On Metaphysics (Chisholm)

Chisholm, Roderick. On Metaphysics.

Human Freedom and the Self

agent causation:  if a man is responsible for some particular deed, then an event, or set of events will be caused, not by other events, but by that man himself (Chisholm 6).

  • transeunt causation:  when one event causes some other event(s)
  • immanent causation:  when an agent causes an event.

Free will

  • actus imperatus: whether we are free to accomplish what we will to do (not what the question is concerned with)
  • actus elicitus: whether we are even free to begin this intention.

Identity through Possible Worlds

essential properties:  properties a subject has necessarily

Identity through Time

Ship of Theseus Problem: Parts of the ship (S₁)are being changed out at intervals, yet is it the same ship?  When does it become a different ship?    What if the parts of the old ship are gradually being used to build a new ship (S₂). 

Is a Person existing at one time the same as a person existing at another time, even though the human body is “changing?”

Parts as essential to their wholes

principle of mereological essentialism: for any whole x, if x has y as one of its parts, then y is part of x in every possible world in which x exists (66).

object pair: a class containing just a thing and a time that the thing constitutes an object during the time (76).  Objects are always objects at a time.

It is not necessary to say that nonprimary objects exist in any possible worlds (e.g., tokens), only primary objects (e.g., types).


A part of a thing is a constituent which is not a boundary (83).   We need the idea of boundaries as a description of physical continuity.   

“x is discrete from y” means there is nothing that is constituent of both x and y.

Df. of a part:  x is a constituent of y and x is not a boundary in y.

Substance: if x has parts, then for every y, if y is a part of x, x is necessarily such that y is a part of it (93).  Also, Platonic forms are substances.  

Problem for process philosophy: no one has ever devoted any philosophical toil showing how to reduce substances to processes (94).

The Mental

Nature of the Psychological

psychological attribute/property:  any property which is possibly such that it is exemplified by just one thing and which includes every property it implies or involves is psychological (99).


(D1) P is an attribute = Df. p is possibly such that there is something that exemplifies it.

Chisholm sees property as a subattribute.

implication: P is necessarily such that if anything has it then something has Q.

inclusion: P includes Q = Df. P is necessarily such that whatever has it has Q.

Presence in Absence (Intentionality)

There is no linguistic interpretation of intentionality.  Though precedes semantics.  

Questions about Minds

  • Descartes’ use: the mens refers to that which has psychological properties.
  • a person’s intellectual capacities
  • That which by means one thinks.
  • A spiritual substance.

Is there a mind-body problem?

The Primacy of the Intentional

de re belief: believing is a matter of believing certain properties of x. 

de dicto locution:  there is a y such that x believes with respect to it that it is true.

Object-Content distinction

object: x is an object = Df. x is something I want you to think about.


An Intentional Approach to Ontology

Properties and States of Affairs Intentionally Considered


extreme realism: there are properties, some of which are exemplified and some of which are not exemplified.

Basic Relations Between Properties

  • implication: P implies Q = Df. P is necessarily such that if it is exemplified then Q is exemplified.  The property “being a wife” seems to imply the property “being a husband”
  • Inclusion:  P includes Q = Df. P is necessarily such that whatever exemplifies it exemplifies Q.   The property being a dog includes that of being an animal, but not vice-versa.
  • Involvement: each is necessarily such that it is impossible for one to conceive it without conceiving the property x.
    • Being x.
    • Being ~x
    • Being possibly x
    • Wanting x.
  • Entailment: P entails Q = Df. P is necessarily such that for every x and every y, if y attributes P to x, then y attributes Q to x.

A negative property is a property that is the negation of a property.

States of Affairs

Df. a type of abstract object that is at least analogous in many respects to properties.  It either obtains or doesn’t obtain.

States and Events

Chisholm does not distinguish between universals as abstract objects and universals as particulars.  As a being of another thing, a state is not an ens per se.  States are ontologically dependent on things of which they are states.


The Self in Austrian Philosophy

Austrian definition of substance: something which is not a state of something else (Bolzano, quoted in Chisholm, 156).  Elements form the self-soul.  Bundle theory variant.

The Categories






Limits (boundary)





What of Classes or Sets?

Russell: the principles of set theory may be construed as being principles about attributes.


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