The Course

This course is open to all first-year students whose degree schemes permit them to choose an optional course. It is compulsory for students on the BA Philosophy, BA Philosophy and History, BA Philosophy with Human Rights; BA Philosophy and Law, LLB Law and Philosophy, BA Philosophy and Literature, BA Philosophy and/with Modern Languages, BA Philosophy and Politics, BA Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BA Philosophy and Sociology.

Students taking this course will follow the topics described below. The Summer term will be devoted to revision. Each lecture will be followed by a one-hour discussion class, at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed in smaller class groups. In Week 7 the discussion class will cover essay preparation and writing techniques.

Autumn Term: Introduction to Ethics

In this part of the course, students are introduced to moral philosophy through the study of a number of life and death issues (suicide, abortion, euthanasia and extreme poverty). Considering these issues will bring some of the fundamental approaches to moral philosophy and some of its key distinctions into focus. Moreover, it will also allow students to familiarise themselves with the way we argue in (moral) philosophy. Questions considered will include: Is taking a human life always and absolutely wrong? Does it make a difference whether we take a human life or merely refrain from saving it? What weight (if any) should we attach to people`s choices in these matters? And do benefits to the individuals concerned or to society matter in deciding about them? What are the duties involved? How demanding should morality be and how much of our lives should it govern? What role(s) do examples and intuitions play in our moral reasoning? And how can we defend or criticise a moral theory?

Spring Term: Epistemology

There appear to be certain very general beliefs that underlie our everyday lives. For example, that there is an external world within which we live, that that world contains other people like ourselves and towards whom we have moral obligations. But are we justified in holding these beliefs? Can we give adequate reasons for maintaining that they are true? Philosophical scepticism proposes that no such reasons are available, and that these beliefs are, therefore, unfounded. This part of the course considers sceptical problems in relation to four areas: religion, morality, knowledge of the world and knowledge of each other. We shall spend two weeks study on each area. In each case, we shall begin by considering how the sceptical issue arises, and then look at direct approaches (which try to answer the sceptic`s doubts) in the first week, and indirect approaches (which try to question the sceptic’s doubts) in the second. For religion, the indirect approach will be through the thought of Soren Kierkegaard, for morality through that of Friedrich Nietzsche, and for knowledge of the external world and of each other, through the thought of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Martin Heidegger. In this way, students will be introduced both to traditional responses to scepticism and to some examples of the questioning of scepticism in nineteenth and twentieth century philosophy. The indirect approach brings us into contact with three formative thinkers of Continental philosophy (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche & Heidegger) so that students will sample both characteristic concerns of Analytical philosophy (through the set text Introduction to Philosophical Analysis by John Hospers) and of the modern European traditions.

You can find the full course description in the Essex course repository here.


One Response to “The Course”

  1. I noticed today that the link to the repository had changed. I’ve updated it, but in case this happens again you may need to navigate your own way there through the Essex Philosophy Department website at Of course, if you’re a student on PY111 you should already know how to find these materials!

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