England.  Change location

Exploring philosophy

This introduction to philosophy considers fundamental questions from six core areas: the self; philosophy of religion; ethics; knowledge and science; the mind; and political philosophy. Examples of these questions are What makes me ‘Me’? Does God exist? Why should I act morally? Can I trust science? How can I, a physical being, have thoughts and emotions? Should I obey laws I disagree with? Philosophers – both past and present – have offered radically diverging answers to these and the other questions asked in this module. Guided engagement with this philosophical tradition will provide the platform for you to tackle the big questions of philosophy for yourself.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

Browse qualifications in related subjects


Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

Student Reviews

It is a well written course but quality of feedback depends largely on how your tutor perceives your work and...
Read more

Request your prospectus

Explore our subjects and courses

Request your copy now

What you will study

This module teaches the basics of philosophy via the six module books described below. These will guide you carefully through selected classic readings from the set book, Western Philosophy: An Anthology, 2nd edition, edited by John Cottingham (Blackwell). The discussion in the module books is supported by extensive audio interviews with prominent present day philosophers.

The skills and topics taught have a value and resonance not limited to academic study, though the module does give a sound basis for advanced study in philosophy and other subjects.

Book 1: The self 
This opening book of the module explores a range of questions about the self and personal identity through classic readings by John Locke and David Hume and more recent writing by Derek Parfit.

It is hard to think of anything more basic to our understanding of life than the assumptions we make about the true nature of ourselves. In particular that we carry on being the same person in some sense despite physical and psychological change over time. Could it be a mistake to think like this? Is this notion of a continuous self just an illusion, as Hume suggested? What, if anything, is it that makes Rembrandt, the ageing painter depicted in a late self-portrait, the same person as the young apprentice in early drawings? Some real moral differences hinge on the answer we give, as for example, whether war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago. Questions about the nature of the self matter too when considering the possibility of life after death. If something were to survive death, what would it be? It is no longer far-fetched to imagine transferring memories from a dying person to an artificially created brain, or perhaps to a donor brain. Would the brain with the now-dead person's memories house a person and, if so, would it be the same person as the one whose body died?

Book 2: Philosophy of religion
In this book we turn from the self to God: from questions about personal identity, and what it is to be who one is, to questions about the existence of a supreme being. The book begins by asking what the words ’God‘ and ’religion‘ mean, and what it is to ask philosophical questions and offer philosophical arguments, about religion in general and about God in particular. This is followed by an examination of the claim that there can be no arguments when it comes to matters of faith. A variety of arguments for God’s existence is examined, including Thomas Aquinas’ ’Second way’, and classic and contemporary versions of the argument from design. Detailed discussion of design arguments leads to the question why – if there is a good and all-powerful God – there is so much evil in the world. The book concludes by raising some questions about miracles and religious experience.

Book 3: Ethics
Judgements about what we ought or ought not to do permeate and shape our lives. But what grounds do we have for these judgements? When I am unsure about the moral acceptability of a possible course of action, where should I look to settle the matter? As a moral being, should I be aiming to do whatever brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world? If not, then what? And why should I do the right thing if I would benefit more from doing the wrong thing? This third book looks at answers to these and related questions given by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (as recounted by his pupil Plato), the British utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The discussion is kept down to earth by applying it to familiar moral questions.

As with the other books in the module, you will be asked to do more than familiarise yourself with what these philosophers said. You will also be expected to engage with them by assessing their arguments and considering potential objections to their positions.

Book 4: Knowledge
Every day we use expressions such as ‘That’s true!’ or, perhaps irritated by a news report, we exclaim ‘This is just false!’ Sometimes we can’t make up our minds about the truthfulness of a claim because we don’t have good enough reasons either way. When can we say that a claim is true? What reasons do we have to believe which claims are good, and which are not? If I have witnessed something with my own eyes, can I rely on that information to form my beliefs, or should I take account of the fact that my senses are not always reliable? What is the difference between knowledge and mere opinion? We expect nature to show in the future the same regularities that we have observed in the past. But is this expectation rational? Science is widely regarded as the model of knowledge, and yet scientific theories long held as true have turned out to be false. Can we still be certain that current scientific theories are true? Is there one particular method that makes an inquiry scientific?

You will engage with these and other questions about knowledge in general and about scientific knowledge in particular, through some of the most important texts in the history of philosophy. These include extracts from such classics as René Descartes’ Meditations and Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, as well as work by two more recent philosophers, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.

Book 5: Philosophy of mind 
One important difference between us and inanimate objects is that we have minds while inanimate objects do not. But what are these minds? Are they non-material substances, like souls? Or could it be that having a mind is just a matter of having a brain, a physical object? In this book you will examine Descartes’ view that each of us is a composite of both a non-material mind and a material body. You will also look at the opposing view that we are, in essence, just bodies, and that falling in love or being moved by music is just a matter of certain things happening in one's brain. In addition, you will look at two topics that shape current research into the mind, where philosophy, psychology and neuroscience start to overlap. Are our mental lives confined to our brains or do they instead partly reside in the world around us – on the hard drives of our computers, for example? And what should we make of the seemingly intractable nature of consciousness?

Book 6: Political philosophy
This last book considers the relation between ourselves and the states and societies in which we live. It’s commonly thought that we ought to obey the law, vote in elections, or fight for our country if it is under threat. But do we really have such political obligations? What is their source, and when do those obligations cease? Can I just opt out? For that matter, when did I opt in? One answer is that we have obligations only to a just state. But this raises other questions: justice has to do with people getting what they are due, but what, exactly, are people due? Is everyone of equal worth, or do some deserve much more than others? Certainly, some get much more than others. What sort of economic arrangements are fair?

In attempting to answer these questions, you'll consider the classical writings of Plato, Locke and Hume, as well as more contemporary work by John Rawls and Robert Nozick.

You will learn

In addition to exploring the philosophical topics listed above, you will develop the reasoning and other skills necessary to engage in the debates yourself. You will learn to question core assumptions and consider the world, and our relationship with it, in unaccustomed ways. These are skills highly valued by employers looking for staff able to approach complex and often perplexing situations and to offer clear and sound arguments in response.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor to help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work. Your tutor will use a blend of methods designed to help you benefit from tuition whatever your circumstances.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

Exploring philosophy starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023 when we expect it to start for the last time. A replacement module is planned for October 2024.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 2 module and builds on the OU level 1 modules Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), Revolutions (A113) and Cultures (A112). These modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities. Alternatives are Investigating the social world (DD103) (now discontinued), Introducing the social sciences (DD102), and Global challenges: social science in action (D113) all of which provide a good introduction to skills particularly relevant to Exploring philosophy.

    If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at OU level 1 before progressing to OU level 2 study.

    You do not require any prior knowledge of philosophy to study this module.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    No preparatory work is necessary but, if you would like to do some reading in advance, two accessible introductory books are Nigel Warburton Philosophy: the Basics (Routledge, 2004) and Thomas Nagel What Does it All Mean? (Oxford University Press, 2004). The author of the first of these has also written a part of the module.


    Start End England fee Register
    07 Oct 2023 Jun 2024 £3462.00

    Registration closes 07/09/23 (places subject to availability)

    October 2023 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2024. Fees normally increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

    This information was provided on 30/05/2023.

    Can you study an Access module for free?

    In order to qualify, you must:

    1. be resident in England
    2. have a personal income of less than £25,000 (or receive qualifying benefits)
    3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above, or completed 30 credits or more of OU study

    How to apply to study an Access module for free

    Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible.

    If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069 or you can request a call back.

    Not eligible to study for free?

    Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

    • monthly payments through OUSBA
    • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

    To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

    What's included

    You’ll be provided with six core books, audio CDs and have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module guide
    • audio recordings
    • online exercises
    • electronic versions of the books
    • access to online tutorials.


    Computing requirements

    You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11), or macOS (11 'Big Sur' or higher).

    Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

    It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    Materials to buy

    Set books

    • Cottingham, J.G. Western Philosophy: An Anthology (2nd edn) Wiley-Blackwell £25.99 - ISBN 9781405124782 PLEASE NOTE: A third edition of this book is available, but ideally you should purchase the second edition listed above if available. If you are not able to get hold of a copy, the third edition contains the relevant material, but the page references in the module books and online units will not match. However, the Module Team will provide a document to students detailing the new page numbers for each reference.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying A222 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.