Spring 2018 - PHIL 854 G100

Selected Topics in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Philosophy (5)

Sufficient Reason

Class Number: 12406

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    RCB 5118, Burnaby



Selected Topics: Sufficient Reason 

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 451W.]

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

The Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR) states that for every fact, F, there is (or must be) a sufficient reason why F, rather than ~F, is true. Philosophers have appealed, sometimes implicitly, to versions of the PSR for centuries, but it was only in the early modern period that philosophers explicitly formulated and adopted the PSR as a guiding principle of metaphysical theorizing. After falling out of favor in the 19th and 20th centuries, the PSR has seen a resurgence of interest among contemporary metaphysicians. The aim of this course is to consider the PSR in both historical and contemporary contexts: to see not only the way in which the PSR heavily influenced the course of the history of philosophy, but also to consider it and its consequences in their own right.

We shall begin by considering how historical figures understood the PSR and the (often controversial) metaphysical implications they took the PSR to have. We shall focus especially on works by Spinoza, Leibniz and Kant. Specifically, we shall consider the relationship between the PSR and a number of related philosophical questions that animated the rationalists: determinism, necessitarianism, contingency, the existence of God, human freedom, truth, modality, space, and the distinction between constitutive and regulative principles.

We shall then turn to the PSR as it is treated in a contemporary setting. We shall consider contemporary treatments of some old questions: whether there is a compelling argument for the PSR, whether the PSR entails necessitarianism, whether God exists, etc. But we shall also consider the relationship between the PSR and other pressing issues in contemporary metaphysics, especially including the nature of grounding and fundamentality. We shall read works by Della Rocca, Dasgupta, Van Inwagen, Fine, Pruss, Rowe, Amijee and others.


This course will count toward the History of Philosophy distribution requirement if a historical paper is written; it will count toward the Metaphysics and Epistemology distribution requirement if a non-historical paper is written.


  • Six response papers (300 – 600 words) over the course of the semester. Response papers are due via email to both instructors 24 hours before the course meets for the week in which the assignment is to be counted. Only one response paper may be counted per week. Topics will not be assigned; response papers must critically engage with some issue that arises in the assigned reading for that week. 25%
  • One final term paper (4500 words minimum), revised from a required earlier draft. 75%



Spinoza, Ethics. Hackett. ISBN: 9780872201309

Leibniz, Philosophical Essays (Ariew and Garber, eds.) ISBN: 9780872200623

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason. Guyer and Wood (eds.). Cambridge UP. ISBN: 978-0521657297

All other readings will be made available on Canvas or through the library website.

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