First year courses

Girl looking through magnifying glass
First year students: Welcome to the University of Waterloo!

This is a quick guide to first-year Philosophy courses for first year students and upper year students looking for an elective.

If you are looking for a general introduction to a variety of topics in philosophy...

PHIL 101 - Challenging Ideas: An Introduction to Philosophy

Many of us have beliefs or attitudes that we take for granted, and don’t regularly call into question. For example, many of us have strong beliefs about what we required to do to help the poor, that only science can tell us what exists or not, or that our senses affords us knowledge of the world around us.

Philosophy has a long history of challenging us and our beliefs, and insisting on not taking anything for granted. In this class, we will take a look at just some of the ways that philosophers have challenged us to be more thoughtful, careful, and reflective, which in turn provides us with the ability to better articulate why we hold on to our beliefs, and to warrant confidence in them.

Instructor: TBD

If you are interested in the questions: Do human beings really have free will? What makes knowledge different from mere beliefs or opinions?...

PHIL 110A - Introduction to Philosophy: Knowledge and Reality

This course will introduce students to the discipline of philosophy by examining a variety of central issues in metaphysics (theory of reality) and epistemology (theory of knowledge). Topics in metaphysics will include the question of God's existence, the issue of free-will and determinism, relation between the mind and the body, and issues in individuation and identity (including personal identity).

Topics in epistemology will include the debate between rationalism and empiricism, the problem of skepticism, our knowledge of the external world, the problem of induction and the nature of scientific reasoning. Students will be encouraged to react critically to the reading material and lecture content and to formulate their own arguments for supporting or opposing the views of the particular philosophers in focus.

Instructor: TBD

If you are interested in questions of right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice...

PHIL 110B - Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics and Values

This course will introduce students to the discipline of philosophy through the discussion of philosophical approaches to ethics—also known as "moral philosophy." Moral philosophy deals with questions of right and wrong, good and bad, just and unjust—in other words, questions about the values that should guide us in living and acting well. We will deal with these questions from a variety of different theoretical and practical perspectives.

The course begins with a brief discussion of the nature of ethical value, and an overview of the main disciplinary subdivisions within philosophical ethics—meta-ethics, normative theories, and applied ethics. Early on, we will also discuss the centrality of argumentation as a method in philosophy, and students will be introduced to techniques of argument analysis and argument evaluation. We will then consider some very general questions in meta-ethics—including questions about the meaning of moral judgements, the objective correctness/incorrectness of moral judgments, the relationship between ethical value and cultural value, and the nature of moral reasons. We will also touch on the metaphysical issue of free will in order to gauge its relevance to questions of moral responsibility.

Next, we will focus on some general philosophical theories of ethics (also known as "normative theories"). These will include utilitarianism, deontological theories, and virtue ethics. In most cases, we will take the time to explore how central concepts developed within such theories can be applied in responding to concrete ethical issues arising in real-world contexts. (For example, we will explore how utilitarian reasoning has been appealed to in addressing the issue of poverty.)

Toward the end of the course, we will focus on the issue of how ethical principles relate to the broader socio-political contexts in which they operate. This is fascinating but very broad topic, and we will only have time to focus on two areas by way of example. We will consider, first, some representative contributions in the social contract tradition, and second, some recent contributions in the area of feminist ethics.

Instructor: TBD

If you are interested in the values that should guide us in living and acting well.

PHIL 121: Moral Issues

This course explores several pressing moral issues, and considers some of the ways that the tools of Philosophy can help us to better understand and address those issues. Topics will include: global poverty and inequality, climate change, structural racism and implicit bias, the use of non-human animals, and at least one topic to be chosen collaboratively by the students in the class.

The aim of the course is not to defend any particular conclusion on these moral issues. Rather, the aim is to help students to think more clearly about some of the most pressing moral issues of our times, and to learn to develop and defend their own moral views.

Instructor: Brian Orend

If you would like to improve your reasoning and critical thinking skills...

PHIL 145 - Critical Thinking

All of us are (mostly) entitled to our own opinions. But not all opinions are equal. Just because we believe something, that doesn’t make it so. Opinions that are based on empirical evidence are better than ones that are not. Opinions that are based on good inferences are better than ones that are not.

Critical thinking is about how to reason with evidence and how to develop good inferential practices. In this course, we will look at what counts as good thinking and what counts as bad thinking, how to think well, how to decide what to accept, reject, or suspend judgment about, in a variety of contexts.

Instructor: TBD