Department of Philosophy

Queen's University
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Graduate Courses                                     


PHIL 402/802 — Moral Philosophy

C. Sypnowich

Winter Term 3.0

Flourishing and Equality -- The idea of flourishing is central to the philosophy of the ancients, particularly Aristotle, in which it figures as a measure of the good for both the person and the community.  The task of the community is to enable the person to live well, in concert with the individual’s own commitment to the good life.  However, with the rise of liberal neutralist conceptions of politics, contemporary ethical discussion tends to assume a division of labour between questions of the good life, the province of moral philosophy and individual choice, and questions of justice, the province of political philosophy and the community.

This course focuses on how the idea of human flourishing can inform a theory of equality. 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.

This course looks at the idea of equality in light of a range of contemporary debates, drawing on a number of key writings among contemporary egalitarians, including the instructor’s recent work.

Texts: Instructor’s manuscript and articles by an array of contemporary philosophers in the field of ethics, broadly understood.

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: A mix of short written pieces to facilitate class participation as well as a substantial final essay.


PHIL 405/805 — Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy I

W. Kymlicka

Fall Term 3.0 (Tue 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.)

"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 – Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy II

A. Macleod

Fall Term 3.0 (Wed 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)

The task of a normative theory of distributive justice is to accommodate, explicate, and evaluate the typical pre-theoretical judgments people make about the fair distribution of the conditions for the living of a satisfying and fulfilling human life.  The main aim of this course is to explore the adequacy of the accounts provided of these judgments by some leading contemporary theories of distributive justice (libertarian, contractarian, utilitarian, meritarian, and egalitarian).   The questions taken up will include: the relation between considerations of distributive fairness and the justification of human rights, and whether the most fundamental requirement of justice could be the equalization for all of the opportunity to live a life of "flourishing." 


PHIL 807 — Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy III

D. Miller

Fall Term 3.0 (Mon 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)

Topic:  State, Nation, and Global Justice

The aim of this course is to introduce students to some contemporary debates about the state and its place in a globalizing world.  We examine questions such as: what makes states legitimate?  What gives them the right to hold territory and control their borders?  Must states be culturally neutral, or may they promote national cultures?  Then we ask questions about the external responsibilities of states.  Are they always required to respect human rights?  What duties do they have to the global poor?  Finally, the course examines proposals for a new international order in which state autonomy is curbed in the name of global justice and global democracy.


PHIL 809 — Colloquium in Political, Legal & Moral Philosophy

Fall Term 3.0 (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.

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 431/831 — Ancient Philosophy -- Plato’s Republic

S. Leighton

Winter Term 3.0 (Wed 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.)

This course will provide an opportunity to read and think about the arguments and vision of Plato’s Republic.  Matters to be considered include the nature, knowledge and existence of the forms, the sovereignty of the good, the value of poetry, how best to live, the role the emotions can and should have in our lives, etc.


PHIL 845 — Major Figures I

J. Miller

Winter Term 3.0 (Tue 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)

This course will examine one of the most influential philosophical systems ever articulated - that of the ancient Stoics.  Beginning with a historical overview, it will proceed to cover several philosophical domains – metaphysics/physics, the philosophical of mind, epistemology, and ethics.  By the end, students will have a thorough introduction to Stoicism.


PHIL 850 — Epistemology I

D. Bakhurst

Winter Term 3.0 (Tue 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.)

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.


PHIL 454/854 — Topics in Feminist Philosophy

J. Davies

Winter Term 3.0 (Mon 2:30 - 5:30 p.m.)

Special Topic:  Regulating sexual commerce and agency

PREREQUISITE:  Open to graduate students in Philosophy. Space permitting, with the permission of the instructor, enrollment is also open to graduate students with relevant interests and preparation from other disciplines.

For feminists, commercial sex is a contentious and divisive topic. Some defend the rights of sex workers of all genders and orientations to assert their sexual and commercial agency. Others object to prostitution as the objectification and exploitation of women. Some critics of prostitution connect it with class stratified, racist and colonial systems of domination. Conservatives speak of threats to communities and exploited persons. These diverse frameworks share little common ground. In Canada the ground shifted recently: selling sex was decriminalized while buying it was even more punitively criminalized. The meaning and effects of this legal development have yet to be fully grasped. What are the implications of making sex work conceptually impossible and deleting the term “prostitute” from the Canadian Criminal Code? Are such disappeared concepts related to repression of agency? Does it make violence less visible rather than less frequent? Who is hurt by the new law and the conceptual framework it introduces? Who benefits? How can we tell? The need for research and reflection is pressing.

In addition to political philosophy and policy questions, sex for pay raises meta-ethical issues and questions in epistemology and the philosophy of social science.  Is sex for pay inherently or contingently exploitive, subordinating or alienating (in a Marxist or any other sense)? Can commercial sex be a site of enhanced or diminished agency? Is it necessarily immoral (as Kant thought)? What’s in a name—“prostituted person”, “hustler,” “pimp,” or “sex worker”? What is presupposed in “human trafficking” versus “migrant labour” discourses? How is social and epistemological situatedness relevant? Who is in a position to know the answers to these questions?  Is experience or political engagement necessary?

Since the course will run as a seminar, regular preparation and participation are essential. Students will be encouraged to develop philosophical skills and insights with opportunities for collaborative research and solo writing projects.  Students will have the chance to enhance their presentation skills and to practice sharing constructive criticism.  The instructor will present introductory lectures to frame and contextualize readings, issues and methods.  Our analyses will draw on the tools of intersectionality theory as well as feminist, critical race, disability and queer theorists, attending carefully to the political economy of commercial sex (especially under global neoliberalism). Assignments include regular comment sheets, a take-home midterm, a seminar presentation and a final paper.


PHIL 467/867 — Hermeneutics

P. Fairfield

Fall Term 3.0 (Fri 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)

This year’s seminar course on hermeneutics takes up two recent texts: Jeff Mitscherling’s Aesthetic Genesis: The Origin of Consciousness in the Intentional Being of Nature (2009) as well as a new edited volume that is devoted to a number of issues arising from Mitscherling’s remarkable book, Essays on Aesthetic Genesis (2016), edited by Charlene Elsby and Aaron Massecar.


PHIL 870 — Philosophy of Science

J. Mozersky

Fall Term 3.0 (Tue 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.)

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.


PHIL 473/873 — Philosophy of Logic


Winter (3.0)


PHIL 493/893 — Environmental Philosophy

M. Smith

Winter Term 3.0 (Mon 8:30 - 11:30 a.m.)

This course will engage with a number of key environmental and ecological issues such as biodiversity and extinction, preservation or conservation, climate change, eco-feminism, deep ecology, and ecological community, drawing on a number of philosophical traditions in ethics, hermeneutics, political philosophy, and phenomenology together with various understandings of ecology and post-humanism. The aim is to provide both an overview of the variety of current topics encompassed within environmental philosophy and to encourage participants to develop critical and innovative approaches to questions of direct practical import. While the focus will generally be on our ethical relations to non-human entities and our understanding and interpretation of these relations we will be particularly concerned to examine the ways in which our ethical evaluations might be informed by and inform our understandings of particular places/environments.