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Michaelmas Term 2017
Module Outlines
Junior Fresh Year Single Honours Philosophy

All modules comprise two lectures per week.

All students meet for weekly tutorials with departmental teaching assistants. During Michaelmas term the tutorial weeks are 2-12 respectively. There are no lectures or tutorials during the reading week (week 7).

All modules consist of two components with 11 lectures (over five and a half weeks) each. There are two hours of lectures per week per course. Each module component covers a single coherent theme or topic (e.g. Ethics, or 17th Century Philosophy) and is usually taught by the same lecturer.

Part of the assessment for each module will be by means of essays that are marked by the module teaching assistants. For guidance please consult the list of JF essay titles.

The examination for each module takes place at the end of the academic year, during April and May. The rubric for the examination paper will nearly always contain sections that reflect the components that make up each of the above modules.

PI1010: Central Problems in Philosophy A

Module Outline

Component 1: Philosophy of Religion (Dr. Kenneth Pearce)

This component provides an introduction to philosophical reflection on religious belief and practice. We will focus on three questions:

  • What is the relationship between faith and reason? Religious believers sometimes claim that their beliefs are a matter of faith and therefore do not need to be supported by reasons. Is this claim plausible? Should rational arguments against articles of faith be taken seriously? If it’s acceptable for someone to believe by faith (without evidence) that God exists, is it also acceptable for someone to believe by faith that 2+2=5?
  • Can belief in God be rational? Philosophers have offered a variety of arguments for and against the existence of God. We will discuss a few of the arguments that have been most influential in the Western tradition.
  • What is the nature of religious practice? Religions typically involve not only beliefs but also ritual practices. What is the point of these practices? Why do people engage in them? How is religious practice related to religious belief?

At the end of this component students will be able to:

  • Describe some main philosophical questions related to religious belief and practice.
  • Critically evaluate philosophical arguments concerning religious belief and practice.

Component 2: Introduction to Ethics (Dr. Ben Bramble)

We will start this module by looking at some of the key questions in ethics: What makes an action morally wrong? What makes the world go better? (And does anything really matter?) What do I have a reason to do (if anything)? Here, we will consider what these questions are really asking, and how they might relate to each other. Having set the scene, we will turn to some of the main answers that have been given to these questions. In particular, we will be interested in utilitarianism, and the arguments for and against it. Finally, we will take a brief look at how the answers to these questions might be applied to real world problems.

In this course, students will learn to analyse and interpret historical texts in Moral Philosophy.

PI1012: History of Philosophy I A

Module Content

This is an historically–based course, running for two years. In the first year there are the following components:

Component 1: Ancient Philosophy (Dr. Keith Begley)

This component is an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy. The development of philosophy will be traced from its origins, beginning with the early pre-Socratic philosophers, by focusing on a few central texts and some notable commentaries on these texts. Students will be encouraged to read and interpret the texts, to consider differing interpretations, and to think about the philosophical problems. We will focus especially on Heraclitus and Parmenides, and their understanding of basic notions such as thinking, being, change, opposition, and unity. Then we will turn to a trio of philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. We will consider their methods of enquiry, their search for essences, and how each of their philosophies responds to those of the pre-Socratics.

Component 2: Medieval Philosophy (Prof. Paul O'Grady)

The time scale of medieval philosophy is very long, from Augustine (354-430) to William of Ockham (d.1347). The philosophers of this period built on and developed ancient philosophy, especially the thought of Plato and Aristotle, mediated though later Greek schools, such as Neoplatonism. Many of the major philosophers of the period were concerned with relating philosophy to the Abrahamic religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Given the diversity of strands and figures in this period, the course will begin and end with a survey of main figures and historical movements, but will focus on two key figures of the period. We will begin with Augustine, examining how he brought Greek philosophy into dialogue with Christianity and looking specifically at his rejection of skepticism and his positive account of knowledge. Then we will move on to Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and explore his general metaphysical system, as well as his account of mind. Hence this course will examine an influential epistemological position, an influential metaphysical position and an influential account of mind from the medieval period.

At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Characterize the main figures an movements of medieval philosophy

PI1003: Topics in Philosophy I

Module Content

This is a problems-based course, composed of the following components:

Component 1: Philosophy of Language (Dr. James Miller)

Words, in all languages including those that are non-verbal, have meaning. Without this property, we would not be able to communicate with each other. But what is meaning, and how is it that words come to mean what they do? This course will consider these questions by examining a number of theories of meaning. These theories consider whether meaning is based on certain mental states, or concepts, internal to us that are attached to words; whether meaning is inherently social and shared and whether the existence of meaning presupposes that we are part of a community that mean the same thing by the same words; or whether meaning is secured by what object words refer to in the external world. In this component, we will consider each of these and various hybrid theories of meaning, whilst noting the consequences that these theories have for other areas of philosophy, especially for the philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and epistemology.

At the end of this component students will be able to:

  • Critically evaluate the plausibility of various theories of meaning and assess the consequences of these theories upon broader philosophical thinking.

Component 2: Aboutness (Prof. James Levine)

In this component, we will consider such questions as: What is it to think about, or of, an entity?  Can we think about what does not exist?  If so, how?  If not, when we understand fiction what, if anything, are we thinking about? We will use examples from ancient, early modern, and  20th–century philosophy to examine various ways in which these sorts of questions have been addressed and various consequences philosophers have drawn from examining these issues.

At the end of this component students will be able to:

  • Distinguish and assess different theories of what it is to think about an entity
  • Identify the consequences for philosophy of mind and metaphysics of different theories of aboutness
  • Recognize the difference between accepting a general principle regarding aboutness and applying that principle in specific cases

PI1004: Topics in Philosophy II A

Module Content

This is a problems-based course, composed of the following components:

Component 1: Ethics: Well Being (Dr. Ben Bramble)

Lives can go well or poorly for their subjects. What makes this so? In this module, we will examine the main answers philosophers have given to this question. We will begin by looking at subjectivist theories, on which an individual's well-being is determined just by that individual's desires or attitudes. We will then turn to objectivist theories, on which well-being is determined not just by one's own desires or attitudes. Among the theories we will consider in the module are hedonism, desire-satisfactionism, idealised life preferentism, perfectionism, and list theories.

At the end of this component students will be able to:

  • Understand the concept of well-being, and how it differs from related concepts.
  • Understand the main positions available in the philosophy of well-being.
  • Think critically about the merits and weaknesses of these positions.

Component 2: God and Freedom (Dr. Kenneth Pearce)

The major Abrahamic religions have traditionally held that God is perfectly good and perfectly wise or rational and at the same time that God is perfectly free. In particular, it has seemed important to many philosophers and theologians working within these traditions that God be free to create a different world or no world at all. This gives rise to a puzzle. On the one hand, it seems that a perfectly good and perfectly wise being must necessarily choose what is best. On the other hand, it seems that a being who must necessarily choose the best is not free. In Can God Be Free?, William Rowe argues that none of the proposed solutions to this problem is successful. The traditional conception of God, Rowe concludes, is incoherent and must be rejected. In addition to these problems about God's freedom, many philosophers have thought that the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient creator would threaten our freedom. This component will examine these problems about God and Freedom, along with various proposed theistic responses.

At the end of this component students will be able to:

  • Describe central philosophical problems related to God and freedom.
  • Explain how problems related to freedom have functioned in arguments against the existence of God.
  • Critically evaluate theistic responses to these problems.