Faculty of Arts & Science
A place to learn, discover, think and do.


Watson Hall
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Undergraduate/Graduate Assistant: Judy Vanhooser

Philosophy is the attempt to understand the truth about ourselves, the world we inhabit, and our place in it. Philosophy asks the big questions: What is the general structure of reality? What makes something good or beautiful? What is knowledge? How should society be organized? What is the relationship between mind and body?, In answering these questions, philosophers subject our most basic ideas to detailed analysis, critically reflect on cutting edge empirical investigations, and work to construct satisfactory, large scale theories of reality.

The Philosophy program at Queen’s provides students with critical thinking and reading skills, enabling them to uncover hidden assumptions, identify core premises, evaluate arguments and communicate ideas effectively. Courses, such as Philosophy of Education, Philosophy of Medicine, Epistemology and Metaphysics, and Moral Philosophy offer a variety of perspectives on important philosophical issues as they range from historical to contemporary, and from broad topical investigations to problem-based inquiries.

Degree Options

Bachelor of Arts (Honours) - BAH

Major in Philosophy
A major is an intensive course of study in one discipline, with approximately half of your courses within the discipline with room for an optional minor in any other Arts and Science discipline.

Medial in Philosophy
A dual course of study in Philosophy and any other Arts discipline.

Minor in Philosophy
A minor is a less intensive course of study in the discipline that must be combined with a major in another discipline.

Bachelor of Arts - BA

General in Philosophy
A less intense course of study leading to a 3-year degree.

For a full list of Degree Plans, see the Academic Calendar

Graduate Degree Options

Philosophy - PhD
Philosophy - MA
Political Thought - MA (Politics / Philosophy)

Courses Available to First-Year Students 2015-16

PHIL111:  Great Works of Philosophy (Full-year)
An introduction to philosophy through the examination of a number of classic philosophical works, with an evaluation of the positions and arguments offered in each.

PHIL115:  Fundamental Questions(Full-year)
Representative basic philosophical issues will be explored, such as: good and bad arguments, the source of moral obligation, the justification of knowledge claims, free will and determinism, the social enforcement of gender roles, taking responsibility for the environment, and the meaning of life.

PHIL151: Great Works of Philosophy (Fall term and Winter term)
An examination of some major milestones in the development of philosophical thought. The course will involve both the exposition of texts and discussion of the philosophical issues which they raise.

PHIL153: The State and the Citizen (Fall term and Winter term)
An introduction to political philosophy which explores the relationship between state and citizen. Issues include: civil disobedience, nationalism, the welfare state, anarchism and the capitalist state.

PHIL157: Moral Issues (Winter term)
An introduction to ethics via an examination of controversial moral issues. Special topics: abortion; animal rights; euthanasia.

Job and Career Opportunities for Philosophy Grads

Philosophy (love of wisdom) is not so much a body of knowledge, as it is a critical approach to our understanding of knowledge, reality, value, etc. For example, we engage philosophically by critically examining the assumptions, methods and substantive conclusions drawn by scientists, mathematicians, historians, writers and thinkers of all kinds. As the great British philosopher Bertrand Russell put it, "Philosophy is merely the attempt to answer... ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in the sciences, but critically, after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realizing all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas."

Some of our Philosophy grads work in the following industries:

  • Advertising
  • Anthropology
  • Archival Science
  • Bioethics
  • Consulting - Management
  • Counselling
  • Corporate Training / Development
  • Community Development
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Foreign Service
  • Fundraising
  • Funeral Services
  • Health Administration
  • Hospital Administration & Public Health
  • Hospice & Palliative Care
  • Human Resources
  • Human Rights  
  • International Development
  • Librarianship
  • Naturopathic Medicine
  • Patent Law
  • Performance – Music, Theatre, Art
  • Post-conflict Resolution and Peace-building
  • Protective Services
  • Public Administration, Policy & Service
  • Social Work
  • Theology
  • Writing
  • Urban and Regional Planning

Career paths for Philosophy grads handout from Career Services >

Philosophy Electives for non-Philosophy Students

Great Works of Philosophy PHIL 111/6.0
An introduction to philosophy through the examination of a number of classic philosophical works, with an evaluation of the positions and arguments offered in each.

Philosophy and Medicine PHIL 201/3.0
Medical ideas have always focused on how to identify disease, treat it, and predict its outcome. The definition of normal and abnormal is the business of medical epistemology; yet the parameters, evidence, and definitions of this activity have changed through time in concert with social, philosophical, and technical change. This course provides an overview of the history of medical ideas, by focusing on a wide selection of primary sources about diseases and about philosophy of knowledge, from Homer to this year's Globe & Mail. Students read short passages written by philosophers, historians, physicians, writers, and journalists to discover the theoretical underpinnings of the construction of medical knowledge.

Science and Society PHIL 203/3.0
Philosophical issues-both epistemological and ethical-involved in specific debates about the relationship between science and social issues. The course may focus, for instance, on recent ‘popular’ sociobiology efforts by biologists and others to establish scientific theories of human nature and human potential.

Philosophy of Education PHIL 240/3.0
An examination of key issues and texts in the philosophy of education. Possible topics include the nature and aims of the learning process, progressive and conservative education, and contemporary debates regarding the canon.

Critical Thinking PHIL 259/3.0
A discussion of the general principles of reasonable discourse, with a focus on persuasive and cogent writing.

Philosophy of Mathematics PHIL 261/3.0
Much philosophy of mathematics has been driven by a debate about the nature of mathematical objects: When we know something mathematical, what is that knowledge about? Closely connected are debates about the nature of mathematical knowledge: Because mathematical objects aren’t present to us in the way that material objects are, how can we have knowledge about them? We’ll be tackling these problems head-on, and along the way will identify a few additional problems. The course does not presume any particular knowledge of either math or logic. However, one of the benefits of the course is that we’ll learn a little fun math, and occasionally some mind-blowing math. None of it will be more challenging than an engaged fifteen year-old can handle.

Philosophy and Literature PHIL 271/3.0
A broad introduction to philosophical method and the nature of philosophical issues through a consideration of philosophic assumptions and theses present in important literary works.

 Continental Philosophy, 1800-1900: The Emergence of Existentialism and Hermeneutics PHIL 273/3.0
This course provides an interpretation of three key figures in nineteenth-century continental European philosophy: Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Wilhelm Dilthey. Major themes include the origins of existentialism and hermeneutics. While “existentialism” is a twentieth-century term, its roots as a philosophical movement lie in the writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in particular. Nietzsche and Dilthey were major figures in hermeneutics or the philosophy of interpretation, and their respective contributions to this field are a focus in this course. Additional themes include the critique of modern epistemology and metaphysics, religion and religious morality, and the conditions and limits of human understanding. The format is lecture with discussion.

Humans and the Natural World PHIL 293/3.0
An introduction to environmental philosophy through a study of readings that have exercised a formative influence on Western thinking about the relationship between humans and the rest of nature, and hence also about human nature itself. The course will offer an environmental perspective on the history of philosophy from ancient to recent times.

Animals and Society PHIL 296/3.0
This course provides students with an introduction to historical and contemporary debates regarding attitudes towards and treatment of nonhuman animals within Western societies, and explores our ethical and political responsibilities toward them. Some key guiding questions of the course include: What criteria or characteristics make nonhuman animals worthy of moral consideration? The capacity to suffer, self-awareness, possessing emotions or reason? If animals are worthy of moral consideration, are they also capable of being agents or participants in the shaping of human-animal relations? Are there ways in which we can structure social and political life to make them more responsive to the preferences and goals of animals themselves? To help answer these questions, this course examines a wide range of human-animal relations, including the use of domesticated animals as food, pets, working animals, or research subjects, as well as our relations with wild animals (including both animals in the wilderness and the urban wildlife that lives amongst us). In all of these contexts, Western societies have historically operated on the assumption that humans have the right to use, and if necessary to harm or kill, animals for our benefit. Yet the traditional religious or scientific justifications for this claim have increasingly been challenged as we learn more about the mental and emotional capacities of animals. Indeed, an increasing number of animal rights theorists and practitioners argue that there is no valid justification for the right to use animals for our benefit. We will explore these debates over the status of animals, and consider what society would look like if we fundamentally rethought our relations to animals. Existing laws typically define animals as the property of their human owners – a framework that many critics argue is unable to afford any true protection to the rights and interests of animals. Various models have been proposed to supplement, or entirely replace, this property framework, including proposals to accord legal standing or legal personhood to animals, to recognize companion animals as members of the family, to accord farm animals and service animals the rights of workers, to accord wilderness animals rights to territory, and more generally to recognize animals as members of our political community, with rights to representation or citizenship. In exploring these debates, we will consider their complex links to other forms of social differentiation which have defined some people as less than fully human (e.g., in relation to gender, race and class). How would ‘animal liberation’ impact on the struggles of women, racial minorities, indigenous peoples and others?

Bioethics PHIL 301/3.0
This course will be built around the observations that we now have unprecedented control over how we are born, live, and die, and that we will soon have even more control. It asks what limits there should be on the exercise of this control. Topics will include parents designing their (future) children, the use of performance enhancing drugs (in sports and otherwise), memory tampering, abortion, and euthanasia. We'll read a selection of articles from the contemporary philosophical literature, supplemented by a small number of articles from the popular press. Evaluation will be based on an 8-page term paper (50%), two 4-6 page papers, and, possibly, class participation (10%). There will be no final exam.

Ethics and Business PHIL 303/3.0
An examination of the moral principles involved in the evaluation of business institutions, practices and decisions. Sample topics include: liberty, efficiency and the free market ideal; the market and justice in distribution.

Latin American and Caribbean Philosophy PHIL 307/3.0
Specific topics in or traditions within Latin American and Caribbean Philosophy.

Moral Issues in Development: Development Ethics PHIL 310/3.0
This course examines philosophical issues in the field of Global Development, such as what is meant by 'development', 'freedom' and 'quality of life'.

African Philosophy PHIL 324/3.0
This course offers an introduction to African philosophical thought. After dealing with metatheoretical questions about the nature of philosophy and the philosophical inquirer, the focus will shift to African views on topics such as truth, the concept of a person, art, morality, slavery and colonialism.

Continental Philosophy, 1900-1960: Existentialism and Hermeneutics PHIL 373/3.0
This course provides an interpretation of three key figures in continental European philosophy between 1900 and 1960: Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Karl Jaspers. Major topics include existentialism and hermeneutics. Heidegger, Sartre, and Jaspers were three of the most influential members of the movement in existential phenomenology, and an adequate understanding of existentialism requires a confrontation with their philosophical texts. Additional themes include Being and technology, interpretation and reason, humanism and freedom. The format is lecture with discussion.

Continental Philosophy, 1960- Present: Hermeneutics and Poststructuralism PHIL 374/3.0
This course provides an interpretation of three key figures in contemporary continental European philosophy: Hans-Georg Gadamer, Michel Foucault, and Richard Kearney. Gadamer was the pre-eminent figure in post-Heideggerian hermeneutics while Kearney is among the leading thinkers in hermeneutics today. Foucault was among the most original thinkers in poststructuralist and postmodern thought. Major themes in the course include interpretation and critique, power and the politics of knowing, genealogy and sexuality. The format is lecture with discussion.

Philosophy of the Natural Sciences PHIL 381/3.0
Topics may include the nature of scientific method; the meaning of laws of nature; theoretical entities; scientific explanation; causality, induction, and probability.

Graduate Studies in Philosophy

Queen's offers high quality graduate programs that aspire to give students both a solid general education in philosophy and opportunities for specialized work on topics of students' choosing. The Queen's faculty is very productive in a broad range of areas of research. The small size of the graduate programs allows for individual attention and a collegial atmosphere.

Graduates of the Ph.D. program have gone on to positions at the University of Ottawa, the University of Winnipeg, and Memorial University, amongst others. Graduates of the Master's program have gone on to positions in the private sector, Law programs at schools such as Queen's, U of T, Dalhousie, and McGill, and Ph.D. programs at U of T, Harvard, Oxford, Cornell, Arizona, UCLA, UWO, and Pittsburgh.

Master of Arts

The M.A. program is a 12 month program. It is unique amongst Canadian M.A. programs designed to be completed in one year: students have the opportunity to explore their interests through both graduate seminars and Directed Studies courses (completed over the Fall and Winter terms), and an M.A. thesis on a topic of their own choosing, written under the supervision of a Faculty member over the Spring and Summer terms, and defended at the end of the summer or in the very early Fall.

The terrific writing and analytic skills that M.A. candidates develop over the course of the year have consistently made them very desirable candidates for jobs in both the public and private sectors, and sought after applicants at the best Law Schools, professional M.A. and M.B.A. programs, and the most competitive Ph.D. programs in North America and Europe.

Master of Arts - Political Thought
Collaborative Program with Politics

The Dept of Philosophy and the Dept of Political Studies at Queen’s have a new 12 month MA in Political Thought.  We offer courses on such topics as:  Moral Philosophy, Bioethics, Just War Theory, Equality, Social and Political Philosophy, Global Justice, Ethics and Animals.

The Queen’s Collaborative Program in Political Thought offers students the chance to complete an MA in either Philosophy or Political Studies with a specialization in Political Thought.  Students enrolled in the program can take designated political thought courses from both departments.  “Political thought” is defined broadly so as to include (1) the analysis of basic normative concepts such as justice, equality, and liberty; (2) the elaboration of such concepts in philosophies such as liberalism, Marxism and feminism; and (3) the historical development of these ideas; and (4) the application of these ideas to law and policy, e.g., trade, immigration, religious accommodation.  

The Political Thought program builds on the close connections that currently exist between Philosophy and Political Studies.  This is an exciting opportunity to intensively engage in an important interdisciplinary field with leading scholars in a lively intellectual community. Students interested in the Collaborative Program in Political Thought are encouraged to contact the contributing departments (see program contacts at right) to determine which Department is best aligned with their academic and research interests.

More information on this program

Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D program affords opportunities to pursue high level studies and research and to work closely with members of Faculty. Ph.D candidates complete their course requirements, six half-courses, in their first year. The second year is devoted to completing comprehensive requirements and writing a thesis proposal. The generalist nature of the first two years gives students a broad background before they begin specialized research. The structure of the program is designed to ensure that candidates are able to defend in year five, not in year four. Many candidates also acquire valuable teaching experience while they are writing their theses, often having opportunities to take full responsibility for courses as teaching fellows.


To apply for Graduate Studies in Philosophy you can find the application form at: https://eservices.queensu.ca/apps/sgsapp/. The deadline for both M.A. and Ph.D. applications is February 2nd. If you have questions or require more information on applying to graduate studies in Philosophy, you can e-mail us at jv1@queensu.ca.

Link to graduate level courses.

Link to Handbook for Graduate Students in Philosophy.

Link to Poster for graduate programs in Philosophy.

Research in Philosophy at Queen's

In the burgeoning field of critical animal studies, Queen’s Philosophy is establishing a home for scholars focused on the ethical, legal and political dimensions of human-animal relationships. 

Forum for Philosophy and Public Policy

The Forum for Philosophy and Public Policy is hosted in the Philosophy Department. Please see Will Kymlicka's webpage for information related to it.

Alumni Profile

“My experience at Queen’s has been exceptionally rewarding. The Philosophy department is both intimate and vibrant – offering the benefits of smaller classes with the advantages of a diverse faculty. The departmental life is further enriched by the internationally renowned academics that frequently speak at our weekly classes. The professors here have shown themselves to be both supportive and challenging.”
Christine Esselmont, PhD. candidate

Have Questions?

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