composite object whenever some parts exist, or only when the parts are suitably arranged or stuck together? Why think there are any composite things at all?
We'll then turn to some topics in the philosophy of time. Philosophers have had all sorts of interesting things to say about time. One of the most interesting (and bizarre) is that there really is no such thing as time. J. M. E. McTaggart thought that the concept of time is incoherent and therefore there really is no such thing as time. The core of his reason for thinking that time is incoherent centers on the notion of time's "passage" or "flow". We all think that time flows, but it can make you dizzy if you stop to think about this a bit; what is time flowing past, and how fast is it flowing? Many agree with McTaggart that time doesn't flow, but stop short of denying the existence of time altogether. They think that time is a lot like space: a fourth dimension in which objects are located, but which does not "move". Still others think that McTaggart was completely wrong, and that time really does flow. A related question philosophers ask is whether it is logically possible to travel back in time. Some think not, because if time travel were possible then someone could travel back in time and kill her grandfather, thus preventing herself from existing in the first place!
Finally we'll turn to a topic that combines concerns from the first two: persistence over time. We all believe that some things last, or persist over time. Persons, for example, surely last over time, for otherwise it would be unfair to punish people for crimes committed in the past -- no one is guilty of a crime committed by someone else! But persistence over time raises many issues. How can persons continue to exist over time when they change? Persons, in fact, change all their constituent matter over time. Another puzzle: suppose we take a statue and smash it. We seem to have destroyed the statue, but not the lump of clay. So that means that the statue and the lump of clay were two different things (since only one is vulnerable to destruction by smashing). But now we seem to be admitting that it is possible to have two things in the very same place at the same time!
Week 1 (8/30): Introductory stuff on ontology, van Inwagen on composites.
Week 2 (9/6): Van Inwagen on composites (continued)
Week 3 (9/13): Van Inwagen on composites continued
Week 4 (9/20): McTaggart and the B-theory of time **Short paper #1 due**
9/27, Yom Kippur, no class
Week 5 (10/4): The A-theory and presentism
Week 6 (10/11): More presentism
Week 7 (10/18): Time travel
Week 8 (10/25): Intro to persistence, four-dimensionalism **Short paper #2 due**
Week 9 (11/1): Arguments for four-dimensionalism
Week 10 (11/8): The paradoxes of coincidence: moderate 3D views
Week 11 (11/15): The paradoxes of coincidence: extreme 3D views
Week 12 (11/29): The paradoxes of coincidence: the stage view
Week 13 (12/6): Problems for four-dimensionalism ** Short paper #3 due **