400/500 level

Courses at the 400 level (often taught in conjunction with 500 level graduate courses) are smaller topics seminars. They allow students to engage in sustained conversations around more specialized topics and pursue original avenues of research. Most 400 and 500-level topics courses may be taken more than once if the course content is different from year to year, or section to section.

To enroll in a course at the 400 level, you must have complete 6 credits in philosophy, 3 of which must be at the 200 level or higher.

Here is a list of the topics courses offered in Fall/Winter 2018-2019

   FALL 2018 -19
Topics in Indian Philosophy: Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali
Dr. Neil Dalal- Tuesday and Thursday 14:00- 15:20

Is my self-identity reducible to my mind? Should I identify consciousness with my mind? Is it possible to experience a state of pure consciousness—where I am awake but without any thoughts or intentionality? And could such an extraordinary experiential state give me unique access to personal or metaphysical realities? These are the kinds of questions that Patañjali, the ancient Indian philosopher of Yoga, analyzed in his seminal work, the Yoga Sūtras. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtrasis the earliest extant work systematizing and compiling Yoga philosophy and practices. This course explores the metaphysical and psychological foundations of Pātañjala Yoga. We will look into its theories of consciousness, mind, emotions, memory, and personal identity, and their relationships to the material world. We will also examine and experience the internal practices of meditation, and the ways in which contemplative phenomenological practices are thought to be essential to fruitful philosophical inquiry and ultimately to the cessation of personal suffering. Attention will be paid to classical commentators on the Yoga Sūtras as well as contemporary critics and defenders of Yoga philosophy.

Topics in Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Dr. Philip Corkum -
Monday 14:00- 16:20

The main focus of this seminar is two-fold.  First, after filling in some of the necessary background, we will undertake a careful reading of the middle books of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (Books Z, H, Θ), where Aristotle’s main and most mature investigation into primary substance takes place.  Since these texts are among the most difficult ever written in the history of Western philosophy, we will need to go very slowly and turn to the secondary literature for help in trying to understand what Aristotle is up to in these central books of the Metaphysics.  The second aim of this seminar is to put the ideas and views Aristotle develops in these texts into a contemporary context, to see why metaphysicians today are still finding them interesting, worthwhile and sometimes even plausible.  The recent revival of Aristotelian metaphysics among contemporary philosophers will give us the opportunity to make contact with this current literature as well, as we work our way through the central books of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and surrounding texts.


Topics in Ethics / Moral Philosophy: Morality, Well-Being, and Intellectual Ability
Dr. Howard Nye - Thursday 15:30- 18:20 

It is common to think that life is less of a morally important benefit to beings who lack the intellectual abilities of typical human adults. This idea is manifest in attempts to justify the view that human lives are much more important than the lives of non-human animals. It is also manifest in the view that the lives of intellectually disabled humans are much less important to preserve than those of typical human adults, which plays a role in medical decisions for intellectually disabled newborns and adults nearing the end of life. In this course we will critically evaluate the arguments that philosophers have offered in favour of the view that life is less of a morally important benefit to intellectually less able individuals, as well as arguments to the effect that this view is mistaken. In the course of doing so we will examine the category of well-being and its moral importance, theories of well-being or what makes it the case that something constitutes a harm or a benefit to an individual, theories of individual persistence or what matters in an individual’s survival, and empirical considerations that bear upon the extent to which intellectually less able individuals can obtain what is most beneficial and most important in survival..

Topics in Ethics & Moral Philosophy: De-Extinction and Zombie Species
Dr. Jennifer Welchman - Wednesday 14:00-16:50                                                                                                                                     
Should we try to promote biodiversity by recreating lost species and/or genetically enhancing nearly- extinct “zombie species” to save them from extinction? Pilot projects using new technologies are already underway and the Int’l Union for the Conservation of Nature has created guidelines for reintroducing recreated species into the wild. But it is possible to recreate an extinct ‘species’? Do we owe to some species to try to bring them back? Do we help or harm a zombie species if we use genetic manipulation to rescue it? Would it ever be ethically justifiable to release a genetically reconstructed species into the wild? We will consider these and related questions as we attempt to assess the ethical issues surrounding de-extinction and the genetic rescue of zombie species.

   WINTER 2018


Topics in Philosophy of Science: Biological and Social Kinds
Dr. Ingo Brigandt - Tuesday and Thursday 12:30- 13:50

This seminar is on the topic of "Science and Values." Different kinds of values clearly have an impact on science, however, proponents of the view that science is value-free have maintained a distinction between epistemic values and social-political values, where only the former are a proper part of science. One can likewise claim that science fulfills its social function best by scientists providing reliable knowledge without being guided by social or environmental considerations.
We will critically discuss different views on what kinds of values may influence scientific practice, and how such values—including social values—can play a legitimate role. A related issue is the notion of scientific objectivity. The seminar will devote substantial space to feminist analyses of biology, including the question as to whether the best response to sexist and empirically flawed views promoted by past and current science is to work towards an unbiased, value-free science or towards a science that self-consciously endorses such social values as equity.