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Topics in Philosophy I


Module Code: PI1003

Module Name: Topics in Philosophy I

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module, 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.
  • In this course, students will become acquainted with central questions of political philosophy and with some ways in which philosophers have tried to answer them.
  • Grasp alternative responses to the Problems of Evil

Module Content

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

Michaelmas Term/1st Semester

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

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.

Component 2: Introduction to Political Philosophy - Dr. Ben Bramble (email)

Governments make laws and punish people for breaking them. But what exactly is punishment? We will begin this module by seeing if we can come up with a clear definition of punishment (something that is itself surprisingly difficult). Having done this, we will turn to the question of whether punishment by the state can ever be justified. We will look first at consequentialist theories, on which the justification of punishment lies in its having good consequences. We will then examine several sophisticated retributivist justifications of punishment. Next, we will consider two leading abolitionist theories, on which punishment is never justified. Finally, we will look at several alternatives to punishment, including victim restitution and restorative justice.

Hilary Term/2nd Semester

Component 3: The Problem of Evil - Professor Lilian Alweiss (email)

Does horrendous evil render the existence of God impossible or unlikely? Can one rationally maintain that God exists while instances of seemingly pointless wickedness occur? This module begins with some central claims about the so-called problem of evil. Leibniz: whether God must create the best possible world and Hume: whether the existence of evil counts against the existence of God. We continue by addressing the question whether there is not a moral requirement to make evil intelligible or whether we should simply accept its unintelligibility. We shall be focusing on the writings of Augustine, Voltaire, Rousseau and Hannah Arendt.philosophy and more recent political theory, and understand some of their central questions: why do we need political authority? Is coercion permissible? The course will cover key authors such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, Marx and John Rawls.

Component 4: Freewill/Islamic Philosophy - Visiting Research Assistant (email)

To be advised.

Assessment Details

Students will be required to submit three essays from the set list of essay titles for this course, comprising 50% of the overall grade. The annual examination accounts for 50% of the overall grade.