Fall 2018 - PHIL 825 G100

Selected Topics in Social and Political Philosophy (5)


Class Number: 9521

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

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



Selected Topics: Freedom

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 421W.]

Important note regarding enrollment: instructor consent is required for all students apart from Philosophy graduate students.

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 counts in satisfaction of the value-stream breadth requirements.

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%
  • Presentation: (to be given in Weeks 11-13, a run through of your research paper; you will also assign the readings that week) 30%
  • One longer research paper (6000 words, due in a week before end of Exam period) 45%
  • 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

Graduate Studies Notes:

Important dates and deadlines for graduate students are found here: http://www.sfu.ca/dean-gradstudies/current/important_dates/guidelines.html. The deadline to drop a course with a 100% refund is the end of week 2. The deadline to drop with no notation on your transcript is the end of week 3.

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