New Courses for 2018-2019

PHLC14H3: Topics in Non-Western Philosophy

Instructor: Wilson, Jessica
Contemporary Philosophy, as taught in North America, tends to focus on texts and problematics associated with certain modes of philosophical investigation originating in Greece and developed in Europe and North America. There are rich alternative modes of metaphysical investigation, however, associated with Arabic, Indian, East Asian, and African philosophers and philosophizing. In this course, we will explore one or more topics drawn from metaphysics, epistemology, or value theory, from the points of view of these alternative philosophical traditions.  
This year, we will focus on metaphysical questions such as: what it is for one thing to cause another thing (a question interestingly treated by Arabic philosophers Al-Ghazali and Ibn-Rushd); what it is to be a person (a topic interestingly treated by African Akan philosophers Gyekye and Wiredu); and what it is for an entity to be fundamental – to be part of a fundamental base for all else at a world (we will examine the Huayan Buddhist conception of reality, as presented by Chinese philosopher Li Fang, and work by Indian philosophers in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition).


PHLC07H3: Death and Dying

Instructor: Brandt, Joshua
This course examines some of the unique philosophical contributions to our understanding of death and dying. We begin with foundational questions concerning the definition of death: “what is it to die?” and relatedly “is it possible to survive death?”. This metaphysical discussion sets the stage for the remainder of course, which will focus on the moral significance of death. Given how we conceptualize death, can death be bad or harmful (if so, is it always bad and to what extent?)? We conclude with applied questions pertaining to death. Is it ever permissible to hasten the death of others, and how should we respond to individuals who wish to die or attempt to hasten their own death? Special attention will be given to how these questions arise in the context of medical decision-making.


PHLC10H3: Topics in Bioethics

Instructor: Brandt, Joshua
This year the course will focus on Reproduction and Research Ethics.  While certain questions of reproductive ethics are longstanding and familiar (e.g. the ethics of abortion), technological advances have introduced a slate of new issues. To what extent are we permitted or required to employ reproductive technology to select for beneficial genetic traits in our offspring (or to select against harmful traits)? Should we assist others in reproduction? To what extent does assisted reproduction challenge our notions of parenthood (e.g. should sperm donors or surrogates be considered parents?). The second major theme of the course will pertain to questions in research ethics. Our focus here will be on a narrower (but no simpler) set of issues: when and why is running a clinical trial ethically permissible?


PHLC31H3: Topics in Ancient Philosophy: Plato

Instructor: Pfeiffer, Christian
In this course we will try to understand and evaluate key aspects of Plato’s ontology, his theory of what there is. What grounds, if any, are there for thinking that there are independently existing universals? What were Plato's grounds for thinking so in his theory of Forms? What ontological commitments does this theory involve? We will try to answer these, and related questions, by focusing on the development of Plato’s Theory of Forms throughout several dialogues.
We will begin by considering how the Socratic “What is X?” question in the early dialogues leads to the view that the object of definition must be universal and how the subsequent development of this view in dialogues such as the Phaedo and the Republic leads to Plato’s mature Theory of Forms. In the second part of the course, we will consider, based on the criticism of the Theory of Forms in Plato’s Parmenides and by Aristotle, to what extent the Theory of Forms is transformed in later dialogues to account for several philosophical problems, such as the problem of not-being and the related problem of falsity.


PHLC32H3: Topics in Ancient Philosophy: Aristotle

Instructor: Pfeiffer, Christian
This course will focus on key aspects of Aristotle’s practical philosophy. The central question of Aristotle’s ethics is what kind of life we should lead in order to be happy (as opposed to the question of what is the morally right thing to do). We will begin by considering Aristotle’s views on human happiness and how it relates his account of the virtues. According to Aristotle, happiness consists in our ability to lead a distinctively human life whose content is determined by our nature. As humans, we have a ‘function’, and fulfilling this function requires becoming virtuous. We will discuss how that general framework is spelled out in Aristotle’s account of the character virtues and intellectual virtues. Since a character is a disposition to act in certain way, we will also address Aristotle’s account of human agency, with a focus on the following questions: How can we explain motivational conflicts and weakness of will? Are we free or determined in our actions? In what way does ‘doing the right thing’ depend on practical knowledge? The seminar will be based mainly on Aristotle’s two main ethical works, the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics, but we will also read and discuss excerpts from other works.


Some Highlights of our Updated Courses for 2018-19

PHLC99H3: Philosophical Development Seminar

Instructor: Kremer, Philip
This year the course will focus on Realism vs Antirealism.  There’s a cliché that some of a thing’s properties, such as its beauty, are in the eye of the beholder. This suggests that other properties are in the thing itself, independently of what we think. This class will explore Realism and Antirealism across various fields, for example Ethics — is there an objective right or wrong? Mathematics — do numbers exist independently of us? Science — does scientific reasoning tend towards the truth? More generally, is there any notion of truth or reality independent of our understanding of reality?
This course is strongly recommended for students in the Specialist and Major programs in Philosophy: it is an intensive seminar that will develop advanced philosophical skills by focusing on textual analysis, argumentative techniques, writing and oral presentation. The course aims to foster a cohesive cohort among philosophy specialists and majors.



PHLC05H3: Ethical Theory

Instructor: Stump, Jacob
This year the course will focus on the issues of cultural appropriation, white blindness, and epistemic injustice.
Consider these actions. Kylie Jenner wears cornrows in a photo on Instagram. Pharrell wears a Native American headdress on the cover of Elle. An atheist wears a cross necklace. These are instances of what has come to be known as cultural appropriation—roughly, the act of taking something from a culture to which one does not belong. At first pass, none of these actions appear harmful; they certainly do not physically harm anyone. Moreover, each can be seen as a form of self-expression, and thus, we might think, they are to be celebrated. However, many people consider such actions to be morally wrong. Is there any truth to that?  If so, it cannot be simply because such actions are instances of cultural appropriation, for, it would seem, not all instances of cultural appropriation are morally wrong (suppose that a Norwegian person opens an espresso shop; nothing seems morally suspect there). Why else, then, might they be morally wrong? Is it the intention behind them? the effects they cause? the rights they transgress, if any?
These questions are the starting points for this course. As we will see, answering them is no easy matter. To do so adequately, in fact, will require us to grapple with some of the most topical issues in our current political climate: oppression, privilege, epistemic injustice, and white ignorance. This is difficult territory, in part because the philosophy here is difficult, but equally so because these issues are highly personal. They affect all of us, though they affect all of us differently and to different degrees, depending on our gender identities and racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It is a presupposition of this course that coming to understand such issues is a central task of the ethical agent in our contemporary world.


PHLD05H3: Advanced Seminar in Ethics

Instructor: Stump, Jacob
This year, the course will focus on philosophy as a way of life.
What is philosophy? To many, it’s a genre of study or book. At certain points throughout the history of philosophy, however, and especially for the ancient Greeks, philosophy was considered to be a way of life—indeed, the best way of life. It is confusing, however, what this means. What counts as living the philosophical life? It cannot be merely thinking throughout one’s life, for many people do that without living in any sort of recognizably philosophical way. It cannot even be thinking about philosophy throughout one’s life, for philosophy professors do that, but some would be uncomfortable with the notion of philosophy as a distinct lifestyle. In this course, we will ask what constitutes the philosophical life, and whether such a life is still viable and attractive today. Our readings will cover thinkers from some or all of the following traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, Skepticism, Existentialism, and Kantianism. Class largely will be discussion-based, and it will be conducted in a seminar style, i.e., we will be working together to try to solve problems. Students may be asked to give detailed presentations that will count as a significant part of their final grades.


Philosophy of Mind

PHLC86H3: Issues in the Philosophy of Mind

Instructor: Fortney, Mark
This year the course will focus on Varieties of Consciousness.
While we’re all familiar with what our own states of consciousness are like, what other kinds of consciousness might there be, and what would it be like to occupy those states of consciousness? That is the overarching question that will guide our discussions in this course, which is about the the varieties and limits of consciousness. We’ll begin by discussing specific kinds of human consciousness, like the kinds of consciousness that seem to be enabled by meditative practice, or the consciousness that we experience during dreams. After that, we’ll discuss some questions about non-human consciousness. For instance, is there such a thing as plant consciousness or bumblebee consciousness? If there is, what does it feel like? Are humans unique in being able to think about their own states of consciousness, or are other animals similarly reflective? Some of our readings will draw on psychology, but the course won’t presume any previous knowledge.


PHLD87H3: Advanced Seminar in Philosophy of Mind

Instructor: Fortney, Mark
This year the course will focus on attention.
In Principles of Psychology, William James wrote, “Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind - without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos.” If James is right, understanding attention is a deeply important part of understanding consciousness, as well as understanding the mind more generally. In this course, we will study attention through looking closely at two recent books on the topic – Structuring Mind, by Sebastian Watzl, and Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind, by Barbara Montero.


Political Philosophy

PHLD78H3: Advanced Seminar in Political Philosophy

Instructor: Hussain, Waheed


Rousseau’s Vision of Freedom and Democracy


Winter 2019

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” In the famous opening lines of The Social Contract, Rousseau says that people want to be free, but in most societies, they find themselves oppressed by the rich and powerful. Over the course of several works—most notably the Second DiscourseThe Social Contract, and Émile—he develops a powerful account of why we live in oppressive societies and how we can do better. His vision of a democratic republic is a blueprint for reform. At the heart of the republic is a civic relationship in which citizens are each fully committed to maintaining a common scheme of civil freedoms for one another. Living together this way requires that citizens develop a more social form of individuality to replace their radical individuality as natural persons. To create this new democratic individuality, the republic incorporates a wide range of social institutions and practices that build civic interconnectedness into the basic circuitry of individuals. Among these institutions and practices are: public festivals, educational practices, marriage and dating rituals, sporting events, artistic performances, public religion, public prizes, and new patterns of economic production. Is Rousseau’s vision successful? Is it attractive? Is it a totalitarian monstrosity? We will explore these and other questions over the course of the semester, paying special attention to Rousseau’s views about the economy and about gender relations.