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Philosophy (20 credit points)

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? How should I act? Does life have meaning? Through discussion of questions such as these, this course offers an introduction to some of the main areas of philosophy and a range of key issues in each area.

20 credit courses have two assessments, normally including a 2000 word essay and a second written assignment. Students also have the opportunity to complete two formative assessments. To pass, students must achieve a minimum course mark of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

This course will be co-taught by John Gordon and Stephen Watt.

Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No prior knowledge is required.

Content of Course

The course will introduce students to 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 four main areas: human life and its meaning; knowledge and certainty; political philosophy; philosophy of mind. The course also aims to improve the students' skills in critical reading, critical thinking, and written and oral communication, through participation in class discussion and the writing of essays.

The course will cover four core areas of philosophy and will be broken down into four thematic teaching blocks, each comprising four or five sessions. The following topics will be discussed:

1. Human life and its meaning.

In the first thematic teaching 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 forwards to our own day, exploring the substance of a variety of religious and non-religious answers, as well as the appropriateness of the question itself.

2. Knowledge and certainty.

In the second half of the first semester, basic issues in epistemology will be examined through classic readings in idealism, empiricism and common-sense realism.

3. Political philosophy.

In the third teaching block, central topics in political philosophy will be considered, with a particular emphasis on political authority and the state. The topics discussed will include contractarianism, freedom and equality.

4. Mind and body.

In the final semester, the course will introduce classic topics in philosophy of mind such as dualism, the problem of other minds, functionalism and the problem of consciousness.

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 both their understanding of the basic issues, 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 various philosophers on these issues;

  • Critically read historical and contemporary philosophical texts;

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

  • Express ideas and arguments orally and in writing, with particular attention to clarity, precision and concision.


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

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Class Handouts

Any other materials will be provided by the tutor.


10 credit courses have one assessment. Normally, the assessment is a 2000 word essay, worth 100% of the total mark, submitted by week 12. To pass, students must achieve a minimum of 40%. There are a small number of exceptions to this model which are identified in the Studying for Credit Guide.

Studying for Credit

If you choose to study for credit you will need to allocate significant time outwith classes for coursework and assessment preparation. Credit points gained from this course can count towards the Certificate of Higher Education.


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.