Philosophy postgraduate modules

Indicative module descriptions

Bioethics

Bioethics is the study of ethical issues surrounding life and death, especially those involved in biology, health care, research, and the beginning and end of life. This course introduces students 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. Possible topics covered include: abortion, euthanasia, intellectual property, enhancement, commodification, resource allocation and rationing, and infectious disease control.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Epistemology

The module covers a range of topics in epistemology, broadly construed. We begin by looking at analyses of knowledge and the role of epistemic luck, before moving to internalist and externalist conceptions of epistemic justification. We spend the next four weeks looking at Cartesian scepticism and responses to it, specifically, dogmatism about knowledge and dogmatism about perceptual justification; contextualism about knowledge attribution; and semantic externalism. We then move onto the attitudinal nature of implicit bias, and next to the notion of alief, thought to be required to explain cases where our folk psychological notions of belief and imagination fall short. Finally, we move on to how best to understand the relationship between belief and truth, before narrowing our focus to a particular disorder of belief: delusion.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Ethics and Global Ethics

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 or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

God, Freedom and the Meaning of Life

This module is an introduction to a number of philosophical issues that have a relevance to the philosophy of religion, such as: freedom and determinism, the existence of god and the meaning of life. The treatment of the areas covered will often involve discussion of the writings of central figures in the history of philosophy.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

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 inalianable?', and ‘What happens when human rights conflict?’ The first half of the module then 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. We will first concentrate on three very general basic rights for autonomy, liberty, and wellbeing and then on 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 or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Metaphysics

Metaphysics examines the underlying nature of reality. In this module, we’ll investigate several central metaphysical questions, including classic problems whose origins lie in antiquity, through contemporary issues at the cutting edge of current thinking. Examples include the following. Can we be free, if our actions are determined by events in the past? What is it to persist through time? Can two things be in the same place at the same time? What is causation? Are there other possible worlds? Could you have failed to exist? Or been a poached egg? What are essential properties? Do properties even exist? And if so, are they particulars or repeatable universals? Moreover, what is metaphysics anyway – what methods should it properly use? Our focus throughout will be on contemporary approaches to these issues.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Philosophy of Cognitive Science

This module covers key topics in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science. These will include foundational topics such as the Computational Theory of Mind and modularity, issues that have been central in the formation and development of cognitive science since the 1950s. We shall also address some more specialised and contemporary topics, which may include, for example, the scientific study of consciousness and perception, disorders or impairments of cognition, animal minds, and the issue as to what brain imaging techniques such as fMRI can tell us about the mind.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Philosophy of Health and Happiness

This module is an introduction to the philosophical and interdisciplinary study of philosophical issues concerning health and happiness. It introduces you to controversies over the correct account of human happiness and related concepts such as well-being and welfare, covering desire/preference-satisfaction accounts, ‘objective list’ accounts, hedonism and ‘whole-life satisfaction accounts’. The module then moves on to consider the concepts of health and disease, where many similar arguments appear. It examines the debate between normativists and non-normativists about health before concluding with an examination of controversies concerning mental health, its existence and nature.

Assessment: Two 2,000-word essays

Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Language covers a range of advanced topics in philosophy of language. In any given year of delivery several of the following topics will be addressed in detail: sense and reference, meaning theories, context-sensitivity, naturalized semantics. Several of the following topics will also be addressed (but the focus can vary from year to year depending on the interests of the participants): compositionality, objectivity of meaning, verificationism, Quine's theses of the indeterminacy of meaning and the inscrutability of reference, holism, interpretationism, 'use theories' of meaning, linguistic conventions, semantic realism and anti-realism, tacit meaning-theoretic knowledge, vagueness, conceptual role semantics, quantification, situation semantics, two-dimensional semantics, non-extensional contexts, demonstratives, and pragmatics.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Philosophy and Mental Health

This module provides an overview of contemporary debates in philosophy psychiatry 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 (classification, diagnosis, aetiology, research, treatment, etc.) and different psychiatric disorders (addiction, anorexia, dementia, dissociation, schizophrenia, personality disorders, psychopathy, etc.) and different disciplinary frameworks. The module will also have a practical element involving structured, outcome-focussed deliberation about difficult cases highlighting these threads and their interrelations. 

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Philosophy of Mind

This module covers a range of advanced topics in philosophy of mind. In any given year of delivery several of the following topics will be addressed in detail: theories of consciousness, dualism, behaviourism, functionalism, anomalous monism, the representational theory of mind, externalism vs. internalism, mental causation, interpretationism, representationalism, perception, non-conceptual content, personal identity, self-knowledge.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

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

Topics in Global Justice

This module will focus on applications of the dominant contemporary moral theories to significant issues in global ethics and politics. The topics to be approached on the basis of these theories are a selection of the following debates: world poverty and the obligations of the affluent; justice and the global economic order; global distributive justice; structural injustice; human rights theory; human development and care ethics; climate change; cosmopolitanism vs priority for compatriots; immigration and freedom of movement; just war theory; terrorism, humanitarian intervention; global gender justice; issues around a global ‘democratic deficit.

Assessment: One or two written assignments totalling 4,000 words

Please note that the optional module information listed here is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.