Greek Philosophy: The Pre-Socratics, Plato and Aristotle
An examination of the origins and early development of key philosophical concepts, themes and problems in the work of the first philosophers. The work of the first Greek philosophers established the basis on which all subsequent scientific enquiry and political theory within the Western tradition rests and it has thereby had a fundamental influence on the historical development of our world. This unit offers students the opportunity to study the origins of both political philosophy and metaphysical enquiry. It shows how the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, the two greatest Greek philosophers, emerged from a critical engagement with their immediate predecessors (the Pre-Socratics and the Sophists), simultaneously making more precise and narrowing down the enquiries of the earliest Greek thinkers into nature, culture and the human beings’ relation to both. The course begins with the writings of the earliest Greek thinkers (the `Pre-Socratics'), who, according to Aristotle, in their enquiries into nature, posed the most fundamental of all philosophical questions, the question of what there is. We will next look at the sophists who turned away from the investigation of nature, and instead concentrated on exclusively human affairs, developing the first political theory and philosophy of language. The theories of the sophists concerning politics and language, and the Presocratics' accounts of `what is', will then be used to illuminate Plato's major philosophical work, ‘The Republic’, showing how the theories Plato advances concerning truth, reality and knowledge develop the Pre-Socratic enquiries into nature, and how these epistemological and ontological theories feed Plato's conception of an ideal society, which is fundamentally opposed to the political ideas and practices of the sophists.
The aim of this unit to provide students with a thorough grounding in central concepts of and themes in metaphysics. This will be achieved through critical reflection on Early Modern metaphysics in relation to contemporary metaphysics. Students will engage with the metaphysical concepts of substance, personal identity, identity, matter, object-constitution, causation, fictional objects, free will, determinism, fatalism, and nature. In studying central concepts of and themes in metaphysics, students will blend their historical knowledge of Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant with sustained engagement with the metaphysical work of more contemporary philosophers, such as Bertrand Russell, Peter Strawson, Galen Strawson, Derek Parfit, Peter van Inwagen, David Papineau, and John McDowell. Students will also confront important and engaging questions about philosophy’s relationship with the natural sciences.
Science, Technology and the Environment
This unit examines the philosophical concepts behind debates over the role of science and technology in relation to ecological change, examining seminal ideas about what nature, science and technology are. It is increasingly acknowledged that human actions and inventions are playing a crucial role in shaping the earth's eco-systems. Advances in science and technology are seen both as having caused the accelerating degradation of the environment and as providing the chief means of responding to imminent ecological catastrophes. This unit will enable a critical assessment of such claims by identifying their underlying philosophical assumptions. The unit comprises three blocks of study: 1) Science and the Idea of Nature; 2) Technology as a Philosophical Question; 3) The Metaphysics of Environmentalism. In the first block students will study the difference between the Ancient Greek and modern ideas of nature, and critically examine the philosophical rationale behind the modern, enlightenment project of mastering nature through knowledge. The second block will be devoted to the examination of various philosophical concepts of technology. The third block will consider the metaphysical and ontological foundations of contemporary environmentalism, and critically examine its assessment of the uses and abuses of science and technology.
Virtues and Values
This unit focuses on key areas and themes in moral philosophy, topics in normative and practical ethics from a historical and contemporary perspective. The first term begins with a survey and critical re-assessment of the distinction between consequentialism and deontology in ethical theory, before moving on to examining the alternative approach of virtue ethics in Aristotle's 'Nicomachean Ethics'. The second term will focus on key issues in environmental ethics, the normative and practical implication of Global Justice and the Market. Topics to be studies include the notion of intrinsic value and the extent of its application to nature and conservation of biodiversity, ecological feminism and environmental sustainability. The unit concludes by examining the demandingness of morality in the face of world poverty, and will critically examine notions such as 'freedom' and 'neutrality' in relation to the liberalist conception of the Market. Throughout the unit emphasis will be placed on developing the critical, analytical and conceptual skills needed both to comprehend the complexity of ethical debates in the modern world and to engage with them.
Engaging the Humanities and Social Science: Interdisciplinary Learning and Practice
This is an innovative cross-departmental unit which provides an opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary context alongside other students from a range of undergraduate programmes within the Humanities part of our Faculty.
Philosophy of Religion
This unit introduces students to various core topics and themes in the philosophy of religion. As well as looking at several classical arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument and the teleological argument, we will explore other central issues in the philosophy of religion, such as whether it is possible to reconcile a belief in God with the existence of suffering in the world, through the associated projects of defence and theodicy. Other key topics to be covered will include: the nature of God and the divine attributes, the rationality of faith, religious experience, pluralism, the place of religion in everyday life.
The key question of this unit is: what is phenomenology? and, as a follow up question: what challenge does it pose to customary divisions of philosophy into questions of fact or value; of being and of existing; of individuality and collectivity. Phenomenology is one of the main philosophical movements of the 20thcentury, providing the student with detailed understanding of the recent past. In the first term, the focus for discussion will be the re-invention of phenomenology by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938); in the second term the challenge posed to his thought by Emmanuel Lévinas (1906-1996).
Nietzsche and Sartre
This unit allows you to study two of the major thinkers of the last two centuries, improving the understanding of each through comparison with the other, informed by the difference in style and content. The first term of this unit investigates the revolutionary impact of Nietzsche's thinking on the history of philosophy. Since Nietzsche’s famous saying that ‘God is Dead’, philosophers have wondered how to base the various claims concerning morality, religion and truth. Within this context Nietzsche, the most read philosopher of all times, provides ample room of discussion. The second part will concern itself with the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre through the reading of his major work "Being and Nothingness". This book belongs to the most influential and inspiring works of 20thcentury philosophy, giving us some ideas of how to understand our existence after the ‘Death of God’.