400/500 level

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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.

Fall 2024

PHIL 401/501: Topics in Epistemology: Epistemology of Race and Racism

Instructor: Dr. Jorge Sanches-Perez   M 14:00-16:50

What is race? Can a person be "race" or 'colour" blind? Are we justified in talking about White Ignorance as an epistemic phenomena? Are Arab people "White"? Is Latino a race? What does it mean to be Mestizo? How could we know what is a Race and what is an Ethnicity? Can a person from race X be racist towards people of the same race? In this seminar, we will address these questions and more. Knowledge and understanding about race is a key component to discussing race in legal, social, and political terms. Therefore, we have good reasons to consider this a topic worthy of examination in epistemological terms. This is a seminar on Social Epistemology, and some background knowledge in Epistemology is recommended.

PHIL 442/546: Topics in Modern Philosophy: Passions and Affects: Emotions in 17th Century Philosophy

Instructor: Dr. Amy Schmitter   W 14:00 -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 and medieval 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, along with correspondence between John Norris and Mary Astell, as responses to Malebranche. 

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.

PHIL 450/550: Topics in Ethics/Moral Philosophy: The Ethics of Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems

Instructor: Dr. Howard Nye   T 14:00-16:50

Food systems are central to many of our most pressing social problems, including unhealthy diets and noncommunicable diseases, zoonotic infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance, growing inequalities in living standards and health outcomes, the climate and ecological emergency, and our treatment of farmed and free-living nonhuman animals. Because individuals possess limited economic, epistemic, and decision-making resources, they are extremely vulnerable to the pressures of food systems that encourage patterns of food consumption and production that conflict with important health, environmental, and other ethically important objectives. This counts strongly in favour of policy interventions to counter these destructive tendencies of existing food systems and support patterns of food consumption and production that better align with these ethically important goals. But policy interventions in food systems can raise important ethical objections, including about the extent to which they are paternalistic, intrusive, manipulative, insensitive to cultural factors, and such that they fail to address or even exacerbate the disadvantages faced by such groups as lower income communities, indigenous communities, other communities of colour, farmers, food sector workers, and rural communities.

In this course we will examine the ethical case for various kinds of changes to food systems, the ethical problems that can arise with policy interventions designed to support such changes, and how these problems can best be addressed.

PHIL 488: Current Research in Philosophy / PHIL 594: Selected Problems in Philosophy: Intuitions, Conceptual Engineering, and Experimental Philosophy

Instructor: Dr. Ingo Brigandt   T/R 12:30-13:50

This seminar is on metaphilosophy, where in addition to looking at conflicting philosophical methods we will also encounter different visions of the primary aims of philosophy. One philosophical method is to rely on intuitions. In the specific context of conceptual analysis and the 'method of cases,' we will scrutinize accounts of concepts that promise to support philosophy as armchair practice using intuitions. In contrast, experimental philosophy uses psychology-style methods. Apart from experimental philosophy results that challenge the reliance on intuitions, we also discuss what positive role experimental philosophy may have. Whereas traditional conceptual analysis aims at articulating the concepts we happen to possess, the rising philosophical approach of 'conceptual engineering' intends to put forward the most effective philosophical concepts, which may include discarding or modifying current concepts. The examples of conceptual engineering we will look at include the concepts of gender and race.

Winter 2025

PHIL 400/500: Topics in Metaphysics: Social Metaphysics

Instructor: Dr. Phil Corkum   W 14:00 -16:50

Social kinds, such as gender and race, as well as social objects, such as artifacts and groups, all seem to arise from our interactions with one another. Call these things social constructions. How are social constructions constructed? Are they built like how wholes are built from parts? Are they dependent on us, in the way in which chemical or biological facts may be dependent on facts about particle physics? In this course, we’ll introduce social constructions, discuss the metaphysics of building, and consider the prospects for using the metaphysics of building to understand social constructions. Students will gain familiarity with a range of current issues in metaphysics, and have the opportunity to study a few of these topics in depth.

PHIL 422/Phil 522: Topics in Advanced Symbolic Logic/Topics in Logic: Topic: Applied Logic

Instructor: Dr. Katalin Bimbó   MWF: 12:00-12:50

Logic has applications not only in philosophy, but in several other disciplines including mathematics, informatics, computer science and linguistics.  The goal of this course is to showcase a range of applications.

Starting from 2-valued propositional and predicate logic, we will spend a week or so on intuitionistic logic, alethic modal logics, tense logics, Hoare & dynamic logic, default logic, 3- & 4-valued logics, relevance logics, Lambek calculuses, combinatory logic & lambda-calculus and structurally free logic.   These logics constitute a small selection from the logics that are utilized in practice, and you will be encouraged to explore more deeply a logic that fits your interests and present your findings in class.

PHIL 436/536 Topics in Medieval Philosophy: Philosophical Psychology

Instructor: Dr. Jack Zupko   R 14:00-16:50

Medieval thinkers made many innovative contributions to the field we now know as philosophical psychology.  Beginning with Augustine, who elevated the will to full status as a cognitive power, equal to the intellect, medieval philosophers took accounts of the human soul they inherited from Greek and Roman antiquity and reworked them to answer a whole new range of questions, from the metaphysical structure of the soul to the nature of thought, sensation, and desire.  We will study some of these texts, reading carefully to understand their intellectual and historical context and considering how they were read (and misread) by later philosophers, especially from the modern period.

Requirements: seminar presentation; short paper; longer research paper written in two drafts.

PHIL 480/580: Topics in Aesthetics: Aesthetics and Nature

Instructor: Dr. Jennifer Welchman   M 14:00-16:50

Unlike art works, natural objects lack ‘intentionality,’ that is, they are not bearers of meaning, a feature so often central to our experience of art. This invites the questions (i) how similar is our aesthetic experience of nature to art? and (2) can we use our familiar practices of engaging with artworks to engage aesthetically with nature?   We’ll begin by reviewing leading accounts of aesthetic properties, aesthetic, value, and what aesthetic appreciation -- mostly developed from experiences of art works. Then we’ll go onto consider whether aesthetic engagement with nature might offers different kinds of values requiring special forms of appreciation. We’ll also consider whether nature’s aesthetic values have ethical significance. (e.g., are the reasons we have for preserving works of art also applicable to natural objects?) [No textbook is required for this class.]

PHIL 488/594: Current Research in Philosophy/Selected Problems in Philosophy: Topics in Cognitive Science

Instructor: Dr. Luke Kersten   T/R 12:30-13:50

Cognitive science brings together psychology, neuroscience, computer science, linguistics, and philosophy in the study of the mind. Given its interdisciplinary nature, the subject can prove endlessly fascinating yet also frustratingly disjointed. This course provides a philosophical bird’s eye view of the field by exploring five important ‘approaches’ in contemporary studies of the mind: representational, computational, predictive, 4E, and artificial. It will provide a survey of many of the key assumptions and debates within cognitive science, in addition to exploring the role of philosophy and ‘levels of explanation’.