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 
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 the Indian philosophy Patañjali analyzed in his Yoga Sūtras. This course explores the metaphysical and psychological foundations of the Yoga Sūtras. 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.           

Topics in Ancient Philosophy
Dr. Philip Corkum -
Monday 14:00- 16:20

The British mathematician, Alfred Whitehead, characterized philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato. Okay, Whitehead's soundbite is an exaggeration. But what is true is that many of the central concepts in the philosopher’s toolkit make their first full fledged appearance in Plato. And Plato’s discussion of these tools is accessible, relevant, and (yes, Whitehead)  influential. So reading Plato will enrich any one’s understanding of the discipline. The study of Plato can also serve to introduce the special skills needed for historical scholarship in philosophy. We'll focus on the relation between knowledge and virtue in Plato by making a close study of the epistemology, metaphysics and moral psychology presented in such dialogues as the ProtagorasPhaedo, and Books V-VII of the Republic; and we’ll consider the Aristotelian response, especially in the Nicomachean Ethics, 1.6 and 7-1-3..

Topics in Ethics / Moral Philosophy: Morality, Well-Being, and Intellectual Ability
Dr. Howard Nye - Tuesday 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
Prof.  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 2019


Topics in Philosophy of Science: Science and Values
Prof.  Ingo Brigandt - Tuesday and Thursday 14:00 - 15:20

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.           


Topics in Logic: Modal Logic
Prof.  Katalin Bimbo - Monday-Wednesday-Friday  13:00 to 13:50

Systems of Modal Logic were some of the first calculi that were introduced at the beginning of the 20th century to improve on two-valued logic. Nowadays, there are many logics -- defined by a proof system or by a semantics -- which are called modal logics. The course will start with some basics such as the language of a modal logic, some proof systems and semantical  interpretations, in order to establish a common ground. Then, we will look at concrete modal logics, starting with a handful of normal modal logics (like K, T, B, S4 andS5). Some other logics that we will scrutinize will include temporal,dynamic, modal relevance and linear logics. Modal logics have important  applications in philosophy, informatics, computer science and mathematics, and they often exhibit metalogical properties that go beyond those seen in the metatheory of two-valued logic.  


Topics in Modern Philosophy: Passions and Affects: Emotions in 17th Century Philosophy
Prof.  Amy Schmitter - Monday: 14:00 to 16:50

This course will be an overview of the theories of the “emotions” (better, “passions” or “affects”) advanced by some of the most prominent philosophers of the 17 th centuries. Despite a great deal of current work on the emotions, contemporary philosophy and psychology often fail to appreciate how much sophisticated work on the passions appeared in early modern philosophy in Europe and Great Britain – in the philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics, political theory and practical reasoning in general. Interest in the passions linked philosophy with work in medicine, art and literature, religion, and guides on everything from child-rearing to the treatment of subordinates. This course will try to understand why the passions were a hot topic, how they were understood and located within the philosophical economy of mind and body, how their treatment developed and changed, as well as looking at particular “key” passions, such as “wonder,” “glory,” and love. We will start with a very brief overview of the most influential ancient, medieval and Renaissance sources, before proceeding to the correspondence between Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia and the work it inspired. We then turn to the alternate approach of Hobbes. In the second half of the course, we will look at Malebranche and Spinoza, as “second-generation” responses to the Cartesian and Hobbesian positions. This course welcomes students with diverse interests, but everybody will find it helpful to have some acquaintance with early modern philosophy (our PHIL 240 or its equivalent would be good) or with ancient philosophy.


TOPICS IN 19C PHILOSOPHY:  Modern Philosophy            
Dr. Alan McLuckie - Tuesday 15:30 to 18:20

Schopenhauer’s central concept of the will leads him to a pessimistic view of existence. Life, he says, “swings like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom, and these are in fact its ultimate constituents”(WWR I § 57). He also claims that the world is essentially bad and “that it is something which at bottom ought not to be” (WWR II, 576). This diagnosis notwithstanding, Schopenhauer also appears to think that this condition can be redeemed through the denial of the will. This denial can be achieved through the cultivation of aesthetic consciousness, compassion, and a mystical vision of the self as one with the world as a whole. We will examine Schopenhauer’s epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics as presented inThe World as Will and Representation and various other works.


TOPICS IN MORAL PHILOSOPHY: Information Ethics (combined with HUCO 510) 
Prof. Geoffery Rockwell - Monday 13:00 to 15:50

The ethical use of information has become increasingly important in this age of social media. This course will ask what information is, discuss current issues in data ethics, look at codes of ethics, and introduce selected frameworks like the ethics of care that are used to help decision making. Students will be asked to develop case studies, to present theories in class, and to apply ethical theory to cases.


Prof.  Marie-Eve Morin - Wednesday 14:00 - 16:50

This course will consist in an intensive study of the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, from the phenomenology of the lived body found in the Phenomenology of Perception to the carnal ontology of the posthumous Visible and the Invisible. By tracing the development and transformation of Merleau-Ponty's philosophy, bridging the earlier, middle and later works, we will seek to understand the continuities in Merleau-Ponty’s thought as well as the changes and renunciations.