PHIL 455W Contemporary Issues in Epistemology and Metaphysics
PHIL 802 Selected Topics in Epistemology

Philosophical Naturalism, Physicalism & Scientific Realism

Fall Semester 2013 | Evening | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: P. Hanson, WMC 5658 (hanson at


Like all 400W courses, this is a four credit course (or 5 credits if taken under its graduate number) divided into two two-hour classes. But, because of scheduling complications, we have had to give different numbers to the two two-hour parts.

  • Undergraduate students must register in both PHIL 455W D100 AND D101.
  • Graduate students must register in both PHIL 802 G100 and G101.

Your final grade will attach only to D100 or G100, so D101 and G101 are in that respect being treated by the Registrar like a tutorial. But in terms of what actually goes on in classes of D101 (alias G101), it will be just another class like (i.e., a continuation of) D100 (alias G100); i.e., not a tutorial! Sorry for this slight complication when signing up.   


In the 60’s, the programs of ‘philosophical naturalism’, ‘physicalism’, and ‘scientific realism’ increasingly came to be seen as fruitful and complementary methodological and ontological stances within the analytic philosophical community. ‘Naturalist’, ‘physicalist’, and ‘realist’ were labels garnering a certain clannish loyalty and caché across a broad spectrum of philosophical inquiry, from epistemology and the studies of mind, language, and science, to ethics and the studies of normativity, mathematics and modality. But eventually tensions emerged both within and among the three doctrines, in trying to apply them in any unifying and coherent way. For instance, some declared themselves naturalists but not physicalists, or naturalists but not realists. It was debated whether scientific realism should be taken as robustly ‘external’ or transcendental, or merely ‘internal’ or empirical, and which of these if any was compatible with naturalism? If physicalism was the view, roughly, that everything is physical, was this slogan to be understood as an identity claim about types or merely tokens? Or was identity the wrong relation, and should we be talking instead about the supervenience of everything on the physical? But there proved to be many grades of supervenience, and disagreements about which grade was appropriate. If not identity or supervenience, then how about composition, constitution or realization as the physicalist’s ‘grounding’ relation? Or is any interpretation of the physicalist’s slogan ultimately defensible as ‘naturalistic’? After reviewing these developments, we will step back and seek a general and up-to-date perspective on these doctrines and their relations to each other, in aid of a fresh reassessment of their would-be philosophical importance.


  • The readings are nearly all available on the web through the SFU library, or otherwise available as PDFs. They include papers, chapters and/or parts of monographs by philosophers like WvO Quine, Hilary Putnam, Arthur Fine, David Papineau, Daniel Stoljar, Jack Ritchie, Andrew Melnyk, Jaegwon Kim, Michael Devitt, Hilary Kornblith, Robert Koons and others, with a critical mass of relatively recent (post 2005) treatments. A syllabus will be posted in due course.


  • For 455W, 2 shorter written assignments, worth 25% apiece, the first of which will be rewritten in response to feedback both on its content and its form, and a term paper worth 40% of the final grade. The remaining 10% will be for course participation. The grade for the paper that is rewritten will be a (perhaps weighted) average of the grades for the two drafts.
  • For 802, 1 shorter written assignment and 1 class presentation worth 25% each, and a term paper worth 50%.

: For the 400 level course, two 300 division PHIL courses. or permission of the instructor. W credit.