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PHILOS 4I03 Medieval Philos

Academic Year: Fall 2017

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Prof. Mark Johnstone

Email: mjohnst@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 307

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23461


Office Hours: TBA

Course Objectives:

Course Description

In this course we will examine Thomas Aquinas’ views on human nature. Our main text will be the section of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae concerned with the nature of human beings (ST 1a QQ 75-89), roughly the first half of what has traditionally been known as the “Treatise on Man.” This is arguably the most philosophically rich section of Aquinas’ entire masterwork. We will consider Aquinas’ views, as expressed in this section of the Summa, on such topics as: the nature of the soul and its relation to the body, the capacities of the soul, desire and voluntary action, emotion, freedom of the will, sense perception and its relation to thought, the acquisition of knowledge, self-knowledge, and life after death.

We will read the entire text in a modern English translation, with accompanying commentary and notes. You will be expected to read around 20 pages of the primary text each week and to be prepared to discuss this material in a seminar format. We will occasionally dip into other, related works by Aquinas (some are included in appendices to our edition of the text; others are available online). This is an (upper-level) introduction: no prior familiarity with Aquinas, or with medieval philosophy in general, will be presupposed.


By the end of this course, you should be familiar with Thomas Aquinas’ views on human nature, and on a range of related philosophical topics. You will have read substantial selections from the Summa Theologiae, one of the greatest and most important works in the history of philosophy. In addition, you should have developed your ability to:

  • Read and understand difficult and challenging texts
  • Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of arguments
  • Appreciate unfamiliar ideas and points of view
  • Formulate and defend your own positions
  • Express yourself clearly in discussion
  • Write clearly, concisely and effectively in support of your claims

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Text

This will be available at the campus store. It is modestly priced.

  • The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a 75-89. Translated, with introduction and commentary, by Robert Pasnau. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002.


Course Website

I will be using the course website on Avenue to Learn (http://avenue.mcmaster.ca/) to post regular updates and information about the course, copies of material distributed in class, lists of supplementary readings, additional resources, and information and advice about assessment (including essay questions). I encourage you to check in regularly.

Method of Assessment:

Assessment will be based on four short critical reflections, an in-class presentation, and a final essay. Attendance will be expected, not rewarded. However, a small bonus will be available (to undergraduates only) for excellent participation. There is no final exam.

  1. Reflective summaries: You will be asked to complete four (4) “reflective summaries” (short discussion papers). You may submit up to five: in that case, the best four will count towards your final grade. Each reflective summary should be 5-2.5 pages in length (12 pt. font, double-spaced). In these assignments, you will be asked to succinctly summarize Aquinas’ main claims/arguments in a section of the text, and to offer brief critical reflections on them. You will have considerable freedom to select which sections of the text you write about. See schedule below for due dates. I will provide further information about these assignments, and my expectations, in class and on the website.
  2. Oral presentation: You will be asked to give one in-class oral presentation. This should be roughly 10 minutes in length and will be followed by 10-15 minutes of questions and discussion. Topics will be allocated at the start of the semester. You will have the opportunity to meet with me to discuss the material and your plans for approaching it in advance of your presentation. I will provide further information about the presentations, and my expectations for them, in class and on the course website.
  3. Final essay: You will be asked to write a single longer essay on a topic of your choosing (I will provide suggestions and advice concerning topics). The essay should be 7-10 pages in length. See below for due date. You will be invited and encouraged (not required) to meet with me to discuss your paper before the end of term. I will provide further information about the essays, and my expectations, in class and on the website.
  4. Attendance and Participation: Attendance in class is expected. More than two unexcused absences will constitute adequate grounds for failing the course. To be clear, I don’t want anyone to fail, and am generally flexible and understanding. If you are unable to attend class for any reason, please simply let me know (by email), in advance of class if you can. In most such cases, so long as you provide an explanation, this will not count as an unexcused absence (I will let you know). There is no need to provide medical documentation for missed classes unless I specifically request it. Although there is no dedicated participation grade, students who participate regularly in discussion will receive a bonus of up to +2% on their final grade at the end of the term.


Reflective summaries (4 x 10% each)                                                             40%

Oral presentation                                                                                             20%

Final essay (due 11:59pm on Sunday, December 10)                                    40%



Instructions for Submitting Essays

  • All written assignments (reflective summaries and final essays) should be submitted electronically, using the “Dropbox” tool on Avenue to Learn. Please include your name on all submissions, and also number your pages (this sometimes makes commenting on your work easier). Please submit in only one of the following two file formats: MS Word or pdf. There is no need to submit a hard copy in addition to the electronic copy.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Policies on Late Work, Extensions and Accommodations

  • Late assignments (both reflective summaries and final essays) will be penalized at a rate of 3% for every day or part of a day late (this includes weekend days). Assignments submitted more than one week late will not be accepted at all (i.e. they will receive a grade of zero), unless you have obtained special permission from me to submit that late.
  • I understand that students are sometimes unable to complete a piece of assessment on time (or at all) for legitimate medical or personal/compassionate reasons. If you find yourself in such a situation, please contact me (by email) as soon as possible to let me know – ideally, before the due date of the assignment in question. Once I have been made aware of the situation, I can grant an extension or take other steps to ensure that you are not unduly penalized for the late or missed work.
  • The final essays are due at the end of the term, a time that will be very busy for many of you. I encourage you to start them early if you can. For those of you with several pieces of assessment due at the same time, I will usually be happy to grant short extensions (say, 2-3 days), so long as you make a request (by email) prior to the due date. This does not apply to the reflective summaries.
  • Completion of a McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF) counts as the equivalent of a doctor’s note for a minor illness. You should contact me by email immediately after submitting the form. I will usually grant (at most) a one-week extension, based on the original due date. Use these forms wisely (and honestly!), as you only get one/semester. Note that you cannot use an MSAF for your final essay.
  • Students registered with SAS: please do come and see me as soon as possible after the start of the semester. I like to know who you are, in case you encounter difficulties during the term, and also need to know of any special assistance you might require.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Supplementary readings:

  • A list of suggested supplementary readings has been placed on the course website. Many of these resources are available online or will be made available on the course website; some others will be placed on course reserve in Mills Library. Although not required, you will probably find these readings helpful for understanding, or thinking in more depth about, what Aquinas wrote. Do not forget about the detailed commentary included in the back of the course text. One book you may find especially useful is Robert Pasnau’s Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (Cambridge University Press, 2002), available electronically through the library website. This book was written as a companion piece to the edition and translation of Aquinas’ text we will be working with in class, and explores several interesting and related philosophical issues.


Schedule of Classes, Topics and Readings




Topic and Required[1] Reading


Week 1


No class. Classes begin on Tuesday.


Class 1

Sep 11

Introduction and overview


Class 2

Sep 18

The nature of the soul in general

ST 1a Q75 (plus Pasnau’s commentary)


Class 3

Sep 25

The relationship between body and soul

Q76 (plus commentary)


Class 4

Oct 2

The soul and its capacities in general

Q77 (plus commentary)

RS 1 (QQ 75-77), due 11:59pm Oct 7


Oct 9

No class (mid-term recess)


Class 5

Oct 16

Sense perception, imagination and memory

Q78 (plus commentary


Class 6

Oct 23

The nature of intellect

Q79 (plus commentary)

RS 2 (QQ 78-79), due 11:59pm Oct 28

Class 7

Oct 30

Appetite, sensuality and will

QQ 80-2 (plus commentary)


Class 8

Nov 6

Free will

Q83 (plus commentary)

RS 3 (QQ 80-83), due 11:59pm Nov 11

Class 9

Nov 13

Acquiring knowledge of the material world

QQ 84 (plus commentary)


Class 10

Nov 20

Intellectual cognition and its limits

QQ 85-6 (plus commentary)

RS 4 (QQ 84-86), due 11:59pm Nov 25

Class 11

Nov 27

Knowledge of ourselves and of other minds

QQ 87-8 (plus commentary)


Class 12

Dec 4

Life after death

Q89 (plus commentary)

RS 5 (optional) (QQ 87-89), due 11:59pm Thu, Dec 7




Final essay due by 11:59pm on Sunday, Dec 10


[1] See also comments on supplementary readings above

Other Course Information:

  1. The scale used by the Registrar’s Office will be used to convert number grades to final letter grades: http://registrar.mcmaster.ca/calendar/2012-13/pg145.html
  2. You will have the opportunity to evaluate my teaching and the course as a whole towards the end of the term.
  3. You may find the Student Success Centre of assistance in developing your writing and study skills: http://studentsuccess.mcmaster.ca/