Spring 2020 - PHIL 854 G100

Selected Topics in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Philosophy (5)

Hume's System of Ethics

Class Number: 7808

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 4:30 PM – 8:20 PM
    WMC 3515, Burnaby



Selected Topics: Hume’s System of Ethics

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 451W E100.]

Important note regarding enrollment: All seats are reserved for Philosophy Graduate students. Enrollments from other departments will be considered only upon submission of the Graduate Course Add Form, and with instructor's permission. All such enrollments will be done in or after the first week of classes.


David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) is widely thought to be the most significant English-language text in the philosophical canon. He embraces there a kind of naturalism by which he investigates the mind using the same experimental methods that had had such success in the science of nature. He thus eschews appeals to the divine and instead grounds all of our fundamental attitudes and beliefs in a human nature that is continuous with animal nature. He covers a wide swath of topics in the Treatise: epistemology and metaphysics in its first Book; the theory of emotions and motivation in its second; and morality and politics in the third. Hume intends to present a unified philosophy, which he says “will acquire new force as it advances,” even if “[m]orality is a subject that interests us above all others” (T

This seminar will be an exploration of Hume’s “system of ethics” (T, in the Treatise. In particular, we will focus on Book 2’s account of the passions and its link to Book 3’s treatment of morals, though we will connect both to his rejection of a self-conscious subject in his discussion of personal identity in Book 1 (T 1.4.6).



Successful completion of this course will satisfy the “History of Philosophy” distribution requirement toward the MA degree for Philosophy graduate students.


  • Each student will make one seminar presentation (perhaps a group presentation) 20%
  • Each student will write one short paper (~5 pp.) 30%
  • Each student will write a final paper (~15 pp. for undergrads; ~25 pp. for graduate students) 40%
  • Participation (attendance and contributions to discussion) 10%



David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, David F. and Mary J. Norton (eds), (Oxford: OUP, 2000).
ISBN: 9780198751724

Other readings will be posted on Canvas.

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://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