The Philosophy Department remains Canada’s preeminent and is an international leader in history of philosophy – especially ancient and medieval philosophy – as well as ethics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind.

Brief historical introduction

Roman Mosaic know thyselfPhilosophy has been taught at that University of Toronto since 1843. The Department remains Canada’s preeminent and is an international leader in history of philosophy – especially ancient and medieval philosophy – as well as ethics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mind. In all of these fields, department members take contemporary philosophical problems and their historical antecedents to illuminate one another.

The department’s most distinctive strength is its broad coverage of the history of philosophy. While our peer departments usually have one or two experts in a few historical periods, U of T has specialists in every area of the history of Western philosophy, as well as in aspects of the history of non-Western philosophy. This historical focus engages with other areas of strength: ethics (broadly construed to include both continental and analytic approaches, and to encompass such subfields as philosophy of law, political philosophy, and bioethics), philosophy of science (including logic and, especially, philosophy of biology), and philosophy of mind (including cognitive science). Many Toronto faculty working in these areas also study their history, and use that study to inform their contributions to contemporary debates; at the same time, our historians of philosophy benefit from and contribute to groundbreaking work in systematic philosophy. This integration of historical and systematic philosophy sets us apart from other top philosophy departments, where the history of philosophy is often segregated from the rest of the discipline.

Collections overview

The University of Toronto Libraries' resources have long been considered fully able to support the University’s teaching programmes and advanced research in the study of Philosophy. The collections in the central Library system are complemented by the affiliated campus libraries, especially the philosophical and theological collections of the federated colleges and those of the Fisher Rare Books Library. These collections have been significantly augmented lately by the increasing number of online bibliographic and full-text electronic resources which the Libraries make available to registered users in any location.

The Libraries aim at a comprehensive and systematic collection in all areas of Philosophy, and continue to improve their holdings in several specific areas of concentration: Symbolic and mathematical logic, Speculative philosophy, Aesthetics, Ethics and Bioethics. Collections strength shows concentration on specific philosophers as well. The philosophers of classical antiquity have a very strong presence in our collections, and there are personal philosophers like Berkeley, Descartes, Hegel, Hume, Husserl, Kant, Leibniz, Spinoza, Wittgenstein and others, that have a very strong representation in our collections.

The affiliated campus libraries hold important collections in the field, and the Thomas Fisher Rare Books & Special Collections Library is home to the Slater American and British philosophy collections with approximately 50,000 books on the subject. A noteworthy addition to this Library’s holdings in philosophy has been the Walsh collection, described by Anne Dondertman, director of Fisher, as “one of the most important collections we have ever received, ranging in date from incunables into the early twentieth century, probably consisting of close to 2000 books (and growing)”. The collections at Fisher centre chiefly on the history of philosophy, with strong holdings of Aristotle, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire and the works of the Scottish Enlightment. The later gifts from John Slater have greatly expanded Fisher’s collections of Russell, modern British and modern American philosophy. There are also significant collections of French Enlightment philosophy works. Other relevant collections of philosophy materials in campus are available at the Bora Laskin Law Library and at the libraries of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, with specialised collections in mediaeval philosophy, and those of the colleges that constitute the Toronto School of Theology: Emmanuel, Knox, Regis, St. Augustine’s Seminary, St. Michael, Trinity and Wycliffe.


Library holdings in Philosophy have been built up in a systematic way since the mid-1960s. A significant part of the monographs acquired by the Library is received through Approval Plans (also known as Blanket Orders or Dealer Selection Order plans) that have been set up with distribution firms in the countries where these materials are published. These plans ensure that the Library acquires in a timely manner almost all original scholarly imprints available in Philosophy in all languages, including those of Classical, Islamic, Jewish and Oriental philosophers, which are judged suitable for the research collections here. The Library also aims at collecting secondary supporting materials in any major language, as well as translations into English and into languages considered more accessible to most philosophy scholars. The Approval Plan system has been shown in various tests to deliver 75-95% of the monographic titles desirable for a research collection.

The Library’ bibliographer for philosophy, working with faculty, students, patrons and selectors in related fields, selects and orders the remaining material, including conference papers, items in numbered series, publications of associations and institutions, and other more esoteric or grey literature. As funds permit, efforts are also made to fill gaps in the collection retroactively from the subject allocation.

On-going collection policies and practices not only maintain, but also attempt to increase the value to scholars of library materials in this discipline. In addition to traditional resources, the Library has become a leader in North America in providing access to a large variety of electronic databases and will continue to expand its holdings in this medium. Collections are acquired in all formats to meet the variety of needs, preferences and styles of our current students, faculty and patrons.

Opportunities to improve special collections through gifts and grants are actively pursued. The Gifts program brings in important materials from private and institutional collections, like those at the Fisher Rare Books Library noted above.

Teaching and research support

The University of Toronto Library's collections of Philosophy materials are of research level, ranking very highly among other North American research libraries of a similar size. The Library plays an important role in the teaching and research in Philosophy at the University. Information literacy instruction is offered to assist in meeting degree level expectations in the ability to gather, evaluate and interpret information through program-specific instruction. Upon request, the library liaison and the bibliographer for Philosophy studies provides personalized assistance ranging from specific assignment support to graduate and postgraduate research needs. The Scholarly Communications and Copyright Office helps the faculty and students in Philosophy through their course reserve and syllabus service, guidance and advice on obtaining copyright permissions, compliance for film screenings, and tailored research, workshops or presentations on a variety of topics such as copyright, open access, author rights, licensing and permissions assistance, as well as research metrics.

Selection area
Selection area reference
Miguel Torrens