Summer 2021 - PHIL 455W D100

Contemporary Issues in Epistemology and Metaphysics (4)


Class Number: 4939

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM

    Fr 10:30 AM – 12:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    Two 300 division PHIL courses.



May be repeated for credit. Writing.


Selected Topics: Neurophilosophy

[Note: this course is to be taught concurrently with PHIL 805.]

Neurophilosophy is an interdisciplinary subject that has been in existence for about 25 years.  Although people differ on what they take it to be, I think of it as a two-way flow of information, from neuroscience to philosophy and from philosophy to neuroscience.  In one direction, this means taking a new look at traditional philosophical problems given the input of recent neuroscience: once we have in hand something like the facts about neurological processing, does this change either our philosophical questions or the kinds of answers we think should be given?  In the other direction, after a few millennia of thought about problems of mind, epistemology and ontology and other metaphysical questions, philosophers have a fairly good idea about, if not where the answers lie, where we think they don’t —i.e., the great dead ends of philosophical thought!  The kind of problem-solving sophistication that philosophy brings to the table can sometimes make it easier to see which scientific projects are genuinely new and interesting—and hence which might yield conceptually novel answers.  These are the sorts of insights that can change the course of scientific inquiry.  (That said, I’ve yet to meet a great scientist who wouldn’t make a great philosopher.)

This course will be as much about how to do neurophilosophy as what it is and what it has claimed.  It is designed to be hands on, with each student working his or her way up to a final project, step by step.  To that end, we will begin by toggling back and forth between an introduction to both neuroscience and early work in neurophilosophy, looking at the standard technologies and principles of neuroscience.   This will be followed by classes that move back and forth between recent issues in neurophilosophy and how to research and complete a project in the area.  The course requirements will be built around the central project and the neurophilosophy readings discussed in class.


PHIL 455W may be applied towards the Writing Requirement (and the upper division Writing Requirement for Philosophy Majors). This course may be repeated for credit if the topic is different. Students that took PHIL 455W in Summer 2016 can not repeat this offering for additional credit.

The central goal of the course is to learn how to do research in a second discipline, cognitive sciences for philosophers and philosophy for cognitive scientists.

  • To understand the basic techniques in neuroscience and how they are used alone and in combination
  • To identify and select reliable research results in a second discipline
  • To learn how to form a coherent theoretical narrative using a large body of research
  • To understand where and how two different disciplines approach a shared research topic


  • Research Project: Literature search (5%); Philosophical overview (15%); Refining the topic/new literature search (20%); Late-term presentation (20%); Final project (25%) 85%
  • Online Discussion Questions 3 x 5% 15%


Course delivery: remote, synchronous (Zoom meetings). Online presence is required during scheduled seminar time.

All students are expected to attend each class on Zoom.  The expectation is that students will have their cameras and microphones on so that we can recreate the atmosphere of an in-person seminar as closely as possible.   Students concerned with privacy and issues about background noise, etc. are encouraged to use a background graphic and headphones.

Undergraduate students will be working in groups for their research project.  However, for each research assignment, each student’s contribution will be from a separate, graded part of the whole; your grade will be a function of your own work, not of the groups’ work as a whole or of any other individual within the group.



Remote learning for this semester requires a computer or tablet, camera, microphone, and internet access. Headsets are advisable but not necessary. There is one computer lab on campus for limited access. Students have access to free Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud found here It is recommended that students use broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE) internet connection, with bandwidth of at least 1.5 Mbps (upload and download).

At the start of the class, I will be asking each student to pay for a mind mapping program.  Almost all such programs have a free version, but inevitably the free version runs out quickly and/or has very few of the features needed for collaboration/presentations.  We will start with a free version and, if needed, go to a paid version (although not without consulting the class).


All class readings will be provided online by the instructor.  There will thus be no expenses associated with 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   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).