August 13, 2010
For the last 20 years, I’ve taught a Metaphysics 1 course to graduate students for Talbot’s Philosophy of Religion & Ethics program. Metaphysics is one of my areas of specialization, and it’s not only theoretically interesting to me but it is practically satisfying. For a person has the privilege to learn how to be skilled at paying attention to the nature of things. My students don’t thank me enough for helping them with this skill! I’m kidding … sort of.
I am often asked how do I teach metaphysics? There are two broad parts to my answer:
First, I teach interactively with some preeminent texts on the subject, including from E.J. Lowe (A Survey of Metaphysics), Michael Loux (Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction), Geoffrey Madell (The Identity of the Self), along with various supplementary readings from Bruce Aune, Roderick Chisholm, Reinhardt Grossmann, Ted Sider, Bill Vallicella, C.D. Broad and several others. With all of these contributors, I have my students read both my 2001 Universals book and some of my Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (co-authored with Bill Craig). I want them to read my stuff because I think it’s worth reading and because I want them to gain a perspective and not just comparatively know texts, arguments, authors, or even merely the history of a discussion, etc. The study of metaphysics, at least as a realist, can be confidence-inducing. In part, that’s what I mean by gaining a perspective; it can help you better see what is or is not the case. It is indispensible to the foundations of a Christian worldview.
Second, I teach by particular examples or cases. I am an epistemic particularist (compared to an epistemic methodist). I’ve been schooled by Chisholm in these areas. I want to help my students consider different things from the standpoint of metaphysics. This serves a two-fold purpose: it gives me the opportunity to model how to think metaphysically about something. Or, as I like to sing, “Let’s get [meta-] physical!” This approach - not the singing per se but the interacting with my students! - also allows me the opportunity to watch and observe my students (whether in class or through their written work) learn how they think deeply about an area in metaphysics.