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Knowledge and Reality


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 4
  • Convenor: Robert Northcott
  • Tutors: variable
  • Assessment: a 500-word writing assignment (25%), 750-word writing assignment (35%) and take-home short-answer examination (40%)

Module description

This is a foundational module in epistemology and metaphysics which considers the nature of the world around us, our place in that world and what we know about both. We address a selection of questions such as: How do we know that the external world really exists, when we cannot step outside our own perceptions to find out? Is experience a reliable source of knowledge? What other sources of knowledge are there? Does God exist? Is faith bound by the normal standards of rationality? What does it mean to be a person, and what makes someone the same person over time? What is the relationship between the self, the mind and the body? What is the nature of causation, or of time? How do we decide if something exists? If everything in the universe is determined by scientific laws, how can we have free will? How do social categories like race bear on our identities? 

In the module you will be introduced to classic and contemporary answers to these questions and philosophical techniques typically used for dealing with them.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Scepticism 
  • Induction 
  • Faith and rationality 
  • Sources of knowledge 
  • The existence of God 
  • Mind and body 
  • Time 
  • Causation 
  • Free will and determinism 
  • Personal identity 
  • Social categories like race or gender

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand central topics in epistemology and metaphysics and identify the principles and concepts underlying different approaches to such topics
  • identify some of the ways in which theories of knowledge and of reality are open to ongoing debate and reformulation
  • apply taught criteria for evaluating the philosophical accounts and arguments offered by major thinkers in epistemology, as well as arguments in metaphysics concerning the mind-body problem, the compatibility of freedom and determinism, the nature of the self and the existence of races.