MA Philosophy part 2

The module will complete your study for the MA in Philosophy. You'll study: the emotions, Nietzsche, Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt, and ‘the problem of dirty hands’. Your tutor will help you build on your capacity for independent research, and you will have ample opportunity to liaise with fellow students online. The tutorial strategy, which involves both tutors and module team authors, will encourage independent thought using the huge range of online books and articles available via the OU Library. Finally, you'll be able to complete a dissertation on a topic of your choice, provided it is linked to at least one of the topics studied on the MA.

Vocational relevance

Philosophy is greatly valued by employers. Amongst the transferrable skills you will acquire (or improve) will be the ability to understand and assimilate complex material; the ability to formulate arguments; the ability to express yourself in a clear and convincing manner; the ability to communicate your ideas clearly in written and other forms.


A854 is a compulsory module in our:


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 postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

Block 1: The emotions
Emotions permeate our everyday lives, yet questions about what emotions are and their role in human psychology remain deeply controversial. In this block, you'll investigate the nature and value of emotion via three connected debates in the contemporary philosophy of emotion.

The first debate concerns situations in which emotions conflict with our considered judgements. How should we understand these conflicts? Can they usefully be compared with cases involving sensory illusions? What do these cases tell us about the nature of emotion?

The second debate concerns the role of emotion as a source of knowledge. Are our emotions an important source of knowledge or understanding? If so, how does this come about? Do our emotions inform us about the world in the same direct and reliable way as our senses?

The third debate concerns emotion as a guide to action. Emotions certainly often move us to act. But do they provide reasons to act? When head and heart conflict, is it ever rational to follow our hearts? In studying this material, you will focus on a tightly defined set of issues at the heart of current philosophical debate about emotion. Even so, these are issues that point to broader questions in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of action, epistemology and ethics.

Block 2: Nietzsche
In his short treatise On the Genealogy of Morality (1887), Nietzsche publishes his most sustained attack on Western morality. You'll examine his bold thesis that our deeply held and widely shared values, such as compassion and equality, are neither God-given nor are they the result of disinterested reasoning about what is right and wrong. Morality, he claims, is an invention by a certain type of person or group; he calls them ‘slaves’, who thereby tried to assert their power over another type or group, the ‘masters’ or ‘nobles’. ‘Morality' is a natural, human phenomenon with history, an ‘all-too-human’ history steeped in oppression, suffering, hatred, resentment, and revenge. It was only through establishing systems of values that suited their own interests that the initially powerless asserted themselves.

The principal goal of this block is for you to understand the ways in which Nietzsche argues for this main thesis in the three essays of the Genealogy. You'll focus on five topics: the scope of Nietzsche’s critique, 'genealogy’ as his method, what he means by ‘ressentiment’, the development of ‘guilt’ from ‘debt’, and his attack on the 'ascetic ideal’.

Block 3: Foucault and Arendt
What is power? Is the power to punish different from the power of curing and educating? Is power (always) connected with violence? What is the relationship between power and freedom, and power and the law? In this block, you'll explore these and other questions concerning the concept of power. You'll begin with the debates about power by considering classic and current definitions of this concept. You'll then learn the views of two major twentieth-century philosophers: Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt. Through them, you'll consider power in a variety of settings, including schools, prisons, society as a whole, governments and revolutions. Most critics regard Foucault’s and Arendt’s strikingly different views as incompatible; however, some have attempted to combine them.

You'll have the opportunity to develop your study in the direction that most interests you. You can concentrate on the assessment of Foucault’s and Arendt’s philosophies or on their comparison. Alternatively, you may focus on the uses that current philosophers have made of their ideas, for instance, in the context of feminist philosophy, or develop your own answers to the questions posed in dialogue with the texts you have studied.

Block 4: Dirty Hands
We are said to get ‘dirty hands’ when forced by circumstances or others’ evildoings into ‘doing wrong to do right’: into doing something that is, in Michael Stocker’s words, ‘justified, even obligatory, but nonetheless wrong and shameful’. What does that mean? What kinds of acts are supposed to be like this? Does it even make sense to talk in this way? If you found yourself asking any such questions, then you have to some extent, already engaged with this problem in moral and political philosophy which you will be exploring in this final part of your MA. You'll read the classic modern articulation of the problem by Michael Walzer, from which we get the now (in) famous ‘ticking bomb’ example, among others. Following this, you'll engage with debates over what kind of problem or phenomenon dirty hands is, what if any, threat it poses to well-established moral theories, and indeed whether the problem itself is merely an illusion. In the second half of the block, you'll focus on dirty hands and politics, where some philosophers have found the problem especially or most urgent.

You will learn

You will learn about four key areas of philosophy, drawing on both the history of philosophy and contemporary enquiry. This will cover the emotions, Nietzsche and ethics, Foucault and Arendt on power, and political philosophy. In writing your dissertation, you will also learn how to pursue independent research in philosophy, including how to communicate your ideas to an academic (and other) audience.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be assigned a tutor who will assess and provide comments on all written work. In addition, the tutorial strategy involves live lectures by module authors, group tutorials, as well as individual help from your tutor.

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.

There will be one TMA per topic, and the dissertation of up to 12,000 words will have two formative TMAs in addition to the final submission. This may be on a topic linked to any of those studied elsewhere on the MA in Philosophy.

Course work includes

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Future availability

MA Philosophy part 2 starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.


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.

Entry requirements

To register for this module, you are required to have successfully completed the MA Philosophy part 1 (A853).

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

Preparatory work

We recommend that reading the following five books would be useful preparation for this module:

  • Carolyn Price, Emotion (Polity, 2015)
  • Sue Mendus, Politics and Morality (Polity, 2009).

These are also set books for this module (see 'Study materials'):

  • Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality and Other Writings (Cambridge University Press, 2017).
  • Paul Rabinow (ed.) The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought (Penguin, 1991). 
  • Hannah Arendt, On Violence (Harcourt Brace & Company, 1970). 


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Oct 2025 £5090.00

Registration closes 12/09/24 (places subject to availability)

04 Oct 2025 Oct 2026 Not yet available

Registration opens on 12/03/25

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2029.

Future availability

MA Philosophy part 2 starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

Additional costs

Study costs

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

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

 You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment guide
  • tutorials and forums.

You'll also have access to the extensive online collections in the OU Library.

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 Ventura 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

  • Rabinow, P. (ed) The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought Penguin £12.99 - ISBN 9780241435144 9780140124866 is previous version.
  • Nietzsche, F.: Ansell-Pearson, K. (ed) Nietzsche: On the Genealogy of Morality and Other Writings Cambridge University Press £17.99 - ISBN 9781316602591 This book is Print on Demand, please allow at least 2 weeks for receipt following order.
  • Arendt, H. On Violence Harcourt Publishers £6.99 - ISBN 9780156695008

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components are available online. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader (and where applicable: musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way). Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

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

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