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Topics in Philosophy II

Module Code: PI1004

Module Name: Topics in Philosophy II

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module, students will be able to:

  • understand key concepts in the free will debate (such as determinism and compatibilism) and critically assess theories of free will;
  • critically assess accounts of essence;
  • distinguish the main strands of Asian philosophy;
  • characterise the main issues in epistemology.

Module Content

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

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

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.

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

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 course 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.

Hilary Term/2nd Semester

Component 3: Causation, an introduction - Pauline Sabrier (email)

The notion of causation is familiar from every day life. We are used to identifying events or things as being related by cause and effect, and this plays an important role in our understanding of the world around us. But what is it that we are looking for when we are looking for the cause of something? How does a cause relate to its effects? Am I talking about the same thing when I say that the stone is the cause of the pain in my toe and when I say that my friend’s joke is the cause of my being happy? The purpose of this course is to give an introduction to this vast topic, causation. We shall begin by looking at ancient theories on causation, especially those of Plato and Aristotle. We shall see that Plato and Aristotle identify as causes things that we might first be reluctant to characterise as such. Through Plato and Aristotle, we shall focus on the connection between cause and explanation, and this will lead us to consider Aristotle’s notion of final cause. In the second part of this course, we shall turn to Hume’s radical attack on traditional accounts of causation. Hume famously defends the view that causation does not involve a necessary relation between a cause and its effects, but is simply a matter of constant conjunction or regularity of succession. We will examine the arguments for and against Hume’s nonmodal account of causation, and then turn to different possible ways of responding to it.

Suggested Preliminary Reading:
Mumford, S. and , Anjum, R.L. (2013), Causation: A very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Component 4: Epistemology - Professor Paul O'Grady (email)

Epistemology is the philosophical study of knowledge and covers many topics such as the nature of knowledge, whether there are different kinds of knowledge, whether there is any knowledge at all, reasoning, grounds of knowledge relativism. This course deals with three core questions in epistemology. The first is the definition of knowledge. Is knowledge a unified phenomenon or are there different types of knowledge, and what might they all have in common? We look at a classical definition (the justified true belief approach) and at the famous Gettier challenge to this definition, seeing the impact of this on contemporary epistemology. The second topic is an exploration of different accounts of epistemic justification, especially foundationalism and coherentism. We look at different versions of these (using historical examples) and try to assess what the crucial issues are. Finally we look at the topic of whether competing and conflicting accounts of reality might be reasonably accepted by an agent, namely relativism. We examine reasons why one might be moved to accept such a view and what the objections are to this.

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

  • Demonstrate an understanding of some of the main issues    surrounding causation
  • Critically assess the arguments for and against Hume’s account of causation
  • Characterize the main issues in epistemology


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.