(Or: Systematic Ontology)

In this course we begin with an examination of what Metaphysics (Systematic Ontology) is as a field of research and knowledge.  We then take up the systematically fundamental topics: identity and difference, being or existence (and non-being or non-existence), and the categories of beings.  Then some sub-categorial questions: e.g. Are there universals?  Are there particulars? Are there relations?  This semester a third or more of the course will be devoted to the question of the existence of universals (Plato's "forms," etc.), and to the issues around substance.  The last part of the course is devoted to some special topics of great importance for the field of Metaphysics (Ontology), and this semester it will be the ontological status of concepts and how concepts function in ontological arguments--concepts, in the study of the possible and the necessary. Finally, we will briefly glance at Putnam’s idea of “Ethics without Ontology.”

     An underlying issue throughout the course this semester and always will be the credibility or incredibility of Naturalism as a position on what there is.  Naturalism in ontology is, very roughly, the view that all that exists are physical objects such as we visibly see about us from day to day and their physical constituents (atoms, sub-atomic ‘particles’ and ‘forces’).  Another way of specifying Naturalism is to say that the particular sciences are the sole arbiters of what exists and what is known: that what cannot be dealt with "scientifically" cannot be known and does not exist. At this point, Naturalism has almost nothing to recommend it on rational grounds, and is primarily a political stance directed toward control of governmental and social policy, especially in research, education, and legislation.  The critiques of it as a philosophical position are numerous and trenchant. See Barry Stroud’s APA Presidential Address, “The Charm of Naturalism,” in APA Proceedings and Addresses, Nov. 1996, Vol. 70, #2,pp. 43-55. Also, Steven J. Wagner and Richard Warner, edd., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal, University of Notre Dame Press, 1993; and Wm. L. Craig and J. P. Moreland, edd., Naturalism: A Critical Analysis, Routledge, 2000.


Metaphysics (Or: Systematic Ontology)

The order of topics taken up in an ideal course in Ontology might be:

  1. Ontology as a field of knowledge. Metaphysics and Epistemology: Especially: Can Epistemology (or Philosophy of Language) be successfully pursued prior to Ontology?  Must it be?
  2. Identity, non-identity and related concepts.
  3. Existence/non-existence, essence and existence.
  4. Predication or exemplification of properties.
  5. Categories.
  6. Individuals: particulars and substances.
  7. Universals: Properties and Relations.
  8. Space and Time.
  9. Grounds: reasons and causes.
  10. The ontology of matter.
  11. The ontology of mind.
  12. The ontology of language.
  13. An ontology for reference, truth, logic and knowledge.
  14. Ontology and origins or coming to be (Cosmology).

Due to limitations of time, however, comments on many of these topics will be limited to placing them in the context of a systematic ontology.  Topics 1-7 will be our main subjects of discussion.



  1. R. M. Chisholm, The Problem of the Criterion.
  2. F. Suarez, On the Various Kinds of Distinctions.
  3. A. B. Schoedinger, The Problem of Universals.
  4. D. M. Armstrong, Universals: An Opinionated Introduction.
  5.  J. P. Moreland, Universals.
  6.  Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity 

There will, from time to time, be some lecture notes handed out and some additional short readings as well.


Articles on most topics dealt with in this course are contained in:

  • Burkhardt and Smith, Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology.
  • Kim and Sosa, A Companion to Metaphysics.
  • Paul Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Click the "Download" link for the complete 28-page syllabus.