Department of Philosophy



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Graduate Courses     

Offered 2017-18                            



PHIL 802 — Moral Philosophy - Rawls’s A Theory of Justice

R. Kumar and A. Lister

FALL 3.0

Published in 1971, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice set the agenda for contemporary political philosophy and inspired a revival of interest in Kantian moral philosophy. But the book has also been a victim of its own success - widely cited and referenced, but rarely read through cover to cover.

In this seminar, we will read Rawls’s masterwork in its entirety, with particular attention to the frequently overlooked sections dealing with moral psychology. Theory is best known for the famous ‘original position’, populated by mutually disinterested agents choosing principles from behind a veil of ignorance. This device has misled many of Rawls’s readers into thinking that he assumes people are primarily self-interested and have an instrumental attitude towards social relations. As Rawls’s discussion of the moral psychology of justice makes clear, however, this is not the case. Our goal will be to think through how Rawls’s about moral psychology inform his views about the substantive requirements of distributive justice and the character of a just society.

This seminar will be co-taught with Prof. Kumar (Philosophy) and Prof. Lister (Political Studies)

Required text: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice 2nd ed. (Harvard University Press)


PHIL 803 — Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy I – The Ethics of Self-Defense

K. Gordon-Solmon

FALL 3.0

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.

For the first eight weeks of term, we’ll concentrate on (1) what sorts of factors make it permissible to kill a person in self-defense, and (2) Jeff McMahan’s groundbreaking Responsibility Account of liability to defensive killing, and its critical reception. Over the last four weeks of term, we’ll examine, against the background of the Responsibility Account, a series of discreet problems within the ethics of self-defense; topics will include the relevance of intentions to the permissible infliction of harm, what (if any) defensive actions it’s permissible to take against those who justifiably threaten lethal harm, and the difference numbers make to the permissibility of killing liable threateners. Readings will be by Judith Thomson, Mike Otsuka, Jeff McMahan, Warren Quinn, Jonathan Quong, Saba Bazargan, Seth Lazar, Victor Tadros, and Frances Kamm.


PHIL 405/805 — Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy I - Frontiers of Citizenship

W. Kymlicka

FALL 3.0

"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 – Human Flourishing and Equality

S. Sypnowich

WINTER 3.0 tbc

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 recent book, Equality Renewed 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 807 — Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy III – State, Nation, and Global Justice

D. Miller

FALL 3.0

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 808 — Philosophy of Law 

A. Macleod


Topics to be discussed include (1) The distinction (and the relationship) between law and justice (e.g., Is there any such thing as “legal” justice? and Does commitment to the maxim that “like cases should be treated alike” suffice to show that “formal” justice is one of the virtues of a legal system?) (2) Is there a sharp difference between the rights a legal system recognizes, protects, and enforces and the rights for which a moral justification can be given? (3) How are the commonly invoked ideals of “rule of law” and “equality under the law” to be understood and defended? (4) Can disputes about “minimalist” and “non-minimalist” interpretations of the doctrine of human rights be resolved by appeal to the provisions of international human rights law?  (5) If ideals of justice and efficiency are thought to be crucial to the assessment (even if not to the constitution) of systems of law, how are they to be conceived and justified?

While members of the class will be encouraged to submit short (1-2 page) “comment sheets” on topics and readings under discussion, the only formal requirement, in addition to regular seminar participation, is the submission of an “argumentative” term-paper on some seminar-related subject.  The suggested length of the paper is 3000-4000 words – about the length of most colloquium contributions to regular meetings of both the Canadian Philosophical Association and the American Philosophical Association. 


PHIL 809 — Colloquium in Political, Legal & Moral Philosophy

J. Thomas and G. Webber

FALL 3.0

The  Colloquium explores new work in legal and political philosophy. Its  first two seasons have been exciting, intense, challenging, and lots of  fun. Our speakers and students tackled important questions like: Is  there a moral right to property? Does allowing judges to review  legislation on constitutional grounds undermine democracy? What  justifies states' acquisition of territory? Is the Reasonable Person a  legal standard that promotes the rule of law or is it a device that  allows judges to pass the buck on difficult questions? Can one be  consistently both pro-choice on abortion and an ethical vegan? Does the  International Criminal Court suffer from a legitimacy problem because  the most powerful states are not bound by it? Do states have an  obligation to rescue migrants drowning at sea?

The  format is as follows: Students registered with the course meet with us  to discuss a recent paper by a leading scholar. The following week, the  students meet with the author, along with other faculty members and  invited guests, for a workshop on the paper.

Our  2017 lineup promises to engage equally important questions in legal and  political philosophy – our speakers will include Sophia Moreau  (Toronto), Lea Ypi (LSE), Barbara Herman (UCLA), John Tasioulas (King's  College London), and our very own Les Green.

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 420/820 — Ethical Issues I – Global Bioethics

U. Schüklenk


This popular bioethics course has been running for quite a number of years. The first third of the course content is set by me, the remainder will be decided upon by you during the first few weeks of the course. You will be able to each choose a bioethical problem that is of interest to you. Both your essay topic as well as your classroom presentation will be dedicated to an analysis of that problem. In the past we tackled issues such as euthanasia in Canada, the ethics of the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports and in the classroom, reproductive health issues, public health ethics issues in the context of recent Ebola virus disease outbreaks in West Africa, and many diverse others. We will run this course in one of our new Active Learning classrooms, which gives us the flexibility to create ad hoc working groups during classes where that would improve your learning outcomes. While I do not monitor attendance, your participation grade will depend significantly on - well - participating.

You are strongly encouraged to contact me during the term break to discuss possible essay/presentation topics with me. I'm at

There is no required reading volume that you will need to purchase for this course. You will likely find yourself sourcing and reading between 2-3 journal articles per week.


PHIL 821 — Ethical Issues II - Settler Colonialism and the Carceral State

L. Guenther


Indigenous peoples make up 4% of Canada’s population and 25% of its prison population.  In this seminar, we will explore the possibilities and the limits of Foucault’s genealogical method for problematizing aboriginal hyperincarceration in Canada.  Foucault’s account of race as a sorting mechanism between “those who must live” and “those who may die” seems useful for understanding the structural violence of incarceration, but Foucault’s relative lack of engagement with colonial power demands a broader critical interrogation of the history and politics of settler colonialism and indigenous genocide.  This seminar undertakes to address this gap through a reading of historical, theoretical, and activist critics of carceral (and) colonial power in Canada, with a focus on work by indigenous scholars such as Audra Simpson, Glen Coulthard, Leanne Simpson, Patricia Monture-Angus, and Taiake Alfred. 


PHIL 431/831 — Ancient Philosophy

S. Leighton


Philosophy 431/831 will look at Aristotle and Aristotelians on virtue and emotion. Beginning with Aristotle, we will look at his general understanding of virtue and emotion, then his more specific accounts of the emotions fear and anger, and the virtues courage and good temper. We will then turn to more contemporary “Aristotelians’” reflections on related themes, in particular, J. Lear’s reflections on courage, fear and hope in Radical Hope, and M. Nussbaum’s reflections on anger in Anger and Forgiveness


PHIL 445/845 — Major Figures I – Descartes’s Passions of the Soul

M.C. Smith

FALL 3.0

This seminar will be focused on the question of whether or not Descartes has the resources for an adequate account of mind-body integration and the wholeness of the human person. Cartesian mechanism overthrew Aristotelian hylomorphism in the seventeenth century, but put mind-body dualism in its place, thus splitting persons into two essentially antithetical components. After examining the critique of hylomorphism, we will see whether anything can be done in a Cartesian framework to pull us back together. We will read the complete correspondence between Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, which tackles the question of interaction and integration through an assessment of the role of the passions; we will also read The Passions of the Soul (1649), as well as several other works by Descartes. Along the way we will look at Cartesian moral philosophy and the social dimension of the Cartesian self, among other somewhat neglected aspects of Descartes’s philosophy.


PHIL 850 — Epistemology I – In Defence of Empiricism

D. L.C. Maclachlan

FALL 3.0

Modern Analytic Philosophy rests on two fundamental pillars. The first pillar is that scientific materialism provides the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about the universe.  The second pillar is a healthy respect for the deliverances of the natural language.  These two foundations, however, are hard to reconcile.  The difficulty is that although scientific discourse, or at least the discourse about material objects on which it is based, is a perfectly respectable part of the natural language, it is not the only language game that is played.  The task of scientific materialism is to expand its territory to absorb all other language games recognized as legitimate.  The most extreme strategy is to reduce what we can and to eliminate what we cannot, but it is hard to carry out this strategy in a convincing manner, and most analytic philosophers prefer something a bit more sophisticated.

            Of special interest is the connection between two language games that appear to be about matters of fact—physical discourse and psychical discourse.  Psychical discourse expresses what is revealed in immediate experience: physical discourse describes the material world in which we find ourselves.  The goal of scientific materialism is to find a way to incorporate within the physical system statements made in the mental language.  Empiricism takes the opposite view.  The thesis of Empiricism is that all our empirical knowledge is grounded in experience.  It is through immediate experience that we obtain knowledge of the external world. The way to make the task impossible is to begin by misdescribing this experience.  This was the mistake made by David Hume with his bundle of impressions and ideas.  Essentially the same error was given a new lease of life later on with the theory of sense-data, perhaps designed to provide primitive values for the individual variables of the predicate calculus.

            The purpose of this course is to explore alternatives to the standard description of immediate experience, which has been responsible for giving empiricism a bad name.  A salient fact about immediate experience is that it is enjoyed here and now.  Another obvious fact is that we immediately experience change and transition.  The problem is to explain how we can experience temporal change, when all experience takes place in the present.  How do we fit conscious experience into the time-line, either as a segment or at a point (the present moment)?  In this concern, I have an unlikely ally in Daniel Dennett, with his attack on Cartesian Materialism, which is his name for the widely popular token identity theory.

            To move forward, I shall seek the help of Immanuel Kant and F.H. Bradley.  Bradley’s early work on logic, now sadly neglected, will make an important contribution.  I shall also enlist the help of other more recent writers, such as Gareth Evans, Christopher Peacocke, Daniel Dennett, Thomas Nagel, and Henry Laycock.

            I am working on a book in which this material will be presented, a draft of which will be made available.  Each student will be responsible for a seminar in which some segment of this material will be examined.  The basis for evaluation will be a term paper, due at the end of the course, on some topic chosen by the student from among the questions covered in the course.


PHIL 851 — Epistemology II - Knowledge, Culture and the Formation of Reason

D. Bakhurst


Human beings, it is often remarked, are rational animals.  The broadly Cartesian tradition in philosophy portrayed the mind as self-contained subjective world of thoughts and experiences and treated our rationality as a characteristic of minds so conceived.  As the influence of Cartesianism wanes, it is now frequently claimed that we cannot understand our status as rational animals, and the nature of human knowledge, unless we appreciate that we are social beings who are members of cultures and communities and embodied creatures in interaction with our environment. This class explores the arguments behind such claims, as they play out in contemporary epistemology and metaphysics. Specific topics discussed will include some of the following: personal identity; freedom; rationality; naturalism; objectivity and truth; thought and its objects; concepts; perception and experience; the mind and its development. The work of John McDowell will be our focus, but we shall read a number of other contemporary thinkers, including the psychologist Michael Tomasello, who will be visiting Queen’s in March 2018 and attending a meeting of the seminar.


Reading will include John McDowell’s, Mind and World, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), David Bakhurst, The Formation of Reason (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); Michael Tomasello, A Natural History of Human Thinking (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), and selected articles by other philosophers, including Elizabeth Anscombe and Mary Midgely.


PHIL 452/852 — Current Issues in Metaphysics – Ontology of Stuff

H. Laycock

FALL 3.0

Issues in contemporary analytical metaphysics, ontology and logic. Among the topics for consideration are the dichotomy of universal and particular, the nature of attributes and natural kinds, the dichotomy of countable objects and uncountable material stuff. These topics are intimately related to logico-semantical distinctions such as that of 'singular term' and 'general term'; and equally, that of names, variables and predicates. Certain works of contemporary authors, including especially W. V. O. Quine, will be examined, but the ideas here involved go back to the ancient world of Plato, Aristotle and the Presocratics.


PHIL 454/854 — Topics in Feminist Philosophy – Regulating sexual commerce and agency

J. Davies

FALL 3.0

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 464/864 — Philosophy of Mind – Cognitive Science

N. Salay


This semester we will work our way through a new text, possibly Andy Clark’s new book, Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind. No prior experience in mind/cognitive science is required as I will be filling in around the text with the relevant background material when and where required.

Philosophy of Mind/Cognitive Science has really come a long way in the past five years. As an inquiry into what some call “the final frontier,” namely mind, it is certainly one of the most interesting and exciting fields. In the course of our investigation, topics we will look at include cognition, memory, attention, language, logical inference, neural nets/statistical inference, consciousness, self-identity, ego, and free will, to name but a few. By the end of the course you will have a good grounding in the central issues of contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

This is a seminar course and, consequently, participation is expected: it will contribute to your evaluation in the form of weekly commentaries, both written and verbal, and general discussion.


PHIL 467/867 — Hermeneutics

P. Fairfield


This year’s seminar on hermeneutics focuses on aesthetics. We shall discuss a few essays from Hans-Georg Gadamer’s The Relevance of the Beautiful, followed by some more recent work by a variety of authors on the theme of artistic creation.


PHIL 470/870 — Philosophy of Science – Realism and the problem of history

D. Lehoux


Scientific realism has long faced serious challenges posed by the historical development of the sciences themselves. The most common formulation of the problem is known as the pessimistic induction:

history is full of examples of scientific theories that appeared at the time to be perfectly successful but that turned out in the long run to be completely and utterly wrong. This would seem to indicate that the success of a body of scientific knowledge does not in itself justify a belief that its laws or theoretical entities are in fact real. This course will look at the developing relationships between realism and the history of science, attempts to corral the pessimistic induction, and recent reformulations of the issues at play.


PHIL 473/873 — Philosophy of Logic

A. Mercier


 Description to follow


PHIL 493/893 — Ethics and the Environment

M. Smith


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.