Metaphysics disclaimer

Ron Amundson is a philosopher and historian of biology at the University of Hawai'i - Hilo who has done some great work in my field. So I was greatly amused and more than a little sympathetic to see this disclaimer linked to from Leiter's blog:

Metaphysics DISCLAIMER

Phil 310, Metaphysics, is a course in some core topics in Western Philosophy, including the Free Will Problem, the Mind-Body Problem, related problems in Philosophy of Mind, and the Problem of Personal Identity. If you’re interested in what these involve, you can find long discussions online in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

However, even after this careful description, I still get students who misunderstand the nature of the course, and expect it to be about astrology, etc. etc. . For that reason, I have composed the following “boxed” statement.


“Metaphysics” as a field of study within the academic area of Philosophy is very different from “Metaphysics” as the label of a bookshelf in Border’s Books. This is a Philosophy course. It is not about what Border’s Books calls Metaphysics. The popular (Border’s Books) understanding of Metaphysics is that it is the study of paranormal phenomena, such as extrasensory perception, out-of-body travel, reincarnation, and auras. None of these topics will be seriously discussed in this course! It doesn’t much matter what my opinions are about the matter, but you may want to know. I believe in science. I do not believe in pseudoscience. I believe that no one has extra-sensory perception (even though perception is a very complicated and interesting thing). I do not believe in reincarnation, or in out-of-body travel. In fact I have published articles in anti-paranormal journals, and I’m somewhat famous for my skeptical refutation of the paranormal Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon. (See my web page for details if you’re interested.)

I do not believe that I’m any more narrow-minded than the next person on these topics. But if you are a fan of paranormal phenomenon, you will probably consider me to be very narrow-minded. That’s ok with me -- you have a right to consider me narrowminded if you want to. But the important thing is this: You should not take this course because you expect to study astrology, ESP, and so on. I will not ask my students to study topics that I consider foolish, and I consider astrology, etc., very foolish.


So if you signed up for the course because you are interested in the supernatural or paranormal, please drop the course. You will not be able to pass the course by concentrating your attention on the paranormal, and trying to prove its existence to me. Many people have tried. None of them has passed the course. Please don’t add your student record to the gruesome list of people who believed that they could convince Amundson that they possessed ESP.

I have had some bad experiences on this topic. Some very sincere students have gotten angry and even belligerant because I required them to study and write about theories that they disagreed with. I am teaching this course the way the American Philosophical Association affirms is the academically responsible way to teach Metaphysics. Please, if that is not a course that you want to take, do not take this one.


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So no wonder his prospective students are confusing metaphysics for metapsychics.

*Shakes head*

I stopped looking for actual science books in book stores long ago, because all you get are "science" books (and I us eth quotes on purpose). It's any real science is drowned away by the likes of Sitchin, Von Däniken, etc... :-P

P.S. Gone to see any opera yet? :-)

At least in B&N (or at least the ones I've been/worked in), those are properly in the "New Age" section. Unfortunately, "Philosophy" is usually the following section, but at least it's a somewhat-obvious separation.

That hundredth-monkey refutation of his is cool. Never even heard about it before that.

I don't know..., to me it's always amusing when philosophers become frustrated over people confusing their mental metaphysical explorations with pop-culture metaphysics. Both are the product of the human mind attempting to pin-down the nature of reality -- and both have most likely been quite unsuccessful in that endeavor.

The author loudly states, -- "I believe in science. I do not believe in pseudoscience." -- Well, if past memory of my college Metaphysics courses serve me right, I don't recall all that much "science" taking place. No scientific experiments to see if 1-out-of-a-million monkeys would suddenly come up with a Shakesperean sonnet -- no experiments to prove that if one is teletransported from Boston to Miami, he or she will be the same "person" on the other end. -- In fact, we did no scientific experiments at all to prove, or disprove anything. We did not "solve" any of the philosophical problems that philosophers have been playing around with since the time of Aristotle. It was great fun and a lot of writing, but it would never have been confused with science.

@ Shoko (#5):

Amundson says he believes in science, not that he does science.

By Physicalist (not verified) on 31 Jan 2009 #permalink

I find his statement a bit confused given his teaching interests on his website state that his classes are âin epistemology, in the philosophy of science, and in pseudoscience and the occult.â It would seem that this problem is always going to present itself as a growing minority of people hold these views.

His classes on these subjects should be a golden opportunity to explain the difference between the methodology used and required by a learning institution and those used by pseudoscience and faith based beliefs. Even if he can not change the basic beliefs of his students, it should be possible to demonstrate why such evidence is not valid in an Academic paper or class presentation.

If itâs not possible to teach such basic requirements, it would seem to raise a number of very serious questions with regard to educational establishments themselves rather than simply blaming very poorly educated students who ask stupid questions and present crap arguments in class.

Thats the easy option.It's not the students who are failing
here I feel.

Sympathetic to what he wrote, but I still think he has missappropriated the term 'metaphysics'. Not that I think it should apply to UFOS, part lives, astrology or other new age fluff. What it should apply to is such things as the Theory of Forms, the nature of creation according to Thomism, and a large variety of other perfectly intelligible topics which generally began to fall out of favour with the publication of John Locke's 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding'. And no, I wouldn't enrol in this course.