First Year

Compulsory modules:

Problems of Philosophy (20 credits)

This module introduces a range of key philosophical problems most of which practically everyone with a philosophical temperament has puzzled over before:

  • Scepticism (how can I know anything at all about the world?)
  • Free will (how can I think and act freely, if all my thoughts and actions are determined by the laws that govern the Universe?)
  • The existence of God (does S/He exist?)
  • Realism vs. antirealism (to what extent is reality distinct from how it appears?)
  • The mind/body problem (is the mind just the brain?)
  • Personal identity (what is it about you that makes you the same person as you were years ago?)
  • Utilitarianism vs. Deontology (are actions morally right and wrong ‘in themselves’, or are they so just because of the effects they have on people’s happiness etc?)
  • Ethical obligation (do we have obligations to others?)
  • Moral relativism (are moral values absolute or do they vary from one culture/person to others?)
  • The requirements of justice (who should have what?)

Reasoning, Propaganda and the Public Discourse (10)

Modern life bombards us with information meant to convince.  Unfortunately a great deal of it is what the philosopher Harry Frankfurt calls ‘bullsh*t’.  To a rough first approximation, bullsh*t is information meant to sway both opinion and action which is put forward independently of its relation to reality or evidence.  This module investigates the nature of bullsh*t.  And the aim is two-fold: to increase your capacity to spot bullsh*t and its propagators, but to develop intellectual tools useful in counteracting bullsh*t: avoiding it in your own work, and identifying it in the arguments of others. The end of the module will move to looking at some formal methods related to this, which will enable students to make an informed choice about whether to choose Formal Logic or Informal Logic as their second semester module.

Logic (10)

Taken in the second semester, this module bifurcates into formal and informal pathways: students who opt for the formal side learn symbolic logic - the formal study of argument which concentrates on proving things using abstract formulas such as ‘"x[Gx → Fx]’. Meanwhile the informal side, 'Logic Through Language', avoids formal symbols and proofs, but aims to introduce students in a different way to the logical concepts they will need to understand the more technical philosophy they will encounter later in their degree.

Example optional modules may include: 

Ancient Philosophy: Plato and Aristotle (10)

Plato and Aristotle are said to be the most important philosophers of Ancient Greece. They are often also called the founding fathers of philosophy. In this module, Plato’s and Aristotle’s main philosophical ideas in both theoretical philosophy and ethics are introduced by looking in detail at reasonably short excerpts of Plato’s and Aristotle’s original texts. Working through parts of their central texts and thoughts, we will come to understand why Plato and Aristotle have played such a huge role in the development of Western philosophy and thought and why they continue to be relevant today.

Epistemology: What and how do we know? (10)

Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge including questions like:

  • What is it to know something? 
  • Are these different kinds of knowledge?
  • What is the difference between knowing something and merely believing it? 

These might seem like simple or easy questions, but in fact they are very hard, and thinking about them reveals all sorts of interesting puzzles. Topics to be covered include: the definition of knowledge; scepticism; internalism vs. externalism and justification; coherentism vs. foundationalism and justification; perception; the problem of induction.

Ethics: How should we live? (10)

This module is an introductory course on moral philosophy. It will introduce some of the most important views and debates in moral philosophy, focusing on normative ethics and ethical theories. The module addresses the basic questions of moral philosophy, for example:

  • How should we live?
  • Which actions are right and wrong?
  • What makes actions good or bad?
  • What is a good life?
  • What kind of a person should I be?

Moral Problems: An introduction to Applied Ethics (10)

Fundamental ethical disagreements in our society just do not seem to go away. These disagreements often concern matters of life and death and in many cases they lead to intense and emotional debates and sometimes even to violence. This module (in applied ethics) explores whether philosophy can offer us tools to make progress in debates about some of the most interesting ethical questions today. The topics covered include terrorism, treatment of animals, euthanasia, immigration and affirmative action.

Philosophy of Religion (10)

Philosophy of religion is the rigorous philosophical study of religious beliefs, doctrines and arguments. In this module we will discuss such central questions in the field as:

  • Are there successful arguments for the existence of God?
  • Are there successful arguments against the existence of God?
  • What attributes does/should God have?
  • Is it rational to believe in God without evidence?
  • Are religious doctrines coherent?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Is religion compatible with science?
  • Can there be miracles?

Philosophical Traditions (10)

Departments of Philosophy within Britain tend to fall within the ‘analytic tradition’, exclusively examining the views of Western philosophers. This module breaks with tradition and gives an introduction to alternative views (which we continue to examine in later years) and giving students a chance to get a taste for different – sometimes less conventional – approaches.

Political Philosophy: Can power be legitimate? (10)

This module introduces some of the fundamental issues of Western Political Philosophy. In particular, it will discuss the nature of political authority and obligation, the role and function of the state, and the purposes and justification of government. This will pave the way for a discussion of what is arguably the central question of political philosophy: ‘Why should I obey the state?’ The module will be taught through an examination of four of the key texts of Western political thought.