Summer 2021 - PHIL 332 D100

Selected Topics (3)

Agency: Biological Category

Class Number: 4802

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Mo 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    As stated by department at time of offering.



May be repeated for credit.


Selected Topics: Agency as a Biological Category

Prerequisites: one of PHIL 100W or COGS 100, or with permission of instructor

Over the past 40 years or so in Philosophy and the Cognitive Sciences there has been an increasing trend to contextualize various human capacities—cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, etc.—within a broader biological and/or evolutionary context. Agency, though, has resisted this treatment until quite recently. This resistance has its likely source in a popular view, particularly among those of a Kantian persuasion, that Agency is a distinctly human capacity.

However, this anthropocentric view of agency is becoming harder to maintain as we come to understand ourselves, more and more, as organisms produced by the same basic evolutionary processes from which all life on this planet emerged. Indeed, it is likely that our agency, like our emotions, linguistic, and social abilities are in some way continuous with such capacities in other organisms. Consequently, there are now a number of recent philosophical works trying to determine what agency is in the most basic biological terms possible, and trying to situate human agency within this broader biological conception.

In this course we will examine a number of these recent philosophical attempts to understand agency as a biological category, and will (necessarily) consult relevant scientific findings regarding the behavior of various organisms when considering these views. We will also take up a brief selection of classic readings in Action Theory that will set these biologically motivated views of agency within their own broader philosophical context.


  • Attendance and participation: determined by online attendance of lecture and contributions to class discussion. 20%
  • Four written assignments (10% each) 40%
  • Term paper 40%


Course delivery: remote, synchronous. Online presence is required during scheduled lecture time.



Students must have access to internet and a computer/other device that permits streaming video, word processing and teleconferencing with Zoom and/or Bb Collaborate Ultra via CANVAS.


Kim Sterelny Thought in a Hostile World. Wiley-Blackwell, 2003. ISBN: 978-0631188872

Links to further electronic readings will be provided by the instructor.

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   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

New elective grade policy : P/CR/NC, pilot project for Spring/Summer/Fall 2021. List of exclusions for the new policy. Specifically for Philosophy: 

  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any requirement for a major, joint major, or minor in Philosophy (with the exception of Honours tutorials).
  • Students can use a P or CR to satisfy any prerequisite requirement for any PHIL course.
  • Students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any requirement for the Ethics Certificate, or the Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate.
  • Philosophy Majors and Honours students can use a P (but not a CR) to satisfy any WQB requirement.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site 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.


Teaching at SFU in summer 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods, but we will continue to have in-person experiential activities for a selection of courses.  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 ( or 778-782-3112).