Fall 2018 - PHIL 421W E100

Advanced Topics in Ethical Theory (4)


Class Number: 6341

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    AQ 5006, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    two 300 level PHIL courses; it is strongly recommended that students have taken some prior course in moral theory.



A highly focused, advanced examination of a selection of topics in normative or meta-ethics. May be repeated for credit. Writing.


Selected Topics: Freedom 

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 825.]

This is a senior undergraduate and graduate level course in normative ethics. It provides a broad, state-of-the-art survey regarding the meaning and place of freedom in political philosophy, with a concentration on contemporary debates.

Political philosophy did not always have an obsession with individual freedom. There is a long tradition going back to Epicurus that elevated pleasure, or at least the avoidance of pain, to the rank of the highest value. The culmination of that tradition, in the form British Utilitarianism, was not especially preoccupied with individuals, much less with an individual right to freedom. More recently, a fixation with the rights of individuals to freedom has become the dominant narrative in contemporary political philosophy in the English-speaking world, among both “contractualists” and their “libertarian” counter-parts. It has also left a deep imprint on public discussion about the role of the state, partly in response to the recent resurgence in libertarian political philosophy.  So what exactly is individual freedom? Is it overrated? Do individuals have rights to freedom against the state?  These are the sort of questions we shall examine in this survey course.

Students are expected to contribute to class discussion, and read 2-3 papers each week. They will need to synthesize these readings to complete their final research paper.


This course may be applied towards the Writing Requirement (and the upper division Writing Requirement for Philosophy Majors).

The general aim of the course is for students to learn how to:

  • Identify a thesis and its supporting arguments in philosophical materials and other relevant sources 
  • Engage with those arguments in respectful discussion with peers 
  • Construct written arguments
  • Conduct independent research
  • Engage with the moral foundations of the law and policy using philosophical arguments and methods 

The course is excellent preparation for: graduate school in philosophy, public policy degrees, law school, or business school, or for anyone intending to participate in public debates on domestic and foreign policy.


  • Three short assignments (from a total of four, max 1 per week, due prior to class; the first due no later than week 4 and the last due no later than week 11, 600 words max) 15%
  • One short research paper (1200 words, prior to Lecture Week 8, which can be a polished and shortened draft of your final paper) 25%
  • One longer research paper (4000 words, prior to last day of term in Week 13) 50%
  • Participation (comprising both attendance and contribution to class discussion or office hour discussion) 10%


No Nonsense Paper Policy: In the interest of preserving a level playing field students submitting late papers without prior arrangement or a doctor's note will be penalized. Students caught plagiarizing or otherwise cheating will normally be recommended for suspension from the university.



The Oxford Handbook of Freedom, (Schmidtz and Pavel Eds.), OUP, 2018 (on order at the SFU Bookstore)

Additional papers will be available from the Library

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philmgr@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://students.sfu.ca/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html