Department of Philosophy

Queen's University
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200 Level Courses


PHIL 203—Science and Society

Online course

M.C. Smith

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.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.


PHIL 204—Life, Death, and Meaning

T. Doppelt

Fall (3.0)

Description: We are alive. We’re all going to die. What does this mean, if anything? These three interconnected issues concern everyone, yet they remain some of the most perplexing and interesting topics of human enquiry. This course will examine these topics from a number of different philosophical perspectives across historical and contemporary philosophy and literature. Readings will include authors such as Epicurus, David Hume, Thomas Nagel, and Jorge Luis Borges.

What do we mean when we ask if life has meaning? We will consider whether there is, or can be, a meaning of life, and what its source could be. Does the concept of ‘meaning’ function the same way when we apply it to life, or death, as opposed to other things? What if there was no life in the universe? Would there still be meaning? Conversely, what if we could be immortal? Is immortality even desirable (or otherwise good, or bad)? What might this tell us about meaning, and life, and death? What about death and dying? What is death? Should we fear it, or care about it? Does it matter? If so, why / why not? Can death give life meaning, or vice versa?

Textbook: Life, Death, and Meaning:  Key Philosophical Readings on the Big Questions, 3rd Edition, ed. David Benatar (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)

Supplementary readings will be provided through e-Reserve or via the course website.

Format: Lectures and discussions.

Evaluation: TBA

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.


PHIL 250-- Epistemology and Metaphysics

D. Bakhurst

Fall/Winter (6.0)

This course provides an examination of central debates in epistemology and metaphysics from the early modern period to the present. Focusing on the work of such thinkers as Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein and W.V.O. Quine, we shall discuss questions of the nature and justification of knowledge, mind and body, personhood and community, truth and meaning.                                                    

Texts: The book L. P. Pojman and L. Vaughn (eds), Classics of Philosophy, 3rd edn. (Oxford University Press) contains many of the central texts; further readings will be available on e-reserve.

LEARNING HOURS   240 (72L;168P)

PREREQUISITE   (A GPA of 2.0 in 6.0 units in PHIL) or (A grade of B- in 3.0 units in PHIL and Level 2 or above in a COGS Plan).


PHIL 256-- Existentialism

D. Knight

Fall (3.0)

Representative figures from Kierkegaard to de Beauvoir will be the focus of attention in this overview of the main ideas of existentialism, a vital movement in contemporary philosophy. The foundations of existential thought, its distinctive style of argumentation and its relationship to the perennial concerns of philosophy will be explored.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.


PHIL 257-- Ethics

FAll/Winter (6.0) -- Fall Term S. Leighton; Winter Term C. Sypnowich

A study of problems in moral and/or political philosophy from the ancient or early modern period to the present. L

Fall Term: This half of the course will be an introduction to moral philosophy as seen through the eyes of Kant, Mill, Bentham and Aristotle.  Sample topics to be considered include ethical and psychological egoism, the role of duty, the relative importance of pleasure and happiness, conceptions of happiness, the place of reason and role of character in leading our lives, what accounts for moral status.

Winter term: Term two focuses on political philosophy, its central thinkers, concepts and frameworks, focussing on the powerful arguments of 'classic' writings in political philosophy from Hobbes’s Leviathan to Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women and Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto.  Students will consider the exciting and contrasting traditions and orientations of political thought with some emphasis on their historical context. Scrutiny will be given to what motivates political positions and how they are set out and defended.  The course concludes with a few recent important essays in contemporary political philosophy that convey how the ideas of historical figures continue to inspire reflection and analysis. The course seeks to strike a balance between thinkers and concepts by viewing political philosophy in the thematic terms of an ongoing debate between ‘individualistic’ and ‘communitarian’ perspectives.


Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Oxford

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Hackett

J.-J. Rousseau, Basic Political Writings, Hackett

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Oxford

John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, Hackett

G.W.F. Hegel, Outlines of the Philosophy of Right, Oxford

Karl Marx, Selected Writings, Hackett

Course Structure: Classes will consist of lectures with some opportunity for discussion. 

Marking Scheme: In-class essay, 6-8 page submitted essay, final examination

LEARNING HOURS   240 (76L;168P)

PREREQUISITE   A GPA of 2.0 in 6.0 units in PHIL.


PHIL 259—Critical Thinking

N. Salay

(3.0) Online course

In this class you will learn how to think critically; you will learn how to evaluate arguments, claims, beliefs, and so on as well as how to make solid arguments of your own.  You will learn how to think clearly, a powerful skill indeed.  Since the complement to thinking clearly is writing clearly, this critical thinking course also includes a writing component.  Many of the assignments require short essay or paragraph-style answers.  These will be marked on content, grammar, and style.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

EXCLUSION   No more than 3.0 units from PHIL 158/3.0; PHIL 259/3.0.


PHIL 270—Minds and Machines

N. Salay

Winter (3.0)

In this course we will survey the contribution of philosophy to the cognitive sciences.  Our focus will be on providing an holistic understanding of the various perspectives brought by each of the disciplines, in particular, cognitive psychology, computer science, neuroscience, and linguistics, through an investigation of how the various approaches ultimately frame and answer our questions about the mind.  The course will begin with a brief overview of the traditional themes in the philosophy of mind, but the bulk of the term will be spent investigating contemporary themes in cognitive science from a philosophical perspective.  The topics we will cover throughout the term include, but are not limited to, the following: formal systems; physical symbol systems; neural networks; A-life; emergent systems; dynamical systems; cognitive linguistics; embodied cognition.

NOTE   Each week, students will be assigned a number of articles or chapters for reading and will be expected to be able to discuss the readings in class.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units. EQUIVALENCY   PHIL 170/3.0.


PHIL 273 -- Continental Philosophy: 1800–1900

P. Fairfield

Fall (3.0)

This lecture course provides an analysis of key figures and texts in nineteenth-century continental European philosophy. We shall study key works by Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Wilhelm Dilthey. Major themes will include 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 will be a focus in this course. Additional themes will include the critique of modern epistemology and metaphysics, religion and religious morality, and the conditions and limits of human knowledge. The format will be lecture with discussion.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.


PHIL 275-- Thinking Gender, Sex and Love

J. Davies

Fall (3.0)

This course complements material taught about gender, sexuality and love from different disciplinary perspectives including History, Psychology, Biology, Health, and Gender Studies among other departments. PHIL 275 has a discipline specific emphasis on classic and contemporary philosophical literature, figures, and methods.

The critical thinking skills taught in this course are accessible to student who have not studied philosophy before and are transferable to other disciplines. 

Philosophy concentrators will benefit from the topic/problem focus on familiar philosophical figures and schools (from Plato to Foucault, utilitarianism, liberalism, deontology) as well exposure to thinkers, perspectives and literatures with which they may be less familiar.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.


PHIL 276--Critical Perspectives on Social Diversity

A.J. Butler

Winter (3.0)

This course will be of interest to students looking to live more thoughtfully and justly under conditions of social diversity.

We will try to make some headway in understanding two central issues.  We’ll examine the nature of the identities that make up social diversity, and we will consider how individuals and societies should respond to the oppression to which persons of various identities have been, and are, subject. This will involve addressing issues related to sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, classism, imperialism and other forms of oppression.

More specifically, we will consider questions such as the following: Are racial and gender identities grounded in biological facts, or are they strictly social constructions? Is disability a feature of so-called disabled persons, or is it a feature of the environments in which they live? How should society look on the diversity of human sexual orientations? What kinds of redress does justice require for historically disadvantaged groups? What forms of social reorganisation are necessary to eliminate oppression?

Format:  Lecture and discussion.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.


PHIL 293 -- Humans and the Natural World

M. Smith

Fall (3.0)

This course will provide an introduction to some of the key themes of environmental thought through the investigation of influential texts and ideas within Western philosophical traditions. We will examine different understandings of human nature and the relations to organisms and environments they presume as well as the disparate roles played by ‘nature’ in social and political philosophies. Amongst the topics studied will be changes in what is meant by ‘natural’ and ‘nature’; the increasing importance of evolutionary perspectives; the relation between history and natural history; human ecology; wilderness; animal ethics and vegetarianism and current debates over conservation and climate change. The course will also investigate what difference contemporary environmental concerns might make to the way we envisage humanity’s current status and future possibilities.
LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.

PHIL 296—Animals and Society

J. Milburn

Winter (3.0)

This course introduces students to historical and contemporary debates regarding the treatment of nonhuman animals within Western societies, and explores our ethical responsibilities toward them. The course examines a range of human- animal relations, involving domesticated, working, research subjects and wild animals.

LEARNING HOURS   120 (36L;84P)

PREREQUISITE   Completed 30.0 or more units.