Antony Eagle

Antony Eagle

Metaphysics: Identity, Time and Freedom

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that investigates very general questions about the nature of reality, questions that are prior to other scientific investigations. Where physics might tell us how objects move through space and time, metaphysics investigates questions like What is the nature of time itself?, How do objects continue to exist over time and through change?, What is an object? or even What is existence? Metaphysics also concerns itself with questions about the relations between different aspects or levels of reality. For example, Is the world entirely physical?, or Can human agency be reconciled with the existence of physical laws? In this course, we will approach some of these issues as they are treated in contemporary analytic philosophy. We focus particularly on the nature of time (including time travel and the significance of relativity theory); the nature of identity (including personal identity, the paradox of change, and the nature of parts and wholes); and the problem of free will.

Information about the course as delivered at Adelaide can be found in the Course Outline.


Metaphysics is a very large and active area of philosophical research. The breadth of topics it covers makes a representative survey infeasible, so these lectures concentrate on issues in three central areas: the nature of time and passage; theories of change and persistence through time; and the question of free will and responsibility.

The course opens with a discussion of method in metaphysical enquiry, to familiarise us with the techniques involved in the course and readings. The course proper commences with an examination of the paradoxes of time travel, which are entwined with all three of our focal topics. The first part of the course, on time, covers the dispute over reductionism about tense, the passage and direction of time, and the content and significance of our temporal experience and our temporal attitudes. We then move on to the second part of the course, on identity and persistence. We begin with personal identity, and the challenges of fission cases to standard accounts. This leads us to the more general problem of persistence through change, where we consider the dispute between endurance and perdurance, and the role of mereological and locative considerations in persistence. At the conclusion of this part we turn to relativistic physics, revisiting the problems of time and persistence in a modern spacetime setting. In the final part of the course, we take up the topic of free will through an extended discussion of van Inwagen’s classic Essay on Free Will.

The topics are ancient, but our approach is principally rather than historical, and draws extensively on contemporary research. To gain traction on these sometimes abstract issues, we also make use of the precision that logical formalism permits; students without a background in logic might wish to consult one of the many available open logic resources. (I use the notation from forall\(x\) Adelaide.)

I welcome any feedback on the materials, as well as thoughts on omissions and ideas for additions.

Lecture notes

  1. Introduction
    1. Method in Metaphysics and the Paradoxes of Time Travel: html notes | pdf slides
  2. Time
    1. The A-Theory, the B-Theory, and Temporal Ontology: html notes | pdf slides
    2. Passage and the Direction of Time: html notes | pdf slides
    3. Temporal Experience and the Attitudes: html notes | pdf slides
  3. Identity
    1. Personal Identity: html notes | pdf slides
    2. Change and Persistence: html notes | pdf slides
    3. Parts, Places, and Persistence: html notes | pdf slides
    4. Relativity and Persistence: html notes | pdf slides
  4. Freedom
    1. The Problems of Free Will and Fatalism: html notes | pdf slides
    2. Incompatibilism and the Consequence Argument: html notes | pdf slides
    3. Compatibilism and Moral Responsibility: html notes | pdf slides
    4. Do We Have Free Will? html notes | pdf slides

Metaphysics by Antony Eagle is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0