Example optional modules may include:
Elements of Logic and Metaphysics (20 credits)
The aim of the module is to introduce students to some of the basic concepts of philosophical logic and metaphysics, and to begin to explore relationships between these concepts in a rigorous way. We shall begin by looking at the notion of logical consequence, and the related notions of logical possibility and logical necessity. This will lead us to investigate other notions of necessity, notably that of metaphysical necessity, and to trace relations between the various notions of necessity and other central philosophical concepts, such as knowability a priori. That in turn will lead us to investigate the closely linked notions of identity, essence, substance and existence. We shall also consider whether there is any sense in which a cause necessitates its effect; this will involve distinguishing between, and then analysing, different types of causal statement. If time permits, the module will also include a brief introduction to philosophical theories of truth. By the end of the module, students should have an understanding of the central concepts of, and of some basic theories in, philosophical logic and metaphysics which can underpin more advanced modules in these areas.
Experience and Reason: Early Modern Philosophy (20)
This module examines the resurgence of philosophical theorising and debate which took place in Europe in the 1600s and 1700s, alongside the 'scientific revolution'. It focuses on philosophers from the 'Early Modern' period broadly construed, including Descartes, Berkeley, Leibniz, Locke, Hume and Kant as well as a range of lesser-known figures. We will examine their views on a range of topics in metaphysics and epistemology, introducing the main themes of the era – particularly those that shaped the landscape of contemporary philosophy. These themes will include:
- Scientific developments and their impact on philosophy
- Rationalism and empiricism
- Perception and the external world
- The nature of substances, essence and modality
- Personal identity and the self
- Attitudes to God and religion
Feminist Philosophy (20)
This module addresses some of the key debates in feminist philosophy. It begins with a general overview of feminism, of the agenda and interests that appear to mark out feminist philosophy in general, and of the breadth and diversity of feminist thought. The course may cover feminist approaches to, among other things, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, ethics, political philosophy, and applied issues.
History of Analytic Philosophy (20)
The dominant philosophical tradition in the English-speaking world, including here in Birmingham, is the analytic tradition. The tradition grew out of attempts to understand the nature of logic and mathematics by thinkers such as Frege and Rusell. This led to the development of powerful new logical techniques (now taught in first-year logic) that were subsequently brought to bear more widely, in the study of knowledge, language, science, the mind and morality. This module examines some moments in the development of this tradition, telling the story of the birth of analytical philosophy, through to the rise and fall of logical positivism. We will cover such thinkers as:
- Frege (on language: concept and object, sense and reference)
- Russell (on judgment, logical analysis, descriptions and truth)
- Wittgenstein (on logical atomism)
- Carnap and Ayer (on logical positivism)
- Quine (on analyticity, truth by convention, and necessity)
Logic: Its limits and scope (20)
Is there any way to make a mathematics of reasoning? If so, what would it look like? What would be its scope, and what would be its limits? One set of questions concern the extent to which we can adequately represent the subtleties of natural language reasoning in a regimented, mathematical language. Another is whether we can make a system which gives all and only the right results. We will see that we can accomplish much of what we would hope to, but not all of it.
Sex, Ethics and Philosophy (20)
This module covers issues in the Philosophy and Ethics of sex, including some of: liberal versus ‘traditional’ understandings of the function of sex; the harm principle; consent and competence to give it; what laws the state should/may impose relating to sex; the permissibility of contraception, homosexuality, pornography and prostitution. The module employs the topic of sex as a route into fundamental issues in ethics and philosophy concerning liberalism, the law, the nature of ethics and related issues.
Speaking of Things (20)
When you speak, write or think, your sentences or thoughts are about particular constituents of the world. This phenomenon is reference and this module examines the most important attempts that philosophers have made to explain it. 20th century authors tended to regard this as primarily a question about the relationship between certain words (nouns) and the objects they pick out, and so the topic forms the most natural introduction you could hope for to philosophy of language (an area you’re likely to pursue in Third Year, even if only indirectly through modules in metaphysics, meta-ethics, etc.). But we also refer to objects in thought, so reference is an issue for the philosophy of mind (and further, to epistemology, meta-ethics, etc.) as well as one for philosophy of language.
The Ethics and Politics of Climate Change (20)
Climate change is one of the greatest ethical challenges faced by humans today. Most of the issues surrounding climate change are also highly controversial. This module will begin with a brief introduction to the most up-to-date science and economics of climate change. We will then explore the following sorts of ethical and political questions raised by climate change:
- What should we do as individuals about climate change?
- What should governments do?
- How should we react to uncertainty and controversy about the future course of climate change?
- Who should compensate the victims of climate change?
The Ethics of Killing (20)
One of the Ten Commandments is ‘Thou shall not kill’. But the Bible doesn’t, of course, forbid all killing. And few of us, whether we have religious commitments or not, are strict absolutists about killing (people, in other words, who believe that taking a life is categorically never morally permissible). Indeed, most of us believe, at the very least, that it is permissible to kill a villainous attacker in self-defence to avoid being killed oneself. Someone might say that, while killing is not always wrong, it is always wrong to kill the innocent. But is even this true? What, for instance, of the woman who wants to end her pregnancy, thereby killing her innocent fetus? Or the doctor tending to a terminally ill patient who desperately wants to die, but cannot self-administer the lethal dose of morphine that would end his suffering? Or the pilot sent on a bombing raid to destroy an enemy military target, who knows that, if he completes his mission, nearby civilians will unavoidably be caught in the blast? This module examines when killing is wrong, why it is wrong when it is wrong, and how far these moral judgments can and ought to be taken into account in law and policy-making. Topics on which we are likely to focus include abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, self-defence, terrorism, and war.
The Mind-Body Problem (20)
This module introduces central issues in contemporary philosophy of mind, focusing on the problem of whether our mental experience, especially its subjective character, can be incorporated into the naturalistic, scientific picture of the world. The first part of the course will survey such philosophical theories of the mind as dualism, behaviourism, the identity theory, and functionalism. The second half of the course will discuss some more specific issues in philosophy of mind and cognitive science: Can we solve the mystery of consciousness? Can the contents of our thoughts depend on external factors about which we do not have authoritative knowledge? What is the nature of intentionality? Can computers think?