Fall 2020 - PHIL 150 D100

Great Works in the History of Philosophy (3)

Class Number: 8466

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 9 – Dec 8, 2020: TBA, TBA

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 13, 2020
    Sun, 5:00–5:00 p.m.



A thematic survey of some classical texts in the history of Western philosophy, from late Antiquity to the 19th century, including by figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, de Gournay, Elisabeth of Bohemia, Spinoza, Leibniz, du Châtelet, Hume, Astell, Wollstonecraft, Kant, Mill, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others. Themes may include the nature of the human being, the role of God in philosophical thought, conceptions of the good life, and others. Open to all students. Students with credit for PHIL 151 may not take this course for further credit. Breadth-Humanities.


The aim of this course is twofold. First, we shall consider some of the enduring philosophical questions as they were posed and investigated by some of the great philosophers in the history of the western philosophical tradition (from ancient Greece to 18th-century Europe). Second, we shall aim to understand the nature of systematic philosophical thought itself as it is exemplified in a variety of formats: dialogues, treatises and meditations.

Our focus will be on classical questions concerning the fundamental nature of reality. Can we prove that God exists? If so, what can we know about God? What are the conditions under which we can know anything at all? Are we free beings, or are we determined by the laws of nature to act at every moment in just one way? Or could we be both? Are we embodied minds, or are our minds entirely distinct from our bodies? Is the way we represent the world accurate, or are there ways we see the world that are owed to the subjective nature of our minds? What is the meaning of life? And what role does philosophical thought play in our lives?

We shall begin by reading several of Plato’s dialogues. We shall then turn to Saint Thomas Aquinas’s writings on God, causality and being. And we will close by considering two of the great systematic works of philosophy from the early modern period: Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Along the way, we shall read excerpts from works by others, likely including Saint Anselm, Aristotle, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, John Locke and Anne Conway.


PHIL 150 may be applied towards the Breadth-Humanities Requirement. It is a required course for the Philosophy Major


  • The Levels – up to 5 short written assignments. (30%) 30%
  • One 1200 – 1500 word term paper. 35%
  • A take-home, open-note, open-book final examination. Due Dec 13 at 5:00 pm. 35%


Lecture delivery: remote, asynchronous (recorded content).

Online attendance is not required for any component of the course, but students are strongly encouraged to attend weekly 45-minute Q&A/Discussion sessions on Zoom led by the instructor. For students who cannot attend these, they will be recorded and uploaded to Canvas so that students may watch them after the fact.


Written work for this course will be submitted via Turnitin, a third party service licensed for use by SFU. Turnitin is used for originality checking to help detect plagiarism. Students will be required to create an account with Turnitin, and to submit their work via that account, on the terms stipulated in the agreement between the student and Turnitin. This agreement includes the retention of your submitted work as part of the Turnitin database. Any student with a concern about using the Turnitin service may opt to use an anonymous identity in their interactions with Turnitin. Students who do not intend to use Turnitin in the standard manner must notify the instructor at least two weeks in advance of any submission deadline. In particular, it is the responsibility of any student using the anonymous option (i.e. false name and temporary e-mail address created for the purpose) to inform the instructor such that the instructor can match up the anonymous identity with the student.



In order to complete this course, students must have access to a computer or other internet accessing device that permits streaming video, word processing and teleconferencing with Zoom.


Aquinas, Selected Philosophical Writings (Oxford). ISBN: 978-0199540273

Descartes, Selected Philosophical Writings (Cambridge)). ISBN: 978-0521358125

Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Hackett). ISBN: 978-0872202290

Plato, Five Dialogues (Hackett). ISBN: 978-0872206335

Electronic versions of texts by Descartes, Hume and Plato are available to students through the SFU Bookstore website. Students will find the option to purchase them when they select this course. The SFU Bookstore does not have an electronic version of the text by Aquinas. Therefore, students should order a print copy of this text from an online retailer as soon as possible. Note that, while translations of various of Aquinas’s writings are available for free online, the anthology required for the course draws from a wide variety of Aquinas’s writings and organizes them very differently than other resources. Students who do not have a copy of this text will find it difficult to follow lectures and discussion.

Other required readings will be made available to students electronically on Canvas.

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://www.sfu.ca/students/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


Teaching at SFU in fall 2020 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).