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 10:30-12:00

The course will focus on the ongoing debate in ancient Greek philosophy regarding “what is up to us” as the issue came to be labeled.  The nexus of ideas of human moral responsibility, divine power, and causality in nature are woven through Greek literature right from the beginning in Homer.  What, if anything, is “up to us” as opposed to being up to the gods (“fated”) or up to the natural course of all past events.  We will see that there really is an ongoing debate about this issue in ancient philosophy with the poets, tragedians, and natural scientists providing much of the background.  We will concentrate on five of the major positions on this issue, with frequent reference to some of the lesser lights.

Readings:  Selections from Plato’s Republic, Books 4, 8-9, and 10 and Laws, Book 10; Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (especially Book 3); selected fragments of the Stoics; selections from Alexander of Aphrodisias’ On Fate; selections from Pseudo-Plutarch, On Fate; selected Enneads of Plotinus (especially III 1 and VI 8); selections from Proclus, On Providence and Fate and That Which is up to us.

Evaluation: Two essays, each worth 20%; class participation worth 20%; final examination worth 40%.


Prof. Owen Pikkert
Thursday 3:00-6:00

This course is a seminar on the philosophy of Leibniz. We will focus particularly on his metaphysics and philosophy of religion. Some of the topics to be discussed include the principle of sufficient reason, the existence of God, the relation of God to the world, necessitarianism, the theory of monads, and Leibnizian ideas in more recent philosophy. Throughout the seminar we will also examine how Leibniz responds to ideas advanced by other early modern philosophers, such as Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, Locke, Clarke, and Edwards.

Reading: All of the readings will be available via Quercus.

Evaluation: A presentation at 20%, participation at 20%, a research paper at 30%, and a final exam at 30%.


Prof. Charlie Cooper-Simpson
Wednesdays 6:00-9:00

This course will be an intensive introduction to Hegel’s Science of Logic. Of particular interest will be the question of the formality of Hegelian logic; the relationship between Hegelian logic and metaphysics; the relationship between Hegelian logic and Kant’s Transcendental Logic. Familiarity with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason will be an asset but is not required.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: Participation (15%), Short Paper (35%), Final Paper (50%)


Prof. David Barnett
Tuesday 2:00-5:00

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. Jim John
Tuesdays 10:00-1:00

Advanced study of a problem in the philosophy of mind.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Mason Westfall

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

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Thomas Hurka
Tuesday 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

Ethics in Personal Relationships

Moral philosophers are fond of talking about our obligations to strangers. But in everyday life, we spend a lot more time thinking about our obligations to people we already know: our friends, roommates, parents, siblings, cousins, romantic partners, and others with whom we have personal relationships.

This class will investigate the ethical significance of these personal relationships. We will begin with foundational questions: what is it to love someone? When and why is it morally okay to prioritize the happiness of our loved ones over the welfare of strangers? Then we will turn our attention to the moral nuances of particular relationships: friendship, romantic love and marriage, parent-child relationships, professional role relationships (such as doctor/patient or lawyer/client), membership in a community or country, and maybe even our relationships with our pets.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA, will include class participation, possibly in-class presentations, and one or two papers.


Prof. Franz Huber
Monday and Wednesday 7:00-8:30

This New Books Seminar will be an introduction to Bayesian topics in the philosophy of science based on Sprenger, Jan & Hartmann, Stephan (2019), Bayesian Philosophy of Science, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

One way to think of the philosophy of science is as epistemology and metaphysics of science. Bayesian philosophy of science is philosophy of science from a probabilistic point of view, where probabilities are interpreted in terms of degrees of belief. Topics in Bayesian philosophy of science include: confirmation and induction, scientific realism, learning conditionals, the problem of old evidence, causation, explanation, inter-theoretic reduction, simplicity, scientific objectivity, as well as model selection and idealization.

It will be helpful to have taken PHL246 prior to this course, or to do so simultaneously. If this is not an option for you, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with a textbook on probability and inductive logic such as:

Huber, Franz (2018), A Logical Introduction to Probability and Induction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Evaluation: 10 homework assignments each worth 3%, first version of paper worth 15% (500-1,000 words), mid-term exam worth 20%, final version of paper worth 35% (2,500-3,000).


Prof. Willi Goetschel
Wednesdays 3:00-6:00

Difference and Alterity

Difference and alterity are usually conceptualized as ‘problems’: challenges to the hegemonic political, social and philosophical landscape, which we have inherited from the Enlightenment. Claims on behalf of difference and alterity are often seen as ‘intolerant,’ ‘relativistic’ or harmfully skeptical: skeptical of important ideals of truth, knowledge and freedom. At the root of this perception lies a conception of such notions as inherently negative: difference and alterity as lack, deficiency and privation. Against this tendency, there is a line of thinkers who argue the opposite insisting on the critical significance of difference and alterity for thinking. Readings include texts by La Boëtie, Montaigne, Spinoza, Mendelssohn, Nietzsche, Simmel, Benjamin, Adorno, Levinas, and Derrida.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Franz Huber

Wednesday 6:00-9:00

This Seminar in Analytic Philosophy will be 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.

It will be helpful to have taken PHL246 prior to this course. If this is not an option for you, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with a textbook on probability and inductive logic such as:

Huber, Franz (2018), A Logical Introduction to Probability and Induction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Evaluation: Problem Sets (56%);  Commentary (24%); Mid-Term Exam (20%)


Prof. Shruta Swarup
Wednesday 5:00-8:00

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. Michael Barnes
Tuesday 3:00-6:00

Ethics of Emerging Technologies

In this discussion-driven seminar, we will examine the moral and epistemic dimensions arising from the emergence of new technologies like social media, AI, and massive data collection. Topics will include fake news, conspiracy theories, and internet hoaxes; the role of algorithms in extremism and radicalism; autonomy, the digital self, and online privacy; big data and surveillance; and more.

Reading: Readings will be drawn from contemporary philosophy—including bioethics, social epistemology, feminist philosophy, philosophy of language—as well as adjacent disciplines, such as media studies, sociology and critical race theory.

Evaluation: Assessment will include seminar participation and essays.


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

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

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


Prof. Sophia Moreau
Wednesday 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. 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. Daniel Rynhold
Tuesday 10:00-12:00

The Philosophy of Joseph Soloveitchik

A detailed study of philosophical themes in the writings of Joseph Soloveitchik, based on analysis of key texts & recent scholarship. We will combine close readings of Soloveitchik’s works with studies of specific topics in his thought including his views on methodology in Jewish philosophy, the nature of faith, and philosophical naturalism. The works we will be studying include: The Halakhic Mind; Halakhic Man; Confrontation; Lonely Man of Faith; U-Vikkashtem mi-Sham; and The Emergence of Ethical Man.

The course aims to furnish you with the ability to 1) read and understand the primary texts; 2) assess their philosophical content; & 3) engage critically with the secondary literature.”

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA