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Junior Fresh Year Philosophy, Political Science, Economics, and Sociology
Module Outlines
Hilary Term 2019

All modules comprise two lectures per week.

All students meet for weekly tutorials with departmental teaching assistants. There are no lectures or tutorials during the reading weeks (week 9 and week 28).

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

PI1006: Central Problems in Philosophy

  • Contact Hours: 11 hours of lectures and 5 hours of tutorials per term
  • Lecturers: Dr Lizzy Ventham (email), Dr Brian Carey (email)
  • ECTS: 10 (5 per semester)
  • Semester 1 & 2

Module Outline for Semester 2

Component 3: Introduction to Moral Philosophy (Dr Lizzy Ventham)

Moral philosophers aim to understand (among other things) which actions are the right actions, and what a good world would look like. This module will provide a solid foundation in ethical theory by examining three of the most important approaches to normative ethics: consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics. Students will learn to critically evaluate arguments for and against different theories. Using that foundation, students will go on to apply what they’ve learned to some modern problems in practical ethics. Students will learn to read, evaluate and contribute to contemporary debates in moral philosophy.

Component 4: Political Philosophy (Dr Brian Carey)

The state claims that it has a moral right to command, and to be obeyed. To enforce these claims, the state is able to coerce people in all sorts of ways, from fines to imprisonment, or worse. But are these claims and powers justified, and if so, what philosophical theory best explains why we ought to do what the state says? In this module we will examine what has become known as ‘the problem of political obligation’. We will consider, from a philosophical perspective, what features a state would need to have in order for it to count as a ‘legitimate’ authority. We will consider the strengths and weaknesses of a number of views, ranging from those which hold that all states are illegitimate, to those that suggest all of us have a moral obligation to create, sustain, and obey the authority of the state.

Learning Outcomes:

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

  • Critically evaluate a number of explanations for political authority and obligation.
  • Identify key methodological approaches and tools that are used by political philosophers more generally.
  • Present their views on these subjects in the form of philosophical arguments that are clear, coherent, and compelling.

PI1007: History of Philosophy I

  • Contact Hours: 11 hours of lectures and 5 hours of tutorial per term
  • Lecturers: Dr Kenneth Pearce (email), Mr Peter West (email)
  • ECTS: 10 (5 per semester)
  • Semester 1 & 2

Module Content for Semester 2

Component 3: 17th Century Philosophy (Dr Kenneth Pearce)

The rise of mechanism – the picture of the material universe as a 'grand machine' whose motions can be explained geometrically – in the early 17th century required new approaches to a variety of philosophical problems, including free will, the nature of the human person, the existence and nature of God, sensory perception, knowledge, and causation. One philosophical school, known as 'Cartesianism' after its founder, Rene Descartes, sought to answer these questions by defending a radical distinction between mind and body. By sharply separating mind and matter, (relatively) traditional views about the human mind and about God could be combined with a staunchly mechanistic view of the material world.
Cartesianism was the dominant philosophical school in Europe in the second half of the 17th century. However, it was not without its critics. This component will examine the philosophy of Descartes and two of his 17th century critics, Margaret Cavendish and John Locke. Cavendish’s criticisms are primarily metaphysical and scientific: she takes issue with Descartes’s account of the nature of matter. Although Locke also rejects Descartes’s theory of matter, his criticisms are primarily epistemological: he takes issue with Descartes’s account of how the human mind comes to know the material world.

Learning Outcomes:

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

  • Read 17th century philosophical texts in their historical context.
  • Describe some main differences between major philosophers and schools of 17th century philosophy.
  • Critically evaluate philosophical arguments and theories found in 17th centuryn philosophical texts.

Component 4: 18th Century Philosophy (Mr Peter West)

Course Summary
The writings of Descartes and Locke in the seventeenth century were hugely influential on philosophers up until the end of the eighteenth century. As a result, many of the issues discussed by thinkers in the eighteenth century were very similar to those covered in component 1 (17th C). What is the relationship between the mind and the world? How do we gain knowledge of things that exist outside the mind? How do we gain knowledge of God and what he is like? This component will focus on three thinkers who tackle such issues: George Berkeley, David Hume, and Thomas Reid.

Berkeley presents a set of arguments against the view that the world is made up of ‘matter’, and that the ‘material objects’ that it is filled with cause us to experience the world in certain ways. Berkeley argues that matter does not exist; instead, Berkeley believes that only minds and ideas exist. Berkeley believed that his arguments against matter would save common sense and avoid scepticism. We will examine the reasons why Berkeley made this perhaps surprising claim, and find a way to understand why he believed only minds and ideas exist.

Hume agreed with many of Berkeley’s claims, and was particularly worried by how many philosophers understood causation in the world around us. However, Hume’s concerns lead him to be a sceptic: to argue that human reason is incapable of answering many questions about the world around us. By the end of the eighteenth century, Reid found that most of the philosophy that had preceded him (from Descartes, through Locke, Berkeley, and Hume) was based on a mistaken assumption: that we gain knowledge about the world around us by means of ideas which exist in our minds and represent the way the world is to us. Reid argued that if we follow common sense, we will realise that these ideas do not exist. In response, Reid offers an alternative, more direct account, of our knowledge of the world around us.

Learning Outcomes:

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

  • Read eighteenth century texts in their historical context.
  • Understand the progress of Early Modern thought during the eighteenth century.
  • Reconstruct valid philosophical arguments.
  • Critically evaluate arguments found in historical texts.