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Members' Day, 8 September 2012

THEMES IN METAPHYSICS

Links in the below time-table activate MP3 audio recordings of the corresponding talks and their handouts.

1.30 pm Registration
1.45 pm Chris Farmer: Introduction
2.00 pm Eileen Walker: Possible Worlds and Essential Kind Membership or Could Aristotle Have Been A Paper Clip?
2.45 pm Mike Arnautov: A Galaxy of Cows, a Constellation of Chairs
3.30 pm Tea/Coffee
4.00 pm Jeanne Warren: The Personal Universe: Metaphysics for the 21st Century
4.45 pm David Kemp: A Kind of Fantastic Fairy Tale: Is This All Leibniz Tells Us?
5.30 pm Panel discussion
6.30 pm Bar
7.00 pm Dinner
8.00 pm Open discussion
9.00 pm Course disperses
Bar open till 10:30 pm


The Talks in chronological order.

Eileen Walker: Could Aristotle Have Been A Paper Clip?

I give a brief outline of two controversial metaphysical notions – possible worlds' and 'essential kind membership', and then show how different analyses of the 'possible worlds' concept yield different answers to two essentialist questions: could Aristotle become, or have been, a member of a kind distinct from his actual kind. Could Aristotle change from a human being into a paper clip? Could he have spent his entire existence as a paper clip rather than a human being?
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (Word .doc format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Mike Arnautov: A Galaxy of Cows, a Constellation of Chairs

Metaphysics requires epistemology. An assertion about what is or is not, must be backed by an explanation of how its truth can be known. Thus, quite apart from any deeper issues, a claim that cows exist needs an explanation of how do we know that a cow is a cow. My pragmatic approach is to resort to cluster-analysis, which arguably suggests that cows are in some ways akin to galaxies, unlike chairs, which are more like stellar constellations.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (PDF format)
Talk text (PDF format)

Jeanne Warren: The Personal Universe: Metaphysics for the 21st Century

Metaphysics has been variously defined, but one definition points to the foundational nature of its concepts rather than any particular content. The boldest thinkers question established foundations and suggest new ones. I will present the ideas of 20th-century philosopher John Macmurray in this light. He proposed we start from 'I act' rather than 'I think' and developed the implications in his Gifford Lectures "The Form of the Personal". I hope to show that his approach allows us to avoid some sterile paths into which 'I think' philosophy has led us, without sacrificing philosophical rigour.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (Word .doc format)
Talk text (PDF format)

David Kemp: A Kind of Fantastic Fairy Tale: Is This All Leibniz Tells Us?

For Leibniz, the world is ultimately constituted by an infinitely large class of indivisible individuals he calls monads. These can only be characterised in terms of themselves and express the world through having perceptions and being in action. Yet the entire scheme is bounded by logic, made perfect by God and universally informed by reasons. I will argue that far from being gobbledygook this represents a powerful attempt to provide a unifying account of everything that mystifies us about metaphysics.
Audio recording (MP3 format)
Handout (Word .doc format)
Talk text (PDF format)


The Speakers

  1. Eileen Walker's first degree was in French and Spanish and in another life she taught languages. She has been a philosophy junkie for over 20 years thanks to OUDCE, has an MA from Reading, and is now in purdah trying to finish off a PhD thesis. She escapes briefly to give today's talk.
  2. Mike Arnautov comes from Prague where he studied mathematics and physics, followed by MSc in statistics. He came to England in 1970 to work on artificial intelligence, gaining his PhD in 1974. Until his retirement in 2007 he worked as a systems programmer/architect. Mike blames his long-standing interest in philosophy on reading too much science-fiction.
  3. Jeanne Warren graduated in French, not realising until later that her questions about religion betrayed an interest in philosophy. In the 1960's she and her first husband emigrated to Australia and then to England. In 1970, on a return visit to the US, she discovered the work of philosopher John Macmurray. She pursued her interest in Macmurray, writing an introductory booklet Becoming Real in 1989, and has studied philosophy more widely with the help of Rewley House.
  4. David Kemp read PPP at Oxford in the mid-1960s and thought little more about Philosophy until thirty years later when his ignorance of the subject profoundly shocked him. So he simply re-started, first by attending OUDCE classes and then by defending his views by making formal presentations of them to others.


Suggested websites and reading:

Stephan Körner Metaphysics: Its Structure and Function Cambridge University Press, 1984
Michael Loux Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction Routledge, 2002
Stanford online http://www.seop.leeds.ac.uk/entries/metaphysics/ (by van Inwagen)

 
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