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Queen's University

Graduate Courses                                     

Course Offerings for 2015-16:


PHIL 802 Moral Philosophy I 3S

R. Kumar Winter Term  (Wed 11:30 - 2:30)

In this seminar, we will closely read several papers by Joseph Raz concerned with the nature of rational and socially embedded agency. Questions to be discussed include the relationship between reasons and values, the dependence of values on social forms and practices, the nature of practical reasoning and the role of well-being in practical thought, the distinctiveness of moral reasons, objectivity and relativism in practical thought, and aspects of responsible agency. Readings will mainly be drawn from the papers collected in Raz's Engaging Reason(1999) and his From Normativity to Responsibility(2011).


PHIL 803 Moral Philosophy II 3S

K. Gordon-Solmon Fall Term  (Wed 6:30 - 9:30)

When is it morally permissible for one human being to kill another?  Many people believe that killing a   person is permissible when doing so is necessary to save one’s own life.  But surely this isn’t always   the case.  It would be wrong, for example, to use an innocent bystander as a human shield against   an oncoming bullet.   Some philosophers also claim that it would be wrong to shoot down a human   projectile (who’s been involuntarily shot of a cannon, say), even knowing the force of the impact will   be fatal to you. In this course, we'll focus on the range of arguments that have been advanced in the   contemporary literature on the ethics of self- (and other-) defense.   Readings will be by Jeff   McMahan, Mike Otsuka, Jonathan Quong, and Victor Tadros (among others).

Evaluation will be based on one seminar presentation (20%), a submitted final paper question and   prospective bibliography (5%), and a final paper (75%).


PHIL 805  Social and Political Philosophy I: The Frontiers of Citizenship        3S

(Cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL405)

W. Kymlicka  Fall Term (Mon 8:30 - 11:30)

"Citizenship" has arguably been the central organizing concept for advancing claims of justice in the past century. Demands for women's rights, gay rights, disability rights, children's rights, minority rights – even animal rights - have all been rearticulated as struggles for new forms of citizenship. All of these cases challenge inherited ideas of what defines the attributes of a (good) citizen, and in much of the popular debate and academic literature, attempts to extend citizenship to some of these groups are sometimes seen as diluting the fundamental values of citizenship. This course will explore the frontiers of citizenship. In particular, it will explore whether citizenship should be understood, not in terms of some static list or threshold of capacities or virtues, but rather as a process of what Jim Tully calls “citizenization” – the attempt to restructure social and political relationships on the basis of democratic values of consent, participation, trust, membership and autonomy rather than on the basis of force or paternalism or exclusion. Viewed this way, the task of citizenship is to enable all members of society to have a say in matters that affect them, and to thereby contribute to the democratic governance of the larger society, even if they do not participate in the particular ways or in the particular spaces envisaged in classical citizenship theory. The course will explore what we gain, and we might potentially lose, in opening up citizenship theory to radically diverse forms of belonging and participation.


PHIL 806  Social and Political Philosophy II:                       3S

The Egalitarian Conscience

(Cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL406)

C. Sypnowich  Winter Term  (Mon 8:30 - 11:30)

This is a course about the concept of equality in light of the philosophical contribution of the late G.A. Cohen, who until recently was the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College, Oxford.  One of the most original, incisive and influential political philosophers of our time, Cohen has left a corpus of work vital to the flourishing of the discipline.

It might be said that equality is something everyone believes in; virtually all political philosophies across the spectrum claim to be egalitarian, be it in their insistence on individuals’ equal rights to liberty and property or the importance of redistributing wealth more equally.  We are all egalitarians now, we can proclaim, in the rather triumphalist mood that characterised many commentaries on the occasion of the millennium.  However, the concept of equality has also been challenged by a number of factors: the collapse of the Soviet Union and societies of ‘state socialism’; the rise of right-wing critiques of the welfare state, and controversy within egalitarian debate itself.

Cohen’s intellectual career, shaped by personal conviction and philosophical commitment, has confronted and illuminated many of these challenges.  This course looks at the idea of equality in light of contemporary debates, drawing on the work of Cohen, the philosophical context of his work and recent interpretations of his ideas, including the instructor’s recent work, both published essays and an excerpt from her manuscript ‘Equality Renewed,’ which is to a significant extent inspired by Cohen’s contribution.


1) Sypnowich, Christine (ed.) The Egalitarian Conscience: Essays in Honour of G.A. Cohen (Oxford University Press 2006)

2) Articles to be distributed electronically

3) Chapters from G.A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality (Harvard U.P., 2008)

Course structure :

This is a seminar, so it is imperative that students come to class prepared to talk about the course material.  The first couple of classes will be structured around lectures given by the instructor, with discussion.  Thereafter classes will be structured around students’ comment sheets to prompt discussion.  Comment sheets consist of a two-page, double-spaced short paper that sets out and analyses one or both of the readings.  Students should be prepared to discuss the comment sheet with the class.  Comment sheets will be submitted at the end of the class to be marked. 

Assessment :

1)     50% based on the best five of six comment sheets;

2)     50% based on the final essay


PHIL 809  Colloquium in Political, Legal and Moral Philosophy         3S

Fall Term (Mon 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.)

This Colloquium course explores new work in legal and political philosophy. Once every two weeks, a legal, moral, or political philosopher will present a paper falling within the general boundaries of the Colloquium’s ambit. We have confirmed a fascinating program of speakers for the Colloquium’s inaugural year: John Gardner (Oxford), Sherry Colb and Michael Dorf (Cornell), David Miller (Oxford), John Oberdiek (Rutgers), Tom Christiano (Arizona), and Kimberley Brownlee (Warwick).

In alternate weeks, students will meet with the Colloquium convenors (Professors Thomas and Webber) to prepare for the forthcoming session, examining the paper in depth. Students registered for the course will include law students and graduate students in philosophy and political studies.

Student evaluation will be a combination of participation (40%), six short reaction pieces (each worth 5% for a total of 30%), and a term paper (30%). Participation will be evaluated by contributions during the seminar discussion in advance of the session with the author as well as engagement with the author during the session in which the author presents his or her paper.

Students will be selected by application


PHIL 820  Ethical Issues I 3S

(cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL 420)

U. Schuklenk, Fall Term  (Tues 8:30 - 11:30)

Canada's Supreme Court ruled this year that the criminalisation of assisted dying violates our Charter rights. Our federal and provincial governments must now come up with a regulatory regime during the next few months. - Medical non-governmental organizations such as Doctors without Borders, MSF, have considered offering experimental agents that had previously only been tested in animals to patients with Ebola Virus Disease. - 

Ethical challenges arising out of issues such as these two will be on the agenda of this course. I will offer lecture style introductions to these and other bioethical issues during the first few weeks of this course, you will take over during the remainder of the course. You will be able to choose bioethical issues of your choice, there is no fixed course schedule. We will discuss and determine the course agenda during our first meeting. It is in your best interest to reflect on your interests prior to our first class.

Your final grade comprises of these components: a final substantial essay based on your course presentation, your course presentation, your class participation and a weekly discussion question that you must email to me prior to a scheduled class that demonstrates that you have done your required readings. 

There is no course reader for this course, we will rely on journal articles or other resources that are available free-of-charge to you thru the University library.

You are strongly encouraged to contact me during summer to discuss possible essay/presentation topics. 


PHIL841  20th Century Philosophy I              3S

(Cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL441)

P. Fairfield  Fall term  (Wed 11:30 - 2:30)

The topic of this course is phenomenology. We shall begin by studying a couple of essays by Edmund Husserl, the founder of the phenomenological movement, and proceed to an in-depth analysis of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s monumental work, Phenomenology of Perception (1945). Major themes include perception, embodiment, temporality, and the critique of dualism, among others. Participants in this seminar will offer one presentation and write one paper.


PHIL845  Major Figures I:  The Unknown Descartes             3S

(Cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL445)

M. Smith Fall term (Tues 2:30 - 5:30)

Descartes is best known as a defender of dualism; in the Meditations, he seems to rip the human person into two halves, the mind on the one hand and the body on the other. But can mind and body be sewn back together again? Much less well-known is Descartes’s later attempt to account for the wholeness of the embodied human person, a project that begins with Descartes’s exchange of letters with Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia (which we will read), and culminates in his last book, The Passions of the Soul. We will examine the Passions in detail, and explore Descartes’s account of agency, embodiment, ethics, happiness, and love.


PHIL846  Major Figures II

A. Mercier  Winter Term  (Mon 11:30 - 2:30)



PHIL850 Epistemology I                 3S

D. Bakhurst Winter Term  (Tues 2:30 - 5:30)

A study of a range of contemporary epistemological questions, particularly in application to issues in philosophy of education.  Topics may include: the epistemology of testimony and its relevance to teaching and learning; education as initiation into an epistemic community; critical thinking and responsiveness to reasons; second-person thought and understanding; epistemic dependence and autonomy; the epistemology of disagreement; education and epistemic virtue; education and the cultivation of self-knowledge.


PHIL852 Metaphysics I     3S

(Cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL452)

H. Laycock Winter Term  (Wed 2:30 - 5:30)

Since the very earliest days, metaphysics – and in particular ontology – have been intimately related to logic.  But in this sense, logic is not a mechanical exercise.  Rather, it is an enquiry into the basic structural features of assertions about ‘what there is’.  And following the rise of modern logic, W.  V. Quine gave a surprisingly simple answer to this question.  To be, he said, ‘is to be the value of a variable’.  But what exactly does this mean?  In this course, we’ll begin at the beginning, with the philosophers of the ancient world, from the pre-Socratics to Aristotle.  Aristotle’s presence continues to be felt – and primarily through two ideas: his doctrines on the primacy of individual ‘substances’, structured material bodies, and on their internal nature, as compounds of matter and form.  In contemporary philosophy, such ideas are raised to the level of analytical enquiries into concepts, where concepts themselves are thought of as reflected in the meaning of words like ‘object’, ‘matter’, ‘event’, ‘time’, and so on.  Now, therefore, metaphysics is inseparable from both logic and the philosophy of language. The course will consist largely in the study of writings in the analytical metaphysics of the past 50-100 years.

PHIL 863  Metaphysics II:  The Metaphysics of Mind      3S

(cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL 463)

D. Knight Winter term  (Fri 11:30 - 2:30)

Our focus this year is on the metaphysics of mind.  In particular, we will examine the debates around personal identity and the self.

We start with the usual suspects (Descartes, Locke, Butler, Reid, Hume) and examine how their arguments have been challenged and/or developed by Bernard Williams, Derek Parfit, Sydney Shoemaker, Thomas Nagel, John Perry, Christine Korsgaard, Marya Schechtman, and others.

Questions will include:  Is there a criterion of personal identity — say, memory?  (Consider Christopher Nolan’s Memento.)  Or perhaps there is a bodily criterion?   What role is played by Locke’s notion of “consciousness” — more familiar to us as “self-consciousness”?  If our account of personal identity is in some significant way a psychological account, what should that entail?  What counts as the unity of a person?  Does the continuing identity of persons actually matter?  Why should we care if we die but an exact duplicate carries on our tasks and relationships?  Is Parfit’s idea of “survival” really what we should be aiming for, not identity after all?  What is this thing we call (our) “self”?

Students should expect to write comment sheets on a regular basis, make a seminar presentation and contribute to seminar discussions, and write a final essay.


PHIL 864  Topics in Philosophy of Mind          3S

(cross-listed with 4th year course PHIL 464)

S. Leighton Winter Term  (Mon 2:30 - 5:30)

This course will look at recent work within the philosophy of the emotions, with particular concern for the contributions of Peter Goldie.  Our goal will be to explore some of the debates on the status of emotions in general, as well as our understanding of particular emotions.


PHIL870  Philosophy of Science    3S

J. Mozersky  Fall Term (Mon 11:30 - 2:30)

Space-Time, the Objective Conception, and the Nature of Metaphysics

Metaphysics has come under attack many times in its history—consider Hume’s admonition that we commit any volume of pure metaphysics “to the flames”, for example, or the rise of logical positivism in the first half of the 20th century—but it has recently made a comeback, in analytic circles at least, largely due to the influence of Quine’s articulation of the concept of ontological commitment, Lewis’s ingenious development of the idea, and Kripke’s separation of epistemological from modal notions.

Still, the attacks linger.  Since metaphysics is the attempt to understand the general structure of reality, many wonder: hasn’t the domain of metaphysics been overtaken by science (consider recent comments by physicists such as Hawking, Krauss and Tyson)?

We begin our answer to this question with an investigation into the nature of space and time.   Modern science presents a picture of the spatiotemporal universe that is largely at odds with our ordinary experience and understanding of it.  Some—Hilary Putnam, for example—have argued that science has once and for all settled all the philosophical questions about space and time.  To determine whether or not this is true, we shall examine recent debates over the direction and passage of time and whether such notions have been rendered obsolete by physics. 

Then, we turn next to an examination of the relationship between space-time and the observer.  Do human observers somehow determine the structure of space-time as, for example, Kant argued?  Or, alternatively, is the spatiotemporal structure of the world merely a convention? 

This course will defend two theses: (1) that our currently best scientific theories of space-time leave certain questions open, so there is a need for metaphysical theories; and (2) that it is not the case that the human mind determines the structure of the world, nor that it is merely a convention. 

So, if the structure of the world must be discovered, not made, and we need metaphysics as part of this discovery, we must finally turn our investigation toward metaphysics itself and how it aids in such discovery.  In the third and final part of the course we shall investigate the idea that metaphysics is a form of modeling of the world, similar in many ways to scientific modeling, though addressing different questions or similar questions at different levels.  We shall look at various constraints on the concept of a metaphysical model and consider how such models could deliver knowledge of the world.

Authors to be studied include: Euclid, Zeno, Aristotle, Descartes, Newton, Leibniz, Kant, Poincaré, Einstein, Gödel, Quine, Putnam, Goodman, and others. 

Evaluation: class participation, weekly comment/question sheets, final paper.


Kingston, Ontario, Canada. K7L 3N6. 613.533.2000