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Topics in Metaphysics and Epistemology (PH997)

Half of this module will focus on a number of metaphysical questions about knowledge, including the relationship between knowledge and traditional ontological categories such as ‘state’, ‘capacity’, ‘power’ and the notion of an ‘actualization’ of a power or capacity.

We will investigate the connections between the notions of knowledge and the teleological notions of ‘success’, ‘achievement’, and ‘fulfilment’ that emerge from Aristotelian metaphysical biology. We will look at different manifestations of the idea that epistemic notions such as knowledge function as norms or ideals for living beings, their activities and affections. Further to this, we will examine ideas developed by Brian O’Shaughnessy, that there are constitutive connections between the notion of wakeful consciousness—a notion that seems to play an explanatorily central notion in the lives of animals—and various epistemic notions such as knowledge of the environment and a distinctive form of self-knowledge.

The other half of this module will focus on metaphysical questions about the nature of primary substances (such as individual palm trees, human beings and caracaras) and the nature of processes (or ‘activities’) such as walking and running. We will begin with an exploration of the neo-Aristotelian approach to substance developed by David Wiggins, and some of the challenges that this view faces. In particular, the problem of ‘temporary intrinsics’ will be introduced, and we will look at some different proposals about how primary substances occupy intervals of time (including the debate between ‘endurantists’, ‘perdurantists’ and ‘stage-theorists’) We will look in some detail at the category of process, and explore the hypothesis that processes can be understood in terms of the logic of ‘mass terms’ rather than ‘count terms’. We will also explore the idea that an understanding of the notion of process, and of how processes unfold over periods of time, might enable us to better understand the way that material objects relate to time

Module Director

Tom Crowther


This module is worth 20 or 30 CATS depending on your programme of study.