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Introduction to Philosophy

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

What can we know? What is consciousness? How important is freedom as a political goal? Does life have meaning? Through discussion of questions such as these, this course offers an overview of some of the main areas of philosophy and a range of key issues in each area.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment


Content of Course

This course is intended to provide an overview of some of the central issues in philosophy. Its objective is to introduce philosophical topics and problems in a form suitable for students with little or no prior background in the subject. The course will focus on five main areas: human life and its meaning; knowledge and certainty; metaphysics; philosophy of mind; political philosophy. The course also aims to improve students’ skills in critical thinking and oral communication through participation in class discussion. The course will cover five core areas of philosophy and will be broken down into five thematic teaching blocks. The following topics will be discussed:

1. Human life and its meaning.

In this block, philosophical treatments of the meaning and worth of human life will be explored. Beginning with some of the answers offered by thinkers in the ancient world, the block will move forward to our own day, exploring the substance of a selection of answers, as well as the appropriateness of the question itself.

2. Knowledge and certainty.

In this block, basic issues in epistemology such as ‘what can we know for certain?’ will be examined through classic readings in idealism, empiricism and common-sense realism.

3. Metaphysics.

In this block, basic issues concerning what exists, and the nature of what exists, will be examined through a selection of premodern and modern texts.

4. Mind and body.

In this block, a selection from classic topics in philosophy of mind such as the nature of mind, its relationship to the body, and the problem of consciousness will be considered.

5. Political philosophy.

In this block, central topics in political philosophy such as freedom of speech, the just distribution of resources, and whether it is ever right to disobey the law will be examined.

Teaching method(s)

The course will be taught by a mixture of lectures, tutor-led discussions and group work. Students will be encouraged to read relevant material before each class, including extracts from the works of key philosophers. The tutor will then develop discussion based on the reading and encourage the students to develop their understanding of the basic issues and the particular approach of the reading to that topic, and to engage critically with that approach. Emphasis will be placed on developing both an understanding of key philosophical positions and a willingness and ability to assess critically those positions.

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of basic issues in philosophy, for example scepticism concerning knowledge;

  • Identify the positions of some philosophers on these issues;

  • Critically read examples of historical and contemporary philosophical texts;

  • Analyse and assess philosophical arguments and the concepts that they employ;

  • Convey ideas and arguments in a well-structured and coherent form.


Core Readings


  • Cottingham, J., ed. 2008. Western Philosophy: An Anthology, 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.


  • Blackburn, S., 1999. Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Nagel, T., 1987. What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Warburton, N., 2012. Philosophy: the Basics, 5th ed. London: Routledge.

Web Sources

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at

Class Handouts

Any other materials will be provided by the tutor.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.