Fall 2023 - PHIL 302 D100

Topics in Epistemology and Metaphysics (3)

Philosophy of Machine Learning

Class Number: 5802

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Mon, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

    Oct 10, 2023: Tue, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    PHIL 201 or 203.



An exploration of philosophical issues concerning, e.g.: causation, time, modality, or the self; the realism/nominalism or realism/idealism debate; relativism; the concept of truth; naturalized epistemology; global epistemological skepticism or perhaps a 'local' form of skepticism such as skepticism about induction or about sensory belief. May be repeated for credit.


Selected Topics: Philosophy of Machine Learning

This course introduces students to recent topics in the philosophy of machine learning. We will focus on two interrelated themes. The first is the epistemic opacity that is almost iconic of these “deep learning”, “black box” algorithms and the recent “explainable AI” (XAI) project proposed as remedy. The second is the ethical and political consequences of using epistemically opaque algorithms in decision making.


This class counts as an elective for the Social Data Analytics minor’s program. Contact sda_advisor@sfu.ca for more details.


  • Weekly in-class assignments (4% x 7 = 28%): you are expected to have done the reading before Monday’s class. At some point during the class, you will be asked to complete an in-class writing assignment. 28%
  • Themed projects: each student will choose a core project theme and complete a number of projects relating to the theme. There are three major projects in the course: 72%
  • 1. Academic essay (20%): 4-6 pages. 1.5 line spacing. 10-11pt font. Must include at least 5 reputable references (not necessarily academic; using assigned class reading is ok). You have the option of revising this essay (to a max of 8 pages) at the end of the term. The higher grade of the two stands.
  • 2. Group presentation (20%): 15-20min. Grouped by theme.
  • 3. Lay audience essay (20%): 800-1000 words. Can be single-authored or co-authored.
  • There are also some low-stakes check-in assignments designed to help you stay on track:
  • 4. Theme proposal (4%): 1-2 paragraph description of your chosen theme and why you’re interested in it.
  • 5. Mini lit reviews (4% x 2 = 8%): for weeks where we do not have meetings, you will find additional sources for your essays in accordance with a prompt. You will write ~1 page summary on what you found.



All reading will be posted online.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

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 philcomm@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website 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


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.