The Nature of Reality

Winter 2023


seminar INformation:

Professor Shields
Lectures: MW 13.00-13.50 in MOS 0114

Office Hours and Contact Information:

Office: Arts & Humanities Building 447
Office hours: W 14.00-15.00 and by appt.

N.b. I prefer e-mail to telephone as a manner of student contact. I make an effort to answer student e-mails promptly, but please be aware that I measure promptness in this domain in days rather than hours or minutes.


Teaching Assistants:

Andrew Bollhagen
On Yi Sin
Richard Vangino


Reason and Responsibility, 16th ed, ed J. Feinberg and R. Shafer-Landau (Cengage: 2017)

This text is available in various formats. It is available in print in the UCSD bookstore; an electronic version is also available on the publisher’s site and on Amazon. You may use any format you wish, though you should have access to this work during both lectures and discussion sections.


Requirements and Protocol:

Students will sit two examinations, one preliminary and one final, and write two essays, in the neighborhood of 1,000-1,500 words each.

Dates for the examinations:

Preliminary Examination: 13 February 
Final Examination: TBA (regularly scheduled final examination period)


Due dates for the Essays:

Essay One: 8 February 
Essay Two: 15 March


I will offer prompts  for each of the essays. You are, however, welcome to ignore these suggestions and write on a pertinent topic of your own choosing, but only if that topic is approved by your section leader at least one week in advance of the due date.


These essays are to be submitted electronically in a main-stream word-processing format or (if you use something non-standard) as .pdf documents, to the address given above. Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.


Attendance is expected at all Lectures and Section meetings.

This course provides an introduction to philosophy and philosophical method. We will examine inter alia the following main areas and questions:


Rational Theology
  • Do we have any compelling, or even plausible, argument for God’s non-existence? Do we have, that is, any good reason to be (or become) theists?
  • Should we be concerned if we do not? What is the relation between faith and reason?
  • Do we have, by contrast, a compelling, or even plausible, argument for God’s non-existence? Do we have, that is, any good reason to be (or become) atheists?
  • Is atheism the only rationally acceptable stance in a scientifically informed world?
  • Should we, perhaps, prefer a humble sort of agnosticism?
The Mind and its Place in Nature
  • What is the mind-body problem? (Or, rather: what are the mind-body problems?)
    • Are there good theism-independent reasons for accepting mind-body dualism?
    • What are the prospects, if any, for personal post-mortem survival?
  • What does personal identity consist in?
    • Do we have good reasons for thinking that you are the same person as the two-year old organism with whom you are biologically continuous? (What, precisely, does biological continuity consist in?)
    • Is personal identity necessary for survival?
Free Will and Human Responsibility
  • Are human freedom and responsibility compatible with universal causal determinism?
  • Does universal causal determinism in fact obtain?
  • Are human freedom and responsibility compatible with the denial of universal causal determinism?
  • What form of human freedom does moral responsibility require?


Reading Schedule:

Please adhere to reading schedule, but note: some readings will be discussed directly, while others will merely be assumed as background for lectures; all are, however to be read before the lecture for which they are assigned. It is good practice to reread them after the lecture as well.

(RR = Reason and Responsibility)


Weeks One-TWO: Rational Theology
Week One
    • M:
      • Feinberg, ‘A Logic Lesson,’ RR, 1
      • Aquinas, ‘The Five Ways,’ RR, 47
      • Anselm, ‘The Ontological Argument from Proslogion,’ RR, 31
    • W:
      • Gaunilo of Marmoutiers, ‘On Behalf of the Fool,’ RR, 33
      • Rowe, ‘The Ontological Argument,’ RR, 34
Week Two
    • M:
      • Mackie, ‘Evil and Omnipotence,’ RR, 118
      • Van Inwagen, ‘The Argument from Evil,’ RR, 126
      • Johnson, ‘God and the Problem of Evil,’ RR, 147
    • W:
      • Clifford, ‘The Ethics of Belief,’ RR, 151
Weeks Three-Five: The Mind and its Place in Nature
Week Three
    • M:
      • Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (Meditations One and Two Only), RR 240
      • Gertler, ‘In Defense of Mind-Body Dualism,’ RR, 359
    • W:
      • Jackson, ‘The Qualia Problem,’ RR, 372
Week Four
    • M:
      • Papineau, ‘The Case for Materialism’ RR, 376
    • W:
      • Churchland, ‘Functionalism and Eliminative Materialism,’ RR, 382
Week Five
    • M:
      • Turing, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence,’ RR, 391
    • W:
      • Searle, ‘Minds, Brains, Programs,’ RR, 400
Weeks Six-Seven: Personal Identity 


Week Six: 
    • M:
      • Preliminary Examination (13 February)
    • W:
      • Locke, ‘The Prince and the Cobbler,’ RR, 413
      • Reid, ‘Of Mr. Locke’s Account of our Personal Identity,’ RR, 416
Week Seven:
    • M:
      • Perry, ‘A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,’ RR 382
    • W:
      • Kagan, ‘What Matters,’ RR 427
      • Shields, ‘Personal Identity’ (podcast)
Weeks Eight-Ten: Free Will and Human Responsibility







Week Eight:
    • M:
      • Strawson, ‘The Maze of Free Will’
    • W: 
      • Beebee, ‘Compatibilism and the Ability to Do Otherwise,’ RR 510
Week Nine:
    • M:
      • Rachels, ‘The Case Against Free Will,’ RR, 481
    • W:
      • Pereboom, ‘Why We Have No Free Will and Can Live Without It,’ RR, 491
Week Ten:
    • M:
      • Chisholm, ‘Human Freedom and the Self,’ RR, 459
    • W:
      • Quodlibetal 

lecture Slides