Philosophy postgraduate modules

Indicative module descriptions

Bioethics

Bioethics is the study of ethical issues arising surrounding issues of life and death, especially those involved in the life sciences, health care, scientific research, and the beginning and end of life. This module introduces you to the key debates surrounding a number of theoretical and practical issues in bioethics, including but not limited to those that are transnational in nature. By the end of the module, you should: be familiar with major ethical theories and their application to specific issues in bioethics; be able to identify, explicate, and evaluate arguments related to bioethical problems; be able to think and write clearly about the normative issues involved in the beginning and end of life; and be able to morally evaluate the potential changes to human life that new technologies provide.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Epistemology

Mind and world often relate to one another in ways that are good from a cognitive point of view. We often perceive how the world truly is, for instance, and then come to know it to be the way that we perceive it to be – and in the midst of all this we formulate an understanding of the world on the basis of very strong evidence. It is obvious that each of these ways that mind and world relate are good from a cognitive point of view. Indeed they are how we would wish our minds to hook up to the world all the time. Yet it is unclear how it is possible that mind and world relate to one another in any of these cognitively good ways. The Epistemology module thus looks at recent philosophical discussion of knowledge, perception and reason, with our readings being drawn from the contemporary literature.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Global Ethics I

This module aims to introduce you to key concepts and debates in ethics, with some focus on the global dimension of current ethical problems. First, we will explore several prominent traditions in ethical theory; next we will apply these normative ethical theories to concrete ethical questions. In investigating these theories and applications, you will be encouraged to question your presumptions about the nature of ethics and moral values. The module also develops critical reasoning and argumentative skills through philosophical discussion and writing. The theoretical tools of analysis and argument can be applied in all aspects of ethics and global ethics.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Global Ethics II

This module develops your understanding of key global ethical issues, in particular human rights, poverty, distributive justice, cosmopolitan democracy, governance and humanitarian intervention.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

God, Freedom and the Meaning of Life

The module provides an introduction to a number of philosophical issues that have a relevance to the philosophy of religion, such as: Are there sound arguments for/against the existence of God? Is freedom compatible with God's foreknowledge? Why is there something rather than nothing? Is life meaningless without God? Can there be morality without God?

Assessment: Two 2,000-word essays

Human Rights

This module introduces you to the contemporary philosophical debates about human rights. It focuses more on human rights understood as moral rights, rather than as legal rights written in international law. We will begin from the very basic question of what human rights are. We will also consider questions such as ‘What kind of human rights are there?’, ‘Which beings can have human rights?’, 'Are human rights inalienable?', and ‘What happens when human rights conflict?’. The first half of the module focuses on exploring different philosophical justifications for human rights; we will cover justifications based on the dignity of human agency, international politics, and human flourishing. The second half of the module will focus on philosophical debates about the nature of specific human rights - looking first at some general rights, for autonomy, liberty and wellbeing, and then at more concrete rights to life and privacy. We will also consider objections to human rights based on relativist and utilitarian views in ethics.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Metaphysics

In this module you will investigate a range of advanced topics in contemporary metaphysics. Representative topics include those  relating to ourselves: personal identity and free will, as well as more fundamental metaphysical debates, such as realism versus anti-realism, the metaphysics of possibility and the metaphysics of persistence through time.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Philosophy of Cognitive Science

This module covers key topics in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. Representative topics include traditional topics which provide insight into the conceptual foundations of cognitive science (e.g. the distinction between personal and sub-personal levels of explanation, the computational theory of mind, modularity and, connectionism). More contemporary topics include the scientific study of consciousness, delusions and rationality, the use of double dissociation arguments in cognitive neuropsychology, and the question of what fMRI can tell us about the mind.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Philosophy of Health and Happiness

The module will examine debates at the forefront of current research in the philosophy of health and happiness. You will explore conceptual problems (e.g. what ‘health’ and ‘disease’ are) and question contemporary lifestyle issues (for instance, regarding how health, happiness and meaning relate, as well as whether there is a correlation between income and life satisfaction). You will also be asked to consider how technological advances (such as those in genetics) are changing these understandings.

Assessment: Two 2,000-word essays

Philosophy of Language

This module covers a range of advanced topics in analytic philosophy of language and its overlap with the realism/antirealism debate in metaphysics. In any given year, some of the following topics will be addressed in detail: Frege's distinction between sense and reference; Russell's theory of definite descriptions; logical positivism and the verification principle; Quine on analyticity and translation; Kripke's Wittgenstein on rule-following; Grice's theory of meaning; Davidson's programme; Dummett's attack on realism.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Philosophy and Mental Health

The module provides an overview of contemporary debates in philosophy and mental health. In each seminar a new issue will be investigated, but there will be three interrelated threads throughout the module. One is about the nature of psychiatry. The second is about the sense in which psychiatric disorders are disorders of the self. The third is about how we should respond to people with psychiatric disorders, considered from a wide range of perspectives, including interpersonal, clinical, ethical, legal and public health policy. These themes will be addressed by reference to different aspects of psychiatry (e.g. classification, diagnosis, aetiology, research, treatment), different psychiatric disorders (e.g. addiction, anorexia, dementia, dissociation, schizophrenia, personality disorders, psychopathy), and different disciplinary frameworks. The course will also have a practical element involving structured, outcome-focused deliberation about difficult cases highlighting these threads and their inter-relations.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Philosophy of Mind

What is the place of consciousness in nature? Will we ever understand it in a ‘scientific’ way? What about thinking in general? Are human minds, essentially, grey wet computers, or do we need altogether distinctive conceptual resources to understand them? These kinds of questions have concerned philosophers of mind for centuries, and in this module we’ll address a range that are central to contemporary debates. We begin with the metaphysical question of whether consciousness can be accommodated in a ‘physicalist’ world view, examining the difficulties faced by various different attempts to analyse it in physical (‘scientific’) terms. We then move to some fundamental questions about mental states in general: Are they located inside people’s heads? Can they be understood in purely descriptive terms, or are they (like moral and other evaluative properties are often held to be) in some sense essentially ‘normative’?

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Research Seminar

This is an innovative module which replicates the experience of being a professional academic. You will attend the PhilSoc and choose a topic from those discussed at the seminar. You will then write your own paper on that topic, which is assessed by members of staff as if it was going through the 'peer-review' process for acceptance to an academic journal. You will then present your paper in the Postgraduate Seminar and rewrite it according the comments. This module provides a unique and invaluable experience for students considering continuing in academia.

Assessment: One 4,000-word essay

Please note that the optional modules listed on the website for this programme are intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year.