400-Level Courses (24-25)

2024-25 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. Jon McGinnis
Mondays 10:00-13:00

Advanced discussion of the principal figures and themes in ancient and/or medieval philosophy.

Texts: TBD

Evaluation: TBD


Prof. Rachel Barney
Tuesdays 15:00-18:00

The ancient Greek concept of technê (pronounced TECK-nay) corresponds roughly to our ‘craft’, ‘expertise’, ‘skill’, or ‘art’ (in the sense of ‘the art of baking’, say). The technai or crafts include not only the handicrafts, like weaving and pottery, but skilled trades ranging from ship-building and navigation to medicine and accounting, and the fine arts (painting, drawing) and sports as well. Craft in this broad sense is one of the central concepts of Plato’s philosophy, and important to the epistemological and ethical theories of Aristotle and the Stoics. Similar concepts (ji, shu, gong, even dao) are equally central in the Chinese philosophical tradition, especially in the Mozi, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi. And in ancient Greece and China alike, craft is important not only in its own right but as a model for understanding two things which are even more important: the virtue of the morally good person and the political wisdom of the skillful ruler.

We will use both ancient and modern texts to discuss some of the philosophical questions raised by craft, both in itself and as a model. What is a craft — how can we tell what should count? (Do all skilled practices count, or does a craft have to have a valuable result? Can the drug dealer or assassin be practising a craft?) What kind of knowledge must a person have to count having craft or expertise? Is Plato right to think that the expert must be able to give explanations, logoi, of their actions, and that real expertise involves scientific knowledge? Or is Zhuangzi right that expertise at the highest level transcends any explanation or system, and cannot be verbalized or taught? Which conception of craft makes a better model for the skilled ruler and the virtuous person? And do any of these ancient theories remain tenable for us; more generally, what is the value for us in thinking about craft today?

Readings: The Hackett Plato: Complete Works, the Zhuangzi, and Richard Sennett, The Craftsman are to be purchased, and will be available at the U of T Bookstore. Other readings will be available as pdfs. Plato readings will include the Gorgias and Republic I; in addition to Sennett, modern authors to be discussed include Gilbert Ryle and Alasdair MacIntyre.

Evaluation: participation, including at least one in-class presentation with handout or slides, 20%; one two-page ‘think-piece’, 10%; one ten-page term paper with required (but not graded) outline and/or first draft, 70%.


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

In this course, we will survey questions about the nature and value of friendship and love from various historical traditions. For instance, we will reflect on the differences and similarities between romantic love and parental love; we will reflect on the relationship between friendship and the highest good; and we will discuss possible conflicts between the demands of love or friendship and the demands of morality.

Reading: A selection of readings will be drawn from Greek, Arabic, Persian, and Modern European sources.

Evaluation: Weekly reaction paragraphs, presentation, argument map, paper proposal, final paper.


Prof. Michael Blezy
Thursday 18:00-21:00

This course will give advanced students the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the work of “the father of existentialism”: the Danish philosopher and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Specifically, the course will undertake a philosophical examination of Kierkegaard’s theory of the self as presented in a number of his shorter works, including Fear and Trembling (1843), Repetition (1843), The Concept of Anxiety (1844), Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions (1845) and The Sickness Unto Death (1849). The aim of the course will be to achieve a familiarity with the details of Kierkegaard’s account of the self and its close relation to such philosophical topics as choice, anxiety, despair, faith and death, as well as trace the influence of Kierkegaard’s account of the self on later thinkers such as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, de Beauvoir, Adorno, Levinas and Deleuze.

Readings:  TBA

Evaluation: TBA


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

This course is centered around a single question: What are we? When we think and reason and talk to one another, what kind of things are the individual subjects who are doing the thinking and reasoning and talking? Certainly each of us is closely related to a particular human being—an animal belonging to the species homo sapiens—but many philosophers have thought it is a little too simplistic to say we just are human beings. Instead, we are just the thinking part of the human beings, namely their brains. Or else we are essentially mental entities, which are merely realized by human beings or their brains, and which are in principle separable from them. Our course will examine these and other answers to the question of what we are, paying special attention to answers emphasizing our capacity for a unified stream of consciousness.

Evaluation: 30% midterm paper, 35% final paper, 35% written and oral discussion participation

Reading: TBD


Instructor: TBD
Thursdays 18:00-21:00

Advanced study of a problem in the philosophy of mind.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Michael Caie
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
Thursdays 12:00-15:00

PHL407 Seminar in Ethics

Metaethics & Moral Scepticism

This course serves as an advanced introduction to metaethics, with a particular focus on moral scepticism. Metaethics is the study of (first-order) ethics itself, and moral scepticism is a host of views that raise doubts about morality. In coming to understand more precisely what moral scepticism is, and what objections there are to it, we will explore foundational metaethical questions such as: is there such a thing as objective morality? if moral facts are (or purport to be) objective, are they natural, nonnatural, or supernatural? is a moral judgment a belief, a desire, or both? if morality is (or purports to be) objective, why is there so much moral disagreement? does acknowledging our evolutionary history help support or undermine objective morality? how do moral facts actually motivate us?

Reading: Answering Moral Skepticism by Shelly Kagan

Evaluation: Attendance & Participation, including 250-word Weekly Notes (20%), Discussion Leader (10%), 350-word Midterm Essay Prospectus (10%), 1750-word Midterm Essay (20%), 350-word Final Essay Prospectus (10%), 2800-word Final Essay (30%)


Prof. Brendan de Kenessey
Wednesdays 09:00-12:00

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

Readings: TBD

Evaluation: TBD


Prof. Mark Kingwell
Wednesdays 14:00-17:00

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: two term papers plus in-class participation and short weekly reflection papers.


Prof. Nicholas Stang
Thursdays 12:00-15:00

Topics vary but bridge two or more areas or traditions of philosophy.

Reading: TBD

Evaluation: TBD


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

Advanced study of key philosophical works published within the last five years.

Reading: TBD

Evaluation: TBD


Prof. Tarek Dika
Tuesdays 12:00-15:00

Late Heidegger

This course examines Heidegger’s writings in and after 1930, from “On the Essence of Truth” (1930) to “Time and Being” (1962), with selections from Contributions to Philosophy (1936–38) and related texts. The purpose of the course is to acquire a deeper understanding of Heidegger’s shift from an ontology focused principally on Dasein (the being that possesses what Heidegger terms an “understanding of being”) to an ontology focused principally on the relation between truth and being. Special attention will be paid to the role played by the concept of finitude in this much-discussed shift in Heidegger’s philosophy.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. William Paris
Mondays 15:00-18:00

Theories of Self-Emancipation

Karl Marx once wrote that “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” This seminar will focus on the promises and controversies surrounding the concept of self-emancipation in social life. What is the notion of the “self” at work in this concept? Can it be individual or must it be collective? Why should we think something like self-emancipation is possible? Is self-emancipation political, ethical, aesthetic, or epistemological? By the end of the seminar students will with philosophers from the 18th and 19th century (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Schiller) up to 20th and 21st century reevaluations of self-emancipation (Georg Lukács, Jacques Rancière, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Charles Taylor, and Roy Bhaskar).

Readings: Selections from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Friedrich Schiller, Georg Lukács, Jacques Rancière, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Charles Taylor, and Roy Bhaskar

Evaluation: Short Responses, Final Essay, Class Presentation


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

Reading Capital today

In this seminar we’ll be attempting a careful reading of Marx’s Capital and thinking about its contemporary relevance. We’ll be examining some of his core concepts  — use-value/exchange-value, commodity fetishism, abstract and concrete labour, money, the working day, formal and real subsumption, absolute and relative surplus value, “primitive accumulation,” unemployment and the industrial reserve army. As we try to work through these concepts, we’ll also be looking for what David Harvey has called “points of stress” in Marx’s system – concepts that are problematic, unresolved, overlooked, undeveloped, anachronistic, or simply wrong-headed. What in Capital needs to be revised, refined, expanded, emphasized, jettisoned, updated, or rewritten today? We’ll be looking particularly at feminist, Black, anticolonial, indigenous, and environmentalist critiques that have taken issue with (and tried to correct) Marx’s seeming obliviousness to the role of unpaid reproductive labour in sustaining capitalist production; for his misunderstanding of the racial origins of modern capitalism and the central role of plantation slavery (with its ongoing aftermath); for his under-theorization of the history of colonial dispossession, resource extraction, and environmental devastation.  And we’ll be asking whether the categories developed in Capital are sufficient to account for the vicissitudes of  “late capitalism” (our own supposedly “post-industrial” epoch)  — the new forms of exploitation and immiseration introduced by the global supply chain, the prison-industrial complex, financialization and new credit products, digital labour and the platform economy, the gig economy and the generation of a global precariat, and the commodification of everything.  Finally: is the category of revolutionary class struggle still viable today?

Readings: We’ll be focussing mainly on the first volume of Capital supplemented by selections from the other two volumes.  This will be accompanied by texts by contemporary thinkers such as David Harvey, Fredric Jameson, Silvia Federici, Cedric Robinson, Angela Davis, Glenn Coulthard, Tithi Bhattacharya , and Jason Moore.

The first new English translation in of Capital in over 50 years will be released in October, 2024 (Princeton UP), so you’ll get to be among the very first readers to work intensively with this monumental new text.  This is the only text you’ll need to buy; all other readings will be posted on Quercus.

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Andrew Franklin-Hall
Wednesdays 12:00-15:00

PHL 412 – The Political Philosophy of the Family

In the wake of women’s equality, the sexual revolution, the liberalization of divorce law, the recognition of same-sex marriage, and the expansion of state authority over education and children’s welfare, the family has changed dramatically over the last 150 years. Nevertheless, it remains the social institution with the primary responsibility for the care of children, while marital relationships (or something very like them) still structure many people’s personal lives.  In this course, we will examine the moral and legal status of the family, with particular focus on distributive justice, parental rights, and marriage (or whatever might replace it). Readings will include texts by Elizabeth Brake, Harry Brighouse and Adam Swift, Clare Chambers, Matthew Clayton, Anca Gheaus, and Joseph Millum, Susan Moller Okin, and John Rawls.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Shruta Swarup
Mondays 18:00-21:00

Advanced study of some topic in social or political philosophy.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Jordan Thomson
Wednesday 18:00-21:00

This course is called “Ethics and Artificial Intelligence” not “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence”. This reflects the fact that this is a course in both applied ethics and moral theory. It is an opportunity to familiarize yourself with contemporary debates in AI ethics while becoming acquainted with the significant background moral theorizing in which such debates are situated, coming to see how the ethics of AI is both informed by moral theory and how it might contribute to such theorizing in future. For example, when we discuss concerns about bias in algorithmic decision-making systems that are used to determine prison sentences and college admissions, we will also discuss philosophical theories of bias and punishment. Similarly, when we discuss the question as to whether AI poses an “existential threat” to humanity, we will discuss whether and why human extinction would be a bad thing.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Instructor: TBD
Wednesdays 09:00-12:00

Advanced discussion of issues in the philosophy of law.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Elisa Freschi
Wednesdays 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).


Prof. Jennifer Gibson
Wednesdays 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. Denis Walsh
Fridays 09:00-12:00

Advanced study of some area or problem in the philosophy of science.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA