PHIL 308: Metaphysics and Mind

Instructor: Lars Enden, Ph.D.

Objectives and Content

Our primary concern in this course will be philosophical issues of personhood. We will ask questions about personal identity, the possibility of making free choices in a deterministic world, and the many mysteries of thought and consciousness. We will begin from a broad metaphysical perspective, but then quickly zoom in on more specific issues in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. For each issue, we will read essays written as part of a specific debate between contemporary philosophers, and we will test our own ideas against them with open in-class debates and writing exercises.

Required Texts

  • Personal Identity by Sydney Shoemaker and Richard Swinburne
  • Four Views on Free Will by John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, Derk Pereboom, and Manuel Vargas à
  • Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Mind Edited by Brian P. McLaughlin and Jonathan Cohen

Graded Work

Reading Questions [20 x 10 points each = 200 points (40% of final grade)]

For every class except the first, there are reading questions available on our Moodle site. Responses to these questions must be typed and brought with you to class. Reading questions cannot be turned in through email or by any other student. You must turn in your reading questions in person during class. Additionally, you are invited to update your answers during class. Any updated (hand-written) answers can earn back up to half of the points lost on your original (typed) answers. Your lowest seven scores will not be counted in your final grade.

Positions Papers [3 x 50 points each = 150 points (30% of final grade)]

There will be three short papers. The first paper will be devoted to the issue of personal identity; the second paper will be devoted to the issue of free will; and the last paper will deal with issues in philosophy of mind. In each paper, you will have to explain a philosophical problem and defend a particular position in relation to the problem. Although, they are each worth the same amount of points, they will get progressively more involved and complex as we go.

Philosophical Reflections [30 x 3 points each = 90 points (18% of final grade)]

At least once (and sometimes twice) during each class, we will take a few minutes to write down some ideas about a particular question. These are graded as pass/fail. These will help you focus your attention, work through your ideas, and test your understanding.

Participation [30 days x 2 points per day = 60 points (12% of final grade)]

Each class period, you have the opportunity to gain two points for participation. One point is for attendance (show up on time and stay until the end). The other point is for engagement (be an active participant in classroom activities). The easiest way to lose your engagement point for the day is by using your phone during class.

Grading Scale [500 points total]

465 – 500 = A
450 – 464 = A-
435 – 449 = B+
415 – 434 = B
400 – 414 = B-
385 – 399 = C+

365 – 384 = C
350 – 364 = C-
335 – 349 = D+
315 – 334 = D
300 – 314 = D-
≤ 299 = F

Classroom Policies

No Electronic Devices

All laptops, cell phones, etc., must be silenced and stored away before class begins. A cell phone in your lap is not properly stored. If I see you using any electronic device at any time during class, you will automatically lose your engagement point for the day. I may or may not inform you of this fact.

Absences, Late Work and Office Hours

In general, work can only be turned in during class time. Therefore, if you are not in class, then:

  • You lose all participation points for the day (2 points),
  • You cannot do the philosophical reflection exercise(s) (3-6 points), and
  • You cannot turn in the reading questions (10 points).

However, if both of the following are true:

  • You let me know before class begins that you will miss the class, and
  • You meet with me in office hours no more than a week after the missed class so that I catch you up on what you missed.

then you receive the following benefits:

  • You get your engagement point back
  • You can do the philosophical reflection exercise(s) for full credit.

Note: You still lose your attendance point for not being in class, and you still cannot turn in your reading questions. But remember, your lowest seven grades for reading questions are dropped for your final grade.


We will be discussing many debatable issues in this class; you may have strong opinions about them, and some of your peers may not agree with you. However, it is important everyone feels they are welcome to contribute to the conversation. So, it is important we all remain respectful at all times. Remember, in philosophy, we criticize ideas; we do not criticize people. Any student who acts in a disrespectful manner will simply be asked to leave.

Academic Honesty

This course operates under the College Honor System. I expect all students to adhere to the honor system.


If you believe a specific accommodation may be appropriate for you, please contact the student development office. They can evaluate your specific accessibility needs and provide you with a letter detailing the accommodations appropriate for you.

General Advice

  • Take your education seriously. You will probably only get one chance at college; don’t waste it. Remember your reasons for being here!
  • Always come to class. The ultimate key to success in this class is attendance and participation. Do not skip this class unless you absolutely must, and, while you are in class, pay attention, take good notes, ask questions, and contribute to the discussion.
  • Keep reading. You will probably find the reading to be difficult. Please do not give up on the reading just because you don’t understand it right away. Just keep reading even if you are not sure you understand it. You probably understand more than you think, and you will get better at reading difficult texts the more you practice it. The reading questions in this class are worth more than anything else precisely because I want to encourage you to work hard at understanding what you are reading. It is not easy, but do not give up. Just keep going.
  • Have an opinion. I will never tell you what I think about any of the issues we will be discussing in this course. What I think is not important. Part of your responsibility in this course is to think through the issues for yourself. So, go ahead and give yourself the luxury of having an opinion. Try to avoid saying or thinking things like, “Well, who is to say what is right or wrong?” I am asking what you think, so you get to say.
  • Be willing to change your mind. Your classmates will be sharing their thoughts with you about these issues. Try to keep an open mind to their ideas when they conflict with what you think. Part of what we are trying to do is to determine which answers are backed up by the best reasons. We cannot accomplish this if we always just stick with our initial opinions. Honest philosophers do not think they have it all figured out; they are willing to listen to reasons and to change their minds when they encounter good reasons to do so.

Course Schedule

PI = Personal Identity by Shoemaker & Swinburne
FW = Four Views on Free Will by Fischer, Kane, Pereboom & Vargas
CD = Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Mind edited by McLaughlin & Cohen

Week One:
(M) Syllabus
(W) PI 1-34
(F) PI 35-66

Week Two:
(M) PI 61-84
(W) PI 98-132
(F) PI 133-152

Week Three:
(M) FW 1-22
(W) FW 22-43
(F) FW 44-61, First Paper Due

Week Four:
(M) FW 61-84
(W) FW 85-103
(F) FW 103-125

Week Five:
(M) FW 126-145
(W) FW 145-165
(F) FW 166-190

Week Six:
(M) FW 191-219
(W) CD Chapter 1
(F) CD Chapter 2

Week Seven:
(M) CD Chapter 3, 2nd Paper Due
(W) CD Chapter 4
(F) CD Chapter 7

Week Eight:
(M) CD Chapter 8
(W) CD Chapter 15
(F) CD Chapter 16

Week Nine:
(M) No Class, Memorial Day
(W) CD Chapter 17
(F) CD Chapter 18

Week Ten:
(M) William Lycan (online)
(W) Brie Gertler (online)
(F) Extra Day for DOGL

Finals: Third paper due Monday.