Philosophy Modules Year 1

Year 1

Compulsory modules:

Moral and Political Philosophy (20 credits)

One half of this module is mainly concerned with normative ethical theories about what is the right thing to do, and what it is to be a good person. Theories covered in the module are likely to include consequentialist theories including utilitarianism, deontological theories including Kantianism and virtue-based approaches to ethics. The other half is concerned with the question of political obligation: whether there is such a thing as legitimate state power. This question will be approached by studying some of the major philosophers who have tried to provide a justification for state power, such as Plato, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. It will also look at some critiques of political obligation based on anarchism and/or feminism.

Philosophical Traditions (20 credits)

Most modules taught at philosophy departments in the UK examine the views of contemporary philosophers working in the ‘analytic tradition’. This module breaks this tradition and gives an introduction to alternative views. It also provides students with a taste of different – sometimes less conventional - approaches. The different traditions of doing philosophy that can be discussed on this module include both different historical approaches (including Pre-Socratic and Classical Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Early Modern Philosophy, Post Kantian Philosophy) and traditions from different cultures (including Continental Philosophy and various traditions in Eastern Philosophy, African and Latin American Philosophy). Because the module is research-led and because there are so many different traditions, each year the exact content will vary depending upon the module convenor. Normally, the module will focus on one or two traditions in depth. The aim of the module is to introduce to students the historical and cultural contexts of the relevant traditions, their key figures and texts, and their main questions and central views.

Reasons to Believe (20 credits)

How should we decide what to believe, and what does it take for our beliefs to constitute knowledge? These questions belong primarily to epistemology, and the module covers some quintessential epistemological topics such as the characterisation of knowledge; scepticism, internalism vs. externalism, coherentism vs. foundationalism, perception, testimony and a priority. Another place to look for insights into knowledge is the philosophy of science, and so the module also includes a cursory introduction to the philosophical theory of scientific methodology.

One important category of beliefs that is especially difficult to understand in traditional epistemological (or philosophy of science) terms is religious beliefs. Some theists propose theoretical arguments for the existence of god; others maintain that religious belief is a matter not of argument but of faith. The module incorporates critical introductions to both of these approaches to religious belief.

Art of Persuasion A: Propaganda and Public Discourse (10 credits)

Modern life bombards us with information meant to convince and persuade. According to some recent work in philosophy, we have indeed come to live in a ‘post-truth era’, an era in which the truth of messages has become far less important than the intentions of the messenger. This module investigates phenomena such as fake news and propaganda. On the basis of analysis of current events as well as iconic examples in public discourse, the aim of the module is to develop students’ awareness of the modes of persuasion central in these phenomena and critical reasoning skills to counteract them.

Art of Persuasion B: Philosophical Texts (10 credits)

In this module students meet in a weekly seminar with a member of staff for in-depth discussion of one selected text and discuss the text and develop their responses. Each of the texts on offer will be engaging and accessible and will explore a key area of philosophy. On completion of this module the student will be able to engage closely with a modern work of Philosophy, extract from it the essential arguments, and produce a critical evaluation of them.

Problems of Philosophy A and B (10 credits and 10 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 (how much should we help people much worse-off than ourselves?);
  • Moral relativism (are moral values absolute or do they vary from one culture/person to others?);
  • The requirements of justice (Who should have what?)

The Philosopher's Toolkit A or B (20 credits)

This module will equip you with the tools you need to understand, analyse and respond to different kinds of philosophical argument. In the first half of the module, we will investigate topics such as critical thinking, probability, interdisciplinarity, necessity & analyticity and the nature of explanation. In the second half of the module, it splits into two pathways. Students on one pathway will learn symbolic logic - the formal study of argument, which concentrates on proving things using abstract formulas such as ‘"x[Gx Fx]’. The other pathway avoids formal proofs, but aims to use ordinary language to introduce students to the logical concepts they will need to understand the more technical philosophy they will encounter later in their degree.