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Exploring philosophy

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This introduction to philosophy considers fundamental questions from six core areas: the self; philosophy of religion; ethics; knowledge and science; the mind; and political philosophy. What makes me ‘Me’? Does God exist? Why should I act morally? Can I trust science? How can I, a physical being, have thoughts and emotions? Should I obey laws I disagree with? Philosophers – both past and present – have offered radically diverging answers to these and the other questions asked in this module. Guided engagement with this philosophical tradition will provide the platform for you to tackle the big questions of philosophy for yourself.

Modules at Level 2 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

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04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
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This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
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04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
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04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1625.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
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04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£2632.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

See below for information about part time tuition fee loans available for study towards a qualification.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£775.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

*Fees may vary by country.

What you will study

This module teaches the basics of philosophy via the six module books described below. These will guide you carefully through selected classic readings from the set book, Western Philosophy: An Anthology, 2nd edition, edited by John Cottingham (Blackwell). The discussion in the module books is supported by extensive audio interviews with prominent present day philosophers.

The skills and topics taught have a value and resonance not limited to academic study, though the module does give a sound basis for advanced study in philosophy and other subjects.

The self - It is hard to think of anything more basic to our understanding of life than the assumptions we make about the true nature of ourselves, in particular that we in some sense carry on being the same person despite physical and psychological change over time. Could it be a mistake to think like this? Is this notion of a continuous self just an illusion, as Hume suggested? What, if anything, is it that makes Rembrandt, the ageing painter depicted in a late self-portrait, the same person as the young apprentice in early drawings? This isn't a trivial issue. Some real moral differences hinge on the answer we give, as for example, whether war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago. Questions about the nature of the self matter too when considering the possibility of life after death. If something were to survive death, what would it be? It is no longer far-fetched to imagine transferring memories from a dying person to an artificially-created brain, or perhaps to a donor brain. Would the brain with the now-dead person's memories house a person and, if so, would it be the same person as the one whose body died? This opening book of the module explores a range of questions about the self and personal identity through classic readings by John Locke and David Hume and more recent writing by Derek Parfit.

Philosophy of religion - In this book we turn from the self to God: from questions about personal identity, and what it is to be who one is, to questions about the existence of a supreme being. The book begins by asking what the words ’God‘ and ’religion‘ mean, and what it is to ask philosophical questions and offer philosophical arguments, about religion in general and about God in particular. This is followed by an examination of the claim that there can be no arguments when it comes to matters of faith. A variety of arguments for God’s existence is examined, including Thomas Aquinas’ ’Second way’, and classic and contemporary versions of the argument from design. Detailed discussion of design arguments leads to the question why – if there is a good and all-powerful God – there is so much evil in the world. The book concludes by raising some questions about miracles and religious experience.

Ethics - Judgements about what we ought or ought not to do permeate and shape our lives. But what grounds do we have for these judgements? When I am unsure about the moral acceptability of a possible course of action, where should I look to settle the matter? As a moral being, should I be aiming to do whatever brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world? If not, then what? And why should I do the right thing if I would benefit more from doing the wrong thing? This third book will look at answers to these and related questions given by the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (as recounted by his pupil Plato), the British utilitarians Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, and the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. The discussion is kept down to earth by applying it to familiar moral questions. As with the other books in the module, you will be asked to do more than familiarise yourself with what these philosophers said. You will also be expected to engage with them by assessing their arguments and considering potential objections to their positions.

Knowledge - Every day we use expressions such as ‘That’s true!’ or, perhaps irritated by a news report, we exclaim ‘This is just false!’ Sometimes we can’t make up our minds about the truthfulness of a claim because we don’t have good enough reasons either way. When can we say that a claim is true? What reasons do we have to believe which claims are good, and which are not? If I have witnessed something with my own eyes, can I rely on that information to form my beliefs, or should I take account of the fact that my senses are not always reliable? What is the difference between knowledge and mere opinion? We expect nature to show in the future the same regularities that we have observed in the past. But is this expectation rational? Science is widely regarded as the model of knowledge, and yet scientific theories long held as true have turned out to be false. Can we still be certain that current scientific theories are true? Is there one particular method that makes an inquiry scientific? You will engage with these and other questions about knowledge in general and about scientific knowledge in particular, through some of the most important texts in the history of philosophy. These include extracts from such classics as René Descartes’ Meditations and Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, as well as work by two more recent philosophers, Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn.

Philosophy of mind - One important difference between us and inanimate objects is that we have minds while inanimate objects do not. But what are these minds? Are they non-material substances, like souls? Or could it be that having a mind is just a matter of having a brain, a physical object? In this book you will examine Descartes’ view that each of us is a composite of both a non-material mind and a material body. You will also look at the opposing view that we are, in essence, just bodies, and that falling in love or being moved by music is just a matter of certain things happening in one's brain. In addition, you will look at two topics that shape current research into the mind, where philosophy, psychology and neuroscience start to overlap. Are our mental lives confined to our brains or do they instead partly reside in the world around us – on the hard drives of our computers, for example? And what should we make of the seemingly intractable nature of consciousness?

Political philosophy - This last book considers the relation between ourselves and the states and societies in which we live. It’s commonly thought that we ought to obey the law, vote in elections, or fight for our country if it is under threat. But do we really have such political obligations? What is their source, and when do those obligations cease? Can I just opt out? For that matter, when did I opt in? One answer is that we have obligations only to a just state. But this raises other questions: justice has to do with people getting what they are due, but what, exactly, are people due? Is everyone of equal worth, or do some deserve much more than others? Certainly, some get much more than others. What sort of economic arrangements are fair? In attempting to answer these questions, you will consider the classical writings of Plato, Locke and Hume, as well as more contemporary work by John Rawls and Robert Nozick.

You will learn

In addition to exploring the philosophical topics listed above, you will develop the reasoning and other skills necessary to engage in the debates yourself. You will learn to question core assumptions and consider the world, and our relationship with it, in unaccustomed ways. These are skills highly valued by employers looking for staff able to approach complex and often perplexing situations and to offer clear and sound arguments in response.

Entry

This is a Level 2 module and builds on the Level 1 modules The arts past and present (AA100), Voices and texts (A150) and Making sense of things: an introduction to material culture (A151). These Level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials. They also offer an introduction to a range of subjects in the arts and humanities. An alternative is Introducing the social sciences (DD101), which provides a good introduction to skills particularly relevant to Exploring philosophy.

If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at Level 1 before progressing to Level 2 study.

Your regional or national centre can advise you on where you can see reference copies of Level 1 study materials. Some are also available from Open University Worldwide Ltd. We particularly recommend looking at these materials if you have not successfully completed Level 1 study or studied at an equivalent level elsewhere.

You do not require any prior knowledge of philosophy to study this module.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service

Preparatory work

No preparatory work is necessary but, if you would like to do some reading in advance, two accessible introductory books are N.Warburton Philosophy: the Basics (Routledge, 2004) and T.Nagel What Does it All Mean? (Oxford University Press, 2004). The author of the first of these has also written a part of the module.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

Elements of this module are delivered through a website and include the use of interactive online exercises. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer or the internet and have any concerns about accessing this type of material you are advised to talk to the Student Registration & Enquiry Service about support which can be given to meet your needs.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Six core books, audio CDs, and a website containing a study planner, a module guide, online exercises, audio recordings and electronic versions of all the printed study materials.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2007 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.6 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Cottingham, J G Western Philosophy: An Anthology (2nd edn), Wiley-Blackwell £24.99 - ISBN 9781405124782

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and who will mark and comment on your written work. Your tutor will use a blend of methods that will include face-to-face tutorials, some online virtual classroom experiences and moderated online discussion forums. The use of a blend of this kind is designed to help students benefit from tuition whatever their circumstances.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Student Reviews

“An excellent broad introduction to philosophy and a history of philosophical ideas. The module sees how major themes in philosophy ...”
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“This course is a very good introduction to philosophy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. There is a lot to cover ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code A222
Credits 60
OU Level 2
SCQF level 8
FHEQ level 5
Course work includes:
6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

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