What you will study
The five topics are addressed via the module books, which are described below. The discussion in the module books is supported by extensive audio interviews with prominent present day philosophers and by a selection of interactive online activities. The module also aims to develop the skills and confidence needed for independent study in philosophy: this is done in a gradual and supported way.
The value of the skills and topics taught is not limited to academic study, though the module does give a sound basis for further study in philosophy and other subjects.
Book 1: Truth in fiction
When people read novels or watch films, they often become emotionally involved with the story. Yet this phenomenon can seem quite puzzling. How can it be rational for people to feel happy or sad about events that never actually happened or to care about the fate of people who do not exist? Why do people seem to seek out stories that make them feel frightened or sad? As you will discover, these questions lead on to some broader issues about the purpose and value of narrative art. This opening book will allow you to explore these questions through readings from two classic texts – Plato’s Ion and David Hume’s essay Of Tragedy – as well as addressing the contemporary debate.
Book 2: War
Can there be justice in war? Is there a clear moral distinction between killing combatants and killing non-combatants? Are there circumstances – situations of supreme emergency – in which it is justifiable to suspend the accepted conventions of war? Should all soldiers be treated in the same way, regardless of whether their cause is just? This book will guide you through some of the core ideas of Just War Theory and recent criticisms of this approach.
Book 3: Reason in action
We tend to assume that people are, by and large, rational agents, their actions guided by reason. This shows up in our readiness to reason with one another over how best to proceed, and to hold people responsible for what they do. But what does rational agency really amount to? The module book explores this topic through three related questions: Are some goals more rational than others, and if so, which ones? How is it that we sometimes seem to act contrary to our better judgement (‘weakness of will’)? When we act collectively, who is responsible: is it the individuals involved or a ‘group agent’ – an organisation, a country, a family?
Book 4: Life and death
This module book explores four related questions about the value of life and the significance of death. People sometimes say that life is sacred – but how should we understand this claim? Is death bad for the person who dies, or only for the people who are left behind? Is it good to be born? Can we make any sense of the idea that a life might (or might not) be meaningful?
Book 4: Knowledge and reason
Just as we might assume that people are, by and large, rational agents, so we might assume that people are, by and large, capable of thinking rationally and forming rational beliefs. Could scientific research into the ways in which people actually reason undermine this assumption? Do we have good reasons to believe what we are told? Is science itself a fully rational enterprise? This book will explore these questions through a variety of texts, including extracts from works by David Hume and Thomas Reid, as well writings by a number of contemporary thinkers.
You will learn
In addition to investigating the philosophical questions described above, you will develop the reasoning and other abilities you will need to engage with these questions yourself. You will learn how to understand the structure of complex debates, to present an argument both through essays and through a short presentation, and to engage with controversial issues in a reasoned way. You will also develop the skills needed for independent study and reflection. These abilities are highly valued by employers looking for staff able to approach complex and perplexing situations and to offer clear and sound arguments in response.