Undergraduate courses


Upcoming Fall 2024 Feature Courses

Course offerings vary slightly from term to term. These descriptions below are specific to the fall 2024 term. For the official calendar descriptions see the Undergraduate Calendar

two men lifting a bomb into an airplane

PHIL 121

Moral Issues

We occupy a lot of social roles in life: family member, worker, student, religious devotee, consumer, soldier, activist, medical patient, sexual partner, etc. In all of these roles, we can act well, or act poorly. Usually, we do a bit of both. Very few of us are miserable, horrible people; very few of us are saints. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, with good days and bad days.

In this class, we will discuss practical contexts in which questions of morality arise. Is it possible to be a responsible consumer? Do you have a duty to give to charity? Can we justify actions that further deteriorate the planet’s ecosystems? What do we owe non-human animals, given that they are moral beings capable of pleasure and pain? What obligations do we have to one another as lovers, friends, parents/children, and employers/employees? We will examine these questions, and many more, as we try to think about the good life in a world that often seems like it’s out of our moral control.


 

an iguana jumping off a wall

PHIL 145

Critical Thinking

All of us are 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 (when empirical evidence is needed) 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.

a polar bear under water

PHIL 221

Ethics

Moral philosophy is the systematic attempt to provide an answer to what is perhaps the most important question of all: how should we live our lives?

The first three sections of this course explore three of the major moral theories in the Western philosophical tradition: utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue ethics. Each theory articulates a very different vision of the good life, of the nature and value of happiness, and of what makes an action or a person morally good. 

In the final section of the course, we will take up a range of very different skeptical challenges to the project of moral philosophy, including: can philosophical theorizing really help is with morality? How (if at all) are race and gender relevant to our moral thinking? Is morality really all that important, anyway?

a green rabbit on a doctor's exam table

PHIL 226

Biomedical Ethics

This course will introduce students to important ethical concepts through their application to difficult problems in the practice of the life sciences, medicine, institutionalized health care, and discourses about disordered bodies and minds and how they ought to be diagnosed and treated. Students will be asked to address several issues about which they may have firm beliefs. We will critically examine these beliefs, unveiling the pre-theoretical and conceptual presuppositions on which they rest.

The course will be loosely structured around the development of a human life, from embryonic development to end of life decision-making and criteria for determining death. Along the way, we will ask about limits on patient autonomy, the nature of informed consent, whether BIPoC and 2SLGBTQ+ folk get the institutional access to health care they need, and how we should think about human enhancement though medical technology (amongst many other issues).


 

curcuit board with googley eyes and a big red mouth

PHIL 228

Ethics and AI

Is a robot about to steal your job? How good will "your" essay be if you get generative AI to write it? Can you fall in love with your digital concierge, and if so, how might you find intimacy in that relationship? Why are so many of us seemingly so willing to make ourselves the subjects of ubiquitous algorithmic surveillance on social media platforms (and beyond) when most of us profess to value privacy? Can machine learning algorithms be sexist, racist, ableist or transphobic?

This class will explore ethical issues related to our use of artificial intelligence. We will learn some of the basics of artificial intelligence, with a focus on recent machine learning techniques, in order to ground or primary discussions of topics at the intersection of ethics, justice, and emerging technologies.

a logic puzzle

PHIL 240

Intro to Formal Logic

When people arrive at implausible conclusions, it is common to say they are being “illogical.” This everyday use of the word takes being illogical to be the same thing as engaging in bad thinking. Being logical, then, would seem to amount to good thinking. This course is about how to make good inferences. We’ll be looking especially at those inferences which are, in a certain sense, the best possible—deductive inferences. These are the ones where the truth of the information we’re working with would guarantee the truth of the conclusions we draw from it. The systematic study of deductive inference is called formal logic.

pink cat on a black and white background. Speech bubble " Yes, everyone!"

PHIL 252/SCI 252

Quantum Mechanics for Everyone

Quantum mechanics is driving a technological revolution, and here in Waterloo we have front row seats.  This course offers an introduction to the basic concepts of quantum mechanics from a historical and philosophical perspective.  Topics will include Schrödinger's cat paradox, the debate between Einstein and Bohr, “spooky action at a distance,” and quantum computers.  No background in mathematics or physics will be presupposed.  The goal of the course is to supply the background needed to understand some of the principles behind the cutting-edge research being carried out at the Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo.

math equations and graphs with pink and mint green overlay

PHIL 257

Philosophy of Mathematics

What are numbers? What makes mathematical statements true or false? Are mathematical truths just true by definition or do they reflect substantive knowledge? Are mathematical statements just useful "fictions"? Is there something "miraculous" about the way mathematical concepts often have applicability far beyond the context in which they were originally developed? Discuss these questions and many more in philosophy of mathematics!

cat on a colourful background with its head exploding in a cloud of smoke

PHIl 255

Philosophy of Mind

see the standard course description on the undergraduate studies page

graffiti of foot stomping out speech bubble

PHIL 363

Philosophy of Language: Online Discourse

Online discourse is widely blamed for some of the worst features of the world we live in—rising extremism, polarisation, and wild conspiracism.  But is this right?  We’ll take a deep dive into the nature of online communication, examining ways that it is and isn’t different from is offline counterpart.  We’ll look at the ways that ideas spread online, difficulties of combatting online extremism, and the nature of online communities.  We’ll be asking about questions like what trolling is, whether a re-tweet is an endorsement, and how online shaming works.  The class will be discussion-based, and the main assignments will involve applying academic concepts to real world cases chosen by students.

to hands holding a pink flower

PHIL 386/ GSJ 371/BLKST 399

Black Existentialist Thought

In traditional existentialism, the unspoken presumption of whiteness has often been questioned by Black scholars. To this end, philosophers and activists alike have challenged notions of universality within those discourses, considering instead what it would mean to unpack and better understand existence through the lens of Black experience(s). What role does race play in traditional existential theory? How might critical race theory help us better understand existence as “Black” people? And how do gender and race, among so many possible intersections, influence what it means to be Black-in-the-world? Through varied readings, small group and full class discussions, course reflections, traditional essays and group presentations, this course will apply a critical race lens to existential thought to explore the scholarship of Black thinkers whose work has helped to expand our critical understanding of existence, our purpose, and life’s meaning in a world that often questions our humanity solely based on how our bodies are raced. Recognizing that discussions of Blackness in the Canadian context are often overlooked, even in global, pan-African movements, course readings, presentations, and assignments will culminate in our attempt to better understand Blackness in the Canadian context.


Fall 2024 complete course list (subject to changes)

On-campus Courses

Course code Title
PHIL 101 Challenging Ideas: Introduction to Philosophy
PHIL 121 Moral Issues
PHIL 145 Critical Thinking
PHIL 215/ARBUS 202 Professional & Business Ethics
PHIL 221 Ethics
PHIL 226 Biomedical Ethics
PHIL 228  Ethics and AI
PHIL 240 Introduction to Formal Logic
PHIL 252 Quantum Mechanics for Everyone
PHIL 255 Philosophy of Mind
PHIL 257 Philosophy of Mathematics
PHIL 363 Philosophy of Language
PHIL 386 Black Existentialist Thought
PHIL 402/GSJ 402 Feminist Care Ethics
PHIL 422 Formal Methods for Social Good
PHIL 447/PSYCH 447 Cognitive Science Seminar 
PHIL 452 Epistemology of Ignorance

Online Courses

Course code

Title

PHIL 110 B  Introduction to Philosophy: Ethics and Values
PHIL 145  Critical Thinking
PHIL 215/ARBUS 202 Professional & Business Ethics
PHIL 251 Metaphysics & Epistemology
PHIL 256/ PSYCH 256 Introduction to Cognitive Science
PHIL 265 The Existential Experience
PHIL 327 Philosophy of Law

CLICK HERE for descriptions of each course