University of Hamburg


Spring 19/20: Temporal parts

     Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

Zoom meetings (due to the Covid-19 outbreak)

Nothing seems more obvious to us than the idea that things persist and change in time. However, it is far from obvious what changing and persisting in time amount to. The perdurantist account of persistence takes persisting entities to be extended in time as well as in space and, thus, to have temporal parts as well as spatial parts. Therefore, according to perdurantists, things persist and change in time in virtue of having qualitatively different ‘temporal parts’. In this seminar we will critically discuss perdurantism and the very idea of temporal parts. In particular, we will contrast perdurantism with ‘endurantism’ (the other main contender in the debate on persistence) and its idea that entities are ‘wholly present’ at every time at which they exist.  

Spring 19/20: Introduction to the metaphysics of time

      Undergraduate (Proseminar)

Prerecorded lectures (due to the Covid-19 outbreak)

The metaphysics of time is the part of philosophy that studies the nature of time, change, and temporal passage. It aims at answering questions like: Does time really pass? Is the division between past, present, and future objective and mind-independent? How do entities change in time? Is the future genuinely open? Is the idea of time-travelling to the past metaphysically consistent?  In this seminar we will discuss many of the most important issues featuring in the contemporary debate in the metaphysics of time. Among others we will address: McTaggart’s argument for the unreality of time, the distinction between A-theories and B-theories of time, the puzzle of change, the debate between four-dimensionalism and three-dimensionalism, the grounding problem for presentism, the paradoxes of time travel, and the open future.

Fall 19/20: Composition as identity

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

There appears to be an intimate relation between a composite object (like, say, a chair) and its parts: a chair can only be located in a place if its parts are; similarly, you cannot move the chair without moving its parts, et cetera. According to the thesis known as ‘ Composition as Identity’ (or ‘CAI’ for short) the kind of relation holding between a whole and its parts is a relation of identity. Paraphrasing David Lewis (who  famously came only close to CAI without ever fully embracing it): the whole just is the parts; the parts (taken together) just are the whole. In this seminar we will critically examine the recent debate on CAI and discuss various arguments for and against it. In particular, we will focus on the following issues: (i) the distinction between ‘moderate’ and ‘strong’ versions of CAI; (ii) in what sense, if any, something can be said to be both ‘one’ and ‘many’; (iii) the problems related to the so-called ‘Collapse Principle’; (iv) the question about whether CAI settles Peter van Inwagen’s ‘Special Composition Question’ (‘When does a plurality of objects compose a further objects?’), and in particular, the question about whether CAI entails either ‘mereological universalism’ (‘Every plurality of entities compose a further object’) or ‘mereological nihilism’ (‘Every object is atomic and has no (proper) parts’). 

Fall 19/20: The open future

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

There seems to be an objective asymmetry between the past and the future. The past has already happened, and is thus settled, determinate, and ‘closed’. Instead, the future is yet to happen, and appears thus to be unsettled, indeterminate, and ‘open’. The idea of an open future elicits many interesting questions: What does it mean to say that the future is open? Does the openness of the future require the future not to exist, or can there be ‘genuine’ openness also within an ‘eternalist’ picture of time? If the future is genuinely open and unsettled what is the truth-value of contingent statement about the future? Should we say that they are neither true nor false? In that case, what is the best logic for the open future? In this seminar we will tackle these and other questions. Particular attention will be dedicated to: (i) ‘dynamic’ theories of time taking the openness of the future to be ‘ontological’ in nature; (ii) the ‘supervaluationist’ semantics for the open future; (iii) the idea that the openness of the future requires a ‘truth-relativist’ treatment; (iv) the question about whether statements about the future can be said to be, somehow, ‘grounded’ in the future even if the future isn’t yet fully determinate. 


Spring 18/19: Tense and reality

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

Kit Fine’s ‘Tense and Reality’ (2005) represents one of the most important contributions to the debate on time, tense and the reality of temporal passage in recent years. Fine not only distinguishes between ‘standard’ and ‘non-standard’ theories about tense, but also defends the non-standard theory of tense that he calls ‘fragmentalism’ as the best form of tense-realism. In this seminar we will discuss both Fine’s article and the debate it has generated.  Particular attention will be devoted to understanding the main structure of Fine’s ‘McTaggartian’ argument against the reality of tense, and the idea, central to Fine’s fragmentalism, that the best way to be a realist about the reality of temporal passage is to take reality to divide ‘into fragments, no two of which can be regarded as belonging to a single coherent whole’ (Fine 2005: 262).

Spring 18/19: Parts and places

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

According to ‘substantivalists’ about space, time, or spacetime, there exist regions of space, time or spacetime that are (or can be) occupied by certain objects (tables, chairs, persons, electrons, fields, events, et cetera). Assuming that that is in fact the case, it appears legitimate to ask what are, in general, the principles that correctly describe the way in which objects can have a certain (spatial, temporal or spatiotemporal) location. Can objects be ‘multi-located’ and, somehow, ‘be in two places at the same time’? Can objects with no proper parts occupy an extended region of space/time? Can objects occupy a different region than the one occupied by their parts? In this seminar we will tackle this and other questions.  We will also devote particular attention to the contemporary debate on persistence in time and, in particular, the debate between ‘endurantism’ and ‘perdurantism’.

Spring 18/19: Introduction to meta-ontology

      Undergraduate (Proseminar)

W. V. O. Quine famously said that the key question of ontology is so simple that it can be put into three words (‘What is there?’) and answered in just one (‘Everything’). Quine’s famous remark can be seen as expressing in a very succinct form the core of his ‘meta-ontology’, that is, his answers to the questions ‘What is it that we do when we do ontology?’ and ‘What is the correct methodology of ontology?’. The aim of this seminar is to explore the most important positions in the contemporary debate in meta-ontology, from (what may be called) the ‘Quinean orthodoxy’ to the most important non-Quinean approaches to meta-ontology in the literature.

Fall 18/19: Material objects

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

We seem to live in a world populated by familiar objects like tables, chairs, mountains, cats, houses and statues. However, a series of well-known metaphysical puzzles appears to show that accepting the existence of these ordinary objects leads to results that fly in the face of common sense, such as the idea that any group of material objects compose a further object, or the claim that different material objects can occupy the same region of space at the same time. In this seminar we will study and discuss some of these puzzles and understand how they can be adequately addressed. Among others, we will devote particular attention to (i) the argument from vagueness, (ii) the problem of mereological change, and (iii) the puzzle of material constitution.

Fall 18/19: Topics in the metaphysics of time

      Undergraduate (Proseminar)

During this course we will discuss some of the most important issues in the contemporary debate in the metaphysics of time. Among others, the topics will include: McTaggart’s argument for the unreality of time, the distinction between A-theories and B-theories of time, the problem of change, the debate between four-dimensionalism and three-dimensionalism, the grounding problem for presentism, the paradoxes of time travel, and the open future.


Spring 17/18: The moving spotlight

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

The contemporary debate on the metaphysics of time is divided into two main camps. Although both camps acknowledge the reality of time, they disagree as to the reality of temporal passage. According to the B-theory of time, past, present and future all exist and there is no form of objective and mind-independent presentness in reality. According to the A-theories of time, instead, not only is time real but it also possess a kind of dynamic nature which consists in a change in what is objectively present. The so-called ‘moving-spotlight’ theory of time is the theory that agrees with the B-theory that past, present and future entities exists and yet takes there to be some form of presentness in reality that ‘moves’, as time goes by, illuminating later and later moments. In his book ‘The moving spotlight’ (2015) Ross Cameron presents an original and provocative version of the moving-spotlight theory of time, which he defends as a serious contender in the current debate on the reality of temporal passage. In this seminar we will aim to understand and critically discuss Cameron’s theory and to assess the debate it has sparked. The topics that we will examine will include: (i) McTaggart’s paradox and contemporary ‘McTaggartian’ arguments; (ii) the reality of tense; (iii) ‘Quine-Lewis-Sider picture’ vs. the Truthmaker Approach in meta-metaphysics; (iii) the open future; (iv) the possibility of ontic indeterminacy; (v) A-theories and the ‘truthmaker objection’.

Spring 17/18: Introduction to meta-metaphysics

      Undergraduate (Proseminar)

What do philosophers do when they engage in metaphysics? Are metaphysical questions meaningless, the result of some kind of linguistic confusion? Can there be genuine and substantive disagreements in metaphysics? Can we distinguish between true descriptions of the world among those that are, in a sense, more ‘faithful’ to its intrinsic ‘structure’? In this seminar we will aim to answer these among other questions. The topics discussed will include: (i) the Quine vs. Carnap debate; (ii) the notion of ontological commitment and its relation to quantification; (iii) ontological realism and its foes; (iv) the notion of metaphysical grounding; (v) the idea that there is a fundamental level of reality.

Spring 17/18: Topics in metaphysics

      Undergraduate (Proseminar)

We ordinarily acknowledge many truths having a subject-predicate form: the rose is red, the wall is tall, the ball is round, et cetera. In many cases these truths seem to point to the existence of a certain entity (the rose, the ball, the wall) instantiating certain properties (being red, being round, being tall). Intuitively, truth depends on how reality is, so that—the thought goes—if it is true that the rose is red, then there must be some entity that makes it true that the rose is red. But what is this entity? Does the rose suffice to make it true that the rose is red or do we also need the existence of something like the ‘universal’ of redness? If the universal of redness exists, do the rose and its redness somehow compose a further entity—the ‘fact’ that the rose is red? If there is such a thing as the redness that the rose instantiates, is it the same redness that all red things instantiate or does every red thing instantiate a different ‘particularised’ property? In this seminar we will aim to answer these and other questions by focussing on a selection of important topics in the contemporary debate in metaphysics which will include the following: (i) truthmakers, (ii) supervenience, (iii) universals, (iv) tropes, (v) substances, (vi) states of affairs and (vi) mereology and composition.

Fall 17/18: Mereology

      Undergraduate (Hauptseminar)

Mereology (from the Greek meros, ‘part’) is the theory that studies the relations between the parts and the whole. Originally formulated by Stanislaw Leśniewski, and made then popular by Leonard and Goodman’s article ‘The calculus of individuals’, mereology plays today a central and essential role in analytic metaphysics. The aim of this course is to provide a gentle introduction to both the most relevant formal aspects of mereology and the most important philosophical issues with which it deals. The first part of the course will be dedicated to introducing the main mereological notions and to presenting the main principles characterising the so-called ‘classical mereology’. In the second part, we will discuss the most pressing philosophical issues surrounding classical mereology. Among others, we will focus on the following questions in particular: Can two objects have exactly the same parts? Does any collection of objects compose something else? Is a whole an ‘addition of being’ with respect to its parts taken together?

Fall 17/18: Introduction to the philosophy of time

    Undergraduate (Proseminar)

Is temporal passage real? Does time really ‘pass’ or ‘flow’, or have some kind of ‘dynamical’ feature? Do past and future entities exist, or is reality exhausted only by what presently exists? What is the nature of change? Is it possible to time-travel to the past and thereby change it? Is the future open and unsettled in a way that the past is not? During this introductory course we will aim to discuss these and other questions animating the contemporary debate on time and temporal passage in analytic metaphysics. Particular attention will be devoted to the following topics: (i) the distinction between ‘A-theories’ and ‘B-theories’ of time; (ii) the so-called ‘McTaggart’s paradox’; (iii) the ‘grounding problem’ for presentists; (iv) the problem of change; (v) the paradoxes of time-travel; (iv) the problem of future contingents.

University of Barcelona


Fall 16/17: Topics in ontology


Much of the recent debate in metaphysics is animated by the notion of fundamentality and the distinction between a fundamental level of reality and possibly many derivative ones metaphysically depending on it. The main aim of this course is to examine and discuss some of the leading approaches to the notion of fundamentality. Among others, we will address the following questions: (i) What does it mean to say that something is ‘fundamental’, or belongs to the ‘fundamental level’ of reality? (ii) What does it mean for something to metaphysically depend on something else? (iii) Why do we need to distinguish between what is fundamental  and what is derivative? (iv) What is the relationship between ontology and fundamental ontology? (v) Is there a fundamental level of reality? 

UNAM (Mexico City):


Spring 13/14 : Ontology

      Undergraduate , co-taught with José Edgar González Varela, [in Spanish]

Fall 13/14: Presentism and the grounding objection


The contemporary debate in metaphysics of time is divided in two main camps. A-theorists uphold the reality of temporal passage and the existence of a metaphysically privileged time (the present). Instead, B-theorists deny that time literally ‘passes’ and claim that past, present, and future all exist, with no time being privileged over the others. Presentism is often presented as being the most commonsensical and intuitive theory among the A-theories of time. According to presentists, only present entities exist and instantiate properties and relations. There are no past or future entities, although there were entities that do not exist now, and, most likely, there will be entities that still do not exist. The idea that past and future do not exist does appear to have a certain pre-theoretical pull. However, it is also cause for some important and resilient theoretical problems. One of the most important objections to presentism is, in fact, represented by the so-called grounding objection. Truth, we intuitively feel, cannot ‘float on the void’, but must—somehow—depend on how reality is, that is, either on what entities exist, or on what pattern of properties and relations they instantiate. Truth, in other words, must be grounded in reality. If, however, only present entities exist, as presentists claim, what can systematically ground truths about the past?
The aim of this seminar is to thoroughly discuss the grounding objection to presentism, and to understand its import within the contemporary debate about the reality of temporal passage. Different grounding theories for presentism will be examined and discussed. In the process it will be investigated when and how a specific ontological posit might constitute an ‘ontological cheat’. Particular attention will be devoted to the question about whether modal principles (such as the truth-maker principle and the supervenience principle) are sufficient to capture the notion of grounding, or whether such a notion requires a finer-grained analysis.