Metaphysics: The Key Concepts

Metaphysics: The Key Concepts

Metaphysics: The Key Concepts

Metaphysics: The Key Concepts


'Informative, accessible, and fun to read-- this is an excellent reference guide for undergraduates and anyone wanting an introduction to the fundamental issues of metaphysics. I know of no other resource like it.'- Meghan Griffith, Davidson College, USA

'Marvellous! This book provides the very best place to start for students wanting to take the first step into understanding metaphysics.Undergraduates would do well to buy it and consult it regularly. The quality and clarity of the material are consistently high.' - Chris Daly, University of Manchester, UK

Ever wondered about Gunk, Brains in a Vat or Frankfurt's Nefarious Neurosurgeon?

With complete explanations of these terms and more, Metaphysics: The Key Concepts is an accessible and engaging introduction to the most widely studied and challenging concepts in metaphysics. The authors clearly and lucidly define and discuss key terms and concepts, under the themes of:

  • time
  • particulars & universals
  • realism & antirealism
  • free will
  • personal identity
  • causation and laws.

Arranged in an easy to use A-Z format, each concept is explored and illustrated with engaging and memorable examples, and accompanied by an up-to-date guide to further reading. Fully cross-referenced throughout, this remarkable reference guide is essential reading for students of philosophy and all those interested in the nature of reality.


What is metaphysics?

Broadly speaking (although this, like most other things in metaphysics, is controversial), we can take metaphysics to be the philosophical study of the nature of reality. The ‘philosophical’ part of ‘philosophical study’ is important, because of course, plenty of other people study the nature of reality, for example, physicists, biologists, sociologists and archaeologists. The philosophical study of the nature of reality is distinctive in two related ways.

First, metaphysicians study questions that do not appear to be answerable – or at least, not fully answerable – by physicists or biologists or sociologists. Take the question, ‘do we have free will?’. This is a question about the nature of reality, for it is a question about whether human beings, or perhaps persons, have a particular feature or capacity (the capacity for acting freely). However, it is a question that is not (or at least not fully) answered by considering facts about physics or even neuroscience or psychology (see neuroscience and free will). One reason for this is that whether or not we have free will depends, in part, on what it means to attribute free will to someone. For example, must it be genuinely undetermined, right up until you make a decision, which decision you will make, for you to decide freely?, or is freedom of the will merely a matter of you having a certain kind of control over your decisions, where the kind of control that is required is compatible with your decisions being fully determined well before you actually make them? These questions are conceptual questions – questions about what ‘free will’ means – and answering them requires distinctively philosophical investigation (which goes under the broad heading of conceptual analysis): we need to consider why the concept of free will is important, we need to disentangle various senses in which someone might be ‘in control’ of his or her decisions and actions and what kind of circumstances might deprive him or her of that control, and so on. These are not questions that can be answered by investigations in physics or neuroscience or psychology.

Similarly – to draw on some other examples explored further in this book – although physicists and biologists might have views about what is . . .

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