November 14th

  • The final paper topics are here.
  • Pete and I did our best to make comments on all your first drafts over the Thanksgiving weekend, but there simply wasn't time. So these comments will be distributed on Wednesday December 4th. The final drafts are now due on Wednesday, December 11th, by 4.30pm, in my mailbox in the philosophy department.

Course Description

This course will survey a range of questions about the existence and nature of various things. The questions discussed will include some or all of the following: Is there a God? Is there a mind-independent material world? Are there immaterial souls? Are there ordinary material objects like statues and lumps of clay? Are there any composite objects at all? Is there such a thing as empty space? Are there abstract entities, like the number one, the letter A, and the property redness? Are there fictional things, like Sherlock Holmes?


Course Code: V83.0078-001

Instructor: Cian Dorr, 503H Main Building, office hours: Tuesdays at 3 pm or by appointment, email:

TA: Pete Graham, 503? Main Building, office hours: Wednesday at 12.30 or by appointment, email:

Lecture Times: 11 - 12.15, Mondays and Wednesdays, 435 Waverly Building.

Who should take this course?

As indicated in the CAS Bulletin, this course is intended for students who have had some previous experience in philosophy. It will be presupposed that you already have some of the basic skills involved in analysing, evaluating and producing philosophical arguments. If you have never taken a philosophy class before, you might well find that things are going at too fast a pace, and that too much is being taken for granted. If this happens, you should think seriously about the possibility of switching into a more introductory philosophy course. If you end up deciding to drop the course, please let me know so I can assign your place to someone else.


It is of essential importance that you should attend the lectures. A lot of important material that isn't discussed in the readings will be presented in the lectures. It is also important that you should on most occasions have done the required readings prior to the lecture for which they are assigned.

Problem sets will be assigned regularly during the course. There will be eight problem sets in all; you are required to complete five of them. (You are encouraged to do more: if you do, your grade will be determined by the best five.) Problem sets will be handed out on a Wednesday and due the following Monday. No late problem sets will be accepted. You are encouraged to discuss the problem sets with fellow students; this is in fact a very good way to learn. However, if you do work with others, you must note this clearly, and you must put everything in your own words.

There will be a final paper, due on December 9th, the last day of class. A draft of this paper will be due on November 25th. You are expected to make substantial revisions to the draft to address the comments you receive: your grade will suffer if you do not do this.

There will also be a midterm exam, on October 21st.


Your final grade will be determined as follows:

40% 5 problem sets.
15% Midterm exam
15% First draft of paper
30% Final paper


We will be reading Berkeley's Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous, which is on order from the NYU Bookstore. In addition, a course packet containing those readings marked '(CP)' will be available from the Unique Copy Center on Greene Street. The remaining readings will be distributed in class.


This is a tentative syllabus that will certainly change considerably as the course goes on. Check this page frequently to keep up to date!
Date Topic and readings Handouts
Sep 4


This syllabus
Handout 1
Sep 9

The cosmological argument

Thomas Aquinas, the first three of the ‘Five Ways’, from Summa Theologica

Samuel Clarke, A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, excerpt

David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, part 9

Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, excerpt from chapter 6


Gideon Rosen, Aquinas's Cosmological Argument (online)

Handout 2
Sep 11

The ontological argument

Saint Anselm, Proslogion, chapters 2-5.

Gaunilo, ‘In Behalf of the Fool’


Peter van Inwagen, Metaphysics, excerpt from chapter 5.

Gideon Rosen, Anselm's Ontological Argument (online)

Problem Set 1
Handout 3
Sep 16

The argument from design

William Paley, ‘The Argument from Design’, from Natural Theology

Hume, Dialogues, parts 2-8.

Handout 4
Sep 18

The problem of evil

J.M. Mackie, ‘Evil and Omnipotence’ (CP)

Peter van Inwagen, ‘The Magnitude, Duration and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy’ (CP)

Problem Set 2
Handout 5
Berkeley's idealism
Sep 23

Berkeley, Three Dialogues, first and second dialogues

Handout 6
Sep 25

Berkeley, second and third dialogues

Handout 7
Problem Set 3
Comments on P.S. 1
Colored objects
Sep 30

David Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of Mind (excerpts) (CP)

Oct 2

C. L. Hardin, “Color and Illusion” (CP)

Handout 8
Problem Set 4
Coinciding objects
Oct 7

The statue and the clay

Handout 9
Comments on P.S. 2
Oct 9

Things that can lose their parts

Peter van Inwagen, “The Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts” (CP)

Handout 10
Problem Set 5
Oct 14 (Class was cancelled)
Oct 16

The theory of temporal parts

Theodore Sider, Four-dimensionalism, excerpts.

Problem Set 6
Composite objects
Oct 21

Gideon Rosen and Cian Dorr, “Composition as a Fiction” (CP)

Comments on P.S. 5
Oct 23
Oct 28 Handout 11
Oct 30


Past and Future
Nov 4


Arthur Prior, “Changes in Events and Changes in Things” (CP)

Handout 12
Nov 6

Scientific arguments against presentism

Arthur Prior, “Some Free Thinking about Time”

Theodore Sider, Four Dimensionalism, section 2.4.

Handout 13
Problem Set 7
Nov 11

A priori arguments against presentism

John Bigelow, “Presentism and Properties”

Theodore Sider, Four Dimensionalism, section 2.3

Handout 14
Abstract Objects
Nov 13

Introduction to Abstract Objects

Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy, excerpts (CP)

Handout 15
Final paper topics
Nov 18


Hartry Field, Introduction to Realism, Mathematics and Modality (CP), sections 1-3.

Handout 16
Nov 20

Field, sections 3 and 4.

Handout 17
Nov 25

Fictional characters

Peter van Inwagen, “Creatures of Fiction” (CP)

Handout 18 Comments on P.S. 7
Nov 27

Properties and Propositions

Readings TBA.

Problem Set 8
Drafts of final papers due!
The objectivity of metaphysics
Dec 2

Challenging the objectivity of metaphysical questions

Rudolf Carnap, “Empiricism, Semantics and Ontology” (CP)

Handout 20
Dec 4

Responding to Carnap's view

Theodore Sider, Four-Dimensionalism, excerpts.

Handout 21
Dec 9

Conclusion / Overflow

Handout 22 Final Papers Due on Dec. 11th!


Soon I hope to include a list of useful links to other web pages here. For the moment, I'll just include links to three excellent pages maintained by Jim Pryor: a glossary of philosophical terms and methods, a set of guidelines on writing philosophy papers, and a set of guidelines on reading philosophy papers.