Graduate Courses

*Note that students in the M.A. in Political and Legal Thought (PLT) program may enrol in PLT-designated courses offered by any of the program’s collaborating units (Philosophy, Political Studies, and Law). Philosophy Ph.D. students interested in enrolling in theory courses offered by Politics or Law should speak to the graduate coordinator (currently Professor Rahul Kumar) about doing so.

Fall 2020

J. Thomas / G. Webber

FALL (3.0)

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. 

Please note space in the colloquium is limited and priority will be given to students in the Political and Legal Thought specialization.

Topic: Rawls’s A Theory of Justice

R. Kumar / A. Lister

FALL (3.0)

In honour of the fiftieth anniversary of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, this seminar will focus on a close reading of the book as a whole. Assessment will be based on weekly participation and a final paper.

Topic: Martin Luther King Jr. Now

M. Krishnamurthy

FALL (3.0)

With the resurgence of racism across the globe there is renewed interested in the political philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This course is an attempt to rediscover King’s ideas by shedding light on three of the most important and misunderstood elements of King’s mature thought: his analysis of racism and its causes; his political theory of direct action and civil disobedience; and his understanding of the place of ethical virtues in activism and social life. In interpreting King’s political philosophy, we will consider the work of leading critics and interpreters. We will also consider the relevance of King’s philosophy for Canadians by considering it in relation to Canadian anti-racist struggles.

Texts/Readings: Among other things, selections from Martin Luther King Jr.’s, Why We Can’t Wait; Strength to Love; and Where Do We Go From Here. Brandon Terry and Tommie Shelby’s, To Shape a New World. Selections from Meena Krishnamurthy’s Emotions of Nonviolent Resistance.

Assessment: Weekly discussion questions, at least one class presentation/video; 2 papers or 1 longer paper.

Topic: Abolition and Decolonization

L. Guenther

FALL (3.0)

Current scholarship on prison abolition tends to focus on the relation between slavery and mass incarceration, but it’s not clear how this framework helps to address the hyper-incarceration of Indigenous peoples in Canada and other settler colonial states. In this seminar, we will study abolitionist (and) decolonial movements with the aim of recovering and co-creating methods for dismantling carceral-colonial institutions and building freer, healthier, and more just communities. Throughout the semester, we will reflect on the map as both a colonial instrument of domination and a creative tool for navigating oppressive structures and sketching concrete alternatives to the world that slavery and colonialism has built. We will 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. 

Readings will include work by Saidiya Hartman, Nick Estes, Robin Kelley, Dionne Brand, and Leanne Simpson.

Topic: Hellenistic and Roman Philosophy

D. Lehoux

FALL (3.0)

This course will examine a range of Hellenistic and Roman philosophical texts, including Lucretius' On the Nature of Things and Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods. Particular focus will be on the overlaps between epistemology, physics, and ethics in these texts.

Topic: Understanding Human Action

D. Bakhurst

FALL (3.0)

This seminar will examine in detail two remarkable works of mid-20th Century British philosophy, Elizabeth Anscombe’s Intention (1959) and Mary Midgley’s Beast and Man (1978).  We will explore the striking insights these texts offer into the nature of mind and action, self-consciousness and embodiment; understanding the human life-form; and philosophical method.  Topics will include: the errors of Cartesianism; the analysis of action; intentional action, freedom and responsibility; naturalism and human nature. 

Reading Includes:

  • Anscombe, G. E. M., Intention
  • Midgley, Mary, Beast and Man
  • Wiseman, Rachael, Guide to Anscombe’s Intention
  • Various articles by Anscombe, Midgley, Wiseman and others

Topic: Spinoza

J. Miller

FALL (3.0)

This course will offer an advanced introduction to Spinoza’s *Ethics*. We will begin with Spinoza's life and the historical situation that he confronted in mid-17th century Amsterdam.  Then we will consider his peculiar geometrical method. Once we are finished with such preliminaries, we will proceed to his metaphysics and epistemology, as presented in Parts I and II of the *Ethics*. As time allows, we will proceed to consider Spinoza’s actual moral philosophy, which is given later on in the book.


All Spinozistic texts will be taken from his *Ethics*. In addition, there will be one secondary source offered each week.  These sources are meant to aid our understanding of the *Ethics*.  They will be listed on the course syllabus, which will be available shortly before the semester begins.

Topic: Philosophy of Language and Thought

A. Mercier

FALL (3.0)

An examination of major issues in contemporary philosophy of language. Possible topics to be studied include: the nature of meaning; the relationship between language and the mind, as well as language and the world; and the syntax, semantics and pragmatics of natural language.

Winter 2021

Topic: Duties, Constraints, Prerogatives, and Permissions

K. Gordon-Solmon

WINTER (3.0)

Here are some innocuous claims. Some states of affairs are better than others, in virtue of being better for persons than others. (For example, states of affairs in which we suffer less are better, other things equal, than those in which we suffer more.) We have presumptive moral reason to help bring about better states of affairs, which will sometimes be decisive. But we also have prerogatives to favour our own interests, sometimes at the expense of what is impartially best.  Third, and lastly, we are subject to moral constraints, which limit what we can do in pursuit of our own, or others’, good.

Again, none these claims is terribly controversial.  Nevertheless, taken together, they give rise to various puzzles, and even paradoxes. Our task will be to work through some of these (in particular, their treatments in the contemporary literature), and toward a better understanding of duties, constraints, prerogatives, and permissions.

Topic: Interspecies Politics

W. Kymlicka

WINTER (3.0)

There is growing recognition of animals’ moral status both within moral philosophy and at the level of public opinion. However, the growing recognition of animals’ moral status has not translated into any real change in their political status. Animals are not represented in politics, are not seen as political actors or as political stakeholders, and are essentially ignored when political decisions are made. They also remain almost entirely invisible within political philosophy. Whenever political philosophers discuss the core concepts of our field - democracy, representation, deliberation, legitimacy, accountability, citizenship, the people, the public sphere, claims-making, the demos, popular sovereignty, and self-government – animals are ignored. This course will explore why it has proven so difficult to translate moral status to political status, and what this tells us about the nature and purpose of “politics”. We will also explore recent efforts to theorize what an “interspecies politics” would look like, and to reimagine our relations with animals as political relationships.

Texts/Readings: All readings will be electronically accessible

Assessment: Seminar presentation; comment sheets; and term paper

Topic: G.A. Cohen: Liberty, Justice and Equality

C. Sypnowich

WINTER (3.0)

G.A. Cohen (1941-2009) was a remarkable philosopher who produced writings of rigour and insight on some of the most fundamental ideas of political theory: liberty, justice, and equality.  Moreover, owing to his engagement with both Marxist and liberal traditions, and even a foray into conservatism, his intellectual career was unusually wide-ranging.  An outstanding scholar and an exemplary teacher, Cohen enjoyed an exceptional international reputation for his particular brand of rigorous socialist political philosophy.  Throughout his work, Cohen trenchantly argued that fundamental ideals at the centre of the most influential political theories – liberty for Nozick, egalitarian justice for Rawls – were destined to remain unrealised given those theories’ commitment to private property and the market.  In response, he articulated the constituents of a radical alternative that reinvigorated the socialist ideal.  In all these contributions, Cohen was able to impart to radical politics an uncustomary analytical precision and intellectual acuity.

Moreover, Cohen was unique in the extent to which his personality and personal history shaped his philosophical contribution.  Who could not be intrigued by the story of growing up in a Jewish Communist community in working class Montreal, and then finding dazzling success on the British philosophical scene, as a graduate student, a lecturer and then Reader at University College London, and finally as the holder of a prestigious chair in Oxford?  Moreover, Cohen was a warm and generous person, with an irrepressible sense of fun and mischief, humanity and kindness, evidence of which peppers his otherwise often austere analytical prose.

This course examines Cohen’s corpus, reading key works from throughout his career, some complementary texts, as well as in chapters of a draft manuscript being prepared by the instructor. 

Texts: An array of readings, to be accessed via Stauffer Library’s EReserve system or via pdfs from the instructor.


20% participation grade based on 10 mandatory, weekly, one-page comment sheets

30% 3 short oral presentations based on comment sheets

50% final essay  

Course structure:

This is a seminar, so all are expected to come to class prepared to talk about the course material.  However, if you are in a very different time zone or have access issues and so are unable to attend, special arrangements can be made – just get in touch with the instructor.  Each week at least 3 students will be expected to give a short (5-10 minutes) talk to the class drawing on their comment sheet, but all students should be prepared to participate in the discussion.

Contacting the Instructor: Happy to arrange a phone call, Zoom/Teams meeting – just email:

Special Topic: Public Philosophy

A.J. Wendland

WINTER (3.0)

Public philosophy runs on a spectrum from the popularization of philosophical ideas to the application of those ideas to daily life. This suggests public philosophy presupposes the esoteric work done by philosophers within the academy, but in a way that is consistent with the practice of Socrates, public engagement is simultaneously an inspiration for much academic research. In short, there is a dialectical relation between academic and public philosophy insofar as analyzing the world around us through the lens of our academic work often raises new questions and motivates new academic research.  This course aims to teach senior undergraduate and graduate students how to translate the technical terminology of academic philosophy into publicly accessible prose and show them how suitably clarified philosophical ideas can be used to interpret current affairs and respond to the social and political problems we confront. The course is also designed to prepare students to work alongside editors, producers, journalists, and other media professionals as well as illustrate how the business of popular philosophy operates. Lastly, and with a little luck, this course will stimulate student interest in academic philosophy and equally indicate the way they can use philosophy to enhance the well-being of their local communities.

To achieve these aims, this class will involve a mix of academic and practical work. Six seminars will be dedicated to the analysis and discussion of philosophical texts that have a bearing on current affairs, and six seminars will be used to help students design and produce pieces of popular philosophical writing. The course will be run in conjunction with a regular philosophy column in a local paper or magazine, and each student will have the chance to commission, edit, write, and publish a piece of popular philosophy.

Assessment: Students will be assessed on the basis of their short essays, class participation, and editorial work on the popular philosophy column run out of a local paper or magazine.

Topic: Worlding Possible Worlds: Futurity, VR, and Anishinaabe Ontology

D. Manning

WINTER (3.0)

This course engages graduate students in the philosophy, politics and aesthetics of worldmaking, running in its entirety in virtual world platform (i.e. Second Life). We take an interdisciplinary approach toward constructing/theorizing new and radically different possible worlds with socially transformative politics. Drawing on decolonial thought, Indigenous knowledge, Anishinaabe ontology (cosmology), Sci-fi, XR arts (such as virtual reality), and continental philosophy. Responding to current global crises, as well as a pervading fatigue and sense of disillusionment with liberal narratives of progress and the failed projects of 20th century utopianism, students will work collaboratively to design imaginary alternative worlds and engage in immersive storytelling that is responsive to course readings and contemporary issues in such spheres as settler colonialism, Indigenous resurgence, mnidoo-worlding, other-than-human interrelationality, Indigenous and black futurity, as well as critical race, disability justice, and queer critiques. There will be opportunities for cross-dialogue and co-learning with Cinema and Media Arts graduate students in a related course held at York University, who will be sharing our virtual space. The course involves lectures, seminar discussions, presentations, and research or research creation.

Topic: TBA

U. Schüklenk

WINTER (3.0)

Topic: Issues in contemporary analytical metaphysics, ontology and logic

H. Laycock

WINTER (3.0)

Does metaphysics have a place within its schemes of categories for material stuff or matter -- a place for substances like iron, salt and water? One would certainly expect so; but in fact, the short answer appears to be NO. It seems that there has long been no place in metaphysics for this category, so a place needs to be made for it. The main door into the discipline allows in objects, individuals or things alone.

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.

Topic: Third Wave Artificial Intelligence

C. Stinson

WINTER (3.0)

This course explores an emerging approach to the philosophy of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that combines the detailed case studies and methodological analysis characteristic of philosophy of science, with consideration of the ethical questions facing the scientific community.

The topics of discussion will focus on questions arising from AI’s recent rise to prominence. These include whether an algorithm can be biased, whether deep learning networks perceive objects the same way primate brains do, whether the erosion of privacy that companies like facebook, google, and amazon are spearheading is a fair price to pay for the convenience of high tech tools, whether tracking technologies like facial recognition, covid-19 contact tracing, and wearables are reasonable incursions on liberty, how the culture of silicon valley affects the technologies it produces, who should be responsible for making sure AI is ethical, and whether there should be some questions that researchers are not permitted to explore.


  • Costanza-Chock, Design Justice
  • Douglas, “The Moral Responsibilities of Scientists”
  • Mbembe, “Necropolitics”
  • Stark, “Facial recognition is the plutonium of AI”
  • Wiener, Uncanny Valley
  • Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism
  • plus readings available online, and science fiction film pairings.

Assessment: Details TBA. Will include participation, mixed-media assignments, and a research project.

A. Mercier

Spring (3.0)

Mick Smith

WINTER (3.0)

This course will engage with a number of key environmental issues such as biodiversity and extinction, preservation or conservation, environmental and social justice, eco-feminism, deep ecology, bioregionalism and ecological restoration drawing on various philosophical traditions in ethics, hermeneutics, political philosophy, ontology, and phenomenology. The aim is to provide both an overview of the variety of topics that can be 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.

C. Sypnowich

WINTER (3.0)

This is an exciting new course open that provides an opportunity for a volunteer placement in the community.  Students consider how philosophy can bear upon, and be informed by, the work of a particular community organization, affording a unique learning experience that can also contribute to career development.  The course involves placement hours, occasional class meetings, regular reports and a final research essay that analyses both philosophical literature and the placement experience.

This year the course will be designed for remote delivery, with differently scheduled online meetings and/or recorded sessions to ensure access for all students.  Placements are likely to be remote, though it is possible that some placements will be in person, with students expected to follow necessary health and safety protocols.

More information about the course, community placements, and how to apply can be found at this link.

J. Butler / D. Campbell

WINTER (3.0)


This course is intended for graduate students in philosophy who are interested in learning about a career in clinical ethics and how bioethical principles and issues are applied in a health care setting. Students will learn about the role of clinical ethics within healthcare organizations and learn about the real-life ethical issues and challenges that clinicians, managers, staff and patients deal with on daily basis. Students will have the opportunity to discuss clinical and organizational ethical issues with the Kingston Health Sciences Centre Ethicist, and attend virtual Kingston Health Sciences Centre organizational meetings, ethics consultations, ethics education presentations, regional ethics meetings and presentations, and review KHSC policies and protocols. Students will learn about specific clinical ethics issues including pandemic ethics frameworks, resource allocation issues, consent and capacity, substitute decision-making, autonomy and its limits, medical assistance in dying, end of life issues, moral distress, and trauma informed care. Through course readings, discussion and participating in virtual meetings and presentations, students will have the unique opportunity to see applied ethics in action.


This course focuses on experiential learning and features classroom discussions, virtual hospital and community committee participation, and virtual hospital education sessions and presentations.

1. Classroom Activities

  • Read required literature
  • Complete assigned tasks
  • Participate in class discussion
  • Attend six bi-weekly seminar meetings

2.  Clinical Activities

Students will have the opportunity to participate in virtual ethics consults, meetings and debriefings and then share observations and analysis of these meetings with course instructors. The ethical issues which will be addressed in these consults and meetings include:

  • Clarification of ethical duties and their limits
  • Fair distribution of limited resources
  • Balancing autonomy and safety
  • Clarifying patient values and goals of care
  • Determining reasonable accommodation
  • Responding to moral distress

3. Committee Activities

Attend virtual committee meetings in hospital and in the community. Opportunities include meetings of the:

  • KHSC Ethics Service
  • KHSC Advance Care Planning Steering Committee
  • KHSC MAiD Internal Resource Group
  • KHSC Professional Practice Committee
  • KHSC Patient and Family Advisory Council
  • South East Bioethics Table
  • South Eastern Ontario Regional Ethics Network

4. Presentation/Teaching Activities

Students will have the opportunity to attend virtual KHSC and community ethics education sessions. Opportunities for presentations and teaching include:

  • Ethics Half-Days for KSHC Medical Residents
  • KHSC Learning Rounds
  • KHSC Palliative Care Rounds
  • KHSC Mortality & Morbidity Rounds
  • KHSC Psychiatry Rounds
  • KHSC Addictions Journal Club
  • South Eastern Ontario Regional Ethics Network Presentations


While attendance and participation in class seminars, hospital virtual meetings and educational activities is mandatory, students can choose one of the following assignment options:

  • academic paper
  • case report and KHSC ethics blog article
  • ethics presentation to hospital staff or community partners

NOTE: Participation in the course will be capped at a maximum of three students to ensure that each student has an individualized learning experience. Potential students will also be interviewed by the Ethicist to determine suitability for the course.

As students will be participating in and privy to issues which will involve confidential patient and hospital information, students must sign a KHSC confidentiality waiver and have a criminal reference check from Kingston Police in order to participate in the course.

Contact to obtain permission to enroll in the course.