Philosophical Project (20 or 40 credits)
This module allows you to conduct independent research into and write on a particular philosophical issue of your choice, with assistance from a project supervisor with expertise in your chosen topic.
Example optional modules may include:
It's About Time! (20)
This module covers the contemporary issues in the metaphysics of time. Topics which will be covered will include topics such as:
- The Ontology of Time: Does the past exist? Does the future? Is it only the present which exists?
- Tense: Is the present moment metaphysically special?
- Timelessness: Might there be no time, contrary to what we see around us?
- Persistence: How do objects go from one time to another?
- Time Travel: Can anything go back in time? What would the world be like if it did?
- Other Disciplines: How does physics bear on the metaphysics of time? How does the philosophy of time bear on issues in the philosophy of religion?
Bodies and Beauty (20)
This module will introduce students to philosophical conceptions of the body, the self and identity as they emerge in the context of beauty ideals, beauty practices and body discipline. The kinds of questions we will consider are:
- What is the purpose of beauty practices and body discipline?
- Why do women (and men) engage in beauty practices and body discipline?
- What type of practices count as beauty practices?
- Are there (moral) differences between different types of engagement or types of beauty practices?
- In a visual culture, does beauty matter more than ever before?
- Is there a duty to engage in beauty practices?
- Are contemporary beauty ideals more unrealistic and demanding than previous beauty ideals?
- Should engagement be regarded as a choice?
- Is engagement coerced, false consciousness or adaptive preference?
- How much of beauty practice is gendered (to make women ‘women’ and men ‘men’)?
- Do beauty practices serve to subordinate and oppress women?
- What are the justice issues of beauty practices?
- What are the harms of engagement in beauty practices?
- Is there a right to beauty?
We will also consider how, if at all, policy makers should respond to rising concerns about body image (especially but not exclusively among young women and men) in an increasingly visual and virtual culture. In order to give students a sense of how philosophical concerns actually have relevance in the real world work of policy making we will consider reports by policy-makers and NGOs on aspects of body management and body image, and the second assessment will give students a chance to evaluate such a report.
Being Good and Doing Right: Issues in Contemporary Moral Theory (20)
What is the good life? What moral requirements are there on us? Should we aim to do whatever our moral duty is, or should we aim to be good people? Questions like these are the subject-matter of moral theory. This module will examine issues found in recent work in moral theory, including some of the following:
- Should we think that the consequences of our actions are all that matters to the morality of those actions?
- If this view (consequentialism) is true, what form does the best version of consequentialism take?
- Is there a contemporary version of Kantianism that is a more plausible moral theory?
- Are there good objections to both consequentialist and Kantian theories, such as the objection that someone who lived the way those theories require would not be a good person, or would not have a good life?
- Can a Kantian or a Consequentialist be a friend?
- What philosophical account can we give of friendship and love, and how might these relate to ethics?
Fantastic Beasts and How to Understand them: Topics in Philosophy of Biology (20)
Biology is the single most important discipline for understanding the nature of humanity, and our place within the universe.This module will examine various major theories and debates in the philosophy of biology and will also apply these ideas to several philosophically puzzling phenomena. No prior knowledge of biology is required. The topics covered will be selected from the following: understanding evolutionary biology; biological functions; natural kinds in biology; species; and evolution and aesthetics, ethics and religion.
Global Bioethics (20)
This course introduces students to the increasing number of dilemmas in bioethics that cross national boundaries and transcend domestic regulation. Bioethical dilemmas, whether arising from scientific and technological developments or from the research practices of pharmaceutical companies, raise issues which cannot be effectively addressed at national or regional levels. Bioethics clearly calls for global solutions to what are global dilemmas and students will be introduced to some of the key bioethical issues which arise in the contemporary global context.
Minds, Brains and Computers: Issues in the Philosophy of Cognitive Science (20)
Philosophy of cognitive science sits at the intersection of different areas of philosophy and various sciences; as a result it is thoroughly interdisciplinary in character. In this module, we will consider foundational topics in the philosophy of psychology and cognitive science. First we will focus on the central idea of modelling the mind as an information-processing machine; a computer. Topics discussed include some of the following:
- The computational theory of mind
- Connectionism (a rival to the computational theory)
- Fodor’s language of thought hypothesis
- The debate about whether or not the mind consists of modular sub-systems
This module explores Nietzsche’s views on naturalism and normativity. We will consider questions like: Are all properties natural properties? Are the methods of the sciences privileged? Should philosophical inquiry be continuous with the sciences, and, if so, how? Are there any facts about what is morally right or wrong, or evaluatively good or bad? What are the origins of our normative views? How should our answer to this question affect what norms and values we should accept?
Philosophy of Language and the Linguistic Study of Meaning (20)
In this course we will explore the nature of meaning, truth, and reference. We will develop and consider the philosophical import of a formal system for deriving certain aspects of the meanings of sentences about the way things are and ways things might be or might have been. Particular attention will be given to contemporary work in linguistic semantics on proper names, definite descriptions, quantifiers, attitude verbs, and modals.
Philosophy of Mathematics (20)
After a brief look at the views of Kant and Mill, we shall focus for three weeks at least on Gottlob Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic. In this seminal work, a rigorous account of the nature of number was put forward for the first time, and we shall compare Frege’s account with that of his contemporary, Richard Dedekind. If time permits, we shall also examine the controversy between Frege and Hilbert over the nature of geometry.
In the second half of the semester, we shall move on to examine challenges to Frege’s approach by Russell, Brouwer, Weyl and Wittgenstein. We shall also look at Gödel’s incompleteness theorems and the challenges they pose for the philosophy of mathematics. If time permits, we shall also look at more recent controversies in the foundations of set theory.
Prejudice, Race and Gender (20)
We take ourselves to be rational agents, going about in the world in a fairly rational manner. Even if we don’t always end up doing so, we assume that acting and judging rationally is within our reach if we try to do so. However, we also commonly recognise that our judgements and actions are sometimes prejudiced in various ways. This module is an investigation into the different faces of prejudice, its bearing on our conception of ourselves as rational agents, and its ethical and political implications. The guiding questions are whether the existence of prejudice undermines our capacity for rational judgement and action in significant ways, and what we might be morally required to do to address any shortcomings.
Reason and Belief: Topics in Epistemology (20)
This module will concern contemporary issues in Epistemology. These include: the nature of epistemic justification (the internalism / externalism debate, the debates between foundationalists and coherentists), the analysis of knowledge, the role of contextual considerations in dealing with scepticism, social epistemology, virtue epistemology, a priori knowledge, epistemic naturalism.
Science and Nature (20)
What is science, and how and why does it work so well? What must nature be like if science is to be possible? Can science replace philosophy when it comes to answering the most fundamental questions about reality? This module explores metaphysical and epistemological questions that arise in general philosophy of science and in the philosophy of the special sciences. Topics covered include science and pseudoscience, realism and explanation, laws of nature, chance and determinism, the applicability of mathematics, and the relationship between science and philosophy.
Topics in Philosophy of Religion (20)
This module is split into four parts:
- Is there a God? (We’ll examine contemporary arguments in natural theology such as up-to-date versions of the cosmological and teleological argument; as well as the problem of evil)
- Can you be justified in believing that there’s a God (examining, e.g., Flew’s presumption of atheism, contemporary theories from Plantinga concerning theistic belief and Pascal’s Wager)
- What would the world be like if there were a God (examining God’s alleged attributes, e.g. omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence etc., as well as whether He is in time or not; as well as examining whether we could make sense of God interacting with the world, say through miracles or petitionary prayer)
- What would the world be like if the God were the God of Christianity (can we make sense of Christian views about the afterlife? does it make any sense to say there’s only one God but three Divine People – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? does it make sense to say Jesus is God? does sin, original sin, or Jesus dying on the Cross for our sins, make any sense?)
What there is: Issues in Ontology (20)
The focus of the course will be on contemporary ontology. The issues that will be covered include:
- Methodology: How do we determine what things exist? How do we weigh up different theories when they say that different things exist? Is there a difference between what is the case and what is fundamentally the case?
- Metaphysics of mathematics: Are there numbers? If there aren’t, how is mathematics to be carried out?
- Modality: We often talk not only about what is, in fact, the case, but also about how things must be or might have been; we think and speak ‘modally’, in terms of necessity and possibility. How are we to understand this talk, and what metaphysical commitments does it bring with it?
- Persistence and material constitution: The question of what circumstances small objects (like atoms) come to compose big objects (such as cars, tables, mountains etc.) is a popular contemporary topic. It connects to issues of whether or not objects are extended in time and have ‘temporal parts’.
- Philosophy of Space and Time: Does spacetime exist? Do objects from other times exist?