Please note: there may be some adjustments to the teaching arrangements published in the course catalogue for 2020-21. Given current circumstances related to the Covid-19 pandemic it is anticipated that some usual arrangements for teaching on campus will be modified to ensure the safety and wellbeing of students and staff on campus; further adjustments may also be necessary, or beneficial, during the course of the academic year as national requirements relating to management of the pandemic are revised.

Externalism and Reference PHIL4012

  • Academic Session: 2022-23
  • School: School of Humanities
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 4 (SCQF level 10)
  • Typically Offered: Either Semester 1 or Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes
  • Available to Erasmus Students: Yes

Short Description

This course focuses on the view (popular since the 1970s) that certain mental states (e.g. beliefs and desires) depend on the external world not merely causally, but also necessarily; that what you believe, for instance, actually entails that a world beyond your skin exists, and further entails certain aspects of how it-and the linguistic conventions prevailing in your community-must be. The course examines the debate between externalists, who hold that view, and internalists, who reject it; and it looks at this issue's bearing on our understanding of linguistic meaning, mental representation, intentional action, knowledge, and self-knowledge.


16x1hr lectures; 4x1hr seminars over 10 weeks as scheduled on MyCampus. This is one of the Honours options in Philosophy and may not run every year. The options that are running this session are available on MyCampus.

Requirements of Entry

Successful completion of Junior Honours Philosophy, and by arrangement to visiting students or students of other Honours programmes.

Excluded Courses





Exam (2 hr duration) - 60%

Essay (2000 words)- 40%

Main Assessment In: April/May

Are reassessment opportunities available for all summative assessments? Not applicable for Honours courses

Reassessments are normally available for all courses, except those which contribute to the Honours classification. For non Honours courses, students are offered reassessment in all or any of the components of assessment if the satisfactory (threshold) grade for the overall course is not achieved at the first attempt. This is normally grade D3 for undergraduate students and grade C3 for postgraduate students. Exceptionally it may not be possible to offer reassessment of some coursework items, in which case the mark achieved at the first attempt will be counted towards the final course grade. Any such exceptions for this course are described below. 

Course Aims

The course aims to:

■ Introduce students to the debate between internalists and externalists;

■ Enable students to recognise and evaluate different forms of internalism and externalism;

■ Enable students to grasp the implications of the internalism/externalism debate for our understanding of action and its explanation, knowledge, and self-knowledge.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course, students will be able to:


■ Explain the difference between internalism and externalism;

■ Explain the differences between the different forms of externalism and internalism;

■ Explain and critically assess the central arguments about externalism, scepticism and non-empirical knowledge of thought contents;

■ Exhibit the transferable skills of expression and argumentation that engaging rigorously with such issues hones.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.