PHILO355-21B (HAM)

The Fundamental Structure of the World

15 Points

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Division of Arts Law Psychology & Social Sciences
School of Social Sciences
Philosophy

Staff

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Convenor(s)

Lecturer(s)

Administrator(s)

: monique.mulder@waikato.ac.nz

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: anne.ferrier-watson@waikato.ac.nz

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Paper Description

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This paper will be devoted to ontology, metaontology, and metametaphysics. Ontology is often defined as the branch of metaphysics that investigates what there is. We'll begin by looking at a range of central debates within ontology. These debates concern the existence of holes, the composition and persistence of material objects, and the existence and nature of fictional characters and musical works.

We'll then transition to an extended investigation of metaontology, which is the study of the methods and aims of ontology. The defining debate within metaontology is that between Willard Van Orman Quine and Rudolf Carnap, and this debate will be our starting point. Next, we'll discuss Eli Hirsch's quantifier variance, which is inspired by Carnap's work and represents a significant challenge to many standard ontological debates. Hirsch's main contemporary opponent is Ted Sider, who defends ontological realism. We'll have a look at Sider's critique of quantifier variance and his corresponding defence of ontological realism. As a follow-up to the Hirsch-Sider debate, we'll consider Amie Thomasson's easy approach. This approach is meant to deliver metaontological results that are similar to those of quantifier variance, but as we'll see, Thomasson's methodology differs importantly from that of Hirsch.

To close the paper, we'll consider three metametaphysical topics which pertain to the broader aims and methods of metaphysics. The first is grounding. Jonathan Schaffer maintains that instead of focusing so intently on the ontological question 'What is there?' metaphysicians should focus on the question 'What grounds what?' In thinking through this metametaphysical position, we'll consider what grounding is meant to be and what sort of explanatory work it is meant to do within metaphysics.

Secondly, we'll consider the role that cross-cultural enquiry should play in metaphysics. Justine Kingsbury (a proud member of the Waikato Philosophy programme) argues in a forthcoming essay that Western metaphysicians should endorse a kind of realism about taniwha, which are powerful water creatures in Māori pūrākau (traditional narratives). She predicts that this conclusion will strike most Western metaphysicians as being rather surprising, given e.g. that English-language news coverage of taniwha in New Zealand tends to be either hostile or mocking. In thinking through Kingsbury's discussion, we'll consider some significant methodological issues, including the ways in which the value of cross-cultural respect should inform cross-cultural metaphysics.

Lastly, we'll discuss a piece by Sally Haslanger that has become a classic example of feminist metaphysics. In this paper, Haslanger offers analyses of race and gender that exemplify an approach to metaphysics that she calls the analytical approach. We'll reflect on the ways in which the analytical approach differs from the other metametaphysical positions that we've surveyed and on whether it is the best approach to take when analyzing notions such as race and gender.

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Paper Structure

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Since it is a FLEXI paper, the paper will be taught using both pre-recorded video lectures and in-person discussion. Students can use Zoom to participate in the latter, and they can also watch recordings of these discussions via Moodle.
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Learning Outcomes

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Students who successfully complete the paper should be able to:

  • Identify a range of key ontological, metaontological, and metametaphysical positions
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  • Identify pressing objections that have been raised against these positions
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  • Acquire a deeper understanding of how to investigate the nature of reality
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  • Strengthen their competence with the methods of analytic philosophy
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  • Develop their ability to precisely and creatively evaluate philosophical positions and arguments, both in conversation and in writing
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Assessment

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Each assessment item has been designed to enable you to demonstrate your grasp of essential concepts at progressive stages of the paper. These pieces of assessment will also enable me to assess your progress and if necessary, adjust the ways in which I communicate regarding the content of the paper.
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Assessment Components

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The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0. There is no final exam. The final exam makes up 0% of the overall mark.

The internal assessment/exam ratio (as stated in the University Calendar) is 100:0 or 0:0, whichever is more favourable for the student. The final exam makes up either 0% or 0% of the overall mark.

Component DescriptionDue Date TimePercentage of overall markSubmission MethodCompulsory
1. Participation
10
  • In Class: In Lecture
  • Online: Moodle Forum Discussion
2. Quizzes
15
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
3. Pre-class activities
20
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
4. Midterm essay
23 Aug 2021
10:00 AM
25
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
5. Final essay
22 Oct 2021
10:00 AM
30
  • Online: Submit through Moodle
Assessment Total:     100    
Failing to complete a compulsory assessment component of a paper will result in an IC grade
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Required and Recommended Readings

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Required Readings

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The schedule above provides a list of the required readings.
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Recommended Readings

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During the paper, you may find it helpful to consult relevant chapters from the following book-length introductions to ontology, metaontology, and metametaphysics:

  • Tahko, Tuomas (2015) An Introduction to Metametaphysics. Cambridge University Press
  • Berto, Francesco and Matteo Plebani (2015) Ontology and Metaontology: A Contemporary Guide. Bloomsbury.

Our Moodle page will contain additional recommended resources that you can consult throughout the trimester.

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Other Resources

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The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an excellent internet resource that contains extensive articles on many of the topics that we'll discuss.
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Online Support

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Should you have difficulty accessing sources via Moodle, please feel free to email me. However, if the matter is related to a technical problem with Moodle, then it is best to contact the University's IT Help Desk at 07 838 4008.
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Workload

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150 hours
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Linkages to Other Papers

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This paper links up nicely with every other paper that is offered by the Philosophy programme. It should also link up well with many other papers that are offered across the social sciences.
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Prerequisite(s)

Prerequisite papers: Students must have completed at least 15 points of Philosophy papers.

Corequisite(s)

Equivalent(s)

Restriction(s)

Restricted papers: PHIL350

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