PHIL 421W Advanced Topics in Ethical Theory (Freedom and Morality)

PHIL 824 Selected Topics in Moral Psychology

Summer Semester 2013 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: Evan Tiffany, WMC 5652 (etiffany at


Does morality presuppose freedom? That is the question at the heart of this course. Of course, the answer is likely to depend on what one means by morality and what one means by freedom. Ishtiyaque Haji’s book argues that deontic morality presupposes the libertarian freedom to do otherwise. We will spend roughly the first half of the course working through this book, which will provide a very good overview of much of the recent literature on the compatibility of freedom and determinism. Since most people take libertarian freedom to be incompatible with a naturalistic metaphysics, it would follow that, if Haji is right, being a naturalist would entail giving up on deontic morality. The second half of the course will explore the Kantian constructivist response to this challenge. Kantians also argue that morality presupposes freedom (or, as Henry Allison argues, that morality and freedom reciprocally imply each other), but Kant (in)famously took this to commit us to transcendental idealism. Neo-Kantian constructivists try to preserve both freedom and naturalism by moving to a “two standpoints” metaphysics. Their basic idea is that, when we act from the standpoint of a deliberative moral agent, we necessarily do so under the “idea of freedom,” and this means that that freedom is real from a practical point of view. The goal in the second half of the course is to subject this strategy to critical scrutiny. What does it mean to believe in freedom “from a practical point of view”? Is that even coherent? Does it involve an ontological commitment, or is it closer to something like pretense?


  • Haji, Ishtiyaque, Deontic Morality and Control (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)*
  • Selected readings available on reserve.


Phil 421W:

  • Participation: 10%
  • Essay with peer review: 30%
  • One of the following options:
    • Second essay, and final exam: 30% each
    • Research paper: 60%

Phil 824:

  • Participation: 10%
  • Essay with peer review: 20%
  • Research paper: 70%

All papers must be submitted to Failure to do so will result in a failure to complete the course requirements, and may result in failing the course.

Prerequisites (421W): Two 300 level PHIL courses. It is strongly recommended that students have taken some prior course in Moral Theory.