In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Contemporary Metaphysics

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies and Textbooks
  • Guides, Companions, and Handbooks
  • Reference Works
  • Abstract Objects
  • Action
  • Causation and Laws
  • Color
  • The Existence of God
  • Free Will
  • Fundamental Reality
  • Structure and Kinds
  • Metametaphysics
  • The Mind-Body Problem
  • Modality
  • Perception
  • Personal Identity
  • Time
  • Universals and Particulars

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Philosophy Contemporary Metaphysics
Allan Hazlett
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0075


There is no general agreement or consensus about how to define metaphysics. The word itself derives from the title of one of Aristotle’s books, one that deals with decidedly metaphysical issues, but intuitively metaphysical issues are discussed by Aristotle as much in his other works as in the Metaphysics. Contemporary metaphysics ranges over a broad set of questions: questions about what reality is like, at its most fundamental; questions about the nature of human agency and perception; questions about the legitimacy of metaphysics itself. The only way to know what contemporary metaphysics is about is to understand the relevant texts, issues, and figures. Hence this article, which presents important and influential background readings in the various subareas of metaphysics. These “areas” of metaphysics (like the various “areas” of philosophy) are deeply interconnected, to say the least. Indeed the quotes used here indicate doubts about the very idea of distinct “areas.” On this score, the artificiality of the divisions employed here cannot be overemphasized. This article is concerned with contemporary metaphysics in the “analytic” tradition, and as such it ignores some important philosophers. Most importantly, this article does not cover the historical background to contemporary analytic metaphysics, which includes the Aristotelian tradition that still shapes contemporary metaphysical thinking; the Humean empiricism and Kantian idealism to which analytic metaphysicians owe so much; and finally, the “Absolute Idealism” of F. H. Bradley (the negative reaction to which helped spawn “analytic” philosophy as we know it). Nor does it cover early-20th-century analytic philosophy, including logical positivism, or ordinary language philosophy. The aim here is to provide background reading for those concerned with contemporary metaphysics. The texts selected are mostly from the last half of the 20th century, and, for the most part, they are those that have had the most impact on contemporary debates.

Anthologies and Textbooks

The anthologies listed here (Kim, et al. 2012, Loux 2008, van Inwagen and Zimmerman 2008) are useful reference texts for researchers and would be suitable for courses on metaphysics for upper-division and graduate students. Some fine textbooks are also available for such courses, including van Inwagen 2008 and Ney 2014. For anthologies on more narrow areas of metaphysics, see Reference Works. For a taste of the state of the art, readers should consider Blackwell’s Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics (Sider, et al. 2007).

  • Kim, Jaegwon, Daniel Z. Korman, and Ernest Sosa. Metaphysics: An Anthology. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2012.

    An anthology of contemporary texts, with sections on ontology, modality, universals, persistence, causation, and objects.

  • Loux, Michael J. Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction. 3d ed. New York: Routledge, 2006.

    A textbook with an emphasis on universals and particulars, propositions and modality, causation, time, and persistence.

  • Loux, Michael J., ed. Metaphysics: Contemporary Readings. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

    An anthology of contemporary texts, with sections on universals and particulars, modality, causation, time, persistence, and realism.

  • Lowe, E. J. A Survey of Metaphysics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    A textbook with an emphasis on persistence, modality, agency, space and time, and universals.

  • Ney, A. Metaphysics: An Introduction. London: Routledge, 2014.

    A textbook with chapters on (among others) ontology, meta-metaphysics, persistence, modality, causation, and the metaphysics of race.

  • Sider, Theodore, John Hawthorne, and Dean W. Zimmerman. Contemporary Debates in Metaphysics. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007.

    A collection of essays by leading researchers on abstract entities, causation, modality, personal identity, time, persistence, free will, composition, and metaontology.

  • van Inwagen, Peter. Metaphysics. 3d ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2008.

    A textbook that emphasizes theism, the mind-body problem, free will, and realism.

  • van Inwagen, Peter, and Dean W. Zimmerman, eds. Metaphysics: The Big Questions. 2d ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.

    An anthology of contemporary and historical texts, with sections on ontology, properties, time, persistence, the mind-body problem, free will, modality, and theism.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.