Dedicated to promoting active and engaged thinking and learning
The Dalhousie Department of Philosophy fosters an active and engaged intellectual community both in and out of the classroom. Our students develop creative thinking, careful reasoning, and lucid writing skills. In Philosophy classes, you will learn to think deeply, systematically, rigorously, and productively about profound issues in life that affect us all.
We pride ourselves on doing not just theoretical philosophy, but also philosophy that has relevance to and engages with, the real world–we do “engaged” philosophy, and we are consulted for this by the world. As part of this, we offer numerous classes that serve other programs within Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and beyond (Computer Science, Medical Sciences, Environmental Science, Biology, and the Dalhousie Integrated Science Program), and we undertake many collaborative arrangements with other units in the university. We strive to be a place that is inclusive of different perspectives, and conducive to philosophical progress through conversation in a community both intellectually safe and constructively challenging.
We are also known as a department that is deeply engaged with public philosophy. This is reflected in the amicus curae briefs and policy documents prepared by some of our members, blog posts on sites like Impact Ethics, The Conversation, and Hastings Bioethics Forum, dozens of interviews and other media coverage, and numerous public talks and panel presentations. We are particularly proud of Chike Jeffers’ groundbreaking scholarly podcast on the History of Africana Philosophy (which promises to become authoritative) and the extraordinary work of our emeritus and cross-appointed faculty.
Our Undergraduate Program challenges students to asks fundamentally important questions—concerning knowledge, value, existence, ethics, race and gender, truth and justice—that have enduring relevance in everyday life. Students typically start by registering for a first-year course such as PHIL 1500 (Ethics, Social, and Political Philosophy) or PHIL 1501 (Epistemology, Metaphysics), or pick a second-year course in an area of interest to them. Students must take either ASSC 1300 or ASSC 1400 in their first fall term. You can find a list of the courses we are currently teaching or planning to teach in the university timetable.
Our Graduate Program is small and selective. There are typically six to ten MA students and four to six PhD students. Graduate students receive individual attention, and courses of study can be developed to suit individual interests. The atmosphere is friendly, stimulating and supportive, and there is a great deal of faculty-student interaction.
About our weekly Colloquia
The Department of Philosophy's colloquium series takes place every Friday afternoon. It is an eagerly anticipated forum where faculty and students have the opportunity to develop and present work and to engage in lively philosophical exchange. Each colloquium is attended by faculty, graduate students, as well as interested faculty from other departments and universities. Faculty will present in-progress papers, and graduate students are encouraged to present their theses.
The colloquia are held every Friday beginning at 3:30 pm in Room 1130 of the Marion McCain Building (unless otherwise indicated). During the first hour a paper is presented. In the second hour, questions and discussion take place.
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A Brief History of the Department by S.A.M. Burns (2008)
Dalhousie’s first Philosophy classes were offered in 1838 by Thomas McCulloch, the university’s first president, who was also well-known as a political commentator and author of the satirical Stepsure Letters. William Lyall, author of Intellect, the Emotions, and the Moral Nature (1855), joined the university in 1863. He was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada. In 1879 the university was rescued from near bankruptcy by a benefactor, George Munro, who generously endowed several chairs including one in Metaphysics in 1884. The first holder was Jacob Gould Schurman, who published several books of philosophy. [He left Dalhousie for Cornell University, where he founded the Philosophical Review, and later served as university president.] In 1913, the Munro Chair was taken by Herbert Leslie Stewart. He was author of several books including Questions of the Day in Philosophy and Psychology (1912), the founding editor of the Dalhousie Review, and elected FRSC. Psychology was taught jointly with Philosophy until after WWII (1948, the year in which George Parkin Grant was hired to replace Stewart). Grant’s departure in 1959 marks the end of an era.
The arrival of David Braybrooke, FRSC, in 1963, marked the beginning of a new era. Author of a dozen books, including Three Tests for Democracy (1968) and Meeting Needs (1987), Braybrooke led the department by example. Several new appointments in the late 60s and early 70s assured the ‘analytical’ character of the department. The late Roland Puccetti (Persons, 1968) developed an international reputation in cognitive science while at Dalhousie. The hiring of Susan Sherwin (in 1974) inaugurated the development of the new fields of feminist philosophy, and health care ethics. Her No Longer Patient (1992) has become a classic, and she is also FRSC. With this new focus and growth came a revival of the department’s graduate programme. The Masters degree had been awarded already in the 1800s, but only occasionally. In the 1970s there were 37 Masters graduates. As the department’s national reputation grew, a PhD programme was developed, graduating its first candidate in 1991 The department is now replacing the members who joined in the late 60s and early 70s, and the tradition of a student-friendly, research-oriented department continues. The famous ‘Friday Seminar’, regularly attended by all faculty and graduate students (and many others), and held as often as 48 weeks a year, continues unabated.