400-Level Courses

Note about Prerequisites:

All 400-series courses have a prerequisite of eight half-courses in Philosophy.

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. Rachel Barney
Thursdays 3:00-6:00


A course on ancient scepticism, particularly the Pyrrhonian scepticism of Sextus Empiricus. We will begin by tracing the development of early Greek scepticism, including Xenophanes and Pyrrho himself, and discussing the Academic scepticism represented by Arcesilaus, Carneades, and Cicero. We will then read Sextus in some depth, covering his depiction of the practising sceptic in Outlines of Pyrrhonism, and also his arguments about truth, scientific concepts, and ethics in other works. Finally we will briefly, and for purposes of comparison, look at some other kinds of scepticism: possible readings include Montaigne, Descartes, and Moore. Questions to be considered include: how many different kinds of scepticism are there, and what are the most basic ways in which they differ? Can the Pyrrhonian sceptic really live without beliefs? (Is he really trying to?) Does scepticism succeed in refuting all forms of philosophical dogmatism?  What are the sceptic’s strongest lines of argument? Are they consistent with each other (and should the sceptic care)? Is scepticism about ethics different from scepticism about other things?

Evaluation:  two medium-length papers or one long paper plus outline/draft; short weekly writing assignments; Blackboard discussion contributions; participation [percentages TBA]

Readings: Annas, J. and J. Barnes (eds.), Sextus Empiricus: Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Other readings will be made available in a course pack or on Blackboard.



Prof. Deborah Black
Wednesdays 10:00-1:00

Classical Islamic or Arabic philosophy (falsafah) was a philosophical tradition that arose when the works of ancient Greek philosophers were translated into Arabic and became a part of the intellectual heritage of the Islamic world. The works of a number of thinkers from this tradition, such as Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā), al-Ghazālī, and Averroes (Ibn Rushd), in turn had a lasting impact in Western Europe when they were translated into Latin in the 12th and 13th centuries. This course will explore the reverberation—both direct and indirect—of the philosophical ideas of these and other Islamic authors on a variety of Western medieval and early modern philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Descartes, Leibniz, and Locke. Some of the themes to be considered: Avicenna’s metaphysics and its Western followers and critics; Avicenna’s “Flying Man” and the Cartesian cogito; Ghazālī’s critique of causality and occasionalism; the reception of Ibn Tufayl’s “novel,” Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, about a wild child who becomes a self-taught philosopher.

Recommended background: A course in ancient, medieval, or early modern philosophy is recommended. Prior background in Islamic philosophy is helpful but not required.

Texts: TBA.

Evaluation: TBA, but will include class presentations and participation in discussion, and a final research paper.



Prof. Brian Embry
Tuesdays and Thursdays 12:00-1:30

Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) was one of the most influential philosophers in the history of philosophy and, it has been argued, the main conduit of scholastic ideas into what we now consider “canonical” early modern philosophy. Suárez is not only historically but also philosophically interesting, tackling interesting questions in creative ways. This course will be a systematic study of Suárez’s metaphysics. Topics may include beings of reason, universals, matter and form, efficient causation, and free will.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Nick Stang
Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:00-11:30

This course will be a survey of Hegel’s so-called “Encyclopaedia Logic” (1817, not to be confused with the much longer Science of Logic published a few years earlier). As its name suggests, the “Encyclopaedia Logic” is a work of logic, which Hegel, following tradition, understands as the science of the laws of thought (how we must think in order to think the truth). But, Hegel claims at the beginning of the work, “logic coincides with metaphysics.” So the “Encyclopaedia Logic” is not merely about the laws of thought, but also about the traditional object of metaphysics: being qua being, or, roughly, what all beings have in common in virtue of being. Hegel undertakes, in the “Encyclopaedia Logic,” to develop, from the nature of thought itself, not merely all of the logical categories with which we must think, but also all of the ontological categories of being, because, ultimately, these are one and the same set of categories. Note: no previous experience with Hegel (or Kant) is required, although PHL314 and PHL316 would be useful preparation.

Reading: G.W.F. Hegel. Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline, Part 1: Science of Logic. Trans. K. Brinkmann & D. Dahlstrom. Cambridge University Press.

Provisional marking scheme: Attendance/participation (20%), reading response every 2nd week (40%), final take-home exam (40%).



Prof. David Barnett
Tuesdays 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:  available on the course website

Evaluation:  class participation, two short writing assignments and a longer term paper



Prof. Jim John
Tuesdays 10:00-1:00

This course will cover advanced issues in the study of perceptual consciousness.

The first part of the course will deal with phenomenal consciousness and the metaphysics of mind. Topics will include: physicalism and anti-physicalism; phenomenal concepts and phenomenal knowledge; “revelation” theses and what it would mean for consciousness to have a “hidden” physical nature.

The second part of the course will deal with the structure of perceptual experience. Topics will include: content-based vs. relationalist theories of experience; naive realism and representationalism; which properties are presented in experience.

The third and final part of the course will deal with conceptual issues raised by recent empirical work on consciousness. Topics will include: how to distinguish the senses; synaesthesia; attention; and the science of color vision.

Reading: TBA (But will be drawn from recent articles and book chapters on the course topics.)

Evaluation: TBA (Most likely: short reading responses; class presentation; substantial term paper; participation in discussion.)



Prof. Brian Embry
Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:30-5:00

Hylomorphism is the Aristotelian doctrine according to which substances are compounds of form and matter. This view fell on hard times during the early modern period, as it was roundly rejected and even ridiculed by Descartes, Hobbes, and others. But recently it has made a stunning comeback. In this course we will investigate the philosophical viability of hylomorphism. We will begin with some of the puzzles about ordinary objects that have motivated the contemporary resurgence of hylomorphism – puzzles about causal overdetermination and parthood. Next, we will read one of the most thorough historical treatments of hylomorphism, by Francisco Suárez. This will give us an idea of how historical versions of hylomorphism differ from contemporary versions vis-à-vis motivation, problems, and technical details. Next, we will read the work of contemporary hylomorphists, including Kit Fine, Kathrin Koslicki, and William Jaworski.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Thomas Hurka
Tuesdays 10:00-1:00

The primary subject of this seminar will be the philosophy of games, sports, and play. An initial topic will be what distinguishes or defines the activity of game-playing; this will lead to more general philosophical questions about conceptual analysis. Another topic will be the value of playing games or achieving excellence in them; it connects to more general questions about the value of achievement and the many parallels between it and the more commonly recognized value of knowledge. Yet another topic is the nature of sports: are all sports games or are some outside the category of games? And how does play relate to games? We may also discuss specific ethical issues within games and sports, for example about cheating, and examine the aesthetics of games and sports, i.e. whether they can involve beauty and, if so, what kind of beauty it is.

Reading: Bernard Suits, The Grasshopper: Games, Life, and Utopia; selected articles

Evaluation: Essay 1 (40%); Essay 2 (60%)



Prof. Devlin Russell
Wednesdays 9:00-12:00

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

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Jonathan Payton
Tuesdays 12:00-3:00

Standard metaphysical theories of agency are event-based: they assume that whenever an agent acts, there occurs an event that is her action, her doing of what she does; and they assume that for an agent to exercise her agency just is for her to act, and hence for one of these events to occur. In recent years, such theories have run into trouble over the phenomenon of negative actions, such as omissions. To omit to do something, it seems, is first and foremost not to do that thing. But if doing something is a matter of the occurrence of an event, as event-based theories have it, then not doing something would seem to be a matter of the absence of an event. Hence, such theories are forced to say that omissions, refrainments, abstentions, and the like are absences of action, and not genuine manifestations of agency. And yet, we seem to be able to exercise our agency just as much by omitting, refraining, and abstaining as by actually doing something. In this course we will examine issues in the philosophy of action and general metaphysics with an eye to resolving this tension. Topics include: the nature of action; the relationship between actions and agency; the logical analysis of action sentences; the metaphysics of absences; and causation of and by omissions.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Michael Morgan
Wednesdays 3:00-6:00

Emmanuel Levinas

Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) is a major French philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century and is among the half-dozen most important Jewish thinkers of the century.  Born in Lithuania, Levinas lived most of his life in France; he was primarily a philosopher but also a deeply committed Jewish educator who often lectured and wrote about Judaism and Jewish matters.  Levinas was influenced by Bergson, Husserl, Heidegger, and others, like Buber and Rosenzweig.  We will look at the philosophical world in which he was educated and explore his unique development as a philosopher in the years after World War Two.  Levinas reacted against the main tendencies of Western philosophy and religious thought and as a result shaped novel, powerful, and challenging ways of understanding philosophy, religion, ethics, and politics.

In this course, we will examine works from every stage of Levinas’s career, from his early study of Husserl and Heidegger to the emergence of his new understanding of the human condition and the primacy of ethics, the face-to-face encounter with the human other, the role of language and the relationship between ethics and religion, and finally his understanding of Judaism and its relationship to Western philosophy.  We will be interested in his philosophical method, the relevance of his thinking for ethics and religion, the role of language in his philosophy and the problem of the limits of expressibility, and the implications of his work for politics.  We shall also consider his conception of Judaism, its primary goals and character, and its relation to Western culture and philosophy.

Readings: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



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



This course will focus on the nature of property and the political issues surrounding it. Among the questions to be discussed are: What is property?  How are rights related to property? Are our bodies our property? Are natural resources the property of anyone or everyone?  Are there important differences as property between land and artificial products? Can the ‘public’ own property? What, if any, are the circumstances in which one’s property can be converted to someone else? Can ideas or intellectual creations be property?  Who, if anyone, owns the environment?

Readings: All readings are online from U. of T. Library.  Links on Blackboard. Go to Library Resources in the course module.

Evaluation: two essays, each 2,500-3,000 words (each 20% of final grade); class participation (20% of final grade), final examination (40% of final grade).



Victor Kumar
Thursdays 3:00-6:00

The topic of this course is race and gender. In the first half of the class, we will discuss racial discrimination, implicit racial bias, and the application of discrimination and bias toward people of color in the criminal justice system. We will also discuss the Black Lives Matter social movement. In the second half of the class, we will discuss misogyny and sexual harassment toward cisgender and transgender women and the particularly harsh discrimination directed toward women of color. We will then examine how gender discrimination underlies rape culture, threatens women online, and infects discourse.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: 10 shorties – You will asked to be write ten short critical posts (max 300 words; 1 p) on the course blog. Each shorty must discuss one or more of assigned readings and is due online 24 hours before the topic is covered in class. Late shorties will not be accepted. Worth 30% of your final grade; 2 essays – You will be asked to write two essays (2-2500 words; 8-10 pp), one at the end of each of the two course units. Late essays will be penalized 1 point per day. Worth 60% of your final grade; Participation: You will be asked to provide thoughtful, critical contributions to class discussions. Explain what you think the author means, raise objections, and respond to other students’ objections. Worth 10% of your final grade.



Prof. Alex Koo
Thursdays 10:00-1:00

North American cicadas are found to have a periodic life-cycle of either 13 or 17 years depending on their particular region. Biologists have wondered why the life-cycle is of prime length. An accepted explanation is that prime life-cycles would minimize intersection with other potential life-cycles, and this is evolutionary advantageous as to avoid predators and hybridization. If this is so, how does a mathematical fact about abstract and non-causal mathematical entities lead to actual physical behaviour?

The aim of this course is to explore non-causal explanations in science. Two main questions present themselves: Are there genuine non-causal explanations in science? If there are, how do they deliver their explanatory force? Any attempt to answer these questions depends on a strong grasp of both causation and explanation in science. We will begin the course with historical material on these topics and quickly build up towards the current debate in philosophy of science surrounding non-causal explanation.

Readings: A selection of primary sources made available online.

Evaluation: Class Participation; Class Presentations; Short Individual Oral Midterm; Final Essay and Short Essay Proposal.



Tuesdays 6:00-9:00

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. Imogen Dickie
Wednesdays 12:00-3:00

This seminar will introduce upper level philosophy majors and specialists to advanced study of a range of central questions about how we manage to represent particulars in thought and speech. Representative questions include:

– How does perceptual contact with a thing put you in a position to think and speak about it?

-What does it take for a proper name as used by members of a community to be a name ‘of’ a particular person, place, event, or object?

-How do we manage to use language to communicate with one another about things in the world?

-What is the relation between our understanding of statements about particulars (like ‘Jack has fleas’) and our understanding of general statements (like ‘All dogs have fleas’)?

– What if anything, does a proper name in a work of fiction (like ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Gormenghast’) stand for?

Readings: provided in class.

Evaluation: Participation grade; two or three short papers; 3500 word term paper.