MA modules 2019-2020


Autumn Trimester


PHIL 41510 Ethics: Theory and Practice (Marinus Ferriera), Monday 11-1

Introduction to theories of ethics as well as particular problems in applied ethics.  Thinking seriously about ethical questions requires us to face up to two different but related problems: firstly, identifying and getting clear on what the grounds are on which we can decide on ethical questions; and secondly, how to make use of those grounds in order to get determinate action-guidance for the case at hand. The grounds for answering ethical questions would be the principles that underlie our reasoning, the criteria for right action, and a theory about the role and content of ethics. Action-guidance are things like commands, rules, advice, and other ways of telling someone what they should do. We can use these two problems as a way of understanding the theoretical ethics vs practical ethics split, where the theoretical ethics is devoted to getting the grounds of moral judgements right, and practical ethics is about how best to come to identify the concrete courses of action that would follow from those grounds. This course will use this two-pronged approach in order to come to a better understanding of some widely-discussed approaches to ethics, and to highlight important features of some particular problems in applied ethics. In addition, we will introduce a range of issues such as: possible tensions between an ethical theory’s ability to explain the grounds of judgements vs. its ability to provide us with concrete action guidance; ways in which a theory can prioritise the explaining of the grounds over providing action-guidance, or vice versa; whether the requirement to have a particular kind of action-guidance (say, a hard and fast rule you can use for public policy) hides or distorts the grounds of the judgements, and so on.

PHIL 40970 Consciousness, Agency & the Self (Robert Foley), Monday 2-4

This course covers central issues in the philosophy of mind and action. We begin with a brief overview of the main positions on the mind-body problem: dualism, physicalism, and functionalism. Then we turn to questions and theories about consciousness: the "hard problem" of consciousness, philosophical theories, scientific theories, conscious agency and free will. In the final part we turn to the notion of the self. We consider accounts of the "minimal self" and the "narrative self". We investigate the role of the self in agency, and we look at the Buddhist doctrine of "no-self".

PHIL 41560 Truth, History, Justice (Joseph Cohen) Tuesday 11-1

The module will examine, through the works of Hegel, Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida and Patocka, the intricate relationship between the concept of truth, the comprehension of history and the idea of justice. How can justice remain irreducible to truth? Why is truth, according to Levinas, incessantly bound up to violence, and consequently failing to inaugurate an ethical responsibility towards the singularity of the other? In which manner can the idea of justice open to a "hyper-ethical" and infinite responsibility? Key concepts which will be approached in relation to truth, history and justice are "freedom", "subjectivity", "autonomy", "nihilism", "sacrifice", "law", "recognition", "reconciliation".

PHIL 41570 Problems from Kant (James O’Shea) Tuesday 2-4

Detailed module content for 'Problems from Kant' for 2019-20 will be added during the summer, but in general this module focuses on selected themes from Kant's critical philosophy, and brings to bear on them insights and debates from 20th/21st century philosophers strongly influenced by Kant, such as P.F. Strawson, Gareth Evans, Wilfrid Sellars, Robert Brandom, John McDowell, Onora O'Neill, or John Rawls. Contributions and insights from all traditions and philosophical approaches will be welcome in the seminar. Sometimes the seminar will focus on interpreting Kant's own systematic philosophy in detail, selecting themes from his philosophy of mind, knowledge, and nature, or in some cases his views on freedom, morality, and aesthetics. Other times the seminar will focus more on the 20th/21st c. philosophers defending influential variations on fundamental Kantian themes. Usually there will be a mixture of the two approaches, historical and contemporary.

PHIL 41540 Fictional Characters (Tatjana von Soldokoff), Wednesday 11-1

Fictional characters are awkward creatures. They are described as being girls, detectives or cats in their ‘home’ fictions, but who of us has ever met Hermione Granger, Sherlock Holmes or the Cheshire Cat? No one, of course: they are, after all, not real. They are fictional entities, objects of imagination, created by imaginative authors, they are nothing like us. Still worse for them, it’s not even obvious that fictional characters are anything at all. Given that no one has ever come across them, given that we can neither see nor touch them, maybe fictional characters are nothing more than shadows cast by our linguistic projections onto the world, a world that is really free of such objects.

Metaphysicians with an interest in fictional entities try to make sense of the ways in which we talk and think about fictional worlds and their inhabitants. While some of the linguistic data suggest that we pretheoretically do not believe in fictional characters, some seem to imply quite the opposite. Thus compare:

(1) Some fictional characters are more famous than others.

(2) Hermione Granger doesn’t exist.

(3) Hermione Granger is a student.

All of these claims seem true, but it’s not difficult to see that there is a question about how they can all be true. How can Hermione be a student if she doesn’t exist? And if she doesn’t exist, how can she be famous? If there are no fictional characters, how can we compare them to one another and say some of them are more famous than others?

A natural thought at this point is that maybe there are fictional characters, but they don't exist! We will learn more about this view in the module, but already notice that this view is less natural than it might appear at first. If someone told you that many of Dickens’ characters were underdeveloped, it seems perfectly reasonable to inform them that only a few such characters exist and that most of Dickens’ characters are very well developed indeed. Thus, some philosophers argue that fictional characters do exist. But what exactly are they? And where are they? And how are they made? We will discuss the views of some of these "realists" in the module. Other philosophers find the idea that Hermione and Holmes exist utterly absurd. But how can they reconcile the truth of claims such as (1) and (3) with their "sparse ontology"? We will also discuss the views of some of these "anti-realists".

PHIL 41280 Feminist & Gender Theory (Katherine O'Donnell), Thursday 11-1

This seminar will introduce students to key contemporary feminist philosophers and debates between feminist philosophers with a view to understanding how their work draws from and challenges dominant philosophical traditions in the creation of new philosophical understandings of knowledge, ethics, self and politics.

We begin with an exploration of what is feminist philosophy? Feminism has a much more recent history than Philosophy. Feminism can be characterised as a popular (or unpopular) social movement that seeks to change the status quo to enable equal participation by girls and women in the public to that of boys and men, and to create a cultural parity of esteem for both masculinity and femininity. Besides this egalitarian project feminism has another impulse which is to seek to deconstruct the meaning of what it is to be male or female and to inscribe new signification for these terms and for the relationship between them. The ambivalence of these goals might be seen to excite many of the debates among feminists. The initial seminar will seek to collectively arrive at definitions for what Philosophy is and does which will begin a discussion that will continue for the remaining weeks: how might we define feminist philosophy?

Feminist philosophy is vibrant with debate and revision and the topics that will be addressed in our reading and discussion will offer a variety of contestations among feminists. These topics will include:

(i) What is Gender and its significance?

(ii) Feminist epistemology and feminist philosophies of ignorance;

(iii) Feminist conceptions of what is a Self?;

(iv) Feminist Ethics;

(v) Feminist Political Philosophy.

PHIL 41320 Topics in Continental Philosophy (Danielle Petherbridge), Thursday 2-4

How do we understand encounters between self and other? What is the relation between subjectivity and intersubjective life? This module examines different philosophical perspectives for analyzing encounters between self and other, and investigates alternative theories of recognition and intersubjectivity in the tradition of continental philosophy. Themes covered will include the subject, intersubjectivity, recognition, difference, power, domination, and self/other relations.

In order to address these questions, we generally begin by tracing major theories of intersubjectivity and recognition in the German philosophical tradition, such as those developed by Fichte and Hegel. We contrast these to phenomenological accounts such as those offered by Husserl, or the existential-phenomenological accounts of Merleau-Ponty and Sartre. We also consider accounts of recognition and relationality offered by contemporary philosophers such as Honneth and Foucault, as well as postcolonial and feminist philosophers. We therefore consider not only face-to-face encounters but the way in which intersubjective relations are constitutive of subjects. We also examine the way in which patterns of interaction form a background of norms and meanings that constitute the lifeworld, as well as the ways in which recognition is employed as a means to understand forms of human relationality and sociality.


Spring Trimester


PHIL 41000 Aristotle's Ethics & Politics (Tim Crowley), Monday 11-1

As Aristotle sees it, ethics and politics are both concerned with the same thing: the pursuit of happiness. His great work, the 'Nicomachean Ethics' is concerned with identifying what an individual's happiness consists in, while his 'Politics' attempts to identify which political system will best promote the happiness of each citizen. Both works are masterpieces of moral and political philosophy, and remain of great interest and influence today. In this module we will examine the key doctrines that Aristotle argues for in these seminal texts. To set Aristotle's work in its appropriate historical and philosophical context, we will also look closely at the treatment of these, and similar, topics by Aristotle's great predecessors, Socrates and Plato.

PHIL 40960 The Cultural Mind (Meredith Plug) Tuesday 9-11

This course will look at recent research on the interdependence between culture and mind. Two aspects of culture that the course will particularly focus on are language and moral norms.  One of the broad themes that we will explore is relativity.  So called ‘linguistic relativity’ is the view that (a) languages affect our thinking as well as our experiences of the world and (b) vastly different languages will give rise to very different, possibly incommensurable, ways of thinking about the world.  We will look at recent empirical evidence for this view, and its philosophical implications.  We will also look at empirical evidence for and philosophical discussion of variance in moral norms across different cultures. An opposing thought is that language or moral norms are to some extent universal. We’ll examine empirical evidence that bears on and philosophical discussion of this hypothesis.

PHIL 40420 The Good Society (Maeve Cooke), Tuesday 11-1

We will consider the place of protest and resistance in contemporary democratic life. Our focus will be civil disobedience, but we will consider other modes. We will also, more briefly, consider the questions of protest and resistance in non-democratic contexts and in a globalizing world, beyond the constitutional state. Readings will include classic texts, such as Thoreau's "Resistance to Civil Government", as well as seminal essays from the 1960s and 1970s and more recent contributions to debate.

PHIL 40250 Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception (Tim Mooney), Tuesday 2-4

This module comprises a close reading of Phenomenology of Perception, one of the most significant treatments of philosophy of perception in the European tradition. Merleau-Ponty offers a sustained critique of the portrait view of perception and argues that the embodied perceiver must actively appropriate and organise the perceptible environment as a condition of having a world. We begin with his initial adaptation of phenomenology, and proceed to outline his arguments against objectivism as found in the empiricist and intellectualist approaches to perception. Merleau-Ponty's  proposed alternative founded on phenomenological description will then be explicated in detail. Topics to be covered include perceptual synthesis, the body as objectified, as lived and as anonymous, the role of kinaesthetic awareness, proprioceptive awareness and the body-schema, the motor-intentional projection of action and the perceptual field.

PHIL 40410 Philosophy & Literature (Lisa Foran), Wednesday 11-1

In this course we will approach the relationship between philosophy and literature through a phenomenological framework by asking: 'what is the experience of reading philosophy and what is the experience of reading literature?' The aim is to discover the manner in which each genre of text reveals something of the human experience but to precisely question the extent to which that revelation actually impacts upon the reader's experience of being human.

Towards these ends we will broadly investigate the interrelated themes of time, death and the human/animal divide. In the first half of the module we will draw particularly on the continental philosophical tradition reading thinkers such as Edmund Husserl, Paul Ricoeur, Judith Butler and Jacques Derrida alongside the work of authors such as Annie Ernaux, Han Kang, and Carol Ann Duffy (amongst others). In the second half of the module the focus will shift towards the Anglo-American tradition with the work of philosophers such as Iris Murdoch, Stanley Cavell, and Cora Diamond read alongside authors such as J.M. Coetzee, Franz Kafka, and Leo Tolstoy.

PHIL 40430 Philosophy of the Emotions (Rowland Stout), Wednesday 2-4

Through a combination of the studying of key texts and the tackling of a structure of central questions in the philosophical treatment of emotion, this course will address competing theories of the nature of emotion, emotional rationality, emotional knowledge, emotional recalcitrance, the social purpose of emotional expression, and the use of emotions as ways of perceiving evalulative aspects of the subject's situation.  We will engage with such things as pride, fear, anger, jealousy and shame.

PHIL 41240 Newman: A philosophical perspective (Angelo Bottone), Thursdays 2-4

This course will provide an overview of the relationship between John Henry Newman and philosophy. After having considered the two main philosophical sources of his formation, namely Aristotle and Cicero, his contribution to the 19th century intellectual debates will be examined. Themes to be covered include the understanding of the historical development of ideas, the relation between education and morality, the justification of religious beliefs, the personal conquest of the truth, the tension between conscience and civic duties. Newman's ideas will be compared with those philosophers whom he overtly confronted and criticised: John Locke, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Finally the course will focus on his legacy and influence on later philosophers, particularly Ludwig Wittgenstein.