400-Level Courses

2023-24 Fall/Winter 400-level courses

Note about Prerequisites:

All 400-series courses have a prerequisite of at least 4.0 full credit equivalents in Philosophy. Please consult the academic calendar for information about prerequisites.

Instructions for Enrolling in 400-level seminars:

1. PHL400H1 to PHL451H1 are undergraduate-level courses. Students may sign up for these courses on ACORN.

2. Students who have not completed the prerequisite for any 400-level seminar must obtain the permission of the course instructor before enrolling in the course. Failure to do so may result in removal from the course without prior consultation.

3. To ensure sufficient spaces in 400-level seminars for students completing Philosophy specialist and major programs, only third- and fourth-year Philosophy specialists (including Bioethics and combined specialists) and fourth-year majors are permitted to register in these courses during the first round of enrolment. Once restrictions are lifted in the second round of enrolment, any students who have completed the general prerequisite of eight half-courses in Philosophy and the recommended preparation may enrol in 400-level seminars.

4. During the priority period in the first round of enrolment, students who enrol in more than the required number of 400-level courses for program completion (specialist, two; major or combined specialist, one) may be removed, without consultation, from the additional 400-level course(s).

5. Students in 400-level courses must attend the first class or contact the instructor to explain their absence. Failure to do so may result in removal from the course.


Prof. Jessica Gelber
Wednesday 15:00-18:00

This seminar will be about philosophical issues in ancient Greek science. Our focus will be Aristotle’s investigation of the living world (his “biology” or “zoology”). Our study of this fascinating theory will give us an opportunity to investigate broader questions, such as those about the aims of science, the nature of causation and explanation, the role of “necessity” and matter, the appeal of teleological explanation, and how the study of “life” might or might differ from the study of inanimate world. In order to understand Aristotle’s views, we will also need to understand the influence of those who came before Aristotle, so we will spend some time learning about the contributions to science made by his predecessors as well.

Texts: TBD, but will include selections from Aristotle’s Physics, Metaphysics, Generation of Animals, Parva Naturalia, Parts of animals, History of Animals, and de Anima.

Evaluation: All participants will be expected to play an active role in the seminar meetings. In addition to regular attendance and completion of short assignments, seminar presentations will be required, and students will have an opportunity to develop a longer piece of original writing.


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

This course will be an introduction to the philosopher who, after Plato and Aristotle, is generally recognized to be the greatest in antiquity, namely, Plotinus (204/5 – 270 CE). Plotinus was the first and most influential systematizer of Plato. In his systematic expression of Platonism, he incorporates lessons not only from the dialogues of Plato but also from the unwritten teachings of Plato, insights from Aristotle, the Stoics, and from a host of earlier Platonists. His synthesis of all these sources provided the dominant structure of virtually all later ancient Greek philosophy until its decline in the 6th century. Later, Islamic and Christian philosophers encountered Platonism through Plotinus and his successors. In this course, we will examine the basic metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and psychological doctrines of Plotinus in their systematic framework.

Readings:  The Plotinus Reader. Edited, with an introduction and notes by Lloyd P. Gerson (Hackett, 2020)

Evaluation: Two essays, 2,000-2,500 words, each worth 30%; final, faculty scheduled  examination, worth 30%; class participation, worth 10%. The penalty for late essays unaccompanied by a written medical excuse is 3 marks per 24 hour period or fraction thereof.


Prof. Reza Hadisi
Tuesdays 12:00-15:00

We will explore the post-Classical period of Islamic philosophy, influenced by al-Ghazali’s critique of philosophical rationalism and the subsequent emergence of philosophical schools that shape Islamic philosophy to this day. Our focus will center on the epistemological and metaphysical theories concerning the objective validity of basic philosophical concepts such as ‘existence’ and ‘essence’. Additionally, we will critically examine the ethical implications of these theories. Key readings will include works by Ghazali, Suhrawardi, Tusi, and Mulla Sadra.

Evaluation Method: In-class presentation, Argument Map, Final Paper, Participation


Prof. Michael Rosenthal
Wednesdays 15:00-18:00

What is the proper relation between reason and revelation, philosophy and theology, church and state?  What is the justification and extent of religious toleration?  This seminar will examine three thinkers whose views answer these questions and defined the contours of modern liberal culture.  We will first read Spinoza’s intervention in the disputes that roiled the Dutch state in the 17th century, the Theological-Political Treatise (1670).  Then we will turn to Moses Mendelssohn’s text, Jerusalem or on Religious Power and Judaism (1783), which was central to the 18th century German Enlightenment and the possibility of Jewish emancipation.  Finally, we will read Kant’s Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793).  Students will be asked to read each text carefully, compare them, and consider critical accounts of them.

Evaluation:  Weekly Discussion Questions (25%); Final Paper First draft (37.5%); Final Paper Revised Draft (18.75%); Written Comments and Participation (18.75%).


Instructor: TBA
Wednesday 09:00-12:00

Typical problems include the nature of knowledge and belief; perception; theories of truth and necessity; skepticism.

Readings:  TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. David Barnett
Fridays 15:00-18:00

Advanced study of a problem in the philosophy of mind.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Trevor Teitel
Mondays 15:00-18:00

Typical problems include causality and determinism; ontological categories; mind and body; the objectivity of space and time.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Matthew Scarfone
Tuesdays 12:00-15:00

Advanced discussion of issues in moral philosophy, including issues of applied ethics.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Brendan de Kenessey
Wednesdays 12:00-15:00

Well-Being, Value, and the Meaning of Life

This course investigates several topics under the broad heading of value: what is valuable, and what is it to be valuable? We will focus on three value concepts: well-being, or what is good for a person; goodness ‘simpliciter’; and meaning in life. Questions we will investigate include: what is it for a person to be well-off, or have a good life? Is achievement valuable in itself? Which concept is more fundamental, ‘good’ or ‘good for’? What is it to be good? What are the bearers of value: states of affairs, or things like persons or beautiful objects? What is it for a life to be meaningful? And finally, is the meaning or value of our lives diminished by our cosmic insignificance relative to the enormity of space and time?

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: papers and class participation


Prof. Mark Kingwell
Thursdays 12:00-15:00

This course will explore the contested space that lies between politics and art, using sources (mostly) from the Continental tradition of philosophy. Topics will include: activist art, propaganda, cultural hegemony, the culture industry, representation, the ontology of film, feminist and indigenous aesthetics, and the ‘emancipated spectator’.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Willi Goetschel
Tuesdays 15:00-18:00

Spinoza Today

This seminar explores the way current discussions about Spinoza examine the project of philosophy in critical fashion. Besides source texts by Spinoza readings by Deleuze, Balibar, Gatens, Jacquet, Macherey, Montag, Morfino, and others will allow us to track the way Spinoza rethinks ethics, politics and the question of power and right, the relation between body and mind and the affects, religion, tradition, and interpretation, singularity and the universal in ways that continue to remain critically important.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Tarek Dika
Fridays 09:00-12:00


Heidegger and the History of Metaphysics

While Heidegger never completed Being and Time (1927), his original plan, as indicated in the table of contents, included an entire second part devoted to bringing out the hidden role played by temporality in Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant. The third part is supposed to have confirmed Heidegger’s principal philosophical argument in Being and Time: namely, that temporality is the horizon whereby Dasein understands being. This seminar examines Heidegger’s temporal interpretation of the history of ontology in order to pursue the hypothesis that there might be another horizon whereby Dasein understands both being and beings: power.

The seminar divides into four sections: ancient philosophy, medieval philosophy, early modern philosophy, and Kant and post-Kantian philosophy up to Nietzsche. Three days will be devoted to each section. Readings include selections from the pre-Socratics, Plato, and Aristotle; Aquinas and other medieval philosophers; Descartes and the early modern rationalists; and Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. The purpose of the course is not to come up with comprehensive interpretations of these philosophers, but rather to examine their basic ontological theses and measure them against their philosophically-motivated interpretation in Heidegger.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Rebecca Comay
Tuesdays 12:00-15:00


Psychoanalysis and Politics

Born at a time of social and political crisis, and within a parochial European context, psychoanalysis was split from the outset between a seemingly conservative, even reactionary tendency and a politically radical and even revolutionary tendency.  These two tendencies cannot be easily disentangled, and the split itself may turn out to be constitutive of psychoanalysis as both a theory and a clinical practice.  This course will explore some of the political challenges and opportunities of psychoanalysis in the century after Freud, as psychoanalysis comes to be increasingly confronted with the urgent (and interconnected) pressures of feminism, queer theory, anti-colonialism, critical race theory, Marxism, even environmentalism – broadly speaking, the conjuncture of race/class/gender.  These challenges take on a particular intensity in the context of contemporary forms of racism, populism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and the global ravages of “late” or neoliberal capitalism. Can psychoanalysis provide a critical lens and emancipatory lever in the present?  In this context, we’ll be considering the political resources of psychoanalytic concepts of repression, desire, transference, identification, mourning and melancholia, fetishism, disavowal, trauma, resistance, repetition, and the death drive. We’ll obviously also have to engage with some of Freud’s most contentious and misunderstood formulations around gender, sexuality, castration — along with Oedipus and his family (a dysfunctional family if there ever was one).

Alongside some core Freudian texts (Three Essays on Sexuality, Mourning and Melancholia, The Ego and the Id, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Totem and Taboo),  authors will include: Louis Althusser, Judith Butler, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, Anne Cheng, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Lee Edelman, Frantz Fanon, Michel Foucault, Patricia Gherovici, Ranjana Khanna, Jacques Lacan, Jacqueline Rose, and Slavoj Žižek.  There is no specific prerequisite for this course, although a basic familiarity with basic psychoanalytic concepts will be helpful –it would be great if everyone could read or reread beforehand Freud’s (extremely readable) Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Arthur Ripstein
Mondays 12:00-15:00

Kant’s Moral and Political Philosophy

Kant’s works in theoretical philosophy, moral philosophy, and aesthetics all occupy secure places in the philosophical canon. His legal and political writings have attracted less attention. For those interested in legal and political philosophy, Kant is among the most important of liberal thinkers. He offers novel and powerful analyses of the structural features of the rule of law and the nature of legal authority, the separation of powers in a liberal state, the justification of punishment, and the morality of international relations. For those interested in Kant’s broader philosophical project, his legal and political writings integrate his central concerns in interesting way. We will read Kant’s major pollical writings Including Towards Perpetual Peace and the Doctrine of Right, as well as sections form his moral philosophy, including portions of the Critique of Practical Reason.

Texts: Immanuel Kant Practical Philosophy (Cambridge)

Evaluation: 300 word comments on the readings every second week (30% total) a final paper of 4-5000 words (60%) and class participation (10%)Advanced study of some topic in social or political philosophy.


Prof. Andrew Franklin-Hall
Wednesdays 09:00-12:00

Schools play an important role in shaping the values and identities of students and in affecting their opportunities in life. It should come as no surprise, then, that they are often on the frontlines of political controversy. In this course, we will explore the intersection of political philosophy and education.  Through readings of contemporary philosophers like Amy Gutmann, William Galston, Eamonn Callan, Harry Brighouse, and Meira Levinson, we will examine such issues as the proper aims of education, the extent to which public schools ought to be engaged in character formation, the teaching of controversial subjects (like sex, gender, and race), the just distribution of education, and the relationship between democracy and education.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Sophia Moreau
Mondays 09:00-12:00

In this seminar, we will focus on the emerging field of discrimination theory. We will spend the first half of the term exploring general philosophical theories of what makes discrimination wrong: for instance  is it wrong because it demeans people, or contributes more broadly to social subordination, or denies people freedom, or fails to treat them as individuals?  We will then use this knowledge to help us think philosophically about current issues that involve discrimination —including racial profiling, gender discrimination in employment, and disability discrimination during the Covid-19 pandemic.  This seminar will be run like a graduate seminar, with heavy emphasis on participation.  The seminar will also aim to prepare you for graduate work in philosophy or a cognate discipline, so each student will be required to do a seminar presentation.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Elisa Freschi
Tuesdays 15:00-18:00

In this class we will focus on texts by Sanskrit philosophers (in translation) on epistemology and on the topic of other minds, as well as contemporary studies focusing on the sentience of animals. We will discuss whether other minds can exist and how would the minds of divine beings, animals, aliens…differ from ours. For their final paper, students will be encouraged to analyse a further passage of a Sanskrit text and comment on its philosophical position.

Evaluation: 24% (reading assignments); 18% (at least 9 weekly written assignments); 12% (at least 9 weekly peer reviews); 4% (summary of a talk); 24% (in-class participation); 18% (final paper).


Instructor: TBA
Mondays 12:00-15:00

An advanced study of topics in bioethics, taught in conjunction with clinical bioethicists associated with the health-care organization partners of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Franz Huber
Thursdays 18:00-21:00

The Seminar in Decision Theory is an introduction to decision and game theory based on Peterson, Martin (2017), An Introduction to Decision Theory, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Decision theory studies what one ought to do when some more or less desirable outcomes of one’s actions depend on some external facts about which one is uncertain. Game theory studies what one ought to do when some more or less desirable outcomes of one’s actions depend on the choices made by others one is interacting with. Uncertainty is characterized in terms of probabilities, desires are characterized in terms of utilities, and together they determine the expected utility of one’s actions. This course introduces these notions and their mathematical representations, as well as critically reflects on philosophical questions such as whether one should always take the action that maximize one’s expected utility, whether uncertainty is subjective or objective, and why uncertainty does, or ought to, obey the laws of probability.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: Mid-term exam (may be held online): 50 mins, worth 20%;  12 problems “of your choice,” each worth 1/3%, totaling to 4%;  32 problems “of my choice,” each worth 1.25%, totaling to 40%;  12 homework assignments, each worth 3%, totaling to 36%


Prof. Imogen Dickie
Wednesdays 15:00-18:00

An advanced study of a topic in the philosophy of language.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Sara Aronowitz
Mondays 12:00-15:00

This is an advanced introduction to topics at the intersection of philosophy and mental health. We’ll cover debates on the nature of disease, what psychopathology tells us about human cognition, free will and addiction, and the ontology and epistemology of moods and emotions.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA