Reality, Being and Existence: An Introduction to Metaphysics (Online)


Metaphysics is the most general investigation into the nature of reality. It has been at the centre of philosophy since the beginning of the western tradition in ancient Greece, and many of its concerns are the same as those of Plato and Aristotle. This course will introduce you to some of the traditional concerns.

Listen to Dr Ilhaam Isaacs talking about the course:

After a brief introduction to the nature of metaphysics, the course will focus on five central and traditional metaphysical questions: do we have free will? What is the nature of the causal relation - cause and effect - that binds our world together? What is the nature of time? How does something (for example, a person) change and remain the same thing? Does reality contain universal features as well as particular entities?

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

The areas you will cover in this course are:

Introduction: what is metaphysics? An introduction to the distinctive character of metaphysical questions: the history of the idea of metaphysics, understood as the most general and abstract inquiry into the nature of reality.

Existence: what is existence? What is it to exist? People disagree about what exists; but how can we understand this disagreement? Are there things which do not exist?

Universals and particulars: in addition to particular objects and events, our world seems to contain general or universal features of things, like their colours and their shapes. Is this an illusion or does the world really contain such features, known as 'universals'?

Realism and idealism: does the world exist independently of our minds? Realism is the view that it does; idealism is the view that reality is mind-dependent. Are any features of the world mind-dependent?

The freedom of the will: we think our actions and decisions are free, or up to us, but this idea seems to be in conflict with the apparent fact that everything which happens is determined by what happens before it (this is known as 'determinism'). Does determinism imply that free will is an illusion, or are free will and determinism really compatible after all?

Cause and effect: what is it for one thing to cause another, or to make something happen? Is there more to cause and effect than the mere regularity of things happening after one another? If so, is causation a physical process, or is mental causation also possible?

The nature of time and space: what are time and space? Is there no more to them than the temporal and spatial relations which hold between events and objects? Or should they rather be conceived as the 'containers' in which things exist and events occur? Are the past, present and future genuine aspects of reality, or are they merely 'subjective' features of our experience of time?

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Julia Weckend

Julia has taught philosophy at the Universities of Reading and Southampton before joining Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. She regularly teaches weekly classes as well as courses for Oxford University Summer School for Adults and Oxford Experience. Her academic research focuses on issues in metaphysics and epistemology. She has published papers and edited two volumes in the history of philosophy, and she is a co-author of the Historical Dictionary of Leibniz’s Philosophy (2023).

Course aims

  • To introduce students to some of the central problems of the metaphysical tradition of Western philosophy.
  • To introduce students to some central theories of metaphysics.
  • To introduce students to the methods of metaphysical thinking.

Teaching methods

The majority of the course content will be delivered by textbook with assigned reading for each week. There are also suggestions for optional additional readings or online resources each week. Reading will be guided either by a brief statement or detailed notes.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course you will be able to understand:

  • The nature of the six problems introduced in the course, and something of their historical background.
  • The main arguments for and against the various positions in the metaphysical debates under discussion.
  • The sources of metaphysical problems in general.

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • Recognise what counts as a reason for or against a metaphysical position.
  • Criticise contemporary and classical metaphysical arguments and theories.
  • Analyse certain difficult and historically important texts.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.