Constitution: A Reader, edited by Michael Rea A Dialogue on Personal Identity and
Immortality, by John Perry The Metaphysics of Death, by
John Martin Fischer
The above texts should be available in the student
book store. Other required readings--if there should be any--will
available during the
duration of the
course, and will be posted up on my website. In general, I will email
the entire class when any changes have been made to any of the course
related webpages. Suggested on-line readings
will be posted on the course main page here.
Suppose you have finally decided to marry the love of your
life. The two of you exchange vows and promise to be together forever.
seven years later you come home and find the closets empty of your
belongings, some suitcases missing, and the following note propped up
“As we both know,
human beings are made up of a collection of skin and bones and tissue
and millions and millions of atoms and particles. When we made our
vows, there were two distinct collections of particles exchanging vows.
However, over the last seven years, those particles have changed: bits
tissue and skin have been replaced by new bits of tissue and skin. In
there is not a single particle that makes up me now that is identical
of the particles that made up the collection of particles that made a
to you at the alter. Therefore, since the particles that make up me now
entirely distinct from the ones that married you, I am a different
from the one who married you. Since we are not married, I am out of
Good-bye.” (example modified from Michael Rea's in the Introduction to Material Constitution: A Reader)
Understandably, you are heartbroken. But, more importantly,
you are feeling duped. Surely something
must be wrong with the above line of reasoning (otherwise divorce
would be a much swifter process and there would be no need for
divorce lawyers). But where did your spouse's reasoning go awry?
In this class, we will be looking at puzzles of constitution
like the one above. We will be primarily focused on the nature of
persons, leading us to discuss such topics in metaphysics as identity,
persistence, time, composition, and the mind/body problem. In
addition to puzzles like the one above, we will also be interested in
related puzzles involving persons and death motivated by questions such
as: Are persons identical to their bodies? To their brains? To their
souls? Is memory important for personal identity? What happens when we
die? Is death a bad thing for the person who is dead? Does death give
life meaning? If so, is a life without death meaningless? Is immortality desirable or
undesirable? Should we fear death?
This course will be divided into three main sections: (i) Puzzles of
Objects, (ii) Puzzles of Persons, and (iii) Puzzles of Death. Please
visit the reading schedule here
for more details on the particular readings and topics we will be
covering throughout the course.
(i) 2 Papers
There will be 2 papers 4-6 pages in length. Due dates
for the papers can be found on the reading schedule. Rough
drafts for the papers, while not required, are strongly
encouraged. I will be holding extra office hours the week the
papers are due so that we can go over the rough drafts in person.
(ii) 1 Final
There will be 1 comprehensive final at the end of the semester. It will
cover all of
the material and will be in short answer/essay format. Date: Tuesday, April 29 4pm.
You are expected to read the assignments, think carefully
about the readings, and come to class prepared. Part of what makes
so engaging is being able to discuss various views with others. My hope
this course will provide you with a forum where such discussion can
Thus, a small part of your grade will be allotted for participation,
includes coming to class, taking part in class discussions, turning in
assignments, coming to office hours, etc.
Your final grade in this course will be broken down as
Caveat: You must pass the final exam,
and you must turn in all of the required assignments, in order to pass
It is expected that everyone in the class has read, understood,
and obeys UNC's Honor Code, which you can read on-line here. For more general
information about the university's honor system, go here.
is oftentimes difficult. You may find
need to read an article several times before you even have a sense of
article is about. Please don't get frustrated—you’ll discover that
patience and working through such arduous material will be incredibly
rewarding. However, chances are that even reading and re-reading the
will not be enough. That is why I encourage every single one of you to
see me in
my office hours whenever you feel you need the extra help. I have two
week specifically allotted for meeting with students, but feel free to
appointment with me if another time would be more convenient. Also, I
to having group meetings or study sessions outside of class time
feel such a meeting would be beneficial.