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Course outline

This course examines the fundamental nature of reality (metaphysics) and the scope and limits of human knowledge (epistemology) through a study of leading historical and contemporary theories. What exists, what can we know, and how can we know it?

There are weekly readings to introduce a topic or to develop it in detail. These readings will sharpen students' ability to read and to understand philosophical texts and to discuss the issues they involve; coursework develops students' ability to write about philosophical issues.

Seminars will cover the following topics: the analysis of knowledge; scepticism; a priori knowledge; knowledge of future: Hume's problem of induction; the structure of knowledge; truth; causation; mind and body; personal identity; free-will.


The aims of this module are to introduce students to a range of central problems in philosophy and to promote their abilities to thinking critically about them.


By the end of the course:

  1. You will be familiar with two major branches of philosophy – epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and metaphysics (concerned with questions about the fundamental nature of reality).
  2. You will have examined views expressed by important figures in the Western philosophical tradition, including Descartes, Locke, and Hume.
  3. You will have sharpened your ability to think critically about philosophical issues through class discussion and written work.

Coursework and assessment

Assessed component Basic requirements Weighting Deadline
Essay 1 1000 words 20% Week 6
Essay 2 1000 words 20% Week 12
Examination 2 hour paper 60% Week 14

Core reading

  • Robert Audi, Epistemology: a contemporary introduction to the theory of knowledge (Routledge: London and New York, 2nd ed., 2005).
  • E.J. Lowe, A Survey of Metaphysics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).