300-Level Courses

Note about Prerequisites:
All 300-series courses have a prerequisite of three half courses (or equivalent) in philosophy, with the exception of PHL345H1-349H1, PHL356H1 and PHL357H1. There is also a general prerequisite of 7.5 courses (in any field). Specific course prerequisites should be reviewed here. Students who do not meet the prerequisite for a particular course but believe that they have adequate preparation must obtain the permission of the instructor to gain entry to the course.



Prof. Lloyd Gerson
Mondays and Wednesdays 10:30-12:00

This course will focus on the major schools of Hellenistic philosophy, Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Academic Scepticism. We will examine their central teachings, their divergences from their predecessors, Plato and Aristotle, and we will devote some time to considering the reactions to these schools among the philosophers known as Middle Platonists.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: Two essays, 2,000-2,500 words, each worth 30%; final, faculty scheduled  examination, worth 30%; class participation, worth 10%.



Prof. Rachel Barney
Wednesdays 3:00-6:00

Close examination of selected Platonic dialogues, likely to include at least some of the Lysis, Hippias Minor, Hippias Major, Laches, Charmides, Cratylus, and Meno. These dialogues are notable for including complex and rigorous arguments which end in aporia: that is, a state of puzzlement with no positive conclusion. We will use these texts to analyse Plato’s methods of argument, and to discuss some major themes of his early, ‘Socratic’ ethics and epistemology: his search for definitions, his conception of the virtues as knowledge, his engagement with the sophists and use of sophistic techniques, and the theory of Forms. Attention will also be paid to ‘literary’ aspects of the dialogues, including the use of characterisation and the implications of aporia for the reader.

Readings:  TBA

Evaluation: TBA but the course will be writing-intensive, with a focus on building skills of argument analysis and critical discussion.



Prof. Lloyd Gerson
Monday and Wednesday 10:30-12:00

This course will undertake an intensive study of Aristotle’s ethical theory, especially as that is found in his Nicomachean Ethics.  We shall focus in particular on his accounts of ethics as a science, action, moral responsibility, practical reasoning, virtue, incontinence, and friendship.  In addition, some attention will be paid to Aristotle’s conception of ethics as a part of political science.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: Two essays, 2,000-2,500 words, each worth 30%; final, faculty scheduled  examination, worth 30%; class participation, worth 10%.



Prof. Benjamin Wald
Tuesday and Thursday 9:00-10:30

Descartes on Mind, Matter and Dualism

One of the most well known, and controversial, contributions of Descartes to philosophy is his dualism—the view that mind and matter are two distinct types of thing, with mind irreducible to and separable from the body. We will examine and evaluate Descartes’ arguments for dualism, and how his form of dualism departs from and challenges his scholastic predecessors. As we will see, Descartes dualism has its roots in his wider philosophical system, so we will also examine the views about the nature of mind, matter, and metaphysics that support and are supported by his arguments for dualism. 

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Jonathan Payton
Tuesday and Thursday 9:00-10:30

Philosophers of the early modern period are typically divided into two camps: the rationalists and the empiricists. The empiricists may be broadly construed as having accepted the following two theses. (1) There are no ‘innate ideas’, that is, ideas or concepts that are imprinted on our minds from birth. Rather, all of our ideas and concepts are developed through experience, i.e. through interaction with the world via the five senses, and perhaps through introspection, by which we experience our own minds. (2) There is no such thing as a priori knowledge, that is, knowledge that is gained solely through reason. Rather, all of our knowledge, like our concepts and ideas, must be gotten through experience. In this course, we will read the major texts of John Locke, George Berkeley, and David Hume, each of whom developed the empiricist program in their own distinctive way. We will explore, not only their claims about the sources and limits of human knowledge, but the consequences they drew regarding the nature of ourselves and of the world around us.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Nick Stang
Tuesday and Thursday 12:30-2:00

This is an in-depth study of Kant’s masterpiece, the Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787). The Critique is Kant’s attempt to answer to the question: how is the science of metaphysics possible? The focus of the course will be on understanding this question (what is the ‘science’ of metaphysics? why is its possibility a problem?), Kant’s answer (what he calls “transcendental idealism”), and whether Kant’s answer is correct. We will focus on the first half of the book (Transcendental Aesthetic, Transcendental Analytic) and conclude by considering one of the topics from the second half (Transcendental Dialectic).

Readings: TBA

Evaluations: TBA



Prof. Charles Cooper-Simpson
Wednesday 9:00-12:00

This course will offer an intensive introduction to Hegel’s revolutionary work, the Phenomenology of Spirit. Through a focused discussion of the text we will study what Hegel called the “Science of the experience of consciousness.”

Reading: TBA

Provisional marking scheme: TBA



Prof. Jordan Thomson
Tuesdays and Thursday 5:00-6:30

This course is an advanced introduction to the thought of Karl Marx. We may also read some contemporary Marxists as well as critics of Marxism.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Rebecca Comay
Wednesday 3:00-6:00

Psychoanalysis not only puts pressure on core philosophical ideas about personal identity, self-knowledge, and human agency and motivation. It also introduces some fundamental hermeneutic questions: does the technique of psychoanalysis have anything to contribute to the way we read and analyze philosophical texts?  We’ll look the beginnings of psychoanalysis in Freud’s early work on hysteria, and try to understand what was at stake in his invention of the “talking cure.”  We will explore the set of evolving concepts produced in the course of Freud’s career — the dream work and the method of dream interpretation, the so-called “fundamental rule” of free association, the unconscious, repression, the drive, trauma, transference, anxiety, melancholia, fetishism, resistance, repetition, the death drive, masochism, interminable analysis, and the limits of analysis.  We will consider the relation between psychoanalysis as a theoretical discipline and psychoanalysis as a therapeutic practice (this will also involve thinking about the status of Freud’s case histories as narrative experiments).  Finally, we will examine the idea of “applied” psychoanalysis (particularly the relevance of psychoanalysis to the understanding of literature, religion, and politics).

While this course will focus mainly on Freud’s theoretical and clinical writings (including some of his controversial texts on gender and sexuality), we will also consider contemporary engagements with Freudian thought, in particular feminism, affect theory, trauma studies, and queer theory.

Readings by Freud will include: “Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria” (Dora case history);  Interpretation of Dreams (selections); “Mourning and Melancholia”; “The Uncanny”; “Notes Upon A Case of Obsessional Neurosis” (‘Ratman’ case history); Beyond the Pleasure PrincipleThe Ego and the Id; and “Analysis Terminable and Interminable.”  We will also be reading works by Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, and Lee Edelman, and other contemporary writers.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: mid-term essay; final essay, and final exam (all weighted equally).



Prof. Nick Stang
Tuesday and Thursday 12:30-2

This is an in-depth study of Heidegger’s masterpiece, Being and Time (1927). Being and Time is about the question: what is Being? This question means, roughly, what is it for a being (entity) to be? Heidegger undertakes to answer this question by investigating what it is to be human (what Heidegger calls ‘Dasein’), for human beings are the beings (entities) that can understand Being (what it is to be). The book consists in a detailed analysis of human being (Dasein) that seeks to uncover what makes possible our understanding of Being. In the second half Heidegger argues that time plays a decisive role in the human understanding of Being. Along the way Heidegger discusses many ‘existential’ themes, such as anxiety, dread, death, history, and destiny. Over the course of the term we will read the whole book. Note: familiarity with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and/or the history of metaphysics will be helpful, but is not required.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. James Davies
Monday and Wednesday 5-6:30

This course addresses two main questions: (1) under what conditions is violent resistance of an oppressive socio-economic order justified? (2) How does membership in certain social and economic groups effect what methods of resistance one is justified in pursuing? We begin by focusing on theories of modernity, and capitalism and consumerism. We will then use this background to engage in depth with theories of violent resistance and revolution, as shaped by considerations of postcolonialism, feminism, race, and intersectionality. We will read pieces by Hannah Arendt, Anthony Appiah, Angela Davis, Andrea Dworkin, Frantz Fanon, Marilyn Frye, Vladimir Lenin, Audre Lorde, Karl Marx, Adam Przeworski, and others (including figures not traditionally considered members of ‘the academy’).

Readings: TBA. There is no textbook for the course – readings will be provided.

Evaluation: three short essays., midterm, final exam.



Prof. James Davies
Monday and Wednesday 2-3:30

An examination of some of the classic texts of early analytic philosophy, concentrating on the work of Frege, Russell, and Wittgenstein. We will concentrate on two main themes: (i) the role that philosophical theorizing about the nature of mathematics played in the development of early analytic philosophy, and (ii) the relationship this has to the more general metaphysical view known as Logical Atomism as once held by Russell and Wittgenstein. (Note that a background in mathematics is in no way required for success in this course.)

Readings: Frege, The Foundations of Arithmetic (trans. J. L. Austin); Russell, The Philosophy of Logical Atomism; Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Supplementary readings will be provided.

Evaluation: midterm exam, final exam, three short essays.



Prof. Adam Murray
Mondays and Wednesdays 12:00-1:30

This course takes an in-depth look at some of the central topics in contemporary metaphysics. Topics to be discussed include the metaphysics of material constitution, the nature of time and persistence through time, free will, existence, the metaphysics of modality, and causation.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: Evaluation will consist in a combination of short reading responses, in-class participation, and a final essay.


Prof. Cory Lewis
Mondays and Wednesdays 3:30-5:00

Historical and systematic approaches to topics in the theory of knowledge, such as truth, belief, justification, perception, a priori knowledge, certitude, skepticism, other minds.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Deborah Black
Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:30-3:00

This course is an introduction to classical Islamic or Arabic philosophy (falsafah), which developed when the works of the ancient Greek philosophers were translated into Arabic and became a part of the intellectual heritage of the Islamic world. We’ll study selections from the philosophical writings of the major figures in classical Islamic philosophy from the 9th to the 12th centuries, including al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). We’ll also look at the rivalry between the philosophers and theologians (mutakallimun), in particular al-Ghazali. Topics covered will include the existence and knowability of God; creation and causality; human nature and knowledge; and the constitution of the ideal political regime. Students should be aware that this is a course in the history of philosophy, not a course on the religion of Islam or the Qur’an.

Prerequisite: PHL 200Y

Principal Text: Classical Arabic Philosophy. Translated Jon McGinnis and David C. Reisman. Hackett Publishing, 2007; additional readings TBA.

Evaluation: To be determined, but will  likely include the following: Term work (at least one essay): 55%; 2-hour final examination: 35%; Participation: 10%.



Prof. Curie Virag
Tuesday and Thursday 11:00-12:30

Early Chinese Philosophy

This course focuses on the major texts of the early Chinese philosophical tradition in its most formative period, from its beginnings c. 6th century BCE to the end of the Warring States period (3rd century BCE). We will work through the writings associated with the mainstream thinkers – Confucius, Mencius, Xunzi, Laozi, and Zhuangzi – as well as Guanzi, Han Feizi and key excavated manuscripts from the Guodian tomb, examining the distinctive concerns and approaches of each of these texts particularly as they pertained to ethics, the cosmos, and the socio-political order. We will address such questions as: What are the norms and patterns that should guide human life, and how do we come to know them? What are the means and ends of self-cultivation? What is virtue and how is it connected to the workings of the mind, body and emotions? We will also consider the early Chinese philosophical tradition in light of contemporary discussions revolving around virtue ethics, the relationship between cognition and emotion, and the place of nonwestern philosophy in the study of philosophy.

Readings: English translations (mainly from Hackett editions) of source texts, as well as scholarly articles.

Evaluation (tentative): Attendance and participation (25%); short paper (20%), longer paper (40%); and short writing assignments (3x 5%=15%)



Prof. Michael Morgan
Tuesday and Thursday 11:00-12:30

Modern Jewish Philosophy begins in the seventeenth century, when attempts to understand Judaism were challenged by historical and intellectual developments, such as the rise of the New Science, the emergence of new modes of political thinking and practices, and the growth of Protestant cultures in Europe.  What makes such reflection about Judaism philosophical is the engagement of Jewish thinkers with the Western philosophical tradition.

The same can be said of the major figures in the tradition of Jewish philosophy in the twentieth century.  In this course, we will focus on them and the worlds in which they lived and worked.  First, we will look at European intellectual culture in the period between 1890 and 1940 by discussing some prominent philosophers, theologians, social thinkers, novelists, and poets of the period and then study central Jewish philosophical figures of the period, especially Hermann Cohen, Martin Buber, and Franz Rosenzweig.

We shall turn to the postwar period, after the Holocaust, and especially the emergence of a new existential Jewish theology in postwar America and its encounter with Jewish naturalism and secularism.  The central figures are the young Emil Fackenheim, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Joseph Soloveitchik, but there are also many others who transported German theological and philosophical issues into an American context.

Finally, we shall examine the impact of the Six Day War and the impact of the Nazi Holocaust on American Jewish thinkers.  Our focus will be on the period from 1967 through 1982, the heyday of such thinking.  The key figures are Richard Rubenstein, Irving Greenberg, Eliezer Berkovits, and especially Emil Fackenheim.  We shall also make note of those issues which became centrally important in the final decades of the century and the contribution to Jewish philosophy of the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. James Davies
Mondays and Wednesdays 4:00-5:30

In this course we will introduce and examine two central questions in the philosophy of mind: (1) how is it that the mind is able to think about particular things outside of itself? (2) What is the place of the mind in nature?

Our discussion of question (1) will lead to encountering such sub-questions as: what must thought about particular external things be like? What kind of relation must obtain between a mind and an external object for the former to think about the latter? Could it be that some kinds of external things can be thought about whilst there are also others that cannot?

Our discussion of question (2) will lead to encountering sub-questions like: how does the ontological status of the mind effect possible answers to question (1)? Is there any conflict between what the physical sciences say and our ordinary conception of the mind? Are minds truly wholes, or mere arrangements of parts?

Readings: TBA. There is no textbook for the course – readings will be provided.

Evaluation: three short essays, midterm, final exam.



Prof. Martin Pickave
Mondays and Wednesday 1:30-3:00

It is a common view that responsibility presupposes freedom; that we are only responsible for those actions we are free to perform or not to perform. But what exactly does it mean to be free to do or not to do something? Do we really always have a capacity to do otherwise, and if so, in what sense do we have such a capacity? Or isn’t human action rather determined (by beliefs and desires or even by the material processes in the brain)? Maybe freedom is after all an illusion? These issues and other related topics will be the subject of this course. In examining some of the traditional answers to the questions above we will also address some core notions of moral psychology: motivation, volition, reasons for action, and weakness of will.

Readings: G. Watson (ed.), Free Will, 2nd edition (Oxford Readings in Philosophy) (Oxford University Press 2003).

Evaluation: Two short analytical essays (1200 words, 25% each); discussion pieces (10%), final exam (30%); attendance and participation (10%).



Prof. Brian Cantwell Smith
Tuesdays and Thursdays 2:00-3:30

For a long time, the idea that a machine could think was considered the stuff of fantasy.  But around the middle of the 20th century, following the development of the computer, the idea that computers could be intelligent—the founding assumption of Artificial Intelligence—came to be taken very seriously.  Now, the issue of whether a machine will be able to think (in at least some sense of that word) is considered much less contentious.  More pressing are questions of how fast machine intelligence will arrive, what kind of thinking machines will be capable of, whether machines will be conscious, ethical, compassionate, and possess other characteristics of the human mind—and how we should live in a world in which we share “having a mind” with devices of our own creation.

This course looks at prospects for mental machines by considering the nature of mind, the nature of machines (especially computers), and the foundations of the computational theory of mind. Two themes will be in special focus: (i) causal issues, having to do with mechanism, modularity, architecture, constraints of physical embodiment, neuroscience, dynamics, networks, deep learning, etc.,; and (ii) semantical issues, including meaning, content, reference, semantics, language, information, and representation.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Jacob Stump
Monday and Wednesday 11:00-12:30

A survey of philosophical topics related to the emotions. We will consider questions primarily on three main topics:

1. Philosophical psychology. What are emotions? Are they beliefs? desires? a mixture of the two? perceptions? something else?

2. Rationality. When is it rational to feel an emotion? Is it rational to continue feeling an emotion that you think you ought not to feel? What epistemic status do our emotions have? Should we trust them? How can we know when to trust them?

3. Morality. What role should emotions play in our moral judgments? Can merely feeling an emotion be morally right or morally wrong?


Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Michael Miller
Friday 10:00-1:00

The central aim of this course is to develop the metatheory of first order logic. After a brief introduction to set theory, we will prove the soundness, completeness, and compactness theorems, and consider their applications. If time remains at the end of the course we will consider some elementary results from computability theory.

Reading: Machover, Moshe. Set Theory, Logic, and their Limitations.

Evaluation: homework (75%), final exam (25%)



Prof. Alex Koo
Mondays and Wednesdays 1:00-2:30

Mathematical knowledge seems different from that of other disciplines. Mathematical facts have a certainty and timelessness about them that other facts do not appear to possess. Mathematics is incredibly useful in understanding the world, and most believe that there is a universality to mathematical truths. In short, mathematics feels special. But, is this feeling reflective of a unique nature of mathematics? Or, is this feeling an illusion, and we ought to understand mathematics as just another epistemic pursuit?

This course will shift between providing a survey of philosophical positions (formalism, platonism, structuralism, fictionalism, etc.), and particular problems in mathematics or its application (Cantor’s set theory, mathematical explanation, use in science, interpretations of probability, etc.). The goal will be for students to develop and inform their understanding of mathematics using both philosophical and mathematical results. A background in epistemology and metaphysics, as well as a healthy interest in mathematics will be helpful; however, you need not be a skilled mathematician for this course.

Readings: A selection of primary sources made available online.

Evaluation: Attendance and Class Participation; Critical Responses; Two Tests.



Prof. Mihai Ganea

Thursdays 10:00-1:00

An introduction to set theory emphasizing its philosophical relevance as a unifying framework for mathematics and logic. Topics examined may include the paradoxes of the ‘naïve’ conception of sets and their resolution through axiomatization, the construction of natural numbers and real numbers in set theory, equivalents of the axiom of choice, and model theory.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Alex Koo
Mondays and Wednesdays 1:00-2:30

Broadly speaking, philosophers of science can be divided into two camps: scientific realists who are defenders of scientific practice, and scientific anti-realists who are far more critical. This course will consider both perspectives in an attempt to shed light on the following questions. Is science objective? Does science reveal the truth? Do things like quarks and bosons exist? How does science progress? Understanding these questions will lead to a better understanding of science and the world around us. The goal will be to foster a critical perspective of science no matter ones realist or anti-realist leanings.

Readings will be balanced between key figures from the realist and anti-realist camps. Lectures will be discussion based with time split between understanding the core arguments and critically evaluating them. Proficiency in science or history of science is not required – just a healthy interest in science will suffice.

Readings: A selection of primary sources made available online.

Evaluation: Attendance and Class Participation; Critical Responses; Two Tests; Final Essay with Short Essay Proposal.



Prof. Michael Miller
Wednesday 9:00-12:00

The recent discovery of the Higgs Boson marked a final step in the empirical verification of the Standard Model of particle physics, our best theory of the fundamental forces and the elementary particles that experience them. This course will discuss philosophical issues associated with the theoretical and experimental challenges posed by the Standard Model. We will discuss special relativity and quantum mechanics and how they revolutionized our understanding of space, time, and matter. We will then discuss how these theories are combined in the Standard Model and the peculiar picture of the world that emerges from this synthesis. Along the way we will address philosophical questions concerning scientific realism and the nature of the knowledge that is generated by the enormous experiments that are required to test the Standard Model. This course will be accessible for those with no background in physics but with an interest in the philosophical challenges that modern physics poses.

Reading: Albert, David. Quantum Mechanics and Experience; Feynman, Richard. QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter; Hacking, Ian. Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science; Weinberg, Steven. Dreams of a Final Theory.

All additional readings will be made available on the course website.

Evaluation: homework (40%), midterm exam (30%), final exam (30%)



Prof. Denis Walsh
Tuesday 3:00-6:00

This is a survey of current issues in the philosophy of evolutionary biology. Topics include: the structure of evolutionary theory, the nature of natural selection, explanation, causation and reduction in biology, teleology and function in biology, the respective roles of genes versus organisms in evolutionary biology, inheritance, the units of selection debate. We also look at recent attempts to apply evolutionary theory to the understanding of human cognition. Classes are conducted not as lectures but, to the extent possible, as seminars. Students are encouraged, indeed required, to participate in the discussions.

Reading: There is no textbook; we rely exclusively on the primary literature.

Evaluation: TBA

Prerequisite: One full course in MAT/PHY; two full courses are recommended.



Prof. Michael Morgan
Mondays and Wednesdays 11:00-12:30

In this course we shall examine the historical dimension of human existence and human action, the roles of historiography in our relation to the past, philosophical thinking about historical writing and others modes of recalling the past, historical accounts of philosophical and other ways of thinking, and finally the possibility that philosophy itself is historical.  Among the topics to be discussed will be:  the past, history, memory, and the historicity of human experience; the past in individual and collective Identity; evidence, explanation, and historical understanding; historical truth, objectivity and relativism; narrative and historiography; language and traditions of discourse in intellectual history; photography, film, and history; anthropology and popular culture; the methods and roles of the history of philosophy; the historicity of philosophy.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Andrew Franklin-Hall
Mondays and Wednesday 15:30-17:00

There is a traditional view of the state, according to which it is absolutely sovereign, owes little or nothing to anyone except its own citizens, and is the political embodiment of a culturally homogenous people or “nation.”  All of these assumptions are problematic today, but what picture should take its place?  In this course, we will discuss the very idea of a sovereign nation-state, questions about human rights and global justice, the challenges of multiculturalism, and problems concerning migration.  Readings will be drawn primarily from contemporary sources, including works by John Rawls, Martha Nussbaum, Yael Tamir, Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka, Michael Walzer, and Joseph Carens.  Attention will be paid to the way these issues bear on the current global situation and particularly the Canadian context.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. David Novak
Tuesdays 9:00-12:00

This course will deal with the question of the relation of law and morality. Is law derived from morality? Or, are law and morality two separate normative domains? Authors to be read include Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Hans Kelsen, Lon Fuller, H.L.A. Hart.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: midterm examination (20%); final examination (35%); 4500 word term paper (35%).



Prof. Joseph Heath
Tuesdays 9:00-12:00

Responding to Climate Change: This course will introduce students to some of the more difficult normative issues that arise in our attempts to develop an effective policy response to the problem of anthropogenic climate change. We will begin with an introduction to the basic institutional dimensions of the problem, along with the major policy options available. This will include the analysis of collective action problems, the rationale for carbon pricing, and the primary institutional mechanisms available for achieving emissions reductions. We will then focus on the two major normative issues that arise, namely, how much mitigation should be undertaken, and how the benefits and burdens of this should be distributed. Difficult questions to be addressed include: determining how we should balance the interests of present and future generations, and deciding what, if any, role “historical emissions” or current economic inequality should play in determining future emission entitlements.

Reading: Eric A. Posner and David Weisbach, Climate Change Justice.

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Jordan Thomson
Tuesdays and Thursdays 5:00-6:30

We believe that all persons matter equally in some deep and important sense. Yet, most of us don’t believe that we are morally required to treat people with equal concern. We care less about strangers than we do about ourselves, our friends, and our family members. Indeed, we believe that we morally ought to care more about some people than we do about others: True friends ought to put each other first and families ought to stick together. Can we reconcile this belief with a commitment to moral equality or must one give way to the other? This question becomes particularly acute when we turn our attention to the fact that we live our lives against a background of global poverty. Issues we will consider include: the normative significance of love and friendship, our relationship to our own well-being, and the nature of moral reasons.

Reading: TBA

Evaulation: TBA


Prof. Jacob Stump
Tuesday and Thursday 3:00-4:30

Cultural Appropriation, Oppression, and Epistemic Injustice


Consider these actions. Justin Timberlake, Lena Dunham, and Kylie Jenner wear cornrows. Jeremy Lin wears dreadlocks. Pharrell wears a Native American headdress. A white, heterosexual person uses such words as “yas,” “slay,” and “shade.” An atheist wears a cross necklace. A person not of Japanese ancestry gets a tattoo in Japanese script. These are instances of what has come to be known as cultural appropriation—roughly, the act of taking something from a culture to which one does not belong. Now, at first pass, none of these actions may appear harmful; they certainly do not physically harm anyone. Moreover, each can be seen as a form of self-expression, and thus, we might think, they are to be celebrated, or at the very least permitted. Many people, however, consider such actions to be morally wrong. Is there any truth to that? If so, it cannot be simply because such actions are instances of cultural appropriation, for, it would seem, not all instances of cultural appropriation are morally wrong (suppose, e.g., that a Scandinavian person opens up an espresso shop; nothing seems morally suspect there). Why else, then, might they be morally wrong? Is it the intention behind them? the effects they cause? the rights they transgress, if any?

These questions are the starting points for this course. As we will see, answering them is no easy matter. To do so adequately, in fact, will require us to grapple with some of the most topical issues in our current political climate: oppression, privilege, epistemic injustice, and white ignorance. This is difficult territory, in part because the philosophy here is difficult, but equally so because these issues are highly personal. They affect all of us, though they affect all of us differently and to different degrees, depending on our gender identities and racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is a presupposition of this course that coming to understand such issues is a central task of the ethical agent in our contemporary world.

Readings: All readings will be provided on Blackboard.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Shruta Swarup
Mondays 2:00-5:00

The Ethics of Consent

Consent is absolutely central to our moral lives.  We think it matters morally whether a person has consented to surgery, to sex, to her photographs being used by Facebook, or to her personal information being distributed.  This course will consider the role that consent plays in various domains: in medical ethics, political philosophy, and sexual ethics.  We’ll ask questions such as the following: Can a person give morally binding consent under circumstances in which it is very costly for her to dissent?  Are there harms to which we cannot consent?  Throughout, we will attempt to draw out the similarities and differences in the way that consent functions across different domains.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Benjamin Wald
Fridays 12:00-3:00

The Moral Status of Soldiers and Civilians

For many years the ethics of war accepted two core claims that provided the basis for theorizing about the justification of killing in war; the moral equality of combatants and the immunity of non-combatants. The moral equality of combatants holds that the moral rights of the soldiers on both sides of a conflict are equal, while non-combatant immunity holds that both sides have a strict duty to avoid civilian casualties. Recently, both of these claims have come in for increasing criticism, challenging our core ideas about the morality of killing in war. In this course we will examine the arguments for and against these two principles. We will also investigate what the resulting debate might have to tell us about when and whether it is ever justifiable for a state to go to war in the first place.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Benjamin Wald
Fridays 12:00-3:00

Bioethical issues do not only arise between particular doctors and their patients. Distinctive ethical issues arise when we consider health in a global context. This is especially true given the wide disparities in wealth between countries, and the effect this has on the ability of states to provide for the health needs of their citizens. This course will examine the bioethical issues that arise due to this wealth disparity. Issues considered may include the obligations of wealthy countries to help ensure health needs are met in poorer countries, the special challenges for research ethics when trials are run in countries with poor or less well educated populations, and the ethics of enforcing drug patents, especially on life saving medications such as HIV treatments, in countries unable to afford the full price of such drugs.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Cheryl Misak
Wednesdays 12:00-3:00

This course will examine issues in biomedical research. Topics include:

  • innovation versus risk
  • informed voluntary consent
  • the benefits and risks of genetic engineering’ issues involving human embryos, children, and especially valuable research subjects
  • the pros and cons of randomized clinical trials and evidence-based medicine

Text: Articles on Reserve, available online

Evaluation: 1 in-class midterm exam (40%); 1 final essay (45%); 5 short in-class reading responses (3% each)



Prof. Jennifer Gibson
Tuesday 6:00-9:00

This course is an intermediate-level study of ethical and legal issues of death and dying with a primary focus on health and healthcare systems. Key topics include: the significance of death; definition and determination of death; technology and prolongation of life; withholding/withdrawing of treatment; palliative care and medical assistance in dying; advance care planning; and public health emergencies. Students will be exposed to a range of disciplinary perspectives to illuminate the practical and normative complexity of contemporary health policy and practice related to death and dying. Recent judicial decisions, regulatory guidance, and other policy directions will help to inform discussion of the evolving landscape of health policy and practice related to death and dying in Canada. An overarching theme of the course is the exploration of what comprises a ‘good death’ and why this question matters – to each of us as individuals and as a society.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Thomas Mathien
Thursdays 6:00-9:00

An intermediate-level study of moral and legal problems, including the concepts of mental health and illness, mental competence, dangerousness and psychiatric confidentiality, mental institutionalization, involuntary treatment and behaviour control, controversial therapies; legal issues: the Mental Health Act, involuntary commitment, the insanity defence.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: will be by three short discussion papers, the third of which may be a development of the second. They will carry equal weight in determining the final grade.



Prof. Jennifer Gibson
Tuesday 3:00-6:00

This course is an intermediate-level study of ethical and legal issues related to genetics and reproduction in contemporary health and healthcare systems. Key topics include: reproductive rights and responsibilities; assisted reproductive technologies; parenthood; ontological and moral status of the human embryos and gametes; prenatal screening and diagnosis; genomics and the politics of diseases; genetic testing; genetic therapy; the uses of genetic information; gene modification; and population health genetics. Students will be exposed to a range of disciplinary perspectives to illuminate the conceptual and normative complexity of contemporary health policy and practice related to reproductive and genetic technologies. Recent judicial decisions, regulatory guidance, and other policy directions will help to inform discussion of the evolving landscape of health policy and practice related to genetics and reproduction in Canada.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Francesco Gagliardi
Mondays and Wednesdays 10:30-12:00

In the fist part of this course we will examine some key texts in the Theory of Photography, including Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag. Starting from these readings and from examples taken from the work of a number of photographers and artists using the photographic medium we will attempt to answer questions such as the following: What is a photograph? What makes a photograph a work of art? What is the difference between the ways paintings and photographs represent the world? In the second part of the course we will examine how artists have used photography – and in particular photographic self-portraiture – to explore issues of gender, sexual and racial identity. We will be looking at the work of artists including Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, Lyle Ashton Harris, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Samuel Fosso, and Nikki S. Lee. Our exploration will be grounded in art historical readings addressing the issue of portraiture and self-portraiture, and in critical writing surrounding the work of the artists we will be looking at.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Rebecca Comay
Wednesdays 3:00-6:00

Philosophy and Theater 

“Theory” and “theater” share a common root (“to see”) but their conjunction is far from simple.  Ever since Plato decided to banish the tragic poets from the city, the relations between philosophy and theater have been fraught.  This course will explore some of these frictions, starting with the question: why is philosophy so obsessed with tragedy, while philosophers themselves usually only get to appear on the stage as comic characters?   As well as reading philosophical writings on theater (and of course some actual theater), we will also think about the theatrical dimensions of philosophy as itself a performance.  Despite or because of the diversity of its genres (dialogue, debate, diatribe, meditation, instruction, satire, fable, aphorism, fragment, letter, confession, essay, manifesto, sermon, forensic procedure, legal tribunal, laboratory experiment, logical demonstration), philosophy has always entertained an uneasy relationship with its own dramaturgical conditions– its mise-en-scène, its props, its stagecraft, its prestige, its protocols, its imagined or actual audience. Thinking about these conditions will in turn force us to reflect on the institutional aspects of philosophy as an academic practice (including its own sense of disciplinary identity and status, its exclusions, and its relationship to other social practices).


Readings will include: Plato, Republic (selections) and Symposium; Aristophanes, Clouds; Sophocles, Antigone; Aristotle, Poetics; Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew; Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (selections); Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy; Samuel Beckett, Endgame; Theodor Adorno, “Trying to Understand Endgame”; Bertolt Brecht, Short Organon for the Theater; Walter Benjamin, “What is Epic Theatre?”;  J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words (selections) and Jacques Derrida, “Signature, Event, Context.”

Evaluation: reading responses (20%); mid-term essay (35%); final essay (45%).



Prof. Benjamin Wald
Thursday 12:00-3:00

Liberty is widely thought to be both a part of the good life and a right to which we are all entitled. When it comes to politics, we tend to be very protective of individual liberty. But we spend much of our lives at work, where many of us are subject to the authority of bosses and managers. This course will investigate the role and importance of liberty in the workplace. We will look at general theories of liberty and how they might apply to our work lives, and then we will look at a series of more specific examples where issues of liberty arise. These examples may include such questions as at-will employment vs. just-cause dismissal, the role of unions, and the reach of free speech into the workplace.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA