Time in Metaphysics and Logic (Graduate Seminar)

SYLLABUS: Download


How should we reason about the past and future?  Should we adopt a spatial model of the past and future-- are they just like other regions of space?  Are they like the possible worlds of modal logic?  Is there a sense in which the past and future are unreal?  Is the future importantly different from the past?  Is there a clear and precise sense in which the future is open?

And how should we reason about change?  Do objects come into and out of existence?  Or do they eternally exist, as the spatial model of time suggests?  Can abstract objects like propositions change?  Do entire regions of spacetime undergo change?

In this course we will look in detail at some contemporary debates over time and change.  The focus of the course will be a bedeviling problem about expressing change in existence over time.  The first half of the class will be largely foundational.  We'll try to rigorously define the difference between A-theories and B-theories of time.  We'll consider different attempts to state these theories in logical formalisms, in particular attempts to describe change in existence.  We’ll weigh arguments for and against various philosophical views about change in existence. 

In the second half of this course, we'll consider ways in which this debate over time and change impinges on other branches on philosophy.  I'm particularly interested in the metaphysics of creation and death, the “openness” of the future, and issues that motivate relativism in philosophy of language.

NOTE: I don't presuppose any particular background in logic beyond the undergraduate introductory level and a willingness to learn.  And, if necessary, I will hold a few optional "formal bootcamp" sessions for those who need extra practice.  One of my auxiliary goals in this class is to raise our collective logic literacy, so we can understand and criticize arguments in metaphysics that make use of formalism.

TEXTBOOKS: There won't be a textbook for this class, as we'll be reading contemporary articles.  But you might pick up Sider's Four-Dimensionalism or Haslanger and Kurtz's Persistence: Contemporary Readings.  Each contain helpful (and accessible!) background.  The Sider book is available online through the Hesburgh library. For logic background, I recommend Sider's Logic for Philosophy.

ASSIGNMENTS: Two problem sets to get practice with the formalism, one argument introduction, and one term paper.  An argument introduction is a 7-10 minute conference-style commentary on an article.  The term paper should be 15-30 pages and it should defend a plausible original argument pertaining to one of the topics we've discussed in class.  It will be written and rewritten in stages.  


Meghan Sullivan,
Jan 31, 2012, 8:05 AM