Course Code: PHIL 1480.

Instructor: Prof. Cian Dorr; 1001H Cathedral of Learning; office hours TBA; email csd6 at

Lecture Times: 4.00 - 5.15, Tuesdays and Thursdays, CL 321.


Metaphysics is a huge field, with no agreed-on list of central topics or doctrines that must be discussed in any introductory course. The best one can hope to do in a course like this is to sample a few of the best things that have been written on a few different topics. In this year's course, the topics we consider will be unified---loosely---by their connection to time. We'll consider questions about the nature of past, present, and future, about identity through time, and about the connection between time and causation. We'll finish up with a discussion of the possibility of time travel.


Fair warning: the readings for this course will be quite demanding. There will generally be 20-40 pages a week of philosophically dense material to cover, which will require multiple readings. You will have to do this reading in a timely fashion to prepare for in-class discussion.

The readings will all be available online, either on the course web site or as external links. Many of the external links will be to sites like JStor which are only accessible from computers on Pitt's network. If you are logging on elsewhere, you can access these sites by going to the university's proxy server:

Here is a very helpful page of advice about how to approach reading a philosophy paper, maintained by Jim Pryor.

Lectures and discussion

After the first week, we'll settle into the following rhythm: each Thursday I will give a lecture in which I introduce a new topic, explain the central views and lines of argument in the readings, and perhaps also mention some objections to those views or lines of argument. I will also distribute a handout containing a list of questions about the readings. Over the weekend a discussion of these questions, together with others you may raise, will take place on the Courseweb discussion board. You are required to make some contribution to this discussion, not later than noon on Tuesday of each week. This online discussion will be continued in class on Tuesday.

Your participation in the Courseweb discussion board will be graded: 20% of your final grade depends on this. Each week's discussion will be graded out of four. You'll get two points automatically for posting something or other, provided it's not a complete waste of everybody's time. It should not be hard for any of you to get the full four points, provided you make an honest effort to engage constructively with the readings and with what other people have said. Even if you post something that shows that you have completely missed some amazingly obvious point, you will not lose any points: so there is no incentive at all for you to choose to answer only the easy questions. Extra credit (up to a maximum of 5% of your total grade) will be given for exceptionally helpful or well-thought-out contributions.

Your participation in the Courseweb discussion can take any of several forms. You might, for example:

Your contribution should in any case reflect an honest effort to figure out what's going on in the readings. Don't let your only posting for the week be 'I don't understand such-and-such': if you feel lost, try to find a way to explain your puzzlement in a way that might lead to constructive discussion.

While you're not expected to have read everything else that others have posted in any given week, you should try to pick up on any points of contact between what you have to say and what others have already said. If someone else has already said what you wanted to say, don't just post something that essentially duplicates what's already there: put your post in the same thread as theirs, and try to say something that constructively advances the discussion, e.g. by finding some new consideration in favour of the view that you share with the previous poster. If someone else has already posted something that conflicts with what you want to say, put your post in the same thread as theirs and try to explain why they are wrong.

As a rough rule of thumb, your postings for any given week should add up to at least a short paragraph's worth of text---say 200 words. Shorter postings are perfectly fine provided they are incisive. Longer postings are fine too, but don't post anything so long that you couldn't reasonably expect the other participants in the discussion to read it.


There will be one short writing exercise due about a third of the way through the semester, an exam about two-thirds of the way through the semester, and a final paper.


Your final grade will be determined as follows, before the penalty for absences (see below) is taken into account:
Participation in class discussion 15%
Participation in online discussion 20%
Writing exercise 10%
Midterm exam 25%
Final paper 30%

Policy on late assignments

If you hand in an assignment late without a valid medical excuse or equivalent, your grade for that assignment will be diminished by a third of a grade per day. So if you hand in your short writing exercise on Friday and it was due on Tuesday, and your grade would have been B+, it will instead be a C+.

Policy on plagiarism

The penalty for plagiarism is failing the course. Plagiarism includes any case where you incorporate someone else's words or ideas into your work in such a way as to make them appear to be your own. In this era when Google is never more than a click away, plagiarism has become more tempting, more common, and easier to detect. Be warned.

Attendance and participation

You are expected to attend all the lectures, and to have done the reading in advance of the Tuesday meetings: I would prefer that you not come at all than that you come without having done the reading. 15% of your final grade will be based on attendance and participation in the discussion. Missing more than six meetings will be grounds for failing the course.

Schedule of readings and topics

Date Topics and readings
Week 1
Objective truth
Peter van Inwagen, chapter 5 ('Objectivity') of Metaphysics
Part 1: Past, present and future
Week 2
McTaggart's argument for the unreality of time
John McTaggart Ellis McTaggart, 'Time', from The Nature of Existence
C.D. Broad, An Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, excerpt.
Week 3
The A-Theory versus the B-Theory
D.C. Williams, 'The Myth of Passage'
Week 4
Temporal ontology
C.D. Broad, 'The General Problem of Time and Change'
A.N. Prior, 'The Nature of the Present'
A.N. Prior, 'Changes in Events and Changes in Things'
Week 5
Objections to presentism
Ned Markosian, 'A Defence of Presentism'
Week 6
Fatalism and the open future
Peter van Inwagen, 'Fatalism', from An Essay on Free Will
Optional: Hugh Rice, entry on Fatalism in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Additional background readings for Part I:
Ted Sider, Four-Dimensionalism, chapter 2
Peter van Inwagen, chapter 4 ('Temporality'), from Metaphysics
E.J. Lowe, chapter *** of A Survey of Metaphysics (on reserve)
Robin Le Poidevin, chapter 8 of Adventures in Four Dimensions (on reserve)
Part 2: Identity through time
Week 7
The ship of Theseus
E.J. Lowe, 'The Identity of Artifacts'
Week 8
The doctrine of temporal parts
Theodore Sider, 'Temporal Parts'
Week 9
Personal identity
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 10-11.
Eric Olson, entry on Personal Identity in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Week 10
Personal identity and what matters
Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, chapters 12-13
Optional:David Lewis, 'Survival and Identity'
Additional background readings for Part 2:
Theodore Sider, Four-Dimensionalism (on reserve)
E.J. Lowe, chapters *** of A Survey of Metaphysics (on reserve)
Part 3: Time and causation
Week 11
The direction of time
David Lewis, 'Counterfactual Dependence and Time's Arrow'
Week 12
Hartry Field, 'Causation in a Physical World'
Week 13
Time travel
David Lewis, 'The Paradoxes of Time Travel'
Additional background readings for Part 3:
E.J. Lowe, chapters *** of A Survey of Metaphysics (on reserve)
David Lewis, 'Causation', in Philosophical Papers, vol. 2, on reserve.
Paul Horwich, 'Time Travel', chapter 7 of Asymmetries in Time (on reserve)

Last modified January 5, 2006