The Department of Philosophy at Queen's University is recognized internationally for its research excellence in political philosophy and cognate fields like normative ethics, applied ethics (especially animal ethics and bioethics) and legal philosophy. It also has strengths in continental philosophy, early modern philosophy, ancient philosophy, history of philosophy, metaphysics and epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of science. The Department’s faculty include nine members of the Royal Society of Canada (eight fellows and one member of the College of New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists), Ontario Research Chair in Bioethics, and Canada Research Chairs in Political Philosophy and the Philosophy of Law. For more about our Faculty's research, visit our Faculty pages.
This page highlights some of the Department's research groups (link jumps below), including the Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law, and Ethics (APPLE) research group, the Education and Philosophy in Conversation (EPiC) project, and Political, Moral, and Legal Philosophy at Queen's. Also highlighted are some research projects (link jumps below) that enjoy substantial external funding.
Animals in Philosophy, Politics, Law, and Ethics (APPLE)
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. We live in an unprecedented era of animal exploitation, habitat destruction, and species loss, prompting many to reconsider the ethics and sustainability of our treatment of non-human animals. APPLE’s goal is to help bring “the animal question” into the mainstream of academic research and public debate in Canada, focusing in particular on the moral, legal and political dimensions of how human-animal relations are governed. Information about APPLE’s research, events and members can be found at the button below.
Education and Philosophy in Conversation
The 'Education and Philosophy in Conversation' (EPiC) project is based at Queen’s University, where its activities are organized by Professors of Philosophy David Bakhurst and Professor Paul Fairfield. EPiC is concerned with examining the nature of conversation as a mode of human interaction and mutual engagement, and to explore its educational significance as a distinctive medium for teaching and learning. Questions addressed include the logic and norms of conversation, conversational virtues, shared and collective intentionality and knowledge of other minds, the epistemology of testimony, mutual understanding and the meeting of minds, modes of teaching and learning, and the scope and limits of new learning technologies. Information about EPiC’s research, events and members can be found at the button below.
Political, Moral and Legal Philosophy
The Department of Philosophy at Queen's University is recognized internationally for its research excellence in political philosophy and cognate fields like normative ethics, applied ethics (especially animal ethics and bioethics) and legal philosophy. Faculty working in these areas teach in the M.A. in Political and Legal Thought (PLT) program, offered by Philosophy, Political Studies, and Law. They include Ontario’s Research Chair in Bioethics (Udo Schüklenk) and Canada's Research Chairs in Political Philosophy (Will Kymlicka) and the Philosophy of Law (Grégoire Webber). A number of the Department's faculty are also fellows of Queen's Centre for the Study of Democracy and Diversity, whose director is Margaret Moore.
Among the Department's initiatives in political, moral, and legal philosophy are (with Law and Political Studies) the Colloquium in Legal and Political Philosophy and the Political Philosophy Reading Group (PPRG). The Colloquium meets six times in the Fall semester to discuss working papers by leading scholars in political, legal and moral philosophy. The PPRG meets roughly every two weeks in at least the Fall and Winter semesters to discuss new and working papers in political, legal and moral philosophy with the papers' authors.
A number of the Department’s ongoing research projects (link jumps below) are also in the areas of political, moral, and legal philosophy, on topics such as the boundaries of social and political membership, multiculturalism, historical injustice, and climate change and future generations.
See the Political, Moral and Legal Philosophy Photo Gallery below. Click any photo to expand and read more about it.
Boundaries, Membership & Belonging
Will Kymlicka, Professor and Canada's Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen's University, is co-director, with Irene Bloemraad (sociology, UC Berkeley), of a new multi-year program on Boundaries, Membership and Belonging, funded by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. The program brings together leading social scientists and political and legal theorists from around the world to explore how the boundaries of social and political membership are drawn in the contemporary world, and whether we can re-draw these boundaries in a way that is more inclusive without losing solidarity and the possibility of collective action. All societies distinguish members from non-members. Indeed, evolutionary biology and psychology suggest that humans are predisposed to distinguish “us” from “them,” and the process can lead to increased trust and cooperation towards members. But it can also lead to prejudice, suspicion and injustice towards non-members. The Boundaries, Membership & Belonging program brings together normative theorists and empirical social scientists to make sense of membership politics, particularly at the national level: to explore how claims to national membership are made and contested, how the circle of national membership expands and contracts over time, how ideas of national belonging are mobilized, and how feelings of national membership relate to more universalist or cosmopolitan identities and claims. In short: why membership matters in a globalizing world.
Boundaries, Membership and Belonging
The Multiculturalism Policy Index
Will Kymlicka, Professor and Canada's Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen's University, is co-director, along with Keith Banting (Political Studies & School of Policy Studies, Queen’s), of the Multiculturalism Policy Index project, which monitors the evolution of multiculturalism policies across 21 Western democracies. The MCP Index project is designed to provide information about multiculturalism policies in a standardized format that aids comparative research and contributes to the understanding of state-minority relations. The project provides an index for each of three types of minorities: one index relating to immigrant groups, one relating to historic national minorities, and one relating to indigenous peoples. The MCP Index for immigrant minorities is now available on annual basis, with scores for each MCP policy in each country from 1960 to 2020. The data identifies the precise year in which a country adopted and/or retrenched any particular MCP, and includes early developments in countries such as Canada and Australia which introduced MCPs prior to 1980.The Multiculturalism Policy Index and supporting documentation are freely available for researchers, public officials, journalists, students, activists, and others interested in the topic.
The Multiculturalism Policy Index
Toppling Monuments: Colonial Trauma, Justice, Heritage, and Restorative Healing
Christine Sypnowich, Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy, is the leader of the interdisciplinary project, “Toppling Monuments: Colonial Trauma, Justice, Heritage, and Restorative Healing”, funded by both the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) and a Wicked Ideas grant. Debate rages as Kingston struggles with the legacy of its most famous former resident, Sir John A. Macdonald, and his actions against Indigenous peoples whose lands and children were taken. Like communities worldwide, the city is at a historic juncture confronting cultural narratives of racism and dispossession. An interdisciplinary team, led by Sypnowich, will examine Kingston as a case study to address the social exclusion and historical trauma inherent in current understandings of heritage. Uniting conceptual investigation, health care practice, and cultural resurgence, the team of Indigenous and settler scholars will consider how community-based art practices can contribute to an inclusive heritage and enable restorative healing for Indigenous and racialized people. The project’s collaborators include Philosophy’s Will Kymlicka, Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning, Margaret Moore, Jean Thomas, and Grégoire Webber, as well as leading researchers in health sciences and medicine.
The Kantian Rationality Lab
David Bakhurst, George Whalley Distinguished University Professor John and Ella G. Charlton Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University, is one of five ‘Key Researchers’ for the Kantian Rationality Lab, part of the Akademia Kantiana of the Baltic Federal University in Kaliningrad. ‘Reason’ or ‘rationality’ is the overarching concept of Kant’s philosophy. It shapes and pervades his theoretical as well as his practical philosophy, informing his understanding of the sciences as well as our ethical life. It is a complex and controversial concept that continues to inform philosophical discussions today. At the same time, it is a concept that has numerous aspects and applications that have yet to be explained and explored, tested and tried, revised and refined. This is what the Kantian Rationality Lab aims to do. The Lab is the recipient of a substantial grant from the Russian Foundation for the Humanities.
What We Owe to Future Generations
Rahul Kumar, Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University, has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant to pursue his project, "What We Owe to Future Generations". The project will examine questions about the foundations and content of our obligations to future generations. It will advance an understanding of these obligations as interpersonal, or relational, obligations that are owed to other people. It will, in particular, focus on the implications of this way of thinking on both how we ought to reason about obligations to mitigate the effects of climate change and about what, in substance, we are required to do. Questions to be considered include whether the fact that some of the most serious effects of climate change will be felt by those who will live many, many generations from now justifies discounting the badness of those effects in moral reasoning, how tail-end risks of human extinction as a result of climate change ought to be taken into account, how to reason about the balance between climate-related obligations and other obligations to living individuals, and whether climate-related obligations demand sacrifices of us that are unreasonably demanding.
Duties, Constraints, Prerogatives, and Permissions: Or, How to Defend Lesser-Evil Options
Kerah Gordon-Solmon, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Queen’s University, has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant to pursue her project, "Duties, Constraints, Prerogatives, and Permissions: Or, How to Defend Lesser-Evil Options". Promoting the good, exercising prerogatives, and complying with constraints are basic elements of our ethical lives. And yet, adjudicating among them to figure out what we are permitted, or obligated, to do when they steer us in different directions is a notoriously difficult task. Reconciling a plausible account of each within a unified theory is an even greater challenge. The aim of Gordon-Solmon’s project is to make advances toward the latter via pursuit of the former. In particular, Gordon-Solmon proposes to make a case-study of how we ought to adjudicate between our presumptive duties to promote the good, and our presumptive duties to comply with constraints, in the context of lesser-evils cases. These are cases in which we are justified in contravening a constraint (i.e., against harming the innocent) by the great good we will achieve, or the great evil we will prevent, in doing so. In these cases, agents are generally believed to have two permissible options. We may inflict the harm to promote the greater good, or we may comply with the constraint against harming, thereby allowing the greater evil to eventuate. Despite – or, perhaps, because of – its widespread acceptance, this belief is seldom defended. Gordon-Solmon aims to fill this lacuna.
Sergio Sismondo, Professor of Philosophy, and Daryn Lehoux, Professor of Classics and Philosophy, have won a SSHRC Insight Grant for their project, "Epistemic Corruption" – one of the largest such grants at Queen’s in 2022. They will use it to bring together a dozen collaborators from a variety of fields to develop models of the corruption of knowledge systems.
In recent years, many people have loudly announced a crisis of authority, provoked especially by the spread of low-quality information, disinformation and distractions. Well-known cases include: manufactured ignorance about climate change, in which real and constructed doubts were amplified to challenge scientific certainty; some groups’ latching onto unproven remedies for Covid-19; general concerns about trust in both traditional and new sources of information, from newspapers and television to social media. This crisis, if there is one, is closely connected to concerns about the corruption of knowledge systems, or “epistemic corruption”.
Lehoux, Sismondo and their collaborators will be asking questions such as: What can it mean for a system of knowledge production or dissemination to be called corrupt? How does a system appear to become corrupted, and by what kinds of actors and processes? What are typical competing claims about the integrity of a system?
'Atmospheric Agency' and Ethical Responses to Climate Change
Mick Smith, Professor of Philosophy jointly appointed with Environmental Studies, has been awarded a SSHRC Insight Grant to pursue his project, ''Atmospheric Agency' and Ethical Responses to Climate Change'. Climate change is literally ‘world-changing’, but although philosophical approaches identify key moral issues, most frame problems and solutions within humanist paradigms that incorporate assumptions about human agency, autonomy, and exceptionalism that are actually deeply implicated in producing the societal forms responsible for the current crisis. For example, from this perspective the very idea of the Anthropocene, now widely adopted to designate these epochal climatic and ecological shifts, is misplaced. Rather than entering a new anthropogenic epoch, we might more accurately be regarded as beginning to suffer the consequences of the modern suppression of non-human agencies. This project coalesces around a concept of ‘atmospheric agency’ developed across scales from place to planet as a way of articulating both sensitivities / responses to our immediate environs and ethical responses to climate change. What does it mean to take the materiality of atmospheric changes seriously in terms of their philosophical implications? How is it that experiential / phenomenological sensitivity to localized atmospheres does not carry over to global climatic changes? Might we suggest ways to link (phenomenal) experiences of atmospheric agency to evaluational / ethical responses that encourage different and better social and ecological outcomes at all scales?
Lisa Guenther, Queen’s National Scholar in Political Philosophy and Critical Prison Studies, is director of a research project on Abolitionist Dream-Mapping funded by a Mitacs Accelerate Grant, in collaboration with Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre. The project brings together twelve graduate students from disciplines such as Philosophy, Cultural Studies, and Gender Studies to recover and create decolonial abolitionist methods for dismantling carceral-colonial institutions and building freer, healthier, and more just communities. We repurpose the colonial instrument of the map as a creative tool for navigating oppressive structures and sketching concrete alternatives to the world that slavery and colonialism has built. We also activate our collective power to dream, not as an escapist fantasy but as a critical research method that moves beyond an analysis of what is wrong with the world to experiment with ways of making it better. Our research is guided by three central questions: How do maps, images, and other forms of creative story-telling contribute to the transdisciplinary work of decolonial abolition? How does abolitionist and decolonial dreaming re-animate colonial and carceral concepts such as consent and authorship? And how do artists and researchers practice abolitionist and decolonial ethics in their work?