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Phil 291

Fall 2003


Seminar in Metaphysics:

Comparative Approach



Instructor: Dr. Bo Mou

Time & Place:  Monday: 19:00 ñ 21:45; HB405

Office Hours: 

  • Regular Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday 17:30-18:30

  • If you are unable to make these times, we can schedule a time convenient for you.

Office: FO 225

Phone: (408) 924-4513



Course Description

Taking comparative approach and through constructive engagement, this seminar focuses on some fundamental concerns and issues in metaphysics: (1) universals and particulars; (2) being and becoming; (3) the subjective and the objective; and (4) language and world. What are under discussion include relevant ideas and approaches by those figures from Western and Chinese philosophical traditions like Plato, Aristotle, Laozi, Zhuangzi, Gongsun Long, Decartes, Locke, Zhu Xi, Berkeley, Kant, Wittgenstein, Russell, Husserl and Davidson, and by some contemporary writers on Chinese and comparative philosophy. The emphasis is on how those thinkers from the distinct traditions and from distinct strands within one tradition could jointly contribute to our approach to those fundamental concerns in some philosophically interesting ways.

Required Texts

  • Bo Mou compiled: Course Reader (R)


At least one upper division course in the history of philosophy or instructor consent.

Course Requirements

(1) Seminar participation: 20% (Active in discussion; regular attendance: two bonus points will be given for perfect attendance; one bonus point will be given for only-one-class-missing attendance).

(2) Three critical reading reports or discussion forum contributions and their in-Class presentations: 15% x 3 = 45%. Each goes with 3-4 typewritten pages; it will be either a critical examination of the assigned reading or a short discussion essay. The critical reading report consists of a summary of its major points and justification lines and your critical analysis of them. The discussion essay focuses on how (some of) the involved approaches could constructively engage with each other and make their respective contributions (if any) to the metaphysical issue under discussion. For each of the writings, you will be arranged to make your in class presentation; a one-page handout needs to be prepared for the class.

(3) Term Paper: 30%. 10-12 typewritten, double-spaced pages; due on the last class meeting [12/8]; you are free to choose your paper topics as long as they are related to the reading materials. I will also suggest some topics as the semester proceeds. You need hand in a one-page description of your paper topic on 11/24; it is strongly recommended that you start working on your paper as early as possible).


Tentative Course Schedule


Date                Topic                                                                    Readings

8/25 (M)                Prelinimaries

                              Methodological issues in studies of metaphysics            None


Part I: Universals and Particulars


9/8 (M)                  Approaches in Western philosophy:

                              Plato, Aristotle, and Ockham                                              R: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3


9/15 (M)                Approaches in Chinese philosophy:            

                              Gong-sun Long, Lao Zi, and Zhu Xi                                    R: 1.4, 1.5, 1.6


9/17 (M)                Discussion forum:

                              Engagement among distinct approaches                 Further reading of the above


Part II: Being and Becoming


9/22 (M)                Being-concern approaches                                                  R: 2.1, also 1.1


9/29 (M)                Becoming-concern approaches                                          R: 2.2, 2.3


10/6 (M)                The approach in the Yi-Jing                                                  R: 2.4

                               Discussion forum: Constructive engagement 

                               among distinct approaches                                         Further reading of the above


Part III: The Subjective and the Objective


10/13 (M)              Alternative identities of things: Zhuang Ziís approach       R: 3.1


10/20 (M)              Descartesí and Lockeís approaches                                  R: 3.2, 3.3       


10/27 (M)              Berkeleyís and Wang Yang-mingís approach                    R: 3.4, 3.5


11/3 (M)                Kantís approach                                                                     R: 3.6              


11/10 (M)              Wang Fu-zhiís and Russellís approaches                           R: 3.7, 3.8


11/17 (M)              Husserlís approach                                                                R: 3.9


11/24 (M)              Discussion forum: Constructive engagement 

                               among distinct approaches                                       Further reading of the above


Part IV: Language and World


12/1 (M)                Wittgensteinís approach                                                       R: 4.1

                              Frege-Church-Davidsonís Slingshot                                    R: 4.2


12/8 (M)                Approaches in Chinese philosophy                                     R: 4.3

                              Term Paper Due


NOTE:  The above schedule is for guidance only and may change in the event of extenuating circumstances.




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