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. Jacob Stump
Tuesday 3:00-6:00

“… our first concern is to investigate what constitutes a good life, and how it is to be attained.” So begins Aristotle’s Eudemian Ethics. In this course we will conduct a careful, detailed, advanced study of Aristotle’s two ethical treatises, the Eudemian Ethics and the better known Nicomachean Ethics. While our focus will be on the NE, we will frequently compare the EE’s often contrasting insights into the human good. Questions to be considered include the following: Is there some function that humans have, and, if so, what relation does that have to human happiness? What is human happiness in the first place? What does it consist in? What sort of things are the virtues, and how, if at all, do character virtues (e.g., courage) differ from intellectual virtues (e.g., wisdom)? What are the goals of ethical thinking? What is the nature of friendship, and which sort is most valuable? Which is the best life—the life devoted to pleasure, the life devoted to business and politics, or the life devoted to knowledge and wisdom? Part of Aristotle’s philosophic method is to consider the endoxa (wise or popular opinions) of his time to see which answers they support. In examining Aristotle’s own answers to these questions, we will want to consider the endoxa of our own time to see what, if anything, of Aristotle’s ethical thinking is still useful to us today.

Evaluation:  TBA

Readings: TBA


Prof. Lloyd Gerson
Monday and Wednesday 1-2:30

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

Evaluation:  TBA

Readings: TBA



(Description updated August 2nd, 2017)

Prof. Rachel Barney
Tuesday 12:00-3:00

This course will look in depth at the Roman Stoic Epictetus, who is both one of our most important sources for ancient Stoic ideas and one of the most vivid, individual voices in all of philosophy. Epictetus, like his hero Socrates, wrote nothing, and we know him only as a ‘live performer’: the Discourses are simply notes recording his informal discussions with advanced students. We will read the Discourses closely in order to see how Epictetus argues for various Stoic theories on freedom, God, happiness, fate, Cynicism, and particular moral problems such as poverty, family responsibilities, and political tyranny. Epictetus’ style is oral and informal; often a Discourse may look just like a string of exhortations mixed with digressions, jokes, breakout dialogues, and little stories. We will try to figure out how each Discourse adds up to an argument, and how these arguments fit together. We will also look at the Socratic and Platonic texts which inspired Stoic ethics, together with what little evidence we have for the first Stoic thinkers (the ‘Old Stoa’), in order to figure out how far Epictetus’ ideas are distinctive and original.

For variety and context, we will also discuss various comparisons and contrasts: with Socrates (in Plato and Xenophon both), Marcus Aurelius, the Neoplatonic and Christian authors who try to claim Epictetus as one of their own (such as Simplicius), Montaigne, and Nietzsche (surprisingly, a fan). We will also look at the contemporary ‘living Stoicism’ or ‘Neo-Stoic’ movement, which attempts to revive Stoic ethics as a solution to problems of contemporary life. Because of his intensely practical focus and personal style, Epictetus raises the important question of whether we can benefit from Stoic ideas as a kind of self-help or spiritual practice, without perhaps taking on board all of their theories.

Readings: a new translation of Epictetus’ Discourses will be available for downloading; other texts TBA.

Evaluation: TBA, but course will be writing-intensive with a number of short assignments and one longer paper.

Prerequisites: Some basic knowledge of Plato and Stoicism will be assumed (e.g. PHL200Y).



Prof. Charles Cooper-Simpson
Thursdays 10:00-1:00

This course will offer an advanced study of Hegel’s philosophical project as expressed in his two greatest works, the Phenomenology of Spirit and the Science of Logic. Our focus will be to determine the sense and significance of the claim that philosophy, as described by Hegel, is an idealism, and further, the sense in which Hegel’s idealism is ‘infinite’. We will begin by charting the development of the concept of “infinity” in the Logic before turning to examine the ways in which this concept is manifest in Hegel’s descriptions of consciousness and self-consciousness in the Phenomenology.

Readings will be drawn primarily from the Phenomenology and the Logic, though supplemental readings will be drawn from a variety of sources, including Hegel’s Encyclopedia Logic and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Reading: TBA

Evaluations: TBA



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:  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. Adam Murray
Tuesdays 2:00-5:00

This will be an advanced undergraduate seminar in the metaphysics of modality.

Our primary focus will be on questions of modal ontology. Intuitively, most of what there is exists contingently. For example, it is reasonable to think that if the Big Bang had never occurred, none of us would ever have existed. Similarly, it seems reasonable to think that there could have been individuals that do not in fact exist. For example, though Wittgenstein was actually childless, it is plausible to think that if things had gone differently in the relevant sort of way, Wittgenstein would have had a child. Timothy Williamson has recently offered powerful arguments for why this natural view of things is mistaken: instead, on Williamson’s ‘necessitist’ view, it is necessarily the case that absolutely everything exists non-contingently. Robert Stalnaker has recently defended the ‘contingentist’ picture from Williamson’s attack. The aim of the seminar will be to examine the issues surrounding the Williamson-Stalnaker debate in detail.

Students may expect an introduction to the formal foundations of contemporary modal metaphysics, including the semantics for both propositional and quantified modal logic, and an overview of broadly ‘two-dimensional’ possible-worlds modal semantics.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: regular attendance and participation (the latter involving an in-class seminar presentation); and two shorter papers or a substantial term paper on the material.



Prof. Shruta Swarup
Wednesday 3:00-6:00

Sexual Consent

This course will examine some ethical and conceptual issues concerning consent in sexual contexts.  We will consider questions such as the following: Is there something about sexual activity that makes it of special importance that it be consensual?  How do the norms that govern sexual consent differ from those that characterize consent in other domains?  Does deception vitiate consent to sex?  Does the presence of consent appropriately insulate sex from critique and regulation or does fully consensual sex carry harms that merit moral and legal concern?

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Jonathan Payton
Thursday 9:00-12:00

In this seminar, we will explore central topics in meta-ethics. When we philosophers engage in ethical thinking, we attempt to answer moral questions, such as ‘Is killing someone worse than letting them die?’, by developing systematic theories of what makes an action right or wrong. When we engage in meta-ethical thinking, we enquire into the metaphysical and semantic presuppositions, both of everyday moral talk and thought, and of this philosophical enterprise. Are ordinary moral statements, such as ‘Killing is wrong?’, even capable of being true or false? Are they, like ‘Grass is green’, attempts to describe the way the world is? Or, like ‘Hooray!’, ‘Boo!’, and ‘Don’t!’, do they serve some other function? If the latter, then in what sense can there be correct answers to moral questions? If the former, then what would the world need to be like in order for a statement like ‘Killing is wrong’ to be true? Would there need to be a property of wrongness, invisible to the natural sciences but capable of investigation through philosophical methods? Or might the truth of such statements be grounded wholly in natural facts?

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.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Nick Stang
Mondays 5:00-7:00 (Film Screening), Tuesdays and Thursdays 5:00-6:30

Philosophy and the Movies

In this seminar we will examine the connections between philosophy and motion pictures (movies). First, we will consider various philosophical questions about the movies: what is a movie? (why) are movies art? when we watch a movie do we see the screen, the actors, the characters? all of the above? none of the above? what is the relation between the movies and other art forms (e.g. literature, theater, opera, painting)? do (all) movies have authors (e.g. the director)? Secondly, we will read essays by philosophers about particular movies that we watch together as a group. There will be required screenings most Mondays (5-7 pm). Authors we will read include: Bazin, Cavell, Carroll, Pippin, Bordwell, Mulhall, Wilson, and Zizek. Directors whose films we will watch include: Cukor, Hawks, Ford, Wilder, Hitchcock, Sirk, Lynch, and Malick.

Reading: TBA

Evaluation: TBA


PHL409H1 – New Books Seminar

Prof. Ronald De Sousa
Wednesdays 9:00-12:00

We will read two important books, with related material pertaining to their main themes. Both books are by philosophers deeply steeped in evolutionary biology, who place the evolution of consciousness in the context of a broad understanding of how evolution works. Dennett’s book will be of particular interest to students who are familiar with that philosopher’s previously published views on intentionality, on memetics, and on the nature of consciousness. Godrey-Smith’s book complements it by looking at the nature of a kind of consciousness that developed almost entirely independently, from when the ancestors of cephalopods split off from the lineage in which our own brains evolved.

Main readings: Daniel Dennett, From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (Norton 2017), and Peter Godfrey-Smith, OtherMinds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Farrar Straus and Giroux 2016) .

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. Andrea Lanza
Mondays 10:00-1:00

Michel Foucault’s reflections on power have played a significant role in continental political philosophy. Through the study of the transformation of the conception of madness in Western culture, the analysis of the history of the penalty system in Europe and North America, and the investigation of the emergence of a modern art of government, the Foucault proposed a series of inputs about the role played by the power in the constitution of individuals. This seminar will offer an in-depth examination of Foucault’s controversial conceptions of sovereign power, disciplinary power and governmentality. Furthermore, the course will include an overview of Foucault’s receptions and interpretations, above all in North-American context. By this way, it will provide an opportunity for discussing Foucault’s approach to political philosophy and his methodology.

Readings: selection of Foucault’s texts provided by the instructor.

Evaluation: TBA



Prof. Jordan Thomson
Mondays 5:00-8:00

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? Should helping humans count more than helping non-human animals? 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. Alex Koo
Friday 10:00-1:00

Three topics in the philosophy of science have proven to be incredibly difficult to understand: laws of nature, causation, and explanation. There is an intimate relationship between these three, and making sense of them is necessary in order to understand science and the world we live in. This course will focus on just theories of explanation and causation, with laws of nature featuring prominently in the background.

We will begin with a brief historical examination of scientific explanation. From there focus will shift towards modern works where explanation and causation become intertwined. Finally, we will examine some contemporary writings that push the boundary of standard interpretations of science by advocating for non-causal or mathematical explanations.

No knowledge of scientific explanation or modern theories of causation is required. A background in philosophy of science, as well as epistemology and metaphysics will be useful. The seminar will be entirely conversationally based, and students will be expected to discuss the readings in depth.

Readings: A selection of primary sources made available online.

Evaluation: Attendance and Class Participation; Seminar Facilitation; Critical Responses; Final Essay with Short Essay Proposal.



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. 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.