Our MA in Philosophy is a full-time program normally completed in 12 months. It is not possible to complete the program as a part-time student.
To qualify for the degree, you must successfully complete the following:
Theories of personal autonomy focus on specifying the conditions some action, desire, decision, motivation, or life must meet in order to count as truly an agent’s own. While some feminists have been critical of the value of theorizing about autonomy given its roots in an ideal of a detached, atomistic, contracting self, others recognize its value for analyzing the ways in which various forms of oppression affect the extent to which one is able to govern one’s own life. The broad term, relational autonomy, covers work on theories of personal autonomy that take seriously the ways in which the self is embedded in and constituted by relations of various kinds; these relations include personal, political, social, historical, institutional, epistemological, metaphysical, physical, and legal relations. In this course, we will engage the debates about how best to articulate and defend a theory of relational autonomy.
International human rights present the most demanding commitment to ethical norms against treatment such as torture, genocide, slavery, and rape. In this seminar, we will discuss key challenges surrounding the attempt to construct a global cross-cultural ethic of human rights or well-being. We will focus on a number of key objections. The first set of challenges come from the ethical relativist/skeptic who argues that there can be no such things as a cross-cultural ethic of human rights or well-being since this depends on the existence of universal values and there are no such things. The second set of objections comes from the opposite side. Some Western liberal theorists argue that not only are there indeed universal rights and values, but that there is only one manner in which to implement these: this is through a liberal form of social organization via the language and philosophy of individual rights. Such a society has strong demarcation lines between, for example, church and state, between the public and the private realms, and between law and morality. We will discuss whether communities that do not arrange themselves along such liberal modes of social organization can nevertheless agree to basic ethical norms underlying human rights. We will further explore alternative philosophical foundations for a global ethic from diverse cultural perspectives. These will include Aboriginal as well as South-Asian viewpoints.
This course explores the apparently significant event of personal death, or the death of one's self, primarily from a metaphysical point of view. Much of the philosophical debate revolves around the Epicurean questions of for whom, if anyone, is death bad, given that the subject no longer exists at the time of her death; a related question concerns why we tend to dread our post-mortem non-existence but are indifferent to our pre-natal non-existence. Other topics for exploration include: the desirability of immortality; the rationality of fear and death; how the nature of time shapes and may explain our views about the badness of death; well-being in the face of mortality and the contribution of death to the value of life; and whether our personal survival matters as much to us as the survival of humankind.
Does history have a goal or purpose? Does it progress? Should we understand it as a linearly unfolding process or an ever-recurring circle of forms? Which of these two options makes individual events more meaningful? Or can we simply reject the distinction, in which case we must ask anew what kind of philosophical object this thing called ‘history’ is. Can we identify a proper ‘subject’ of history, that is, a group of agents whose activities and/or form of consciousness drives the historical process forward (e.g., Geist or the proletariat)? Are grand historical narratives now obsolete? If they are, are we doomed to telling merely small-scale stories about the past? Why is this interesting? In this course we will investigate these and many other questions under the broad heading of ‘speculative philosophy of history.’ Our focus will be on the philosophers who developed this field most thoroughly: Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, and Kojève. We will also look to some prominent historians to help illuminate our inquiry.
P.F. Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” marked an intriguing turning point in debates about free will and moral responsibility. Strawson sought to divorce the nature of and ground for responsibility from metaphysical concerns about free will by analyzing the former in terms of our susceptibility to reactive attitudes such as resentment and indignation. Notoriously, Strawson claimed that when responsibility is understood in this way the truth or falsity of determinism is irrelevant to the legitimacy of our practices of praising and blaming agents. In his view, it is simply not possible for us to abandon the reactive attitudes due to theoretical convictions about determinism because these attitudes constitute our uniquely human way of life (what he sometimes calls “the participant attitude”); to give them up would amount to exiting our personal relationships and embracing “the objective attitude.” Our central goal in this course is to explore the nature of the reactive attitudes and how they contribute to our personal engagement with one another so that we can better evaluate Strawson’s broader compatibilist strategy. Our discussion will involve several strands of Strawson scholarship and focus on the following questions: What are the reactive attitudes? How do the reactive attitudes constitute or reinforce the participant attitude? Is Strawson correct that we cannot embrace the objective attitude universally? What roles do love, caring, and vulnerability play in the reactive attitudes?
What constitutes human agency? What is the role of practical reason in human agency? What role do the emotions play in human agency? What role does agency play in broader considerations of personal identity? We will consider these questions as well as explore the notion of human freedom and the debate between (roughly) Humean and Kantian perspectives on the relation between (moral) motivation and desire. We will examine these questions through the work of Harry Frankfurt, Christine Korsgaard, Susan Wolf, R. Jay Wallace, David Velleman, Gary Watson, and others.
In the MA Research Seminar, students share their work in progress while developing their major research papers. Discussion of student projects and research questions in the early stages enables more rapid development of research skills, as students learn from the critique of their own and their peers’ work. The research seminar affords students the opportunity to get started in earnest on their MRP in the winter term so that substantial progress is made before spring. The distinctive theme of our program means there are common threads, concepts and problems amongst student projects even in disparate subfields. Students gain valuable insight and ideas from hearing other student work, and acquire valuable skills in learning to constructively interrogate and critique each others’ work. Students are able to get started on what might otherwise be an intimidating project, in a collaborative setting.
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