Metaphysics is about the most general nature of reality as a whole. Here are some typical metaphysical questions: Do material things exist independently of our perception of them, or does the world consist only of conscious beings and their sensations? Are there any nonphysical things, such as the number 42 or the Pythagorean theorem? Are conscious beings like ourselves material or immaterial? Is there a god?
Several of our staff and students work on metaphysical problems to do with human beings. For example, what sort of thing is a human person? And what does it take for us to persist through time--for a past or future being to be you rather than someone or something else? Eric Olson is a leading advocate of ‘animalism’, the view that we are biological organisms. This is controversial because it’s incompatible with the view that our persistence consists in some sort of psychological continuity.
Another metaphysical problem about human beings is the nature of free will: what it is to be able to choose among several alternatives, such as going to class and staying home. Ryan Byerly has written on how human freedom might be reconciled with divine foreknowledge: if God already knows that you’re going to go to class, how can you still choose to stay home? A related topic is whether free will is compatible with determinism, the view that there is only one physically possible future: how can you choose to stay home if it follows from the past together with the laws of physics that you will go to class? Jules Holroyd, Jimmy Lenman, Yonatan Shemmer, and Bob Stern attempt to understand our ability to choose in a way that is compatible with determinism.
Other staff members and students work on more general topics. Niall Connolly is interested in the metaphysical status of fictional characters: whether Sherlock Holmes, for example, has some sort of existence. Rosanna Keefe asks whether the world itself can be vague or inexact--whether a tree could have imprecise boundaries, for example--or whether this vagueness is always due to the way we describe things. Dominic Gregory has worked on the metaphysics of modality and the nature of possible worlds: what accounts for the fact that you could have been shorter but you could not have been a proton. Bob Stern is interested in the Hegelian idea of the ‘concrete universal’, and how that fits in to debates surrounding nominalism and realism about universals, and connects to theories of individuality -- while by contrast Niall Connolly has argued against the idea that individuals are constituted by universals and for the possibility of bare particulars.
In recent years, PhD students working on topics in Metaphysics have come from many countries across the world, including Chile, Germany, Ireland, Serbia and the UK. Some examples of their PhD thesis titles are: "Carving the World at its Boundaries", "Ontological Categories, Existence Statements, and Metaphysical Modality", "Free Will and the Ability to do otherwise","Grounding fiction" and "The Times They Are A-Changin': Rehabilitating the Growing Block Theory of Time". Students in the area have gone on to posts in Dublin, Berlin, Leeds, Innsbruck and Kent.
- Byerly T. R. (2014). “Foreknowledge, accidental necessity, and uncausability". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion.
- Byerly T. R. (2014). The Mechanics of Divine Foreknowledge and Providence: A Time-Ordering Account. Bloomsbury Publishing.
- Connolly N. (2015). “Yes: Bare particulars!”. Philosophical Studies.
- Gregory D. (2006). "Functionalism about possible worlds". Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
- Keefe R. & Leech J. (2018) "Essentialism and logical consequence". In Fred-Rivera I. & Leech J. (eds), Being Necessary: Themes of Ontology and Modality from the Work of Bob Hale. Oxford University Press
- Lenman J. (2006). "Compatibilism and Contractualism: The Possibility of Moral Responsibility”. Ethics.
- Olson E. (2007). What Are We?. Oxford University Press.
- Olson E. (2015). "What does it mean to say that we are animals?" Journal of Consciousness Studies.
- Olson. E. (2018). “The zombies among us”. Nous.
- Stern, R. (2009). “Individual existence and the philosophy of difference”. In R. Stern, Hegelian Metaphysics. Oxford University Press.
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