Honours in Philosophy

The Philosophy Honours programme is a two-year programme of studies, comprising the Junior Honours and Senior Honours years. Junior and Senior Honours have separate course options, with Single Honours students taking six courses per year, and Joint Honours students taking three per year.  There are also fortnightly tutorials held for each class in Junior Honours. Single honours students write a dissertation in an area of their choosing; joint honours can choose to write a dissertation in Philosophy.

Honours students have the option to spend their third year studying abroad.

Junior Honours courses

Junior Honours students have a choice of nine courses, these covering some of the central areas within the subject. This allows students to develop their studies in the areas in which they are most interested: no course is cumpulsory.

The following courses are normally available every year:

JH1 History of Modern Philosophy

We consider the seminal 17th century philosophies of Locke and Berkeley. Both were strongly influenced by Descartes and by the emerging natural sciences. Along with David Hume (see SH2), they are the principal figures of classical British Empiricism, according to which all knowledge comes from experience. Within that constraint, Locke attempts to assess the limits of possible human knowledge on the assumption of Realism, i.e., that the material world is real and independent of our experience of it. This led to his celebrated attempt to distinguish those aspects of experience that correspond to real features of the world from those which do not, or which do so only in an indirect way. Berkeley famously argued that the whole idea of realism is incoherent, and that knowledge and indeed reality itself is confined to mind or 'spirit' as he called it. This module is recommended background for further modules in the history of philosophy such as Mind and Knowledge in the Scottish Enlightenment (on Hume and Reid).

JH2 Philosophy of Language

In this course we start from the classic works in philosophy of language by Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell in which they investigate of the nature of language, meaning, reference and related topics. We look next at some contemporary challenges to those views, especially due to Saul Kripke, then to the speech-act theory of Austin, and the pragmatics of Grice.  We look also at the theory of Donald Davidson, a famous theory that tries to connect the theory of meaning with things we ascribe meaning to, namely linguistic behaviour.   If time permits, we finish with a look at W. V. Quine and Ludwig Wittgenstein, each of which had their distinctive doubts about the idea of a theory of meaning.

JH3 Epistemology

This course introduces students to a number of major themes and debates in epistemology. We will examine the traditional tripartite theory of knowledge (JTB), the ‘Gettier problem’ that is widely thought to refute it, and look at some of the revised theories of knowledge that were proposed in its wake.  We will look at the problem of scepticism and at the debate between foundationalist and coherentist theories of epistemic justification.  Aside from these historically prominent issues, the course has a largely contemporary focus, covering topics that have received a lot of attention in epistemology in the last 10 to 15 years – topics such as epistemic contextualism, pragmatic encroachment, knowledge-first epistemology, externalist theories of epistemic justification and a little formal epistemology.

JH4 Political Philosophy

This course concentrates on some central and controversial values invoked in the appraisal of political life and on a range of theories that seek to ground them. In particular, we will discuss (1) the nature and scope of individual rights, (2)  the value of liberty and how it can be measure, (3) different distributive principles such as equality, priority and sufficiency, and finally (4) nature and justification of democratic government.

JH5/SH1 Logic

Continues the study of logic started in the second year, proceeding in a somewhat more rigorous and formal manner. Rather than producing proofs in a formal system (e.g. tableaux) the emphasis is rather on proving results about such a system, for example soundness and completeness.

JH6 History of Moral Philosophy

In this course we will look in detail at two historically and philosophically important accounts of morality.

Firstly, we’ll look at the Sentimentalist moral philosophy of David Hume as presented in his Treatise on Human Nature and his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Hume famously thinks that morality is dependent upon human sentiments (roughly: emotional dispositions) and that plausible sentimentalist answers can be given to questions about the content and normativity of morality.

Second, we’ll look at the Rationalist moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant as presented in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Reason. Kant famously thinks that morality is dependent upon practical rationality (roughly: the capacity to act for reasons) and that the content and normativity of morality can (only) be explained by reference to this feature.

Along the way we’ll consider Hume and Kant’s views and arguments concerning the origin of moral concepts, the relationship between rationality and our desires/goals, motivation and action, and free will.

JH7 Philosophy of Mind

Charts the attempts in philosophy, psychology and cognitive science since the beginning the of 20th century to develop an alternative conception of the mind to Cartesian Dualism: one that is naturalistic, scientifically tractable and philosophically satisfactory. After a brief introduction to Dualism, discussion proceeds with Behaviourism, early physicalist Identity Theories, forms of Functionalism, and consciousness.  Along the way, such topics are explored as thought, perception, subjectivity, qualia, mental causation, the analogy between mind and computer, and the dependence of mental content on the environment.

JH8 Metaphysics

This module covers selected topics in contemporary metaphysics, thereby illustrating its range of questions and its methods: (1) material objects (2) the nature of time; and (3) the nature of causation. Sample questions to be discussed are, respectively: Are material objects anything over and above their properties? Is time fundamentally analogous to space? Is causation merely a matter of exceptionless regularity?

JH9 Moral Philosophy

We refer to ethical properties all the time.  Take, for example, a conversation you might overhear on a bus: ‘That’s a nasty way to treat any other human being, but the fact that it was his mother makes it even worse.’ ‘After all she’s done for him, it’s grossly unfair!’ ‘She’s such a kind person.’ ‘His disrespect and disloyalty is appalling.’  It seems to attribute a number of ethical properties to persons and their actions, including nastiness, worseness, fairness, kindness, disrespectfulness, appallingness, and disloyalty.  But what kinds of properties are they?  Are they like natural, physical properties?  Are they non-natural, perhaps socially-constructed, properties?  Or are we simply fooled into thinking there are ethical properties by our grammar or our feelings? 

Answering these questions about the nature of ethical properties will invite us to think about a number of related questions having to do with ethical judgments:  What exactly are we doing when we make judgments about ethical matters?  Are we recognizing an ethical property?  Are we reasoning to an ethical conclusion?  Are we committing ourselves to a certain course of action or feeling motivated to act in this way rather than that?   

These questions highlight three central issues in metaethics that will be the focus of our attention in this course: (i) the nature of ethical properties; (ii) the nature of ethical judgements; and (iii) the nature of reasons for action.


Senior Honours Courses

Our Senior Honours courses build upon the foundations provided by the Junior Honours curriculum. Some of them offer the opportunity to study areas encountered in Junior Honours, but with more focus and depth. Others introduce students to a new specialist topic which becomes accessible as a result of the general Junior Honours grounding. The curriculum in each course is high-level and research-led, usually related to an area of current research interest by one or more members of the subject area. We offer around a dozen courses each year, covering most major areas of philosophy; the selection changes so that students are able to take advantage of research developments within the subject as they happen.

Fuller information about the current year's offerings and about honours in general can be found on our webpages for current honours students.