Department of Philosophy



site header

Graduate Courses     

Offered 2019-20

Philosophy Graduate Timetable for 2019-20   (subject to change)         


PHIL 802– Current Issues in Moral Philosophy I

R. Kumar


An examination of the merits and weaknesses of Scanlon’s Contractualist moral theory.

T.M. Scanlon, What We Owe To Each Other (Harvard:1998)
T.M. Scanlon, Moral Dimensions (Harvard:2008)
Further readings will be posted on OnQ
Assessment: Weekly discussion questions and a final paper


PHIL 803 – Current Issues in Moral Philosophy II

Special Topic:  Duties, Constraints, Prerogatives, and Permissions

K. Gordon-Solmon


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 impersonally 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.   

Readings: TBA

Assessment: participation; presentation; final essay


PHIL 805 – Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy I

Special Topic: Distributive Justice, Human Rights, and Equality of Opportunity

A. Macleod 

WINTER (3.0)

In addition to discussing various approaches (utilitarian, consequentialist, contractarian, libertarian, and egalitarian) to the articulation and defense of principles of distributive justice, this seminar will explore both (a) the role played by considerations of justice in the justification of human rights and (b) the question whether there is a version of the equal opportunity ideal that can accommodate the defensible elements in otherwise rival accounts of justice.

Texts/Readings: A selection of articles and book excerpts on the topics to be discussed.

Assessment: In addition to regular participation in the seminars, the only course requirement is the submission of a term-paper on a seminar-related topic.  It is expected that the paper, while brief (c. 3000-4000 words), will provide an argued response to a carefully formulated question (or set of questions).  That is, the paper will be of the sort normally scheduled in colloquium sessions at philosophical conferences sponsored by such organizations as The Canadian Philosophical Association or the various divisions of The American Philosophical Association.


PHIL 405/806 – Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy II

Special Topic: Martin Luther King Jr. Now

M. Krishnamurthy

WINTER (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: At least one class presentation; 2 short papers or 1 longer paper


PHIL 405/ 807 – Current Issues in Social and Political Philosophy III

Special Topic: Animals and the Frontiers of Citizenship

W. Kymlicka

FALL (3.0)

It is widely argued that political citizenship should track social membership: all individuals who are members of a society, and who are subject to society’s rules, should be accorded citizenship, and with it the right to participate in shaping those rules. If we accept this membership model of citizenship, it would seem that (some) animals might be entitled to citizenship. After all, domesticated animals in particular meet many criteria of social membership: they engage in interspecies communication, cooperation, contribution, trust, and norm-compliance; they are subject to society’s rules, and their interests are affected by collective decision-making. So why are they not entitled to citizenship? One response is to argue that social membership is not sufficient to qualify as a citizen: one must also have certain sophisticated capacities for cognitive reasoning, linguistic communication and moral self-regulation. For example, one must be able to engage in Rawlsian public reason or Habermasian deliberation, and to regulate one’s behaviour on the basis of such deliberation. This is sometimes called the “capacity contract” view of citizenship, and it has historically been invoked to disenfranchise not only animals, but also a wide range of other members of society who are seen as lacking the capacity for reasoned deliberation (including children and people with cognitive disabilities). This contrast between the membership model and the capacity contract raises deep questions about the very nature and purpose of citizenship, and indeed of politics more generally. Both views have deep roots in the Western tradition of political philosophy, and both face unresolved challenges. If we embrace the membership model, how would we enable animals, children, or people with cognitive disability to enact their citizenship, and to co-author society’s rules? If we embrace the capacity contract, what is the legal and political status of those members of society who do not qualify for citizenship, and how do we ensure that they are governed in ways that are legitimate? The course will explore what we gain, and what we might potentially lose, in opening up citizenship theory to radically diverse forms of belonging and participation.

Texts/Readings: All readings will be electronically accessible

Assessment: Seminar presentation; comment sheets; and term paper


PHIL 809 – Colloquium in Political, Legal & Moral Philosophy

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 Miller 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.

See details at

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


PHIL 410/810 – Topics in the History of Philosophy

Special Topic: 19th and 20th century Indian Philosophy

R. Murty

FALL (3.0)

We will survey the contributions of about a dozen contemporary Indian philosophers such as Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Gandhi, Tagore, Krishnamurti and Radhakrishnan, to name a few.  If time permits, we will also discuss Ramana Maharshi and Ananda Coomaraswamy. Their relevance to the modern problems of philosophy will be explored and discussed in some detail.  The themes range from epistemology, humanism, aesthetics and political philosophy.


Indian Philosophy in English, edited by N. Bhushan and J.L. Garfield, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Indian Philosophy, An introduction, by M. Ram Murty, Broadview Press, 2012.

Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Writings, edited by Judith Brown, Oxford World's Classics, May 2008.

Assessment: Grading will be based on two essays and class participation.


PHIL 821/CUST 807 – Ethical Issues II

Special Topic: Settler Colonialism and Incarceration

L. Guenther

WINTER (3.0)

There is a growing conversation among scholars and activists about the relation between settler colonialism and transatlantic slavery, and about the possibilities for building solidarity through movements for decolonization, Indigenous resurgence, abolition, and Black liberation. In this seminar, we will study some of the major contributions to this conversation, focusing in particular on the role that carceral practices such as punishment, confinement, and captivity have played in naturalizing and extending the logics of settler colonialism and slavery.

Texts/Readings: Articles posted on onQ

Assessment: 20-minute presentation; 20 page final paper.


PHIL 441/841 – 20th Century Philosophy I

Special Topic: Phenomenology

L. Guenther

FALL (3.0)

Phenomenology is a philosophical practice of reflecting on the transcendental structures that make lived experience possible and meaningful.  It begins by bracketing the natural attitude, or the naïve assumption that the world exists apart from consciousness, and “reducing” this everyday experience of the world to the basic structures that constitute its meaning and coherence.  In this sense, phenomenology points us in a critical direction.  But where classical phenomenology remains insufficiently critical is in failing to give an equally rigorous account of how contingent historical and social structures also shape our experience, not just empirically or in a piecemeal fashion, but in a way that is so fundamental, we could call it quasi-transcendental.  Structures such as patriarchy, white supremacy, and heteronormativity permeate, organize, and reproduce the natural attitude in ways that go beyond any particular object of thought.  They are not things to be seen, but rather ways of seeing, and even ways of making the world that go unnoticed without a sustained practice of critical reflection to make them visible.  In this seminar, we will learn the basic concepts of classical phenomenology and explore the possibilities for critical phenomenology in the work of Frantz Fanon, Sara Ahmed, Gayle Salamon, Alia Al-Saji, and others.


Dan Zahavi.  Husserl’s Phenomenology.  Stanford, CA.: Stanford UP, 2003.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. by Donald Landes.
Foreword by Taylor Carmen. Routledge, 2012.
And articles on onQ.

Assessment: 20-minute presentation an 20 page paper.


PHIL 445/845 – Major Figures I

Special Topic: Ancient Stoicism

J. Miller

FALL (3.0)

This course will cover all parts of ancient Stoicism:  metaphysics, epistemology and ethics.  Our focus will be on the system as originally devised by Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus.  We will take note of contextual and historical factors, such as the state of the texts transmitted to us as well as the other philosophical rivals of the day, especially Epicureanism and Skepticism.  However, our main interest shall be understanding the main Stoic theses regarding the nature of the world and our place in it, as well as the arguments for those claims.

Texts/readings: The readings shall be drawn from volume one of Long and Sedley's *The Hellenistic Philosophers*.  The specific texts to be assigned will be noted on the course syllabus, which will be distributed on the first day of class.

Assessment: This is to be determined, though it will likely consist of one short paper, one long paper, and participation.


PHIL 445/846 – Major Figures II

Special Topic: Descartes

E. Paul

WINTER (3.0)

This course will examine René Descartes’s views on a wide range of topics in metaphysics and epistemology, including clear and distinct perception, self-knowledge, knowledge in general, skepticism and role that doubt plays in philosophical inquiry, freedom, intellectual virtue, the relationship between mind and body, and the proper framework for natural science. Placing Descartes in his historical context, we will consider the Aristotelian philosophy that he ventures to overturn, as well other figures who influenced him, including the ancient Skeptics and Stoics, Augustine, and Teresa of Àvila.

In addition to Descartes’s most celebrated work, the Meditations on First Philosophy, we will read selections from the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, the Discourse on the Method, the Principles of Philosophy, the Search for Truth, and Descartes’s correspondence.

Texts/Readings: TBD

Assessment: TBD


PHIL 847 – Major Figures III

Special Topic: Kant - The Critique of Pure Reason

D.L.C. Maclachlan

FALL (3.0)

The purpose of this course is a detailed examination of some central themes in the Critique of Pure Reason.  The focus of the course is entirely on the contribution Kant makes to the solution of contemporary philosophical problems with little attention to questions of textual interpretation.  No knowledge of German is required.  The structure of the course will be to follow  a Commentary on the Critique of pure Reason that I have been preparing.  Copies of this commentary will be made available on line to all students who take the course.  The commentary will be divided into segments to be fitted into the time available for the completion of the course.  For each segment a student will be selected to lead the discussion, preparing for this task by reading other commentaries on the topic, which will often present views at variance with the one I present.

Assessment: The assessment for the course will be based on a substantial term paper due at the end of the course.


PHIL 850 – Epistemology I

Special Topic: Moral Epistemology

D. Bakhurst

FALL (3.0)

This class explores issues in the epistemology of value.  We shall focus on the philosophical writings of Iris Murdoch, and works by her contemporaries Elizabeth Anscombe and Phillipa Foot. We will also read a number of influential philosophers who were inspired by Murdoch, such as David Wiggins and John McDowell.  Topics will include moral truth and the justification of moral belief; realism versus anti-realism (scepticism, relativism) about value and reasons; moral vision and theories of moral perception; ethical particularism and the nature of moral principles.

The course will conclude with a one-day conference.

Readings will include Murdoch’s Sovereignty of Good, Anscombe’s “Modern Moral Philosophy”, Foot’s Natural Goodness, Wiggins’s “Truth, Invention and the Meaning of Life” and McDowell’s “Virtue and Reason”.

Assessment: Weekly question sheets (20%), mid-term book review (30%), conference presentation/final paper (50%).


PHIL 852 – Current Issues in Metaphysics I

Special Topic: Metaphysical Philosophy in Historical Perspective

H. Laycock

WINTER (3.0)

Topics for discussion: Touch upon diverse issues such as the constitution of Reality, Matter & Atomism, Appearance and Reality, Science and Metaphysics, Causality, Change & Process, Language, Logic, Human interests & Reality, Philosophy, Cognitive Science and Linguistics.
There are certain themes that run throughout the diverse modes of philosophy, past and present. The opposition of empiricism and rationalism, for example, is evident not only in early Modern philosophy but also, albeit less self-consciously, in ancient Greece – and likewise, that of realism and anti-realism over universals. Again in metaphysics and ontology, there is a persistent opposition between persisting and discrete ‘substance’ (or ‘identity’) based philosophies and those emphasising transformation, impermanence, and flux. However, empiricism, anti-realism, and discrete-substance doctrines have tended to prevail – a tendency that calls for questioning.

Brief selected readings from such authors as Heraclitus & Anaximander, Plato & Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Hume & Newton, Engels, Wittgenstein, Urmson & Russell, Quine, Strawson & Husserl, Bloomfield & Jespersen, and the instructor.

Assessment: seminar contributions 30% and term paper 70%

PHIL 459/859 – Philosophical Language

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.


PHIL 463/863 – Current Issues in Metaphysics

Special Topic: Structure and the observer

J. Mozersky

WINTER (3.0)

Many thinkers have responded to the threat of scepticism by insisting that empirical reality has no nature independent of our cognitive capacities and activities.  Hence, though we are trapped behind the veil of cognition, reality itself is determined, at least in part, by our capacities, in which case objective – i.e. intersubjective – knowledge is possible.  The sentiment is perhaps most famously presented by Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason: if the subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, be removed, … all the relations of objects in space and time, nay space and time themselves would vanish.  As appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. (“Transcendental Aesthetic” II, sec. 8).

This course is an examination of such a position.  We will consider whether there are persuasive arguments to the effect that the world itself is mind-dependent.  If not, does it follow that reality is ultimately unknowable, mysterious, transcendent, or might it be possible to learn something about an objective, i.e. mind-independent, reality?

This is a wide-ranging course that will address a long-standing metaphysical question in light of recent and contemporary ideas and tools from the sciences, mathematics, and various branches of philosophy.  While no prior knowledge of math and physics is presupposed, a willingness to learn, reflect upon, and engage in abstract, sometimes formal, theories is essential.

Texts/Readings: TBD

Assessment: TBD


PHIL 493/893 – Ethics and the Environment

Special Topic: Environmental Philosophy

Mick 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.


PHIL 989 – Clinical Practicum in Biomedical Ethics

D. Campbell

WINTER (3.0)


The Clinical Practicum in Biomedical Ethics is intended for senior PhD 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 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 shadow the Kingston Health Sciences Centre Ethicist and join him and on hospital rounds, ethics consults, debriefs, organizational meetings, and educational activities. Students will learn about specific ethical issues including consent and capacity, substitute decision-making, medical assistance in dying, end of life issues, moral distress, and trauma informed care. Through course readings, discussion and hospital based observation and experience, students will have the unique opportunity to see applied ethics in action.


This course focuses on experiential learning and features both classroom discussions and hospital based clinical observations, committee attendance and hospital education sessions and presentations.

1. Classroom Activities

Read required literature

Complete assigned tasks

Attend six bi-weekly seminar meetings

2.  Clinical Activities

Attendance at hospital rounds. Students are expected to attend rounds in the following areas:

Internal Medicine

Intensive Care



Neonatal Intensive Care

Palliative Care

Alternative Level of Care

Observation and de-briefing about clinical case consultations and debriefs with hospital ethicist.

3. Committee Activities

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

KHSC and Providence Care Ethics Program Leaders

KHSC Advance Care Steering Committee

KHSC MAiD Internal Resource Group

KHSC Nursing Practice Council

KHSC Patient and Family Advisory Council

Consent and Capacity Board

South Eastern Ontario Regional Ethics Network

4. Individualized Meetings

Attend meetings with individual KHSC senior leaders, managers, department heads, clinicians, charge nurses, and allied health professionals to learn about the ethical challenges which are unique to their specific role and duties.

5. Presentation/Teaching Activities

Attend KHSC and community ethics education sessions. These educational sessions will be determined at the beginning of the course and added throughout the course.


While attendance and participation in hospital rounds, meetings and educational activities is mandatory, students have the following assignment options:

reflection log

case report or academic paper

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. Also, as all the hospital rounds and most of the organizational and educational events are held during the mornings, it is essential that each student is available at a minimum of one morning a week to attend these activities. Contact to obtain permission to enroll in the course.


PHIL 995 – Philosophy in the Community

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. 

Community placements to date include:

Sandy Pines Animal Sanctuary (1) Rehabilitation for injured and ill animals

Possible research questions: comparative cognition; animal ethic; nature and the environment;) Note this placement requires a car

Providence Care Hospital (6-7) Short- and long-term rehabilitation for patients with physical/mental health issues

Possible research questions: mental health; organizational ethics; the ethics of care for the elderly; the nature of personal identity; life, death and meaning

St. Lawrence Place Retirement Home (2) A residence for elderly persons

Possible research questions: the ethics of care; personal identity; life, death and meaning; organizational ethics; healthcare administration; philosophy of disability

Big Words Little People Speech Therapy (1) A children-focussed private speech language pathologist practice

Possible research questions: language acquisition; human development; mind and culture; personal identity

Kingston Immigration Partnership (2) Counselling service for immigrant and refugee newcomers to Kingston

Possible research questions: racism and multiculturalism; equity, diversity and inclusion; immigration, migration and citizenship; borders and refugees; communitarianism

Elizabeth Fry Society (1) Services for women at risk with the criminal justice system

Possible research questions: ethics of incarceration; feminism; sexual violence; theories of punishment

H’art Centre for adults with intellectual disabilities (1) Arts therapy centre for people with intellectual disabilities

Possible research questions: language and communication; ethics of care; personal identity; philosophy of disability

Kingston City Council (TBD) Kingston’s municipal government

Possible research questions: distributive justice and poverty; heritage and urban planning; sustainability; organizational ethics

King’s Town School (1) Small downtown private elementary school

Possible research questions: Philosophy of education; cognitive development; childhood and children; schooling and distributive justice; disability and accommodation

Reelout Queer Film Festival (1+) LGBTQ+ Kingston film and video festival

Possible research questions: Philosophy of art; Politics of difference; role of visual representation for justice, activism, community-building; intersectionality and community; diversity and inclusion

Application process:
Students will apply to be admitted to the ‘Philosophy in the Community’ course, and be interviewed, in the fall of 2019.  Information meetings and interviews will take place in the fall term, and the decision about admission will be made by October.  Selection will be based on marks, the quality of the application, and the interview.  Successful students will be allocated to one of several placements in the community, depending on their interests, abilities, their philosophical project and availability.  The placement will take place in the winter of 2020.  Students are advised to nonetheless enroll in a full complement of regular courses so that they will have a fallback plan in case they are unsuccessful in getting a place. Application form.

Course details:
Students will be coached in the autumn term by the course coordinator to define their philosophical project and to prepare for this opportunity.  The coordinator will be in regular contact with students to ensure things are going smoothly.  Students will bring their philosophical skills of critical analysis and reflection, discussion and writing, to participate in the activities of a local organization.  Students might help out with the organization’s tasks, or simply observe or shadow the professional(s) involved.  This would be a volunteer placement; students would not be paid.

Class format and assessment
Students would be expected to spend about 27 hours at the placement.  There will also be a few class times, one at the beginning of the winter term, to orient students for the placement, and two at the end of the term, for students to share their experiences, for a total of 36 hours of class/volunteer time.

Biweekly reports (best 4 out of 5): worth 40%

Presentation – overview of research and plans for research paper: worth 10%

Final paper (6,000 words) that considers the chosen philosophical topic in light of the community experience: worth 40%

Students will earn a credit for Phil 995/3.0 Philosophy in the Community, which will count towards their required complement of graduate courses.

Please contact Christine Sypnowich ( if you have any questions.