nl en

Contemporary Metaphysics


N.B. Course descriptions are subject to change

Admission requirements

  • BA students in Filosofie, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including History of Modern Philosophy, Logica, Epistemologie or Wetenschapsfilosofie, Analytische filosofie.

  • BA students in Philosophy: Global and Comparative Perspectives, who have successfully completed at least 70 ECTS credits of the mandatory components of the first and second year of their bachelor’s programme, including World Philosophies: Modern Europe, Logic, Epistemology or Philosophy of Science, Language of Thought.

  • Pre-master’s students in Philosophy who are in possession of an admission statement and who have to complete an advanced seminar, to be selected from package C.


The metaphysics of properties is a staple topic in analytic philosophy. It concerns questions such as whether properties are universals, whether they have causal powers, and what role properties play in the laws of nature. The properties typically discussed in these debates are binary properties such as redness or wisdom: either you have it or you do not. However, science mainly deals in quantitative properties: properties that can be measured, and that are typically expressed numerically. Examples of quantitative properties are length, mass, reactivity, blood pressure, anxiety and GDP. This course focuses on the metaphysics of these quantitative properties.

We will reconsider some of the traditional questions but applied to quantitative properties. We will also consider questions that are specific to quantitative properties. For example, suppose that the mass of every object in the universe were doubled overnight: would we notice the difference, and if not, is it even possible to measure an object’s mass? More generally, how are quantitative properties, from temperature to GDP, really measured? What makes it possible to use numbers to express the results of these measurements? These questions are relevant to those who wonder about the epistemology of measurement in the sciences, and to anyone interested in the metaphysics of the universe’s fundamental building blocks.

We will read most of Jo Wolff’s recent book The Metaphysics of Quantities (2022) on this topic, supplemented by contemporary philosophical literature by authors such as Shamik Dasgupta, Maya Eddon, Hartry Field, Ted Sider and Jessica Wilson.

Course objectives

This course aims to enable you to understand and participate in contemporary debates about the metaphysics of quantitative properties.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • classical metaphysical debates about properties, such as: universals vs particulars, realism vs nominalism, categoricalism vs dispositionalism;

  • central concepts in contemporary metaphysics of quantities, such as: the determinable-determinate distinction, measurement scales, the representational theory of measurement, intrinsicness and naturalness;

  • various key positions in contemporary metaphysics of quantities, such as: absolutism, comparativism and structuralism, operationalism and measurement realism, quidditism and anti-quidditism.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • draw connections between contemporary debates about quantitative properties and traditional debates about the metaphysics of properties;

  • read, understand and evaluate current work in contemporary metaphysics of quantities;

  • write an essay in accord with current writing standards in analytic philosophy, offering a reasoned defense of a claim about one of the topics discussed in the course.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Midterm Essay

  • Final Essay

Attendance and adequate preparation for the seminars are further conditions for course completion.


  • Midterm Essay (30%)

  • Final Essay (70%)


The resit offers the opportunity to students who obtained an insufficient overall grade for the course to write a longer paper that counts for 100% for the overall grade, overwriting the grades for both the midterm and the final essay.

Sufficient attendance at the seminars and adequate weekly preparation for the seminars is a condition for participation in the resit.

Students who have passed the course cannot participate in the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • Wolff, J. (2020), The Metaphysics of Quantities, Oxford: OUP (ISBN: 9780198837084).

Further material made available in class.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is not possible for this course. Students are requested to submit their preferences for the third-year electives by means of an online registration form. They will receive the instruction and online registration form by email (uMail account); in June for courses scheduled in semester 1, and in December for courses scheduled in semester 2. Registration in uSis will be taken care of by the Education Administration Office.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.