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 calendar for information about prerequisites.

Instructions for Enrolling in 400-level seminars:

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

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

3. In order to ensure sufficient spaces in 400-level seminars for students completing Philosophy Specialist and Major programs, only 3rd and 4th year Philosophy Specialists (including Bioethics and combined Specialists) and 4th year Majors are permitted to register in these courses during the first round of enrolment. Once the enrolment restrictions are lifted in the second round of enrolment, any students who have completed the general prerequisite of 8 half-courses in Philosophy and the recommended preparation may enrol in 400-level seminars.

4. During 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. Lloyd Gerson
Mondays and Wednesdays 1:00-2:30

This course is an introduction to Platonism “after Aristotle.” Our principal focus will be on the philosophy of Plotinus (205/5 – 270 C.E.), who is often referred to as the founder of “Neoplatonism.” We will begin with a few lectures on the construction of Platonism from Plato’s dialogues, his unwritten teachings, the so-called Early Academy, and various proponents of Platonism prior to Plotinus. We will end the course with some readings in some Platonists after Plotinus, in particular his student Porphyry and Proclus. Our goal is to understand the philosophical position first articulated by Plato and then developed in an ongoing collaborative project for the next 1000 years.

Evaluation:  Two 2,500-3,000 word essays each 20% of final mark, final exam 40% of final mark, class participation, 20%. The penalty for late essays without written medical excuse is 3 marks per day.

Readings: TBA


Prof. Willie Costello
Thursday 12:00-3:00

Love, sex, & sexuality in ancient Greek thought

What is the nature of love? What is love’s connection to sex and sexuality? Is there a proper form that love should take, and other forms that it shouldn’t? And how can we come to a philosophical understanding of love that transcends the opinions of our current time and place? In this class we will investigate these and related questions through a historical lens, namely, that of the ancient Greeks, whose conception of love and sexuality looks at once familiar and strange. We will focus in particular on Plato, whose writings on love are some of the most famous in the Western canon, yet whose understanding of love seems deeply informed by his specific cultural context, where love was epitomized by extrafamilial sexual relations between older men and younger boys. How, then, should we interpret a conception like this? How do we evaluate it? What do we do about everything that it seems to leave out or get wrong? And most importantly, what does attending to the ancient Greek conception of love and sexuality reveal to us about our own?

Readings: Primary texts (in translation), such as Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus, Lysis, and Republic; and secondary scholarship on these texts and related themes.

Evaluations: 1 long term paper, preceded by a number of shorter preparatory assignments; weekly micro-assignments; and in-class participation.


Prof. Donald Ainslie
Wednesday 10:00-1:00

British moral philosophy flourished in the 18th-century as philosophers considered such questions as: how ethics can be understood independently of religion; whether there is a mind-independent moral order; how our moral evaluations impact our actions; and what conceptions of personhood and agency are necessary for morality.

We will read some of the relevant philosophers and related secondary literature.

By the end of the term, students should have the capacity to write an original research paper on some of the philosophers and issues we explore in class.

Reading: All readings will be linked or posted on Quercus

Evaluations: Presentation (22.5%); Interlocuter Paper (22.5%); Final Paper (40%); Participation (15%)


Prof. David Barnett
Wednesday 12:00-3:00

This course will focus on recent debates in social epistemology, particularly those concerning the rationality of trust in oneself and in others. Our central questions will include:

  • When is it rational to believe the testimony of another person?
  • When is it rational to persist in beliefs that you came to hold in the past?
  • How should you respond to disagreement from an epistemic peer, who appears to be as reasonable, informed, and intelligent as you, but whose beliefs regarding controversial questions contradict your own?
  • Is it rational for you to persist in beliefs that you know you would have rejected had you been raised in another family or culture?
  • How should you respond to evidence supporting that you might not be as trustworthy as you previously believed?

Readings:  TBA

Evaluation:  TBA


Prof. Dave Suarez
Tuesdays 10:00-1:00

Advanced study of a problem in the philosophy of mind.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Thomas Hurka
Tuesdays 9:00-12:00

This seminar will examine a number of views about the good, i.e. about what’s in itself worth desiring and pursuing. Some of the candidate goods to be discussed are located in individual lives, such as pleasure; the satisfaction of desire (perhaps only informed and/or autonomous); knowledge and understanding; achievement; moral virtue; and love and friendship. Others are found in larger entities such as societies; they include equality in the distribution of happiness; distribution by merit or desert; and the environmental good of a complex ecosystem. The aim will be to survey a wide range of things that can be held to be good in themselves.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Brendan De Kenessey
Wednesday 2:00-5:00


Why is lying wrong? Trying to answer this deceptively simple question will lead us to explore a wide range of topics in ethics, epistemology, philosophy of language, and political philosophy. Is there a morally relevant difference between lying and other forms of deception? When is it rational to trust what others say? What is the difference between saying something false and merely implying something false? Should freedom of speech protect a right to lie? What does it mean to say that current political discourse is “post-truth,” and why does that matter?

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: class participation and a final paper


Prof. Belinda Piercy
Tuesdays and Thursdays 9:30-11:00

Disagreement about Art and Beauty

Last year The Last Jedi divided movie critics and Star Wars fans alike. Some people loved it, others hated it, with explanations for what made it so good/bad flying across internet platforms and post-theater nacho platters, often ending with someone crying out, “Stop the madness! Isn’t this all just a matter of opinion? There’s no right or wrong here!” This frequently offered (but rarely followed) idea will serve as the starting point for an in-depth philosophical examination of the possibility of disagreement about art and beauty, the role of the art critic, and the question of whether or not there are rules for evaluating art. These issues have deep roots in the history of philosophical aesthetics and the course will weave together readings from the history of philosophy, such as Hume and Kant, with work by philosophers of art from the 20th century such as Monroe Beardsley, Mary Mothersill, Frank Sibley, Arnold Isenberg and Stanley Cavell.

The course will also pair readings in aesthetics with recent epistemological arguments about how to rationally respond to disagreement with those we consider “peers” (just as likely to be right about something as ourselves). By the end of the course, we will have considered how more general epistemological questions about how to respond to disagreement intersect with the aesthetic case, and also whether or not aesthetic disagreements have more in common with other kinds of deeply-rooted disagreements than may it may at first appear.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Mark Kingwell
Thursday 12:00-3:00

This seminar will explore the contested space that lies between politics and art. Topics will include: activist art, propaganda, cultural hegemony, the culture industry, and the ’emancipated spectator’. Readings will include works by Heidegger, Benjamin, Bourdieu, Adorno and Horkheimer, Debord, Danto, Baudrillard, Rancière, and Bishop.

This is a seminar, not a lecture course. All students are expected to prepare for class by reading the assigned material carefully and forming views on it; you should arrive prepared to argue. A key component of the course are student reflection papers, due at the beginning of each class on the assigned reading for the week.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Shruta Swarup
Mondays 1:00-4:00

Most of us have prudential reasons to comply with the laws of our state.  But is there a moral duty to obey these laws, and if so, what is its ground?  Philosophers have advanced varied arguments for the claim that there is such a duty – for the claim that we have “political obligation”.  In this seminar, we will examine these arguments as well as the skeptical replies of critics.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Jordan Thomson
Mondays 4:00-7:00

Effective Altruism

Effective Altruism is a social movement which encourages people to do the most good they can do. For most of us, doing the most good we can do would involve making two changes to how we currently live: First, we would have to give more. That is, we would have to donate more of our resources to charitable causes. Second, we would have to give more effectively. That is, we would have to direct our resources to organizations that do the most good per dollar spent, which might mean withdrawing support from causes that are close to one’s heart.

In this course, we will examine a number of interesting philosophical issues raised by Effective Altruism. Questions to be addressed include: How much are we morally required to do in the name of helping others? Do we have duties to people who do not yet exist? Does it make sense to say that an organization which prevents malaria does more (or less) good than one which helps refugees?

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Evan Westra
Tuesday 3:00-6:00

The Philosophy of Social Cognition

Over the past four decades, the scientific study of social cognition has been dominated by one core question: how is it that we come to understand the minds of those around us? That is, how is it that we learn that other people have beliefs, desires, and other kinds of mental states? And how do we employ that knowledge in order to predict and understand their behavior? The consensus view among cognitive scientists is that these abilities – collectively known as “theory of mind,” “mindreading,” or “mentalizing” – hold the key to explaining many of human beings’ most important social abilities, such as communication, cooperation, empathy, and social learning.

This course will survey some of the foundational philosophical questions in this literature, and then dive deep into a few cutting edge debates taking place in the field right now. Topics will include the debate between the “simulation theory” and “theory theory,” questions the innate bases of theory of mind in human infants, whether we are able to perceive mental states, and the dispute over whether non-human animals like ravens and chimpanzees have the ability to reason about other minds.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: Students will be responsible for contributing to an online discussion board on a weekly basis, leading in-class discussions, and proposing, outlining, and writing a long research paper on a topic of their choosing pertinent to the course.


Prof. Sophia Moreau
Thursdays 12:00-3:00

In this seminar, we will look at a variety of questions concerning discrimination, the circumstances under which it is wrong or unfair, and the purposes of anti-discrimination law.  This is a relatively young philosophical field.  Even 15 years ago, there was very little written of a serious philosophical nature on discrimination; but there has been a sudden surge of interest in the topic from philosophers all over the world.  We’ll talk in our first class about the reasons for the longstanding philosophical neglect of discrimination, and about the reasons for our current interest in it.  It makes for an exciting field of study, since many theories are still in their infancy, in the process of being worked out.  We will read many different theories of why discrimination is wrong: mental state theories that locate the wrong in the discrimintaor’s own biases; expressivist theories, that locate it in the social message sent by discriminatory acts; subordination theories, that locate it in the problematic social status of the groups that are discriminated against; and freedom-based theories, that locate it in the freedom denied to groups that face discrimination.  We will also think about the role of stereotypes in discrimination, and about the relative obligations of private individuals and the State.  Finally, we will try to think philosophically about the issues raised in some recent legal cases, such as Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Ewert v. Canada, and the Dutee Chand case.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: Class participation 20%, Short seminar presentation 20%, Term paper, 60%


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

In 1921, at the age of 18, Frank Ramsey translated Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. In 1923, before meeting its author, he published a Critical Notice of it, which still stands as one of the most important commentaries. He found problems with both things he identified as occupying Wittgenstein. First is ‘the non-mystical deductions’ that constitute most of the text—the arguing in detail for ‘the necessity of something in common between the picture and the world’. Ramsey threw spanners into the works of that machinery. The second consists of indicating or gesturing at all the things that are ‘intrinsically impossible to discuss’. Ramsey worried that Wittgenstein’s distinction between saying and showing leaves out too much of importance (open generalisations, scientific laws, inductive conclusions, ethics) and that Wittgenstein’s form of representation itself was a piece of what Wittgenstein considered to be philosophical nonsense.

In this course, we shall explore the argument that Ramsey’s persistent, pragmatist, objections to the picture theory of meaning and truth set out in the Tractatus were largely responsible for Wittgenstein’s turn away from that approach and towards what we think of as the later Wittgenstein, with his emphasis on the primacy of practice and the idea that meaning is use.

We shall examine their work, from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Ramsey’s Critical Notice, through the transitions in their thought during 1929 (when Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge), up till Ramsey death in 1930, at the age of 26.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: Reading Responses, building up to a final paper.


Prof. Ross Upshur
Thursdays 3:00-6:00

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
Mondays and Wednesdays 5:00-6:30

This seminar in logic will deal with the logic of counterfactuals and causation. We will begin by reviewing the possible worlds semantics for modal statements. Then we will study the so-called similarity approach to counterfactuals. Next we will focus on the relation between causation and counterfactuals. Finally we will study the structural equations approach to causal counterfactuals.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA