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 2019-2020

   Fall 2019


Topics Metaphysics: Hylomorphism
Prof.  Katherin Koslicki- Wednesday: 14:00 - 16:50

In this seminar, we will examine recent developments of the doctrine of hylomorphism, in particular in its application to the case of concrete particular objects (e.g., living organisms).  Concrete particular objects figure saliently in our everyday experience as well as our scientific theorizing about the world.  The literature is divided over whether these entities are or are not further analyzable into more basic constituents: so-called “relational ontologies” (e.g., Platonism) or “blob ontologies” (e.g., nominalism) hold that concrete particular objects are not further analyzable into more basic constituents, while so-called “layer cake” or “constituent ontologies” (e.g., bundle theories or substratum theories) hold that concrete particular objects are further analyzable into more basic constituents.  The Aristotelian doctrine of hylomorphism can be interpreted as yielding a further type of constituent ontology, according to which concrete particular objects are analyzed as compounds of matter (hūlē) and form (morphē or eidos).  I argue in my book, Form, Matter, Substance (Oxford University Press, 2018), that a hylomorphic analysis of concrete particular objects is well-equipped to compete with alternative approaches when measured against familiar criteria of success.  In addition, hylomorphism is designed to meet further challenges which have not been emphasized much in recent times.  A successful development of this doctrine, however, hinges on how hylomorphists conceive of (i) the matter composing a concrete particular object; (ii) its form; (iii) the hylomorphic relations which hold between a hylomorphic compound, its matter and its form; as well as (iv) the further commitments and (v) the explanatory value associated with the application of the doctrine of hylomorphism to the specific case of concrete particular objects.  In this seminar, we will look at different answers to these questions, as they have been proposed in the recent literature on hylomorphism       


Topics in Indian Philosophy: Meditation and Mind
Dr. Neil Dalal - Tuesday Thursday: 11:00- 12:20

The modern wellness industry extracts meditation techniques from Indian traditions as means to control cognitive flows, induce mental states, and alleviate anxiety; but what is lost in this process? This course examines the rich philosophical contexts in which Indian philosophers rooted these practices. We will explore topics in Buddhist and Yogic approaches to mind and meditation, such as introspection, reflexivity, metacognition, and memory, and question how meditation might function as a means of insight, virtue, or happiness. Students will also practice different meditation techniques as a phenomenological inquiry into first-personal consciousness.   


Topics in 17&18C Continental Philosophy: Women and Early Modern Philosophy
Prof.  Amy Schmitter - Monday: 14:00 - 16:50

The 17th and 18th centuries in Europe saw an explosion in the number of women working in philosophy, sometimes in unusual formats. This course will examine the work of a number of early modern women and feminist philosophers, covering topics in philosophy of mind, education, emotions, social and political philosophy, metaphysics, religion, and philosophy of science. Because of the sheer number of works now available, we will organize the material around responses to Cartesianism (as well as some precursors): authors will include Marie le Jars de Gournay (1565-1645), Elisabeth, Princess of Bohemia (1618-1680), Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623 - 1673), Anne Finch, Viscountess of Conway (1631-1678), François Poullain de la Barre (1647-1725), Mary Astell (1666-1731), and Émilie du Chatelet (1706 – 1749). If time permits, we will end by looking briefly at late 18th century works, particularly by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). Throughout, we will try to identify the main questions and theme of the works, and how they relate to their intellectual contexts, e.g., the so-called querelle des femmes, the dissemination of Cartesianism, the nature of the new science, and the importance of philosophy of education throughout this period. We will also consider how and to what degree women, sex and gender were themes of philosophic discussion, as in the work of Poullain de la Barre, and Astell. Besides the inherent interest of these works, we will look at them to shed light on varius meta-historical questions: did women practice philosophy in ways distinctively different from men? How have the “canons” of philosophy changed over time? In what ways is our understanding of the main currents of philosophy shaped by a sex-selective history? How might sex and class intersect in forming different institutions for the practice of philosophy?

Readings will include selections from the following:

  • The Equality of the Sexes: Three Feminist Texts of The Seventeenth Century, trans. & ed. D. Clarke (Oxford U. Press, 2013).
  • Correspondence between Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and René Descartes, ed. and trans. L. Shapiro (U. Chicago Press, 2007). Available as e-text through the U of A library;
  • Three Cartesian Feminist Treatises (by François Poullain de la Barre), notes and trans. M.M.Welsch & V. Bosley (U. Chicago Press, 2002). Available as e-text through the library;
  • Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Parts I and II, ed. P. Springborg (Broadview, 2002). Available as e-text through the U of A library;
  • Emilie du Châtelet, Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings, ed. and trans. J. Zinsser and I. Bour (U. Chicago Press, 2009); Available as e-text through the U of A library.

Those interested in an overview might consult the following:

  • Broad, Jacqueline. Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge U. Press, 2002).
  • O’Neill, Eileen, “Disappearing Ink: Early Modern Women Philosophers and Their Fate in History," in Philosophy in a Feminist Voice, ed. Janet Kourany (Princeton U. Press, 1998).

Prerequisites: At least 2 200-level courses in Philosophy. Students will find it helpful to have some background in the history of philosophy, especially Phil 240 or the equivalent.
Evaluation will be on the basis of several short papers, a class presentation (for graduate credit), and a final paper on a topic of the student’s choosing.  Full participation in class discussion can’t hurt. 


Topics in 20C Philosophy: Heidegger’s Being and Time          
Prof. Robert Burch - Tuesday: 14:00 - 16:50 

In the writings of virtually every 20th century ‘continental’ philosopher there is to be found somewhere a variation on the following fourfold thesis: (i) that in its classical formulation philosophy’s self-imposed task is to theorize the ‘all’ (peri panton theorein, as Aristotle wrote) with a view to complete self-knowing knowing; (ii) it is with Hegel’s system that this self-imposed task comes to completion in the all-comprehensive encyclopaedia of philosophical sciences that leaves nothing essential in theory to be understood; (iii) yet such systematic completeness comes at the expense of ignoring or devaluing key aspects of what in our time it means to be in the world and how critically to theorize that being; (iv) what is called for then is not a different philosophical theory about the totality of world with new true answers to questions posed hitherto, but a different way of philosophizing and theorizing for the sake of a different way of being in the world.

In this course we shall undertake a systematic critical reading (in translation) of Heidegger’s Being and Time, not only as one instance of an attempt at such a new thinking, but as an instance that has had a profound impact on all subsequent attempts to theorize anew what it is that calls for theorizing in our time. In the course of our reading we shall consider the all the “usual suspects,” so to speak—Heidegger’s reformulation of the ontological question, what is being? as a question of the “meaning of being” worked out in terms of an account of the being of meaning; his reformulation of the ontological sense and direction of phenomenology and phenomenological “method”; his use of the term Dasein as a “pure expression” of our ontologically interpretive way of being; the distinction and relation between authenticity and inauthenticity, existenzial and existenziell understanding; his accounts of being-with-others and being toward death; the meaning of Dasein choosing its hero; his conjunction of being and time, philosophy and history, etc. etc.; and in the background the hyperbolic allegation that his philosophizing in Being and Time is “fascist to the core” (Adorno).  Beyond the need to sort out such issues, the guiding purpose of our reading will be to develop a fuller appreciation for what is going on in Being and Time as a whole, not as a matter of its providing peculiarly Heideggerian answers to given philosophical questions as if such answers were the last word, but how Heidegger rethinks the very source and meaning of philosophical questioning in such a way as to set philosophizing itself on a distinctly different path, a path that remains even today one with with which we have crucially to engage.


Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated Joan Stambaugh. Revised with Forward Dennis Schmidt (New York: SUNY Press, 2010), ISBN:978-1-4384-3275-5.

  Winter 2020

Topics in Philosophy of Mind: Intentionality, Subjective Experience, and the Distribution of Consciousness
Dr. Howard Nye - Monday: 14:00 - 16:50

Do lobsters have subjective experiences? If so, are they anything like our own? What about the artificial intelligence systems, brain-computer interfaces, or androids of the (perhaps not so distant!) future? A key question here may be to what extent these entities are capable of having states with the right sort of intentionality, or capacity to represent the world or have as a goal the alteration of certain aspects of it. In this course we will examine the nature of intentionality, the relationship between intentionality and subjective experience, and what it takes for intentionality and subjective experience to be realized by physical systems. With these theoretical considerations in mind, we will explore whether and to what extent the capacity for subjective experience is present in various non-human animals, very young humans, and humans with disorders of consciousness, as well as what it would take for it to be present in an artificial intelligence system



Topics in Philosophy of Biology: The Neuroscience of Human Diversity- Different Scientific Approaches to Human Cognitive and Behavioural Difference and Diversity
Prof. Ingo Brigandt -Tuesday Thursday: 11:00- 12:20 please note time change

This seminar takes a look at different scientific approaches to the study of human difference and diversity. Given our focus on neuroscientific, psychological, and behavioural research, we address issues at the intersection of nature and nurture. Although research on alleged cognitive differences between different races has fortunately been largely abandoned, research on sex and gender based neuroscientific and cognitive differences is thriving. We will also take a brief look at research on sexual orientation. A major focus of the seminar will be on different methodological and explanatory approaches, some of which are more after finding essential or binary differences, while others are open to understanding human diversity. For example, there are mainstream approaches in biology, including evolutionary biology, that have gone beyond any nature-nurture dichotomy (or the idea of human nature) and view neuroscientific diversity as also being due to socialization. But there is also evolutionary psychology as well as pop science books on gender differences being hard-wired into our brains. We will also discuss whether social-political values such as equity can have a legitimate role to play in the design of research, the formulation of explanatory framework, the and communication of scientific results.


Topics in Advanced Symbolic Logic: Gödel's incompleteness theorems
Prof. Katalin Bimbo - Monday Wednesday Friday: 13:00-13:50

Kurt Gödel is one of the most well-known mathematicians of the 20th century, and his incompleteness theorems are some of the most widely known results from mathematical logic.  They had a great impact on mathematics as well as on logic and other areas of philosophy.  The aim of this course is to formulate a theory (such as Peano arithmetic and Robinson's arithmetic) precisely, and to prove the first and second incompleteness theorems for that theory.  Inpreparation for the proof, we will introduce notions of computability.  In the 1970s, a genuinely mathematical claim was discovered (a version of the Ramsey theorem), which is not provable from PA.  Time permitting, we will look at this latter exciting theorem.

Topics in Medieval Philosophy:Augustine
Prof. Jack Zupko - Tuesday: 14:00 -16:50  

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) is among the greatest philosophers in the western tradition not because he was the most original, but because he was the most influential.  His ideas continue to shape our thinking in ways most people do not detect because we no longer read his work (except for his autobiographical Confessions).  In this seminar, we will read representative selections from across his entire career, and follow the evolution of his thinking on human nature, free will, knowledge, goodness (and evil), soul and body, sex, time, and history, from the Greek-influenced early dialogues to his darker and more pessimistic later works, written as he wrestled with the day-to-day realities of life as a bishop and theologian in a distant province of the crumbling Roman Empire.  Do we still view the world in a basically Augustinian fashion, in spite of ourselves?  That is a question for us all.


Topics in Ethics: Environmental Virtue Ethics 
Prof. Jenny Welchman- Wednesday: 14:00 - 16:50  

Environmentalists often appeal to virtues of character in support of environmental conservation.  But can traditional theories of the virtues justify these calls? Or would we have to adopt and new and different conception of “virtue”? We will explore a range of classical and contemporary discussions of the virtues in order to determine the challenges facing environmental virtue ethics.