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The Structure of the World

Course Description

The broadly Quinean view that emerged in the middle of the 20th century took metaphysics to be about what there is. So conceived, metaphysics is concerned with questions about whether properties, relations, meaning, numbers, and mereologically complex material objects exist. This naturally led to debates between nominalists and realists about these various entities, as well as about the notion of ontological commitment and the nature and (in)substantiality of these existence questions.

Recently, however, metaphysicians have begun to challenge this Quinean conception, re-conceiving of their discipline as an investigation into how the world is structured, rather than how it is populated. This alternative, quasi-Aristotelian, Structural conception starts with a hierarchical view of reality, ordered by priority or building relations, where the (more) fundamental serve as the metaphysical foundation for the (more) derivative. Accordingly, the main task of metaphysics is to detail or describe the structure of the world. So conceived, the main metaphysical question isn’t determining whether properties, meanings, numbers, and mereologically complex material objects exist. Rather, it is whether they are fundamental (and, if not, what it is they are derivative upon).

Elucidating this Structural conception, which has risen to prominence in the last decade and a half, has led to the development of a variety of metaphysical tools and notions, including fundamentality, grounding, ontological dependence, and metaphysical explanation.

In this course, students will study the metaphysical structure of the world: investigate what we can know about its ultimate constituents and how they are arranged together. We will do so by examining several of the ‘structuring’ notions (many of which are still being refined and developed), against the background of the broader metametaphysical debate between the Quinean and Structural conceptions of metaphysics.

Course Materials