What Is Global Philosophy?

by Petra Dreiser

An introduction to a concept and approach to doing philosophy

In recent years, the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto has garnered a reputation for being at the forefront of what many refer to as “global philosophy.” But what, precisely, constitutes global philosophy, who practices it, and, above all, why?

Like many of her colleagues, assistant professor Elisa Freschi, an expert in South Asian philosophy who joined the department in 2020, finds it important to counter common misconceptions about the field by first emphasizing what it is not: either philosophy bounded by specific geographic regions or comparative philosophy. No “standard” philosophy exists here that is then compared and contrasted to other, “lesser” versions. Rather, in the words of Jonardon Ganeri, Bimal K. Matilal Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, global philosophy “designates a hypothesis about the essence of philosophy: that it is intrinsically and essentially a form of intellectual practice that appeals to every cultural tradition, historical period, and linguistic community.”

We might thus understand global philosophy as an approach or methodology rather than a sub-branch of the larger discipline, one based in an acute awareness of the plurality of philosophical traditions pursued around the globe, both historically and today. Practitioners seek to bring these varied traditions, which may have developed at a remove from one another, into fruitful dialogue in trying to comprehend and distill the world we live in.

We might understand global philosophy as an approach or methodology rather than a sub-branch of the larger discipline.

Specifically, this might mean drawing on a 13th-century philosopher from South India (Veṅkaṭanātha) to interrogate present-day concepts of god and atheism, as Freschi has done in her classes. Or looking at the way Africana thinkers such as W. E. B. Du Bois or Marcus Garvey conceptualized utopia to critique the foundations of what society considers just politics—as another recent addition to the department, assistant professor William Paris, does in his current work.

Expansiveness and Humility

Paris describes global philosophy’s expansiveness as a necessary act of humility, rooted as it is in the recognition that thinkers around the globe have long made efforts to understand the world. “Philosophy has always been eminently global,” he reminds us; “it has always traveled, been taken up and redeployed.”

From that perspective, global philosophy is philosophy tout court—engaged, curious, generous—“as it was meant to be.” As such, it also holds the key to the health and future of the entire discipline, aiming to find novel solutions to familiar problems and simultaneously locating new puzzles to solve. Ignoring its tenets would mean the loss of not only immense opportunities (“Why would we deprive ourselves of the possibility of testing our thinking against the widest range of ideas?” asks Paris) but also of relevance. Excessively narrow intellectual horizons translate into parochialism, and “parochialism is the enemy of philosophy,” says Ganeri.

The equitable integration of non-mainstream voices into philosophical discourse does not, however, come at the cost of other traditions. “What we’re calling ‘global’ philosophy here very much includes the history of European and American philosophy as well,” Chris Fraser, the Richard Charles and Esther Yewpick Lee Chair in Chinese Thought and Culture, hastens to add. It truly is about expansiveness and dialogue, not exclusion or new hierarchies.

On the ground, the practice of global philosophy demands three things above all: openness, generosity, and teamwork. Not everyone has the time or inclination to learn classical Chinese, Arabic, or Pāli, or to specialize in wildly distinct traditions of thought. But working with colleagues who do have different areas of expertise—the kind of collaboration common in the sciences—is possible and encouraged.

In the humanities, it only takes a change of habit—one made easier at a place like the University of Toronto, with its large and vibrant Philosophy Department, a generous network of tri-campus affiliates, and one of the world’s most diverse cities surrounding it. “The resources U of T is devoting to global philosophy are matched by very few institutions—if any—internationally, and the university’s commitment in this direction benefits tremendously from the department’s long-standing strength in history of philosophy,” asserts Fraser, who joined the department from the University of Hong Kong this academic year.

The Next Generation

The commitment to a more expansive vision of philosophy in no small part originates with the department’s current chair, Martin Pickavé. “Toronto is uniquely positioned to give students a global perspective on philosophy and to train the next generation of leading scholars in global philosophy,” he asserts. “The size of our tri-campus graduate department and the vitality of our community mean that we have a duty to our discipline.” That duty has translated into a slew of recent hires, many of whom have contributed to the following pages, as well as some who have yet to arrive in Toronto, including Nilanjan Das, joining the department in July 2022.

For students, opportunities abound. “Among major philosophy departments, Toronto is simply leading the way right now,” says

Jack Beaulieu, a graduate student and Canada Graduate Scholar whose research explores issues in epistemology and metaphysics through the history of late classical and early modern Indian philosophy in Sanskrit. He advises, “If you are an undergraduate student interested in graduate school: there’s never been a better time to do work on global philosophy.”

Vincent Lee, another graduate student who ultimately aims to bring into dialogue strands of early modern European and Indian Buddhist metaphysics, admits that ever-expanding and diversifying faculty research drew him to U of T. And Munema Moiz, a master’s student focusing on South Asian and Islamic philosophy, suggests a further benefit of global philosophy: the study of alternative presuppositions and approaches that can shed light on one’s own biases.

“This opening of the mind has significant moral-pedagogical value,” Freschi, one of her teachers, agrees; “it’s a real life lesson.”

Petra Dreiser, the Department of Philosophy’s communications officer, is a writer, editor, and communications and publications specialist with graduate degrees in English, political science, and French. She spends a lot of her time thinking about language and clarity of expression, and few things bring her quite as much as joy as helping translate complex ideas to a wider audience through well-crafted prose.

Beyond Borders

BEYOND BORDERS: Conceptual Biodiversity in Cosmopolitan Philosophy

by Jonardon Ganeri

What does it mean to explode borders in philosophy, from classical South Asian thought to Fernando Pessoa?

If one’s ambition is to discover fundamental philosophical theory true of the human being as such, global philosophy claims, it is methodologically essential to consider theories from a plurality of cultural locations. Why? Because theories developed exclusively within individual scholarly communities will inevitably tend toward narrowness and provincialism, freighted with vested interests. This outlook differs from comparative philosophy, the ambition of which is to demonstrate affinities and differences between theories that have arisen in different cultures, perhaps to extract the highest common factor among them or to appraise or model one in terms of the other. In the perspective of global philosophy, cultures are repositories of a conceptual biodiversity whose various stored riches we must access if inquiry is not to be inbred, since diverse populations of ideas prove more resilient than homogenous ones because they better manage to fit variable intellectual environments.

Theories developed exclusively within individual scholarly communities will inevitably tend toward narrowness and provincialism.

A philosopher who sees an issue from plural cultural perspectives can discern features of the issue invisible from any one perspective, just as in binocular vision one can see depth and not only shape. A familiar philosophical trope says thinking is in the grip of a largely unacknowledged dogma or myth that shapes and distorts reflection and experience. (Two dogmas of European empiricism and various myths about the mind existed in the Cartesian tradition, from the ghost in the machine to the myth of the given and the myth of mediation.) A singularly effective method for bringing the grip of such myths to the surface is to examine philosophies where those myths are not operative, and this constitutes a second reason for introducing cross-cultural methodologies into philosophy. The reflective distance scholars obtain by involving themselves in alternative claims enables them to assume a more self-aware stance.

One form that global philosophy can take, the form that I myself prefer, is cosmopolitan. There are two strands intertwined in the notion of cosmopolitanism. One strand, as Anthony Appiah puts it in his 2006 Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers, is the idea that “we have obligations to others, obligations that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kin.” In the case of cosmopolitan philosophy, this is an intellectual obligation to reach for theories that do not exclude segments of thinking humanity. The other strand is, with Appiah again, “that we take seriously the value not just of human life but of particular human lives, which means taking an interest in the practices and beliefs that lend them significance. People are different, the cosmopolitan knows, and there is much to learn from our differences.” As applied to the idea of a cosmopolitan philosophy, this second strand consists in an intellectual duty to take seriously the thought of others who are not in our own intellectual circle, to be prepared that their concepts and vocabularies are ones we shall need to learn. The ideal of cosmopolitanism, Ulf Hannerz says in “Cosmopolitanisms and Locals in World Cultures” (1990), is “an orientation, a willingness to engage with the Other … an intellectual and aesthetic stance of openness toward divergent cultural experiences.”

In the postscript to Comparative Philosophy without Borders (2015), Arindam Chakrabarti has aptly said that philosophy should be borderless: “Once we have climbed up to the level playing field of global combative cooperative critical creative philosophy from the fetid wells of centuries of unacknowledged epistemic inequalities, we can, it is hoped, throw away the ladder of comparison [ … and … ] instead of preserving, quoting, and juxtaposing [one’s sources], one picks up a concept, a line of reasoning or some, however minor, point arising out of years of imaginative rearrangement and cross-fertilization of the ideas retrieved from different cultures, periods, texts, and disciplines.”

In my own philosophical work I have tried to put these thoughts into practice. In philosophy of mind, I advance the view, in my book The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance (Oxford University Press, 2012), that our concept of self is constitutively grounded in the fact that subjects are beings who own their ideas, emotions, wishes, and feelings. Drawing as much on classical Indian Nyāya, Buddhist, and Cārvāka thought as on contemporary work in analytical philosophy, I argue that the self is a unity of three strands of ownedness: normative (being responsible for one’s own beliefs), phenomenological (feeling one’s emotions as one’s own), and subpersonal (the integration of all one’s mental states into a unified whole). In another book, Attention, Not Self (Oxford University Press, 2018), I argue that when early Buddhists deny that there is a self, what they are rejecting is the conception of self as the willing agent, an inner origin of willed directives. For early Buddhists like Buddhaghosa, the real nature of mental activity is in the ways we pay attention. This book clears the ground for the sort of conception of self defended in The Self. My earlier book, The Concealed Art of the Soul: Theories of Self and Practices of Truth in Indian Ethics and Epistemology (Oxford University Press, 2007), explores thinking about selfhood in a range of Upaniṣadic, Vedāntic, Yogācāra, and Mādhyamika philosophers, under the rubric of the idea that the self is something that conceals itself from itself.

In the history of philosophy, I argue that modernity is not a uniquely European achievement. In The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India, 1450–1700 (Oxford University Press, 2011), I show how there emerges in 17th-century India a distinctive version of modernity in the work of the “new reason” (Navya-nyāya) philosophers of Bengal, Mithilā, and Benares. These thinkers confronted the past and thought of themselves as doing something very new, as intellectual innovators. The innovativeness of this group of philosophers is also the subject of my earlier book, Semantic Powers: Meaning and the Means of Knowing in Classical Indian Philosophy (Clarendon, 1999), revised and restructured for the second edition titled Artha: Meaning (Oxford University Press, 2011), which aims to demonstrate that they made discoveries in linguistics and the philosophy of language not seen in Europe until the late 20th century. These include discoveries about the meaning of proper names, pronominal anaphora, testimony, and the relationship between epistemology and meaning theory.

I have also been writing about the philosophy of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Pessoa (1888–1935) lived what was in many ways an astonishingly modern, transcultural, and translingual life. He was born in Lisbon, the point of departure for Vasco da Gama’s voyage to India, as commemorated by Pessoa’s forebear, the poet Luís de Camões. He grew up in Anglophone Durban in what is now South Africa, acquiring a life-long love for English poetry and language. My book, Virtual Subjects, Fugitive Selves: Fernando Pessoa and His Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2021), is the first English-language monograph about Pessoa’s philosophy written by a philosopher. I argue that Pessoa’s notion of the heteronym (another I who is “myself”) can be used to solve some of the trickiest puzzles in the global history of the philosophy of self, including, for example, the “floating man” of Avicenna and the “dream of the butterfly” in Zhuangzi. Indeed, precursors of the notion of the heteronym can be found within Indian philosophy, and I am currently writing a second monograph about Pessoa, one in which I recontextualize some of his ideas within the tradition of classical Indian aesthetics and the philosophy of art.

Jonardon Ganeri, Bimal K. Matilal Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, in his work draws on a variety of philosophical traditions to construct new positions in the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and epistemology. He has published nine research monographs and more than eighty research papers. He joined the Fellowship of the British Academy in 2015, and won the Infosys Prize in the Humanities the same year, the only philosopher to do so.

Exploring Chinese Thought in a Cross-Cultural Context

—by Chris Fraser

An examination of classical Chinese texts might hold lessons for today’s political functioning and approaches to everyday life.

Although there is no consensus on what global or world philosophy is—or on whether it should indeed count as a discrete subfield—today there seems to be a growing sense in philosophy as a field that we should acknowledge, encourage, and above all seek to learn from research in diverse traditions of thought.

Wilfrid Sellars once characterized philosophy as an enterprise in which we seek to understand how things hang together, in the broadest possible sense. This enterprise can only benefit from greater awareness of different ways of doing philosophy, which may reveal broader perspectives on how things hang together.

My own recent research pursues cross-cultural inquiry along a number of fronts. In one article, I attempt to contribute to the burgeoning field of political epistemology by examining how for one influential early Chinese school of thought—the Mohists—political authority rests partly on epistemic consensus. The Mohists held that legitimate authority and a stable social order could be sustained only if members of a political society identified with its leadership, sharing with them views about which norms should organize social and political life and how these norms should be implemented. If people do not agree with their leaders about the facts pertinent to observing and enforcing the norms, the Mohists thought, they will cease to identify with the government, undermining social unity, and thus the legitimacy of political authority. The Mohists’ stance underscores the vital role of social epistemology in justifying or undermining the legitimacy of political authority. It offers an intriguing perspective from which to consider how fake news, rival accusations of fakeness or misinformation, conspiracy theories, and extreme partisanship can subvert respect for and, ultimately, the functioning of political authority.

Another project in progress explores the relation between moral culture and the effective functioning of social institutions, above all, the law. Chinese political thinkers from the classical period to the Qīng dynasty debated how the functioning of institutions depended on the moral character and cultural commitments of the people entrusted to manage them. Some thinkers—such as Xúnzǐ, in the classical era, or Chén Liàng, in the 12th century—emphasized that law, for example, can function properly only when enforced by officials who possess the appropriate virtues and capacity for discretion. Others—notably the great 17th-century critic Huáng Zōngxī—responded that even in the hands of qualified, virtuous people, laws can prove effective only if when their content has been framed wisely. This roughly 2,000-year-long debate on how shared values and moral character underpin formal institutions helps shed insight on contemporary issues, such as the recent, disastrous collapse of liberal civil society and the rule of law in Hong Kong— my home for 25 years—or the narrowly avoided crisis of democratic governance in the United States on January 6, 2021. The Chinese discourse offers hints as to what we might do to protect and strengthen our political culture even here in Canada today.

A Xunzian epistemology thus has direct points of contact with contemporary epistemology, ethics, and everyday life.

Two other research projects I have underway concern the implications of early Chinese thought for contemporary epistemology and ethics. More than a decade ago I published an article discussing how classical Chinese epistemology did not particularly concern itself with the analysis of knowledge, worries about the illusory nature of perception, or any confirmation that we have knowledge of an external world. Instead, knowledge was treated as the expression of competence in distinguishing and responding to things. Early sources such as Xúnzǐ were especially concerned with how the development and application of such competence required what I called “epistemic conscientiousness” and related virtues. Early Chinese epistemology thus raises issues about the role of virtues such as conscientiousness, diligence, and perseverance, which have become prominent in discussions in contemporary virtue epistemology. In recent work, drawing again on Xúnzǐ, I’ve been looking at how epistemic agency, and thus the capacity for knowledge, rests on a broader capacity for axiological commitment. One interesting implication of a Xunzian view is that we can possess knowledge in a full sense only if we care about and so are committed to getting things right, such that we manifest a second-order, reflexive meticulousness in seeking and applying careful epistemic standards. Another implication is that insofar as we inevitably exercise epistemic agency, and as epistemic agency involves a concern with getting things right, conscientiously seeking to improve our epistemic competence makes for a crucial part of the well-lived life. A Xunzian epistemology thus has direct points of contact with contemporary epistemology, ethics, and everyday life.

Intriguingly, because of the central place of axiological commitment in early Chinese epistemology, epistemic issues become intertwined with questions in ethics and meta-ethics as well. In the original Chinese context, the relevant questions are framed in terms of dào, the way or path by which to conduct personal and social life. A driving question is whether the appropriate dào can be identified and spelled out in some way, such that we can make it a determinate object of learning and discussion. Two prominent early movements, the ancient Mohists and Confucians, both held that dào is a path that can be explicitly signposted. Although the two schools disagreed about the content of dào, they shared the opinion that ancient sages had already mapped it out fairly clearly for the rest of us to follow. By contrast, what we now refer to as the Daoist tradition disagreed that dào could be pinned down in this way. In the classical anthology Zhuāngzǐ, for example, dào is treated as radically protean, indeterminate, and plural. Practically, this means that there can be no “map” by which to follow dào; we need to find our way along it as we go. As an astonishing consequence of this outlook, some passages in the Zhuāngzǐ reject the very idea of morality—understood as specific, identifiable norms or virtues—as a guide to life or dào. To live well and follow dào, we should not seek to be benevolent or to do our duty, for example. Yet these passages also make it clear that dào is not just a matter of anything goes: There is such as thing as better or worse performance of dào, and Zhuāngzǐ discussions make it clear that adept performance of dào is not selfish, but deeply responsive to others’ standpoints and needs. To me, these features make it a fascinating project to try to understand the Zhuangist outlook and explore its significance for contemporary ethical discourse.

The present marks an exciting and rewarding time to be working in cross-cultural philosophy here at the University of Toronto. The resources U of T is devoting to global philosophy are matched by few institutions internationally, and the university’s commitments in this direction benefit tremendously from the Department of Philosophy’s long-standing strengths in history of philosophy, again equalled by only a small handful of institutions. Beyond these points, Toronto itself is today one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, with an incredible mix of cultures, and so we have a large audience of students and members of society primed to appreciate cross-cultural philosophical discussion.

Chris Fraser holds the Richard Charles and Esther Yewpick Lee Chair in Chinese Thought and Culture, a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy and the Department of East Asian Studies. His research specialization is classical Chinese philosophy, particularly how early Chinese theories of mind, knowledge, and language intersect with issues in contemporary epistemology, action theory, and ethics. Before joining U of T, he was professor and chairperson in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong (2009–2021).

Engaging with a Global Form of Life: On teaching Africana Philosophy

Engaging with a Global Form of Life: On teaching Africana Philosophy

—by William M. Paris

How the work of African American and Africana thinkers helps students grapple with the complexity of the world

Working on philosophical problems drawn from African American, Caribbean, French, and German traditions, I have always considered my work in some sense “global.” Not the whole globe, mind you. But given that my areas of inquiry concern political injustices in the contexts of empire, colonialism, and racial apartheid, some notion of the globe and its empirical history have always proven intrinsic to the way I approach philosophy. I not only see historical figures as embedded within specific historical situations but also try to analyze how those situations were often more complex than these individuals realized.

For instance, in my first semester here at the University of Toronto, I taught an Africana Political Philosophy course for undergraduates. In one unit of the class, we covered African American thinkers writing in the aftermath of the failure of Reconstruction. We canvassed the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, Claudia Jones, Hubert Harrison, and A. Philip Randolph as they all, in their own manner, attempted to come to grips with why racist violence was increasing in the face of formal (though) partial equality. I tried to get my students to understand the disappointment and despair these men and women felt on realizing that the accomplishment of the world-historical effort to abolish institutional slavery left a world in which “race” seemed more alive than ever. Race science proliferated, imperial wars continued, domestic terrorism against Black and Brown folks crystallized, and amid all this, an increasingly global market was turning formal freedom into conditions of material deprivation.

Nevertheless, this disappointment and despair forced philosophy to change as these men and women sought to understand their newly emerging society, explain its causal structure, and renew normative arguments for freedom and equality. They often did not agree, and would forcefully argue against one another, but they all shared a commitment to grasping how the world was. I wanted my students to see both the arguments these men and women were making as well as understand the world that provoked these arguments. In practice, this meant that students learned to read an argument on its own terms and how the argument inevitably elided or misconstrued complex phenomena.

For instance, at the turn of the twentieth century, Du Bois, an African American philosopher and social scientist, was convinced that the roots of racism could be found in widespread ignorance and a lack of effective moral suasion. His most famous writing from this period, The Souls of Black Folk (1903), is in part an appeal to the consciousness of white people who he assumes do not know any better. Racism, for the young Du Bois, was a cognitive error that had become a habit—and thus could be undone through sympathy and knowledge. Du Bois somewhat reduces the complexity of racism to a problem of misrecognition rather than objective social relations, or what I call “form of life.” None of this takes away from the extraordinary depth and accomplishment of Souls, but it does bring out his specific assumptions in attempting to understand race after the formal abolition of slavery.

Racism is thus a product both of global, impersonal processes and of irrational desires.

Compare his turn-of-the-century position with his ideas after World War I. Published in 1920, Darkwater analyzes that war as a necessary outcome of European nations competing with one another for access to natural resources in Africa and dominance in the world market. Furthermore, racism seems to Du Bois to find its seat in unconscious affects and emotions, rather than in our reflective capacities. Racism is thus a product both of global, impersonal processes and of irrational desires. Du Bois comes to realize that these two spheres of social life cannot be corrected with appeals to consciousness. And so his philosophical commitments changed as the complexity of the global world came more into view.

I had worried, before I transitioned to the University of Toronto, how well my work would “translate” in Canada. After all, I think there is sometimes the misperception that African American philosophers are somewhat parochial, universalizing the social relations of “race” as if they worked the same everywhere. But studying these men and women provides the reader with references not only to ancient Greek philosophy, Roman political traditions, and German Idealism but also with interrogations of the relationship between philosophy and social science, aesthetics and epistemology, and metaphysics and politics. In other words, African American and Africana philosophers very much resemble what are considered “traditional” philosophers, even though their questions, methods, and historical resources may differ. I mean to say: these figures were never concerned with only race; they took themselves to engage with a broader form of life, to tackle universal questions.

Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that my students needed no convincing that this type of philosophy was relevant to their experiences. They immediately grasped the effort to understand the complex world in which one lives. It did not seem to me that “race” or their identities presented any barrier to their willingness to learn and understand. My suspicion is that students already understand themselves to be caught up in global forms of life before they enter the classroom; the work is developing the tools to decipher what this means.

To engage this type of work requires real intellectual humility alongside one’s critical capacities. Nowhere did this point emerge more clearly than when I watched my students engage with the political, aesthetic, and metaphysical arguments of Marcus Garvey and his variant of Black nationalism. I marveled at my students’ sensitivity to the historical context of U.S. life in the 1920s and their defense of Garvey’s aesthetics of individual self-determination. At the same time, they ably raised important critiques about the limits of his political vision and the shortcomings of his metaphysical concept of race. In other words, they managed to productively engage the thinking of a Jamaican immigrant to the United States in a historical context far removed from their own because they took his philosophy as part of a global form of life.

In Search for a Method, Jean-Paul Sartre (1957) claims that a “philosophy is developed for the purpose of giving expression to the general movement of society.” I have always comported myself to philosophy and its “global” questions in this way. I take philosophy as an active form of life that attempts to make clearer the social and historical dynamics in which we live. Philosophy has never seemed to me an activity that is at home within itself; rather, it appears contiguous with the broader movements and fates of the world. This may make its object of inquiry more complex, perhaps more opaque. Yet it does have real stakes. If I can get my students to feel invested in those stakes, even if only for a semester, then I will have considered my philosophical activity a success.

William M. Paris is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, with research interests in Africana philosophy, philosophy of race, political philosophy, and critical theory. He seeks to demonstrate how the work of Africana scholars can lead to a deeper understanding of contemporary conflicts. His manuscript “Black Critical Theory and the Epistemology of Utopia” argues that utopia is an essential precondition for political critique and generating knowledge.

Global Philosophy as History of Philosophy

Global Philosophy as History of Philosophy

—by Jack Beaulieu

Accurately representing historical philosophical views beyond the Euro-American tradition to build contemporary theory enriches the options of how and where we can think today.

What is the relation of the history of philosophy to global philosophy? Let’s suppose global philosophy just is (or is best done as) cross-cultural philosophy, a methodological approach that focuses on constructing novel solutions to familiar problems by drawing on diverse philosophical traditions. (This methodology has rightly been heralded as the successor to the dated project of comparative philosophy, which focused on putting traditions or thinkers “in dialogue.”) If global philosophy is cross-cultural philosophy, then the history of philosophy simply serves as inspiration for global philosophy. Work done to understand the views of historical philosophers outside the Euro-American tradition is fed into the global philosophical enterprise, at which point the global philosopher takes over and theory-building begins. In some cases, the scholar doing the historical work may be one and the same as the scholar doing the theory-building, but the point remains: global philosophy aims to build novel theories, whereas the history of philosophy aims for something like getting the views right. Individuated by their respective goals, we have two different philosophical projects.

Philosophers working on global philosophical traditions often fear lapsing into “mere” intellectual historians. In the study of Sanskrit philosophy, this fear is (rightly) bound up with the fear of treating Sanskrit thinkers as mere text and as a series of historical developments, failing to afford them the respect they deserve as philosophers. As philosophers today, we hope that colleagues will engage with our views: better to be shown we’re wrong than to receive no engagement at all. We owe the same to philosophers of the past.

As philosophers today, we hope that colleagues will engage with our views: better to be shown we’re wrong than to receive no engagement at all. We owe the same to philosophers of the past.

Cross-cultural philosophy avoids these problems by putting theory-building in the driver’s seat: it respects the thinkers of global philosophical traditions by treating them as colleagues in the project of delivering the best solutions to philosophical problems. The cross-cultural project has deep importance (as does intellectual history!). But I believe there is a way of doing global philosophy that charts a path between intellectual history and cross-cultural philosophy. That’s an approach I’ll call global history of philosophy. Global history of philosophy has three ingredients, corresponding to each of its three descriptors.

Global history of philosophy is global because the project engages with multiple philosophical traditions from around the world. For comparison, a paṇ ḍ it, or traditional scholar, in India concerned only with philosophical tradition is not doing global philosophy, even if he (yes, always “he”) works on a global philosophical tradition. That’s because global philosophy requires engagement across borders. In my own work, I focus on the Sanskrit philosophical tradition while using the theoretical resources and vocabulary of analytic philosophy to understand the primary texts. In many ways, this hails from necessity: while analytic philosophers are familiar with the vocabulary of ancient philosophy scholarship, the vocabulary of analytic philosophy is the only vocabulary shared by analytic philosophers and scholars of Sanskrit philosophy. By using the resources of analytic philosophy, we can render Sanskrit material accessible to interested philosophers unfamiliar with Sanskrit and obscure philological vocabulary (which includes abominations such as “invalid knowledge”).

Global history of philosophy is history because the project aims to get the authors right. It primarily asks: “What is the view?”; “What is the argument?” In my own work on Gaṅ geśa, a 14th-century philosopher in the Nyāya tradition in India, I measure success by whether I put his views and arguments in terms he would accept if he were alive today and shared my vocabulary. If he would not recognize the views I present as his own, something has gone wrong. Here, the project of finding the theories, rather than building them, is in the driver’s seat.

Finally, global history of philosophy is philosophy because the project involves making the philosophy in the concerned texts come alive. Intellectual historians study the development and transmission of ideas: What was the idea, and how did it spread? But while intellectual history is history whose content matter is philosophy, it does not make for history of philosophy in the philosophical sense. Views are not merely developments in a debate. Rather, historical philosophers offered theories they thought were genuine candidates for the truth. Philosophical history of philosophy differs from non-philosophical approaches in that historians of philosophy motivate the views they find in the texts and ask whether we should believe those views, either as they are or with adjustments.

The history of philosophy ultimately holds instrumental value to contemporary philosophers. As with all history of philosophy, global history of philosophy serves as inspiration and helps us rethink the contemporary option space. Gaṅ geśa has well-argued, plausible solutions to problems both familiar and unfamiliar. For instance, have you ever thought about how you can realize after the fact that a friend didn’t attend a gathering, even though you didn’t notice their absence at the time? Gaṅ geśa has, and he’s got a detailed view about how such cases work. As philosophers, we read him to see if his views are right. To confess: I tend to think they are.

To return to our starting question: global philosophy can be the history of philosophy. Global philosophy is just the minimal methodological commitment to doing philosophy by engaging with multiple traditions. Cross-cultural philosophy and global history of philosophy present two more specific ways of doing global philosophy. These two approaches, I think, complement each other. We might worry that a methodology focused on accuracy will get us bogged down in interpretation, and so we never move on with the philosophy. But by distributing our resources, we can avoid this problem: Global historians of philosophy work to get the views right, and cross-cultural philosophers work with those views (in many cases, of course, one and the same scholar will do both aspects of the work). At the end of the day, this relation differs little from that of the history of ancient philosophy to analytic philosophy. That relation, after all, brought us fields like analytic virtue ethics.

Jack Beaulieu is a graduate student and Canada Graduate Scholar working on the history of philosophy. His research explores issues in epistemology and metaphysics through the history of late classical and early modern Indian philosophy in Sanskrit, especially through the work of the Navya-Nyāya philosopher Gaṅ geśa and his commentators. He also ranked among the five recipients of the Department of Philosophy’s inaugural Graduate Student Service Awards in 2021.

On Respectful Listening: Gathering Wisdom amid Turmoil

—by Munema Moiz

One health-care worker’s route from occupational therapy to philosophy

In the field of health care, there are few moments for repose. Fifteen to twenty patients a day regularly require food and medication, need help toileting, and have families who want updates and assessments, often leaving care staff on their feet for five or six hours at a time, hastily triaging cases according to urgency. With seemingly no limit to what we owe one another, conscientious health-care workers can teeter dangerously close to burnout and even moral injury. I remember seeing my colleagues coming in early to work, working through their lunch hours, and leaving late because they could not bear to provide substandard care to their patients.

One such case stands out vividly in my memory. I work as an occupational therapist, an obscure rehabilitation profession that focuses on patients recovering their function by treating their cognitive, physical, and environmental needs. I had an elderly patient who was a retired priest. His development of dementia saw him admitted to hospital, and in hopes of lessening the agitation, paranoia, and restlessness caused by the illness, his doctor referred him to me. I soon found that he, like many patients, very much enjoyed reminiscing about his past. Indeed, when given the chance to talk about his life, he was less likely to become impatient and angry with his nursing staff. So, I made it one of my priorities to simply sit with him, encouraging him to recall his life with me.

Fiddling with his rosary, he spoke lucidly about his work as a priest. He described it as very challenging work, saying that his parishioners required his constant attention and care. Often, he explained, their needs went far beyond his expertise. But he found that if he prayed to God, he was able to bring himself to the difficult task of simply listening to his flock. He admitted that he had found it hard to “be” with people, but that this was his task as their priest and that God would do the rest.

I asked him what he thought of his current situation:

How would he counsel himself if he could see himself now? He did not answer for a few minutes. He gazed with cloudy, cataract-ridden eyes at the clock in front of him. Then he responded very gently, almost in a whisper, “No one knows what this is like. But God is closer to me than before. Nobody knows.”

As my caseload demands increased to almost unmanageable levels, I could no longer see my patient consistently. Some of the symptoms of his dementia worsened: he became less and less lucid, and I heard from the nursing staff that he had hit them a few times. I felt frequent guilt at my inability to check on and work with him—without daily therapy, he physically and cognitively deteriorated. Only a few months later, he died.

What will I rely on when I am alone in my hospital bed, with my own faculties failing me and my own mind gasping for meaning in its final few months?

When I decided to pursue philosophy academically, my experiences with this patient were a crucial influence on me. I recall him sitting in his hospital bed—as it turns out, his deathbed— unable to walk or even eat by himself anymore, but still thinking of higher principles. He was a man always drawn to reflect on his life and his work. Perhaps it is outdated to conceive of philosophy as the love of wisdom, but I think of this former priest as a philosopher, because he loved something that felt very close to wisdom. He had a clear vision of what life was and what it should be, and even in his dying days, as his cognitive faculties failed him, he remained contemplative, pondering the significance of events that had happened to him and of people he had met. I firmly believe that these musings resulted from the habits of his younger years, which continued to shape his mind even in old age: he had listened to his parishioners, making him reflective of and receptive to interpreting his own experiences.

Unfortunately, working in health care has not provided me with time to listen to others. Even though my colleagues and I are constantly surrounded by failing health and even death, which should elicit reflection, there is not much time for it. Indeed, most days I am almost jogging down the hallways. My time spent with this gentleman proved an outlier because of a brief lull in patient numbers. But it made me think: What can I do that allows me to reflect on the words of others? Which field concerns itself with the significance of life, with assessing one’s life and judging it by some sort of vision of truth? What will I rely on when I am alone in my hospital bed, with my own faculties failing me and my own mind gasping for meaning in its final few months?

Naturally, this is philosophy.

I came to the University of Toronto with the intention to focus on such philosophy, taking courses in ancient philosophy for this reason. Thanks to this university’s diverse offerings, I was exposed to South Asian philosophy as well. My similar heritage gave me a feeling of affinity to the thinkers from that part of the world. And despite their analytical rigour, I perceived such thinkers to also be concerned with philosophy as a way of living—or even a way of dying.

What I enjoy most about philosophy is the attitude of respectful listening that characterizes the field, even to the dead. Many of my patients have died, and sometimes I feel that their passing remarks about their own lives have been entrusted to me as a type of material for philosophizing: they have to be carefully considered, humbly sorted through, and analyzed with deference, lest the wisdom of the dead be lost.

(Please note: To maintain his anonymity, I have not provided sufficient details about my patient to identify him.)

Munema Moiz is a master’s student in the Department of Philosophy, with research interests in South Asian and Islamic philosophy. She completed her undergraduate studies in Cognitive Science at McGill University and then moved on to a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy at Western University, before deciding to pursue philosophy academically. Outside of philosophy, she is passionate about health care and rehabilitation.

Non-Western Philosophies in Reception: The Case of India

—by Owen Ware

Examining the intricacies of past reception, one scholar finds a path into philosophy’s future.

If you look at my list of publications, you’ll see that I’ve spent a lot of time studying modern European philosophy, especially Kant and post-Kantian thought. But the truth is, my interest in South Asian schools of philosophy is much older, going back to the late 1990s when I began to read Indian and Buddhist texts with great excitement.

At the time what I found compelling about these texts was the way they presented philosophy as a way of life. It wasn’t just an intellectual exercise, or a way of sharpening one’s critical thinking, but something much larger, from cultivating character to engaging in actual practices like meditation. While I didn’t have the opportunity to take classes in South Asian philosophy as a student—because none were offered—these teachings remained an important part of my life over the years.

My new research marks a fusion of these two areas: modern European philosophy and classical Indian systems of thought. I’m trying to tackle a set of questions that has only recently become a matter of debate within the discipline:

(1) Why did the canon of Western thought take a form that excluded Indian systems of philosophy? And (2) how can we understand those systems today in ways that open up global dialogues within the discipline of philosophy itself?

What I’m working on now constitutes a critical reception history: one that shows how the first translated texts of classical Indian philosophy were interpreted and evaluated by European intellectuals over the modern period. One thing that struck me as I began this new direction of research was the sudden interest in India that captured some of Europe’s greatest intellectuals of the period, especially those working in Germany, such as Johann Gottlieb Herder, Friedrich Schlegel, F. W. J. Schelling, Wilhelm von Humboldt, and G. W. F. Hegel. As I dove into unpacking their engagements with Sanskrit texts—such as the Bhagavadgītā, the Sāṃ khya-Karikas, and the Yoga-Sūtras—I discovered how existing controversies at the time largely distorted the image of classical Indian philosophy.

For example, almost overnight these texts became caught in the crossfire of a debate concerning the rise of pantheism, as a doctrine that identifies the divine “in all things.” Those sympathetic to this doctrine, at the time associated with the work of Spinoza, were excited by the kind of metaphysics they found in books like the Gītā. But for others, pantheism made for a dangerous doctrine that ultimately reduced to “nihilism”—a rejection of individual things, a denial of moral distinctions, and the like—and they imported those same fears onto Indian systems as well.

My work helped me understand this narrowing of the discipline at the expense of non-Western—and especially Indian—systems.

What provoked me as I worked further on this project was an unfortunate fact about the shape philosophy has taken as a discipline: that of a largely European- (and later Anglo-American) dominant field. My work helped me understand this narrowing of the discipline at the expense of non-Western—and especially Indian—systems as partially the result of these highly charged debates that unfolded early in the nineteenth century. Hegel, for example, spent years arguing that there was no such thing as “Indian philosophy,” and he maintained that ancient India was strictly speaking a “pre-historical” stage of human development.

Without a doubt Hegel’s indictment against Indian philosophy reveals a dark moment in the reception history I’m trying to uncover; but hopeful moments exist too. I discovered in the course of my research that there was anything but a uniform set of attitudes toward India at the time. Writers such as Herder, Humboldt and, to a lesser extent, Schelling expressed enthusiasm about the prospect of what we now call “global philosophy.” We can learn from these exceptions, I believe, as they speak to a question that more and more scholars are asking today: How can we do philosophy in ways more inclusive and open to non-Western traditions?

This constitutes, in my view, an urgent task for the continued flourishing of philosophy as an academic discipline. I say this because the reality of living in multicultural centres of life is only growing, making the demands to learn other languages (as well as other modes of thinking) one of the great challenges facing the humanities. Of course, this is easier said than done. One of the obstacles facing global philosophy is simply that it puts a heavier workload on your shoulders: more languages to learn, more traditions to study, more books to read. But it’s worth it. And we always have the resource of collaboration to draw on, as Elisa Freschi so powerfully demonstrates in her contribution to this magazine.

In this respect I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a member of the Philosophy Department at the University of Toronto, given its international reputation for scholarship in South Asian history, language, philosophy, and culture. With newly recruited specialists in these fields, such as Professors Jonardon Ganeri, Christopher Fraser, Elisa Freschi, and Nilanjan Das, I look forward to starting new conversations and collaborations as my research unfolds. Now is the time, I believe, for starting dialogues about how non-Western philosophies have been received in the Western world.

In saying this, I am reminded of something Edward W. Said wrote in Orientalism (1978):

“Perhaps the most important task of all would be to undertake studies in contemporary alternatives to Orientalism, to ask how one can study other cultures and peoples from a libertarian, or a nonrepressive and nonmanipulative, perspective. But then one would have to rethink the whole complex problem of knowledge and power. These are all tasks left embarrassingly incomplete in this study.”

Said composed those words more than 40 years ago, and the task remains for the most part unfulfilled. It’s certainly too vast for any single person to achieve; but I hope to take a few small, hopefully fruitful, steps in that direction.

After receiving his PhD in Philosophy at U of T, Owen Ware held positions at Temple and Simon Fraser Universities before returning to the department in 2017. Now an associate professor, his areas of specialization include Kant, German idealism, and 19th-century philosophy. He is the author of two books, Kant’s Justification of Ethics and Fichte’s Moral Philosophy, both with Oxford University Press, and is a co-editor of Fichte’s System of Ethics: A Critical Guide, with Cambridge University Press. He also has research interests in contemporary ethics, social and political philosophy, continental philosophy, and South Asian philosophy.

East of Königsberg: Expanding Limits through Collaboration

—by Elisa Freschi

The key to expanding the philosophical canon lies in accepting the limits of one’s own expertise and collaborating with others.

The essay introducing the feature pieces of this year’s magazine discusses global philosophy as “philosophy as it should be.” Those of us debating the matter were thinking, perhaps, of Immanuel Kant’s definition of Illuminism, elaborating from there that philosophy needs to strive to leave behind a stage of self-imposed limitations. Which limitations? Both those concerning the set of texts or ideas the discipline typically engages with and the methods applied.

Even if we can reach powerful conclusions while reading only Latin commentaries on Peter Abelard, say, why not read beyond them? Similarly, what attitude causes us to think that nothing valuable has ever been thought east of Königsberg and south of Sicily? To draw on a powerful simile suggested by the contemporary U.S. philosopher Jay L. Garfield, doing philosophy in a non-global way is like only listening to music composed on a Monday. Or, to use a metaphor more apt for harsh Canadian winters, disregarding philosophy’s wider reach is akin to an expert skier deciding to only go down the same slope over and over again. Certainly, if they did, they would definitely continue improving their style and technique. Some of them might even manage to engage so deeply with every inch of the slope that they would discover new aspects of it each time—and we should certainly be grateful to them for their dedication and insights.

Yet for all others, I ask: Why not choose the fascinating path of challenging ourselves with a different terrain—learning its similarities and differences, its revealingly unique features, forcing us to adapt and thereby teaching us novel skills that might prove useful on our more familiar slope as well? To me, doing philosophy within a single tradition likewise creates a self-imposed limitation—when philosophy by definition should want to challenge boundaries and think beyond every one of them.*

But how does one get to this place, this new terrain? The first step is, as so often, the most difficult one, and it involves a scholar’s decision to go beyond the comfort zone of their own knowledge to accept the challenge of the unknown. It is important to realize that this indeed makes for a challenge; only its conscious acknowledgment will leave us prepared to not simply fall back on our old methods and assumptions and apply them to a new text or system as if nothing had happened.

This latter procedure would lead to the opposite of doing philosophy globally, in fact reducing any diversity to a single angle and a single possible approach (which, truth be told, is routinely that of the currently dominant philosophical tradition). To go back to our musical comparison, it would be like interpreting any piece of music in existence anywhere in the world according to the rules of harmony we learned as a child, or, for the winter enthusiasts among us, like skiing on all types of snow using exactly the same technique (which, even if it works, misses the point of challenging ourselves).

What attitude causes us to think that nothing valuable has ever been thought east of Königsberg and south of Sicily?

Thus, once we have taken that first step, we will need to savour the challenge qua challenge. How? Much as we would when learning new music or trying our skills for the first time on a more difficult ski slope: we will need, or at least benefit from, an expert guide. And how do we identify an expert? Many epistemologists of testimony have discussed the topic. I will use here the threefold rule elaborated within the Nyāya school of Sanskrit philosophy, according to which an expert needs to be competent, sincere, and willing to communicate.

A little elaboration: The first requirement is apparent; no one can call themselves an expert in something they barely know. In this connection, let’s remember that competence is domain-specific: an expert in Mozart need not know everything about didjeridoos. Likewise, competence in a certain philosophical tradition does not automatically translate to the others. This is especially worth keeping in mind because, before venturing into a new terrain, we often risk underestimating its vastness. Accordingly, some universities have now opened positions for “non-Western philosophy,” implying that it is a homogenous whole of ridiculously small dimensions (since the openings for Euro-American philosophy are much more precise, e.g., “17th-century philosophy” or “bioethics”) that a single person can master. In contrast, I suggest that, before venturing into, say, Sanskrit discussions of the nature of the mind, we need to identify a guide expert in exactly that question. That guide needs to know what they don’t know and be sincere in what they share. In addition, they must be willing to share generously.

In the ideal case, the guide will soon become a fellow skier on the same slope or a companion musician playing the same tune. In fact, global philosophy invites and encourages collaboration. No one will ever master every branch of philosophy, so we achieve the optimal compromise between openness to challenges and depth (which cannot be acquired in multiple fields in a short time) by working with colleagues. Learning to ski or play music with others takes time, especially at the beginning, but it rewards participants with results difficult to achieve on their own.

I, for one, am extremely grateful to the colleague logicians in the Mīmāṃ sā Logic Project (mimamsa.logic.org) who allowed me to think of deontics within Sanskrit philosophy using ideas and methods I had previously not even been aware of. Conversely, I exposed my colleagues at the TU Wien (Vienna University of Technology) to the challenge of Sanskrit ideas about commands, leading them to rethink the axiom that prescriptions, prohibitions, and permissions are mutually definable. Much like a ski tour or a new melody, these collaborative efforts helped both sides even when we returned to the texts, ideas, and methods we were more familiar with, and which had now taken on a different sheen.

Are you ready to listen to a new tune or ski in fresh snow?

*Again, I fully acknowledge that some people will find fresh boundaries to be crossed even within the same tradition. This short article is directed at all others.

Assistant professor Elisa Freschi works on Sanskrit philosophy, specifically on topics of epistemology of testimony, philosophy of religion, philosophy of language, deontic logic, and on the re-use of texts in the Sanskrit cosmopolis. She is a convinced upholder of reading Sanskrit philosophical texts within their history and understanding them through a philosophical approach. She has worked as an “Assistentin” at the University of Vienna and as research leader of projects on Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta and on deontic logic and Mīmāṃ sā at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

A Message from Our Chair

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the newest issue of our magazine; I hope you enjoy reading about the many things that have been going on in Philosophy at the University of Toronto in the past 12 months.

Over the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic, I have realized how foolish it can be to make predictions about its course. The past year, again, saw sudden shifts from optimism and increased in-person activities to another pivot to online instruction and the home office. I would like to thank once more our incredibly dedicated staff on all three campuses for the support they provided to undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members.

Despite the pandemic and all the challenges it created for our community, Philosophy had a strong year, and we have been working relentlessly to become even better. For example, between November and now, the three U of T Philosophy Departments conducted searches for six faculty positions in areas ranging from South Asian philosophy and ethics and political philosophy to philosophy of mind and philosophy of science. We are delighted that Sara Aronowitz and Reza Hadisi will join us at St. George. Stay tuned for more exciting announcements! It also feels rewarding to see the fruit of much hard work recognized by our peers. The most recent iteration of Wiley-Blackwell’s “Philosophical Gourmet Report,” a ranking of graduate programs in Philosophy, now places us at #8 in the Anglophone world, just behind Yale and ahead of Harvard, UCLA, UC Berkeley, and Columbia. I am personally not a fan of rankings, but one should accept a compliment when it is offered.

Not all news in recent months proved happy. Our community has been saddened by the death of Frank Cunningham, a beloved long-time faculty member and former chair, as well as the passing of two of our distinguished alumni: Charles Mills and Erna Paris. They will be missed.

As you can see, the new issue of the magazine has a special focus on global philosophy. You may wonder: What is global philosophy? Isn’t all philosophy global insofar as the discipline, in its pursuit of rational understanding and insight, abstracts from specific cultural settings and regional idiosyncrasies? Well, let’s find out from one of the many articles in this issue. A focus on global philosophy also echoes recent recruitment on our three campuses. It seems only fitting for a philosophy department in the world’s most diverse city to reflect the riches of philosophical thought found in many traditions around the globe. In the past couple of years, we have added a number of colleagues in South Asian philosophy and ensured that Chinese philosophy has returned to our curriculum. We have also gained coverage in Africana philosophy. While this has immediate impact on our course offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels, it also enables us to prepare future leaders in these exciting subfields.

The easing of COVID-19 once again allowed us to welcome visiting professors and visiting graduate students from around the world. Their presence in the department has always proved a major asset, and it is particularly appreciated after a period of suddenly halted international mobility. A belated, special welcome to visiting professors Marina Velasco from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Ryan Johnson from Elon University (USA) who have enriched departmental conversations and activities these past months.

Last but not least, a very warm welcome to Belinda Piercy, who last year left the position of TA coordinator and part-time professor in the teaching stream to become the new assistant to the chair. Her remarkable talents come to the fore even more clearly in the new role she plays in the department. And an equally warm welcome—or rather, welcome back—to Natalia Belomestnova, who joined us in March in the newly created position of financial and administrative assistant.

Don’t forget to check out our website for current events and news and to follow us on social media. It would be a pleasure to welcome you at a future department talk or event. And if you have feedback or suggestions, please send them our way.

We are always happy to hear from you.

Martin Pickavé
Chair, Department of Philosophy
Faculty of Arts and Science
Chair, Graduate Department of Philosophy



It was and continues to be an exciting year for UTM Philosophy: We are welcoming new people, have planned exciting events, and our faculty continue to achieve many honours.

UTM Philosophy was delighted to host new postdocs Nicolas Coté, David Olbrich, and Michael Omoge, as well as a continuing one, Jim Hutchinson, and to welcome new part-time assistant professors (teaching stream) Steven Coyne, Mark Fortney, Robert Mason, and Owen Pikkert. Big congratulations to Jim, who in January moved on to a well-deserved tenure-track position at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. UTM Philosophy will also be welcoming its newest faculty member in the fall of 2022, Professor Nilanjan Das. Nilanjan is a specialist in South Asian philosophy and epistemology. He received his PhD in 2016 from MIT and has previously held postdoctoral or faculty positions at the University of North Carolina, NYU Shanghai, and University College London. Welcome, Nilanjan!

In March, our department again hosted hundreds of high school students at UTM, albeit virtually, for the third Ontario High School Ethics Bowl. This year’s Bowl exploded in popularity, with some 60 teams, 40 moderators, and 160 judges from all over the province participating, and 300-400 students, teachers, parents, faculty, and University administrators attending the opening ceremonies. Last year’s Bowl made the papers, with a headline in the Toronto Star that said it all: “How students in Ontario are trying to save civic discourse.” A Junior Ethics Bowl, and the second year of summer philosophy camps at UTM, are also planned for the spring and summer of 2022. Thanks to our outreach and communications officer, Jeffrey Senese, for excellent work on planning and organizing these events.

This again proved a year of significant faculty achievements. Jennifer Nagel ascended to the role of president of the Canadian Philosophical Association, after having served as vice-president and the former president of the APA. Owen Ware won the UTM Annual Research Award in the Humanities, cementing the award with his two recently published books, Kant’s Justification of Ethics (OUP, 2021) and Fichte’s Moral Philosophy (OUP, 2020). Andrew Sepielli’s book Pragmatist Quietism: A Metaethical System is scheduled to appear this summer, also with Oxford University Press. Finally, we are awed and inspired by Sergio Tenenbaum’s work to help a UTM student and her family escape Kabul after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan this past summer. Congratulations to you all!

Despite pandemic restrictions, members of our community have succeeded in coming together at different points and in different ways, for example with a fun meet-and-greet organized by the Philosophy Academic Society (PAS) on the online platform Gather Town. And we are (at the time of writing, and hopefully forever more) back in person at UTM. It has been wonderful to see the campus full of students again—and from many reports, it’s a great experience for the students too.

As we look ahead to a new and hopefully more personally interactive year, let me end with a note of thanks to all the people who make up the UTM Philosophy community, including our students, the PAS, our wonderful staff (Robert Eberts, Jane Medeiros, Jeffrey Senese, and Elisabeta Vanatoru), the graduate students who taught or provided teaching assistance for us, postdocs, and faculty, all of whom should be applauded for their resilience and flexibility in adjusting to the whims of the virus and its variants. The fact that we have or will run Ethics Bowls and camps, our Socrates Project and a Socrates Project Conference, as well as reading groups and directed studies, among many other things, speaks volumes to the quality of people we are privileged to count as members of our community.

Gurpreet Rattan
Chair, Department of Philosophy
University of Toronto Mississauga


Another busy and productive academic year has passed for UTSC Philosophy. It is hard to overestimate the toll the pandemic has taken on both faculty and students. So, with a mixture of relief and trepidation, we have finally moved back into the classrooms. The department can be proud of how it sustained its teaching and research mission through the pandemic, which we hope will soon truly be over. Perhaps a symbol of our resilience is the little aloe vera plant in Bill Seager’s office—unwatered and untended for more than a year, it survived and patiently waited for the rest of us to return.

But unlike our hardy aloe, we have exciting news. We are in the midst of trying to recruit three new positions: a senior position in political philosophy, and two junior positions, one in the philosophy of mind and the other in ethics. We are thrilled that Nathan Howard will be joining us in ethics, Andrew Y. Lee in philosophy of mind, and Avia Pasternak in political philosophy.

The department will be searching for more new colleagues next year. We were recently awarded a position in global philosophy; our course offerings in this area have remained scanty, so this provides an exciting extension of departmental expertise. We also began work on a new specialist program in the Oxford tradition of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE), although our version will be extended and globalized. This program will be supported by a new position in political philosophy.

Two of our faculty have been recognized with prestigious research awards at UTSC. Bill Seager emerged as the co-winner of the Principal’s Research Award, the premier award at UTSC in recognition of his lifetime achievement in philosophy, especially the study of consciousness. Jessica Wilson earned the UTSC Research Excellence Faculty Scholars Award for outstanding and innovative world-class research. Bill and Jessica will each receive a $10,000 award and will give public lectures in the Celebration of Research Excellence Lecture Series at UTSC next year.

On the undergraduate front, Marybel Menzies, apart from becoming the new president of the Association of Philosophy Students (APS), was named a Jackman Humanities Institute

undergraduate fellow and won the Zoltan Simo and Katherine Nagel Prizes. Syed Faateh Ali was awarded a place at a Cornell University summer school and co-authored a paper on Hegel and Marx with Michael Blezy, to be presented in the summer of 2022 at Princeton University.

The APS hosted a dozen events, some on practical matters such as “What to Do with a Philosophy Degree,” but more on a range of philosophical topics, including sessions titled “Pārthasārathi and Gangeśa on Absence in Retrospect” and “The Perils of Naivety in Moral Epistemology.” It also held writing clinics as part of its general support of UTSC students.

The department is working on two important fellowships, in memory of Howard Sobel and Waheed Hussain, respectively. Calls for donations will be forthcoming.

Overall, despite COVID-19, we’ve had a good year, with lots getting done while having some fun along the way.

Sonia Sedivy
Chair, Department of Philosophy
University of Toronto Scarborough

Graduate Department

I write this note in the middle of our new admissions cycle: Yet again in the past year we had well over 500 applications to our graduate programs—offers have gone out to applicants to our PhD program, as well as to our MA generalist and the MA philosophy of science streams. The applicant pool for our graduate programs distinguishes itself not only by its size but also by the extremely impressive stature of its members, so we expect to recruit another highly talented new cohort. Many applicants mentioned the videos we made available to prospective graduate students as being helpful and informative—my thanks again to Jack Beaulieu, Andriy Bilenkyy, Alexandra Gustafson, Julia Lei, and Zain Raza, who agreed to feature in these videos. This year we also introduced a popular pilot program of reimbursing the application fee for prospective graduate students who had both financial need and identified as members of equity-seeking groups—and I am delighted that we will continue this initiative in the coming academic year. Questions about (or financial support of!) the application fee waiver are encouraged!

We continue to have a diverse and academically stellar group of graduate students, many of whom routinely win prestigious external awards. You will find more about their successes in these pages. We are pleased to continue to offer a level of support that goes beyond that provided by the Faculty of Arts & Science, mainly due to endowed awards and generous pledges by our faculty of their research funds. This support allows us both to assist our graduate students in the relatively expensive city of Toronto and to remain competitive with international peer institutions. In the past year, Philosophy faculty across three campuses provided more than $200,000 to support our graduate students. Many other graduate departments are seeking to start similar initiatives, and I hope their faculty will prove both equally successful in securing research grants and equally generous in sharing their funding.

Despite the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic, we have already had 10 of our students successfully defend their PhD dissertations in the past academic year, with several more scheduled. To those recent graduates not otherwise employed, we managed to offer employment either as postdoctoral fellows or as part-time assistant professors, teaching stream—to the immense benefit of our undergraduates, who could draw on their research expertise and teaching skill.

Our graduate student leaders deserve particular praise: despite the pressures of the pandemic, they have demonstrated unwavering commitment to building and sustaining a supportive community. Graduate students meet regularly for a thesis writing group and the Grad Forum, which provides an opportunity to showcase work in progress; engage in multiple graduate student research groups; advance a welcoming and equitable environment through various activities in the GPSU’s Mental Health & Disability Caucus and the Women’s Caucus; create regular innovative opportunities for socializing both in person and online; and offer valuable one-on-one peer mentorship (both academic and non-academic). All this in addition, of course, to the regular opportunities graduate students have to discuss their work with faculty and peers in research interest groups, informal meetings, practice job talks, and the like. To acknowledge our graduate student leaders’ dedication, we initiated the Graduate Student Service Awards, selecting our first winners, as you will read, in May 2021.

In sum, I think you will agree: we have the pleasure of working with an exceptional group of scholars and human beings and can look forward to what the future will hold.

Amy Mullin
Associate Chair, Graduate
(Director of Graduate Studies)

St. George Undergraduate Department

We learned in academic year 2021–2022 that the pandemic was not yet done with us. I remember the elation felt in September by faculty, staff, and students at the possibility of returning to in-person learning after having been online since March 2020. But as fall turned to winter, that happy mood was replaced by a grim sense of “here we go again” when the Omicron variant forced us back online.

Fortunately, that retreat was only temporary, and we managed to finish the year in person, back together again on campus. I am hopeful that next year will see a safe return to a pre-pandemic way of doing most things. But if the dedication, resilience, and good cheer I have seen from everyone in our department give any indication, I know that no matter what the future may bring, we will be ready to face it.

This year we offered 108 undergraduate courses, more than ever before, and our offerings have never seemed more popular, with soaring undergraduate course enrolments. Among these courses were ones taught by our new colleagues Boris Babic, Tarek Dika, and William Paris, and ones developed last year and taught for the first time, including exciting new courses on Sanskrit philosophy and on “Ethical Issues in Big Data.” In the fall, a special faculty working group discussed curriculum renewal and helped instructors develop new course proposals and usher them through the approval process. Thus, next year we will offer innovative courses on, among other topics, the philosophy of race, the philosophy of sports, Sanskrit ethics and philosophy of religion, and Sanskrit metaphysics and epistemology.

The department worked hard to furnish an impressive array of teaching and learning supports—including, once again, the equipment needed for online-only and dual-delivery teaching—and our undergraduate administrator, Eric Correia, provided above-and-beyond course assistance to faculty and students. Eric also curated a series of successful events for the students in our First-Year Learning Community. Griffin Klemick, Douglas Campbell, and Robert Mason joined us as new part-time assistant professors, teaching stream. Daniel Munro and Melissa Rees served as lead writing TAs, with Melissa doing double duty as our English language learner TA. And Maria Keller and Alexandra Gustafson did the crucial work of running the undergraduate Essay Clinic.

Extracurricular programming this year proved every bit as impressive as what went on inside the classroom. What a pleasure it was to get back to in-person colloquia and student events! As our UNESCO World Philosophy Day speaker we welcomed Vanessa Wills of George Washington University; we had very well-attended career and graduate school panels; and our Philosophy Course Union organized an impressive series of in-person and online events for our undergraduates, including “Phantoms and Philosophy” at Halloween (with Chris Fraser, Michael Miller, and me) and a Valentine’s Day “Symposium on Love” (with Alexandra Gustafson and Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray of King’s University College).

This was my first year as undergraduate coordinator, and I want to thank everyone who did so much to make the transition into this role so smooth. I am especially grateful to my predecessor, Peter King, and to Martin Pickavé and Eric Correia. Peter generously coached me on every aspect of the position. Martin and Eric are inspirations from whom I learn every day. They are also lots of fun to work with.

Congratulations, finally, to the graduating Class of 2022! You completed your studies under extremely trying circumstances and are finishing strong. I wish you happiness, health, and continued success.

James John
Associate Chair, Undergraduate

News Highlights

Undergraduate Honours

St. George students Andres Llano (Scotia Capital Markets Bursary in Philosophy), Hikmat Jamal (Thomas J. Lang Scholarship in Philosophy), Emily (Hayoung) Jin (Sunflower Scholarship), Yiting Tang (John F. M. Hunter Memorial Scholarship), Yazmeen Martens Samadi (George Kennedy Scholarship), Justin Gharibo (John MacDonald Scholarship in Philosophy), and Ethan Millar-Virkutis (Thomas A. Goudge Scholarship in Philosophy) were awarded scholarships for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Dina (Konstantina) Anagnostopoulou was presented with the Dr. Danny Goldstick Award.

Ori Gilboa and Emily Hurmizi both received a 2022 University of Toronto Student Leadership Award.

UTM students Breanna Ashkar, Alexde Guzman, Jonathan Yeung, and Matthew Lam were recipients of the Seneca Prize; Melissa Ramsammy and Nicholas Tessier were awarded the Erindale Prize; Isabella Robinson received the André Gombay Prize; Samantha Zikos was recognized with the Jacqueline Brunning Award; Alexde Guzman was awarded the Mississauga Prize.

UTSC students Syed Faateh Ali and Marybel Menzies received research fellowships at the Centre for Ethics and Jackman Humanities Institute, respectively.

Graduate Honours

Kristen Beard, Jack Beaulieu, Alexandra Gustafson, Emma McClure, and Zain Raza were honoured with the inaugural Graduate Student Service Awards, each receiving $1,000 in recognition of their generous efforts toward the department’s ongoing success and internal cohesiveness.

Felix Lambrecht became a School of Cities 2022 Graduate Student Fellow, supporting his work on reparative justice for historical wrongs, and was also named a University of Toronto Alumni Association Graduate Scholar for 2022.

Emma McClure added a 2022 University of Toronto Student Leadership Award to her list of achievements.

Rashad Rehman won the Jonathan Hellmann Best Poster Award at SickKids’ 2021 Bioethics Week with his poster “An Ethical Framework for Intersex Pediatric Surgery (IPS).”

Catherine Rioux received the 2020 David Savan Dissertation Prize for her thesis titled “Rational Hope.”

Hamish Russell was presented the 2021 UTSC Teaching Award for his exceptional contributions as an instructor over the past few years.

Kayla Wiebe was honoured with the 2021 Martha Lile Love Teaching Award for her outstanding work teaching PHL440-Clinical Bioethics.

Defended Dissertations

Steven Coyne, “Liberal Theories of Political Authority” (David Dyzenhaus)

Rory Harder, “Joint Action Communication, with a Focus on Demonstratives” (Imogen Dickie and Nate Charlow)

Natalie Helberg, “Catherine Malabou’s Dangerous Supplement” (Rebecca Comay) Kamil Majcherek, “Medieval Metaphysics of Artefacts, 1250–1500” (Martin Pickavé) Robert Mason, “Leibniz’s Modal Metaphysics” (Marleen Rozemond)

Emma McClure, “Microaggressions, Blame, and Responsibility” (Amy Mullin and Arthur Ripstein)

Damian Melamedoff-Vosters, “The Grounds of Transcendental Idealism” (Nick Stang)

Daniel Munro, “Imagining the Actual” (Jennifer Nagel)

Rachel O’Keefe, “A χαλεπòν καί άμυδρòν είδος: Plotinus’ Theory of Matter” (Lloyd Gerson)

Etye Steinberg, “Unthinkability and the Self” (Philip Clark)

Faculty Honours

David Dyzenhaus has been elected as a Corresponding Fellow to the British Academy in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the humanities.

Jessica Gelberand Julia Nefsky were both promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure.

The late Waheed Hussain’s article “Pitting People against Each Other” was selected for inclusion in the prestigious Philosopher’s Annual, a collection of the best philosophy articles published in the year 2020.

Bill Seager emerged as the co-winner of the Principal’s Research Award, the premier award at UTSC, in recognition of his lifetime achievement in philosophy.

Nick Stang was awarded a second term as a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in Metaphysics and Its History.

Trevor Teitel received the 2021 Connaught New Researcher Award for his project “Modality and Spacetime Physics.”

Owen Ware was honoured with the 2021 UTM Annual Research Prize in the Humanities for his outstanding contributions to the study of Kant, German idealism, and 19th-century philosophy.

Jessica Wilson earned the UTSC Research Excellence Faculty Scholars Award for outstanding and innovative world-class research.

Book Publications

David Dyzenhaus, The Long Arc of Legality: Hobbes, Kelsen, Hart (Cambridge University Press, 2022).

Joseph Heath, Philosophical Foundations of Climate Change Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).

Franz Huber, Belief and Counterfactuals: A Study in Means-End Philosophy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).

Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell, The Adventurer’s Glossary (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2021).

Arthur Ripstein, Kant and the Law of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).

Sonia Sedivy, ed., Art, Representation, and Make Believe: Essays on the Philosophy of Kendall L. Walton (Abingdon: Routledge, 2021).

Special Events

For UNESCO World Philosophy Day 2021, we were pleased to welcome Vanessa Wills (George Washington), once again in person, for her stimulating lecture “Why Think Like a Revolutionary?”.

On March 3, 2022, David Wallace (Pittsburgh) delivered to a rapt audience the 2022 Edith Bruce Memorial Lecture on Immortality, titled “Identity, Survival, and Immortality in the Quantum Multiverse.”

The Philosophy Departments at Mississauga and St. George organized another spirited Ontario High School Ethics Bowl, the third of its kind, on March 5–6, 2022.

Cécile Fabre (Oxford) engaged her audience over two days with the 2022 Roseman Lecture in Practical Ethics. Delivered on March 24, 2022, it was titled “‘Snatching Something from Death’: Value, Jusitice, and Humankind’s Common Heritage.”

New Faculty

Boris Babic

Assistant Professor

Boris Babic holds a dual appointment in the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Statistical Sciences. He is also a faculty affiliate of the Schwartz Reisman Institute for Technology and Society and a visiting professor in the Decision Sciences Department at INSEAD. Besides a PhD in Philosophy and an MS in Statistics, Boris also holds a JD from Harvard Law School.

Please tell us briefly about your research.

My main interests are twofold: First, in legal, ethical, and policy dimensions of artificial intelligence and machine learning (including, for example, privacy, transparency, and bias of algorithmic systems). Second, I work on Bayesian inference and decision making (including, for example, epistemic risk, coherence, updating, learning, aggregating probabilities, and selecting and checking models).

Is there something about yourself or your work that might surprise us? Maybe something you enjoy doing when not thinking philosophy?

I like hockey, skiing, and football (the one played by foot). I don’t know how surprising that is, but having lived in Singapore since 2019, I have not done much of the first two.

Please tell us about something you recently read, listened to, or watched/saw that had an impact and why.

I recently watched Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings, which I enjoyed.

Tarek Dika

Assistant Professor

Tarek Dika has joined us from the University of Notre Dame, where he taught in the Program of Liberal Studies, the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, and the Department of Philosophy. He was also a Fellow in the Medieval Institute at Notre Dame. He currently serves on the comité de lecture (review panel) of the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale.

Please tell us briefly about your research.

My research divides into two areas: early modern philosophy and science (principally Descartes) and German and French phenomenology (principally Heidegger and contemporary French phenomenology).

Is there something about yourself or your work that might surprise us? Maybe something you enjoy doing when not thinking philosophy?

I was born and raised in the city of Dearborn, a suburb of Detroit and home to the largest proportion of Arab Americans in the United States, according to Wikipedia.

Please tell us about something you recently read, listened to, or watched/saw that had an impact and why.

I recently reread Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Every time I read that text I am reminded of the majesty of Husserlian phenomenology and the possibilities of phenomenology as a philosophical method.

Chris Fraser

Richard Charles and Esther Yewpick Lee
Chair in Chinese Thought and Culture

Chris Fraser holds a joint appointment in the Department of Philosophy (75%) and the Department of East Asian Studies (25%). His recent books include Late Classical Chinese Thought (Oxford, forthcoming), The Essential Mòzǐ (Oxford, 2020), and The Philosophy of the Mòzǐ (Columbia, 2016). He is also currently working on both a monograph and a translation of the Daoist classic Zhuāngzǐ. Before joining the University of Toronto, Chris was Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong (2009–2021).

Please tell us briefly about your research.

My research interests span many aspects of and historical periods in Chinese philosophy. Most of my publications focus on the classical period, but I am now working on later periods as well.

I am particularly interested in how early Chinese theories of mind, knowledge, and language intersect with contemporary epistemology, action theory, and ethics. I also have a project in progress on the history of Chinese political thought, in particular debates over the role of institutionalized standards, including laws. In effect, this project examines the development of Chinese philosophy of law.

I recently finished the draft of a contribution to the Oxford History of Philosophy series entitled Late Classical Chinese Thought. This book surveys meta-ethics, ethics, political theory, moral psychology, epistemology, and philosophy of language during the third century BC, the period immediately before the onset of China’s first unified dynasty. In the coming year, I’ll be working on a new translation of the Daoist classic Zhuāngzǐ, also under contract with Oxford. At the moment, I’m writing an article discussing how the ethics of the Zhuāngzǐrelates to moral particularism.

Is there something about yourself or your work that might surprise us? Maybe something you enjoy doing when not thinking philosophy?

One surprising point might be that for years I devoted at least as much time to sports as to my academic career. I was an advanced free-skier and in winter spent most of my time in the mountains of Hokkaido. I considered giving up academia to become a professional ski guide. Prior to that for a number of years I raced F18 sailing catamarans in the seas around Hong Kong. Since one of my research interests is Daoist philosophy of action, I considered both of these pursuits “field work.”

Please tell us about something you recently read, listened to, or watched/saw that had an impact and why.

Over the past two years, I have been an eyewitness to the collapse of civil liberties and human rights in Hong Kong, my home for 25 years, where we watched a privileged, self-interested minority of the population betray what previously seemed to be shared civic values, selling out their compatriots’ basic rights in the process. These events have shown me how fragile a liberal society can be and convinced me that those of us in places like Canada should take more active steps to protect liberal democratic values and human rights, both here and abroad.

William Paris

Assistant Professor

William Paris joined the department from Wesleyan University, where he served as the Frank B. Weeks Visiting Assistant Professor in Philosophy. From 2018 to 2020, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University. He currently serves as an associate editor of the journal Critical Philosophy of Race.

Please tell us briefly about your research.

My research focuses on history of African American philosophy, 20th-century continental philosophy, and political philosophy. I have published on Frantz Fanon and gender, Sylvia Wynter’s phenomenology of imagination, and I am currently at work on my monograph “Racial Justice and Forms of Life: Towards a Critical Theory of Utopian Epistemology.” In this book I argue that history and social theory ought to be conjoined so as to draw utopian insights from failed struggles for freedom and racial justice that can guide our contemporary analyses toward a reconstructed society.

The main concern of the book is that racial justice that does not attend to our form of life fails to explain why so many movements for racial justice fall short and thus will tend to naturalize aspects of our social life that can be altered. I hope the project will elucidate why we should expand the vision of racial justice beyond dependency on states and bureaucracies and move toward reorganizing the fundamental cultural, political, and economic patterns that make up our form of life. To do this, we will need a utopian epistemology that can produce knowledge of how our world can be different than what it currently is.

Is there something about yourself or your work that might surprise us? Maybe something you enjoy doing when not thinking philosophy?

I am a deep lover of the New York Times crossword puzzle. I usually begin my morning before work doing one.

Please tell us about something you recently read, listened to, or watched/saw that had an impact and why.

I recently read Thomas More’s Utopia and was struck by the depth of insight More had concerning the necessity of the common good for our individual flourishing. When most people hear the word utopia, they think of the fantastical and the impossible. But reading More’s text and his description of utopia, I came away with the feeling that what would be fantastical and impossible is thinking that we can live well-ordered lives without protecting what we all hold in common.

We are also pleased to have several new part-time assistant professors, teaching stream, joining us this year: Douglas Campbell at the UTSC and St. George campuses, Steven Coyne at UTM, Griffin Klemick at St. George, Robert Mason at UTM, and Hamish Russell at UTSC.

Alumni Spotlight

Evan Hansen

Year of graduation
BA Philosophy 1988

Other degrees
MA Philosophy (Queen’s)

Current position
Twitter Director, Emerging Curation


I’ve worked in journalism and journalism-adjacent roles for the past 30 years. My career took off when I moved from Toronto to San Francisco in 1992. After a stint freelancing, I was hired as an associate editor at The Recorder, a legal newspaper owned by Steve Brill as part of American Lawyer Media. I covered internet and securities law, which put me very close to the center of the digital media revolution. I was recruited by CNET News.com to cover internet policy and trends, then Wired.com, where I was editor-in-chief for close to eight years, where we broke many big stories, including the arrest of Chelsea Manning in Iraq for espionage. I pivoted from media to tech, joining Medium in 2013 as lead editor in charge of content strategies and partnerships. Three years later I took a chance on Periscope to develop live video programming, which led to new opportunities within Twitter, where I’m currently running a small experimental team piloting human-in-the-loop machine learning projects to improve algorithmic content detection, ranking, and recommendation systems.

What role has philosophy/your philosophy degree played in your life?

Philosophy made me curious about the world and rigorous about identifying and solving problems to advance society and culture.

What piece of advice do you have for current students?

Be bold.

What is something you have read, heard, or seen lately that has left you inspired or positively surprised?

The Iliad, on audio, translated by Robert Fagles and narrated by Derek Jacobi. You need to listen to it, not read it.

What might we find you doing when not at work?

I just ran the Big Sur Marathon to help raise money for Parkinson’s research (my father died of it). I also play tennis and hang out with my dog, Archie (a very energetic yellow lab).

Lakshmi Sadhu

Year of graduation
Honours BA Philosophy and East Asian Studies 2017

Other degrees
MA Journalism (British Columbia)

Current position
Business relations manager at Broadway Subway Project (TI Corp)


I suppose you could say that I’m a journalist gone rogue. After working in radio production and digital reporting for the likes of CBC Radio, Daily Hive, the Globe and Mail, and CiTR Radio, I decided to jump into the world of strategic communications and public relations at a full agency PR consulting firm based in Vancouver. I’m currently stepping into a new role at Broadway Subway Project in B.C. in the capacity of business relations manager.

What role has philosophy/your philosophy degree played in your life?

It’s not hyperbole to say that the years I spent studying philosophy were some of the very best of my life. I cannot think of any other time during which I felt excited and enthusiastic every single day; I truly looked forward to all my philosophy classes and after-class chats with my professors. My degree didn’t just arm me with the expected technical proficiencies, like analytical thinking and solid writing skills. To me, it was a buoy in the ocean of life. It taught me how to navigate the question that will haunt every single one of us at some point in our lives—the existential question of meaning and that of the human condition. It allowed me to open a raw dialogue with myself and figure out what really made life worth living. It is this foundation on which I have built, and continue to build, the rest of my life.

What piece of advice do you have for current students?

Now is not the time to doubt yourself or to let fear/uncertainty/social anxiety dictate what you do. When I was a skeptical 18-year-old, I rolled my eyes at my parents when they told me that my undergraduate years would be some of the best of my life, and that I ought to make the best of them. I promise you, you will never again get such unlimited access to some of the most brilliant professors on earth, some of the most interesting literature and scholarly resources, and some of the most riveting people. Talk to as many people as you can, join as many clubs as you can, undertake as many courses and extracurricular activities as you can. It will shape you and mold you in ways that you never thought possible. Now is the time to fly and be limitless.

What is something you have read, heard, or seen lately that has left you inspired or positively surprised?

I’ve been quite captured recently by Esther Perel, the Belgian psychotherapist who explores relational intelligence and our inherent need for security in the world. I’m currently reading her book, Mating in Captivity, and it has been one of the most eye-opening works I’ve ever read, along with Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

What might we find you doing when not at work?

Hiking, camping, travelling, exploring British Columbia, reading, or going for long walks armed with my favourite cup of coffee.

In Memoriam

Frank Cunningham


Professor Emeritus Frank Cunningham, a renowned political theorist, former principal of Innis College, and chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto from 1982 to 1988, passed away on Friday, February 4, 2022, at the age of 81 at his home in Vancouver, assisted by the Canadian Medical Assistance in Dying program after a protracted battle with leukemia.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Cunningham came to Toronto in 1965 to complete his studies, which he had begun at Indiana University and the University of Chicago. He would remain at U of T for more than 40 years, first as a student, then as an esteemed teacher, scholar, and changemaker who dedicated his energies to the creation of a more equitable world and believed firmly in philosophy’s importance to everyday life.

Cunningham joined the Department of Philosophy, which he would later help rejuvenate and shape, in 1967 as a lecturer while still completing his doctorate under the supervision of David Gauthier. His early work focused on the philosophy of social science, but following the publication of his first book, Objectivity in Social Science (1973), he dedicated the remainder of his career to political philosophy, with a particular emphasis on democratic theory. That research led to a number of books, including Democratic Theory and Socialism (1987), The Real World of Democracy Revisited and Other Essays on Socialism and Democracy (1994), Theories of Democracy: A Critical Introduction (2002), The Political Thought of C. B. Macpherson: Contemporary Applications (2019), and, most recently, Ideas in Context: Essays in Social & Political Theory (2020).

Though he excelled at theory, Cunningham equally cherished action and activism rooted in those theoretical concepts; people always came first in Cunningham’s life. Students and colleagues remember an engaged and committed teacher who—with both humour and boldness—supervised 19 doctoral theses and served on numerous committees, including the University of Toronto’s Faculty Committee on Vietnam and its Faculty Reform Caucus.

As chair of the Department of Philosophy (1982–1988), Cunningham pushed for growth and progress, shaking the department out of a period of stagnation with new faculty appointments. He also introduced the idea—groundbreaking at the time—of making philosophy a high school subject in Ontario, shepherding the proposal through multiple levels of government approval. Many people initially viewed his proposal with skepticism, worrying that the approach would cut into first-year enrollment. Yet Cunningham not only proved them wrong but also laid the groundwork for hugely successful outreach initiatives of the future, such as the department’s Aristotle Contest, an annual high school philosophy essay competition that elicits participation from across Canada. Cunningham further spearheaded the University’s introduction of an organized program in bioethics for both undergraduates and graduate students.

Between 2000 and 2005, he served as principal of Innis College, where his commitment to equity and fairness meshed perfectly with the college’s parity governance structure. His interest in urban issues propelled him to give much-needed support to the college’s Urban Studies program. He championed the program’s innovative experiential learning course, which offered internships to fourth-year students. Cunningham also fortified the program’s connections to the community by pushing for a partnership with Regent Park. His efforts resulted in a provostially funded program wherein residents took courses building skills and expertise as urban citizens. He also worked with other post-secondary institutions to ensure that the redeveloped Regent Park had space dedicated to adult learning. At the same time, he proved instrumental in reviving Innis’s Writing & Rhetoric program, and helped lay the foundations for the Cinema Studies program to become a freestanding institute. Overall, Cunningham enriched the college in myriad ways, increasing the slate of awards and scholarships for students, expanding its staff and faculty complements, and re-engaging alumni as part of Innis’s 40th-anniversary celebrations in 2004.

Cunningham retired from U of T in 2009 and moved to Vancouver, where for the last years of his life he was affiliated with the Urban Studies program at Simon Fraser University, continuing his commitment to accessibility and equality.

Those who remember him not only point to his quick wits and strong politics but also to his kind, generous, and fun-loving personality. Mark Migotti, now a professor of Philosophy at the University of Calgary, remembers having his first job interview with Cunningham at an Eastern Division American Philosophical Association meeting in December 1989. Even though he did not get the position, Migotti gained something perhaps more valuable from the interview, held during an outdoor stroll: “I was grateful for Frank’s insightful questions and his welcome encouragement,” he said, noting that this supportive relationship continued for many years after the two men did become colleagues.  

Ellen Roseman, sponsor of the department’s Roseman Lectures in Practical Ethics, which this year featured Oxford University’s Cécile Fabre, met Cunningham while working on her master’s degree in Philosophy in 1968–1969. She recalls good times at Grossman’s Tavern, spent both in discussion and laughter. “I found him friendly, cheery, and keen to make students feel at home at U of T,” she says, adding that she never doubted he had a great professional future ahead of him.

Cunningham’s dedication, empathy, and spirit are already deeply missed.

Charles Mills


On September 20, 2021, the Department of Philosophy lost one of its most eminent alumni, Professor Charles W. Mills (MA 1975, PhD 1985). Many consider Mills, a prolific writer and renowned academic, to have played a foundational role in establishing critical race theory and in introducing the philosophy of race and racism into North American academia.

A veteran of progressive politics in his native Jamaica, Mills brought his political commitments to the University of Toronto, where he began his graduate work in philosophy in 1973 after having completed an undergraduate degree in physics at the University of the West Indies and winning a Commonwealth Fellowship. In Toronto, he not only worked to advance his scholarship but also actively championed Caribbean solidarity, various social justice movements, and graduate student involvement in University policy through U of T’s Graduate Student Union.

Supervised by the late Frank Cunningham and Daniel Goldstick, Mills wrote a thesis on the concept of ideology, moving on to a successful career in the United States that helped transform contemporary understandings of justice and the social order through a race-based lens. In 2021, the American Political Science Association recognized the lasting impact of his most famous book, The Racial Contract (Cornell University Press, 1997), with its biennial Benjamin Lippincott Award.

The author of six books and more than 100 articles, Mills was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, delivered the American Philosophical Association’s 2016 John Dewey Lecture, was elected president of the American Philosophical Association

Central Division in 2017, and gave the 2020 Tanner Lecture on Human Values at the University of Michigan. In the latter, Mills held that while progressive theorists needed to remain aware of mainstream liberal democracy’s sometime complicity in racism, they should not abandon liberalism, instead putting a robust version of it to anti-racist use.

Throughout his career in Chicago (University of Illinois and Northwestern University) and New York (CUNY), Mills remained famously warm and encouraging to colleagues

and mentees, combining probing intellectual powers with gentle wit and grace. In the words of Goldstick, “Everyone remembers Charles Mill’s modesty and humour. … But I also learned some valuable points from him about Marxism and ‘the racial contract.’” The late Cunningham likewise recalled a man who “opened my eyes to the importance of philosophers engaging the blight of racism”—as well as a lifelong friend and fellow traveller.

We are honoured to have shared the path with a scholar and human of such integrity and insight.

Erna Paris


On February 3, 2022, the award-winning writer and member of the Order of Canada Erna Paris (née Newman) passed away at the age of 83. Paris, who spent her writing life probing the nature of collective memory, injustice, and the mythologizing of history, graduated in 1960 from the (then) joint honours program in Philosophy and English.

She later remained connected to the department and to philosophy through her husband, Professor Emeritus Thomas M. Robinson.

Among seven acclaimed books of literary nonfiction and hundreds of articles, Long Shadows: Truth, Lies, and History (2001) likely ranks as Paris’s best-known and most influential work. In it, the author examined how countries from Germany to Japan, South Africa to the United States confronted their violent pasts and attempted to reinvent themselves. Her investigations often found evidence of what she called “the cynical shaping of historical memory,” which exaggerated and mythologized acts of resistance against the realities of widespread complacency. The Literary Review of Canada named the ambitious tome one of the “100 most important Canadian books ever written.”

In a similar vein, the citation for Paris’s appointment to the Order of Canada in 2016 called her “one of Canada’s leading human rights commentators and activists,” emphasizing that she never shied away from “sensitive issues in order to explore the roots of intolerance.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Paris moved to France for several years after earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto to continue her studies at the Sorbonne. She began her writing career in the 1970s as a magazine journalist, radio broadcaster, and documentarian, and she continued to contribute regularly to the opinion pages of the Globe and Mail until the end of her life.

Paris’s dedication to human rights, historical accountability, and the values of a pluralistic society were surpassed only by her loyalty and commitment to family and friends. Canada and the world have lost a prominent voice that extolled with singular clarity the virtues of kindness, unflinching honesty, and tolerance.