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Courses & Program Requirements

The Ethics, Society & Law (ES&L) Program includes 80 optional courses drawn from across the Faculty of Arts & Science as well as a handful of core courses. Our small, intimate undergraduate program will help you apply a cutting-edge interdisciplinary approach to political, legal and ethical questions that societies must navigate today.


Many upper-year courses in ES&L have prerequisites determined by their home departments or programs, and many of those prerequisites are not ES&L courses. Thus students need to plan ahead and make sure their programs of study fulfill the prerequisite requirements for the courses they wish to take in upper years. Furthermore, because course prerequisites can change, students are advised to check the prerequisites for relevant years of study. Please consult Faculty of Arts & Science Calendar regarding ES&L courses, prerequisites and availability.


In order to improve and update the program, the requirements for ES&L change from time to time. The requirements that apply to you are the ones listed in the Faculty of Arts & Science Calendar current in the year you entered the program (view Archived Faculty of Arts & Science Calendars here).

TRN312H1 Sustainability Issues in Ethics, Society, and Law is a new ES&L program requirement; it is required for students starting ES&L from September 2020 onward. The course is optional for students who started before September 2020.

For specific content descriptions of each the 3 sections of TRN303H1 and each of the 3 sections of TRN412H1 being offered in 2020-2021, please see “3) Third year” and “4) Fourth year”, respectively, immediately below.

Required Courses: Ethics, Society & Law Major
(7 full courses or the equivalent)

1) First year

While no specific courses are required in first year, course selection should take into account the program’s admission requirements above, as well as the prerequisites for 200+ level courses students plan to take to complete the program. See also Admission Requirements

2) Second year

PHL271H1, TRN203H1, and TRN204H1 are required courses that students are recommended to take in second year (their first year of registration in the program).

TRN203H1: This course discusses key texts from various disciplines that introduce fundamental features, limitations, and possibilities of contemporary society. Political consent, economics, governmental administration, the global / post-colonial world, historical transformation, gender politics, and media may be addressed.

TRN204H1: This course introduces students to legal reasoning through progressively complex exercises. First, hypotheticals expose students to basic skills required for legal reasoning. Second, they analyze simplified versions of specially selected concrete cases. Third, the course analyses real cases discussed in first year courses in law school. 

3) Third year

TRN303H1 Ethics and Society, is one of ES&L’s core required courses. We offer more than one section, each with its own thematic focus. These themes range from: Arts Interventions, ethics and politics of immigration, and the ethical implications of major political issues.

Students are asked to complete essay assignments that give them practice writing a research paper of the sort they will be required to complete in TRN412H1. This measure enables compliance with the protocol in the Degree Objectives Guidelines that “preparatory experiences for [a fourth-year integrative inquiry-based activity] should occur at earlier stages in the program.”

Students are asked to complete a component on interpreting and evaluating quantitative data in the context of ethical reasoning about social issues. This component of the course provides an introductory treatment of a selection of specific topics such as polling, sampling, graphs, correlations and causal claims. The course includes an assignment requiring the interpretation, evaluation, and use of quantitative data in an ethical examination of (one or more aspects of) a selected social issue.

2020-2021 Course Descriptions

TRN303H1F LEC0101+9101 Ethics and Society: Arts Interventions
Mondays 1:00-3:00PM
Prof Simone Davis  

In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will consider how artistic practice engages with, illuminates, changes and is changed by social, political and historical realities. How do people bear witness to catastrophe, resist tyranny, enforce or interrupt the status quo, through art? How do people heal from trauma, collectively and as individuals, through creative expression? What struggles over public memory unfold through memorials, counter-memorials, memorial projects and spontaneous altars? Where do artistic expression and the law intersect? You will have a choice between one 15-page paper with a first draft turn-in or two shorter papers, along with online discussion, dialogue and reflection exercises.

TRN303H1F LEC0201+9201 Ethics and Society: A Plague of Crises
Wednesdays 10:00-noon 
Prof John Duncan 

What used to be called the Global War on Terror began in late 2001, leading to devastating conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, eventually contributing to a global refugee crisis. In 2007-8, a major financial crisis destroyed huge swaths of wealth across the globe. In 2019, COVID-19 emerged and has since spread around the world, continuing to kill thousands daily. COVID-19 highlighted what many experts and institutions have recognised as the problem of rising inequality, which is generating negative impacts for virtually everyone. In 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd, the world erupted in protest against racism. Also in 2020, the Doomsday Clock—a symbol of how close we are to “destroying our world” using “dangerous technologies of our own making”—was advanced to its most dire setting since it was created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1947; among the reasons given were the threats of climate change, nuclear weapons proliferation, the weakening of international diplomacy, and cyber insecurity. 

In 1947, Albert Camus published The Plague, a novel about a city going through a year of plague. He would win the Nobel Prize for literature ten years later. Although a great deal has changed since 1947, Camus’ novel and some of his more philosophical writings seem more relevant than ever. His deep concern was with a kind of fundamental crisis of the world: humans yearn to understand and manage the world, but the world has no interest in cooperating, and never will. Yet, the take-away is not that we are doomed to crises, but rather that if we fully acknowledge these realities we will be better placed to deal with them and to live the best lives we can. (The instructor published a non-academic article on the topic recently: https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/facing-our-plague-covid-19-and-albert-camus) 

In this section of TRN303H1F, we will discuss aspects of the challenging social issues that seem to have been throwing the world into crisis for the last 20 years, on which students will be asked to prepare presentations and research papers. We will consider Camus’ views in order to begin discussions of appropriate stances in the face of each of the various crises as well as the possibility that there will always be crises. 

TRN303H1S LEC0101+9101 Ethics and Society: Who Knows What about Justice?
Mondays 1:00-3:00PM  
Prof Simone Davis 

In this Winter 2021 course, students will learn about imprisonment practices and experiences in Canada, consider the rhetoric of crime and punishment in its legal, cultural and political manifestations, and discover whose knowledge and whose voices matter when it comes to the topic of incarceration. Focus areas will include competing narratives about justice; women’s and trans people’s experiences of prison; race and criminalization; the overincarceration of Indigenous people; the ethics of research on people in prison; education behind bars; and restorative and transformative justice. You will have a choice between one 15-page paper with a first draft turn-in or two shorter papers, along with online discussion, dialogue and reflection exercises.

TRN312H1S LEC0101+9101 Sustainability Issues in Ethics, Society, and Law
Wednesday 4:00pm – 6:00pm 

Prof. Nicole Spiegelaar

Students will explore case studies of environmental justice and engage in dialogue over the moral, relational and practical elements of environmental decision-making. We consider multi-cultural perspectives on the human-environment relationship to guide social and ecological justice through law and policy. Topics include food systems, climate change, resource extractives and contaminants.

4) Fourth year

The role of TRN412H1 is to integrate the program by examining selected topics and readings related to the themes of ethics, society and law in the format of a senior seminar. The course is restricted to students in their final year of registration in the program.

In TRN 412H1, students write a major research paper, independently framing and investigating a selected, nontrivial social issue with ethical and legal aspects. The inquiry must integrate material covered in the seminar with the student’s research on the chosen topic, and it must integrate material from each of the program’s general thematic categories (“ethics,” “society,” and “law”).

TRN412 typically includes group activities allowing students to discuss one another’s investigations, for example by sharing abstracts of their research findings with one another on the course’s Quercus/Canvas group.

TRN412H1F LEC0101+9101 Seminar in Ethics, Society and Law: The Law of Pandemics
Thursdays 10:00 a.m. to noon 
Prof Nathalie Des Rosiers 

The course will look at the legal consequences of a pandemic: the use of emergency powers and the powers of Public health units. It will then explore how pandemics affect different aspects of our legal system: among others, labour and employment law, prison law, good Samaritan laws, mobility rights, privacy and civil liberties. The course will use an inventory of scenarios drawn from examples around the world to foster analysis of the legal consequences of pandemics. Students will be encouraged to submit their own scenarios. The evaluation is based on two short commentaries on the readings and class discussions and one final case analysis. 

TRN412H1S LEC0101+9101 Seminar in Ethics, Society and Law: On Climate Change and Canadian Society
Tuesdays 10:00-noon
Prof Katie Hayes 

In this seminar course, we’ll explore how climate change affects Canadian society, with a particular emphasis on impacts to the natural environment, the economy, and health and well-being. We’ll explore the disproportionate risks of climate change to groups already facing health inequities and environmental injustices, and the impact of the climate justice movement on challenging and changing laws, policies, and practices. Through the lenses of society, ethics, and law, we’ll explore the Pan-Canadian Framework on climate change, Canada’s role in addressing the global climate crisis, and grass-roots movements rooted in mitigation, adaptation, and resilience to climate change in Canada. We’ll critically discuss the challenges and opportunities society faces in the next few decades to address climate change with an emphasis on actions and reactions at the individual and societal-levels. 

TRN412H1S LEC0201+9201 Seminar in Ethics, Society and Law:
Wednesdays 2:00-4:00
Prof Mike Kessler   

Liberalism holds that the right to freedom of expression is necessary for a thriving political and intellectual culture. As such, within liberal societies there is a strong protection for freedom of expression, even when the expression in question is offensive, unpopular, controversial, hurtful, or graphic. The aim of this course is to try to answer two big questions: 1) why is freedom of expression a fundamental right within a just society? and 2) when is a government permitted to ban or restrict expression based on its content? We will study various answers to these questions by focusing on a range of topics, possibly including: hate speech, obscenity, cyber-bullying, “revenge porn”, and digital privacy. Students will be given the option to submit a 15 page research paper or two shorter papers, along with weekly reading responses and a research presentation. Readings will be drawn from legal theory and political philosophy, and we will also look at news reports and court documents. Given the topic of the course, the readings will unavoidably make reference to explicit and sometimes disturbing cases and examples.

5) Any year of registration in the program.

1 FCE from ETH201H1, ETH210H1, ETH220H1, ETH230H1, ETH350H1, ETH401H1, PHL265H1, PHL275H1, POL200Y1, to be taken in any year of registration in the program.

6) Courses from Groups A-D

3.5 FCEs from Groups A-D including at least 0.5 from each of Groups A-C and at least 2.0 at the 300+ level. Courses taken in fulfillment of requirement 5 above may not be counted toward the Group courses.

N.B. (1) The above CRI courses are available only to students enrolled in the double major program Ethics, Society & Law and Criminology. (2) Access to courses in the Ethics, Society & Law Program is not guaranteed; students must check prerequisites. 

Senior Limited Enrollment Courses (Not Required, Invite Only)

TRN321H1S LEC0101+9101 Selected Topics in Ethics, Society, and Law: The Stories We Tell about Choice 
Friday 2:00pm-4:00pm
Prof Simone Davis

This is a co-learning collaboration with the City of Toronto’s Community Peers and Community Healers Projects. Class will consist of both university-based students and Community Peers and Community Healers. Course theme: When we think about freedom, we often think about the freedom to choose. Seems like a bottom-line fact of our dignity that we have –or should have—some control over our choices and actions. But how free are our choices? What different forces shape or limit the choices that people make in their lives? We’re surrounded by narratives about “good” and “bad” choices: what work does this mythology do? Using primary and secondary sources and facilitated experiential activities, this course will include class sessions on the issue of CONSENT, on the topic of WHERE WE HEAR ABOUT CHOICES in contemporary society, on DIS/OBEDIENCE, on FREEDOM and on AGENCY. The course will culminate in a shared group project to be designed by students. Course admission requires is by instructor approval only, requiring a statement of interest and an interview. Be in touch with sdavis@trinity.utoronto.ca for more information.

TRN407Y (Community Research Partnerships in Ethics)

Typically in mid-July, 12 senior ES&L majors with strong cGPAs are invited to join the Community Research Partnerships in Ethics course. The course is challenging and the number of projects is limited. It is unlikely the cut-off would go below a cGPA of about 3.50 in any given year. The course is administered either by the director of the Ethics, Society & Law Program, or a CRPE Project Coordinator. Each student project is supervised by a University of Toronto faculty member.

In 2017-2018, CRPE students worked with non-profit organizations on research projects that addressed challenging issues in community health, human rights, social justice and the environment. Click here to learn about their CRPE experience and the impact of their research.

TRN425Y (Law Workshops)

Typically in mid-July the 12-15 senior ES&L majors with the highest cGPAs are invited to join the Law Workshops course. The course is challenging and seating is limited. It is unlikely the cut-off would go below a cGPA of about 3.50 in any given year. Students are introduced to fundamental approaches to the law – such as traditional, behavioural, economics, feminist, Indigenous, etc.; they attend workshops in the Faculty of Law to see those approaches in action; and complete related assignments. 

Centre for Ethics Course

Consider ETH401H1 Seminar in Ethics, a course which offers priority to ES&L students, and includes regular seminars with leading authors in ethics, offered by U of T’s Centre for Ethics, located at Trinity College. 



Trinity students enroll in and take courses offered by the Faculty of Arts & Science. The two main tools used for course selection and enrollment are the Faculty of Arts & Science Calendar, which includes information on courses, programs and the rules and regulations of the university, and the Faculty of Arts & Science Registration Instructions and Timetable, which contain scheduling information and enrollment procedures. If you have any questions about the Calendar or Timetable, please contact the Office of the Registrar: 416-978-2687 or registrar@trinity.utoronto.ca.

Contact Us:

Program Information: artsdean@trinity.utoronto.ca

Office Hours:

Prof. John Duncan
Wednesdays 11 am to 1 pm

Prof. Simone Davis:
Wednesdays 1:30 pm to 3 pm, or by appointment

Associate Director, Ethics, Society & Law Program; TRN303H Ethics and Society; TRN321H1 Selected Topics in Ethics, Society, and Law; TRN171Y1 Ethics and the Public Sphere
Director, Ethics, Society and Law Program ; TRN203H1 Society, its Limits and Possibilities; TRN303H1 Ethics and Society; TRN409H1 Selected Topics in International Studies: The Afghanistan War: Critical Issues
Administrative Assistant for the Dean of Arts, Trinity College