Departmental Seminars 2016-17

MST3346F Islamic Philosophy
Black, Deborah
Wednesday, 10-12 in LI 310
Breadth Requirement:  History – Medieval

An introduction to the major figures and themes in classical Islamic philosophy from the 9th to the 12th centuries, with a focus on the works of Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. We will consider a range of philosophical problems, principally in the areas of metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and epistemology. Among the issues to be considered are the relations between religion and philosophy, proofs for the existence of God, creation and causality, and the nature of soul and intellect.


PHL2007F Aristotle – Aristotle’s Metaphysics
Gerson, Lloyd
Monday, 9-12 in JHB 418
Breadth Requirement:  History – Ancient 

Aristotle’s definition of a human being as an individual substance of a rational nature or as a rational animal has been more or less the default position for most of the history of philosophy. It is this definition that is Aristotle’s starting point for his accounts of cognition, agency, ethics, and politics. Beginning roughly in the 18th century, this definition has been in various ways under attack. Three obvious lines of attack come from David Hume, Charles Darwin, and most recently, computational science. In a way these three lines of attack are today being channeled into arguments against the uniqueness of human beings, for example, in the idea of animal rights and in the idea of artificial intelligence. These arguments lead us to core issues in epistemology, ethics, and politics. They even lead us to question the very possibility of philosophy as a source of knowledge independent of the natural sciences. This course will focus on the central arguments in the Aristotelian corpus regarding the nature of rationality and the universal properties that supposedly belong to all and only members of the human species. The main texts are taken from De Anima, Nicomachean Ethics, and Politics with some supplementary material from elsewhere in the corpus.  We will have continual recourse to contemporary literature that explicitly and implicitly challenges the Aristotelian account.


MST 3309S Birth of the Will – Anselm and Augustine on the Will
Peter King
Monday, 2-4 in LI 310
Breadth Requirement:  History- Medieval

Close reading of texts from Augustine (Confessions, Free Choice of the Will, Grace and Free Choice, City of God) and from Anselm of Canterbury (Fall of the Devil, The Harmony of Free Choice and Foreknowledge) in which the idea of a separate quasi-autonomous psychological faculty of choice and decision, the “will,” is sketched out.  Particular attention will be paid to how this faculty is supposed to ground and explain ordinary psychological phenomena, such as weakness of will, commitment, decision, and the like.


PHL2005S Plato
Barney, Rachel
Thursday, 12-3 in JHB 401
Breadth Requirement:  History – Ancient

A slow reading of one or two Platonic dialogues, probably including either the Theaetetus or the Symposium.


PHL2011S Hellenistic Philosophy – Hellenistic Ethical Theory         (note: moved from F term)
Allen, James
Monday, 9-12 in JHB 418
Breadth Requirement:  History – Ancient

The new schools founded by Epicurus (the Garden) and Zeno of Citium (the Stoa) dominated the philosophy of the Hellenistic era, which begins according to historiographical convention with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE (followed one year later by that of his teacher, Aristotle). Like Socrates and arguably to a greater extent than Plato and Aristotle, their immediate predecessors, the Stoics and Epicureans put ethics at the centre of philosophy. Using Cicero’s De finibus bonorum et malorum (On the ends of goods and evils) as our main text (and drawing on the largely fragmentary remains of other authors), the seminar will concentrate on the ethical theories of these two schools. Both were subjected to acute criticisms by the Academy, Plato’s school, which we shall also study. If time permits, we may also devote some attention to a so-called minor school, the Cyrenaics, who were antiquity’s radical hedonists and the only ancient philosophers to reject the idea that the highest good or end of life is identical with happiness.

PHL2057F Seminar in 17th and 18th C. Philosophy – Leibniz 
Rozemond, Marleen
Day/Time:  TBA
Breadth Requirement:  History – 17th-18th Century

This course will offer an in-depth examination of the philosophy of Leibniz.     We will examine central features of his metaphysics such as his critique of Cartesian matter, his conception of substance and causation, the nature of force, his views about modality and free will.  His views are best understood when considering his historical background, and so we will look at his relationship to figures like Descartes, Locke, Spinoza, Cudworth.