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Thought and experience: themes in the philosophy of mind

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On this module, you will explore a number of central philosophical questions concerning the nature and activities of the human mind, and its place in the natural and social worlds. You will encounter the opinions of great thinkers from history as well as of contemporary philosophers, and examine related issues in aesthetics, the theory of knowledge, metaphysics and the philosophy of language. You will examine the development of conceptions of the mind and explore four topics in detail: emotion; thought and language; imagination and creativity; and consciousness.

Modules at Level 3 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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No current presentation - see Future availability

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2013.

What you will study

The module is divided into five books, the first providing a general introduction and the remaining four exploring specific themes in detail.

Aspects of the Mind – This first book is an introduction to some of the issues in the philosophy of mind as it is currently pursued in the western analytical tradition. The activities of the mind seem to include both thinking and reasoning on the one hand, and sensing and experiencing on the other. How do mind and mentality so conceived fit into the natural world? Can only living things have minds? Could thinking, sensing and experiencing be purely physical processes? A radical shift in thinking about the nature of both mind and life was ushered in by Descartes and the rise of modern science in the seventeenth century. The implications of this shift for the answers to these questions are explored, along with further key developments in twentieth-century thought, such as the relevance of the computer for understanding the mind.

Emotion – The purpose of this book is to explore some key questions about the nature and function of the emotions. What is an emotion? Does it make sense to characterise an emotion as justified or well-grounded? Should we regard emotions as conflicting with reason, or are emotions essential to our capacity to think and to act in a rational way? Emotion is currently a hot topic in philosophical research; but many of the issues raised in the book are familiar from literature and popular culture, and they bear on perennial concerns about the relation between emotion and reason.

Language and Thought – Language, which is public and accessible, can be used to convey thoughts, which seem private and hidden from view. How is this possible? Presumably we rely on sentences having a meaning that both speaker and hearer exploit. But what is meaning? This and several other key questions about language and thought are taken up in the third book. Meaning cannot be scientifically measured in the same way as, say, humidity. And, setting aside the issue of how we manage to communicate them, what are thoughts? Some claim that thoughts themselves are sentence-like symbols in a kind of brain-language, ‘Mentalese’, and so susceptible to scientific investigation. But if so, where does this language get its meaning from? And is there space within a descriptive science of mind for a normative notion like error, as when someone thinks, wrongly, that Buckingham Palace is in Buckingham?

Imagination and Creativity – This book investigates certain philosophical issues concerning imagination, creativity, and the relationship between them. Is there a single mental act that we call ‘imagining’? How does imagining differ from perceiving and believing? What role do images play in imagination? Is our perception of the world itself informed by imagination? What contribution does the imagination make to our thought processes? What is creativity? Can creativity be explained? What role does the imagination play in creative processes? After initial consideration of the varieties of imaginative experience, the first part of the book explores the relationships between imagination, perception and thought, discussing the views of Descartes, Hume and Kant. The second part focuses on creativity, examining some of the definitions and explanations that have been offered, and looking at some examples of creative activities.

Consciousness - This final book deals with the nature of consciousness. Many philosophers and psychologists today believe that the mind is a physical phenomenon, whose processes can be explained in scientific terms. Consciousness presents the biggest challenge to this view (the so-called ‘hard problem’ for a science of the mind). Can the physical sciences really explain the nature of conscious experience – the way it feels to have a throbbing headache or see a sunset or smell freshly-ground coffee? Or is there more to these experiences than a physical account can ever capture? If consciousness is non-physical, then it is hard to see how it can have effects within the physical world. But if it is physical, then why does it seem so different from other physical phenomena? And what physical processes does it involve? Is the feel of a conscious experience just a matter of what it represents? Does consciousness involve a form of inner awareness? Finally, could it be that our view of consciousness is mistaken? Do we need to rethink some of our fundamental assumptions about it? These questions go to the heart of our conception of ourselves and our place in the universe, and they are the subject of vigorous debate among contemporary philosophers.

The five module books include readings taken from a variety of sources, including classic philosophical texts and recent research papers. You will be guided through these readings by the discussion in the module books, and by activities designed to help you to understand key points and to encourage you to think about them for yourself. Each module book is accompanied by a CD, featuring interviews with contemporary philosophers about the issues discussed in the books. There is also a sixth CD in which the module authors discuss themes that appear in more than one book. These CDs will round out your understanding of the issues raised in the module text. There is also a set of optional exercises, accessed online, which have been designed to help you to understand some of the more difficult concepts and arguments that you will encounter in the module books, and to help you to revise. The study calendar provides guidance on how much time to spend on each part of the study material: we expect students to spend four weeks on the first book, and either five or six weeks on each of the others. For all the books, except for the first, the calendar allows for further time to be spent on revision and writing an assignment.

The module also has a website. This gives you access to module resources, module news, and links to the Library and other OU websites, as well as the chance to communicate with other students using online forums. It is not compulsory to use the website, but we think you will find it helpful. There is also a MyOpenLibrary page for AA308 which brings together in one place various library resources such as the Philosopher’s Index and the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy that you will find useful during the module.


This is a Level 3 module. Level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU.

Although the module does not assume that you have studied philosophy before, it is fairly demanding. We strongly recommended our Level 2 module, Exploring philosophy (A222) or A211 (now discontinued), as preparation if you have not studied this subject before.

If you would like more information about this module you can visit the AA308 website. This site includes further details about the module content, short extracts from some of the module books, and frequently asked questions.

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

Preparatory work

There are four books that you might like to read or browse in by way of preparation:

Simon Blackburn, Think, Oxford University Press, 1999

Ian Ravenscroft, Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner's Guide, Oxford University Press, 2005

Robert Wilkinson, Minds and Bodies, Open University, 1999; Routledge, 2000

A.P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing, 3rd edn., Blackwell, Oxford, 2005


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

This module should present no particular difficulty, although pictorial and musical examples are discussed from time to time. The module requires you to study a large amount of print. Printed study material is available in comb binding and in the DAISY Digital Talking Book format. The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Written transcripts are available for the audio-visual material. You will need to spend some time using a personal computer. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

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

Module books, other printed materials, CDs, website, online forum.

You will need

CD player.  

You will need access to the internet to find specified electronic journal articles for one of the six tutor-marked assignments (TMAs). Access via your workplace or library will be sufficient. Helpsheets are available to assist you in finding the articles.

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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day-schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where tutorials are held depends on the distribution of students taking each module. Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


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.

Assessment is an essential part of the teaching, so you are expected to complete it all. One of the assignments will incorporate an element of independent study.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2013 when it will be available for the last time. It will be replaced by Key questions in philosophy (A333).

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Student Reviews

“Pro: An exceptionally rewarding module, despite a marked veer towards naturalism and the scientific outlook - an outlook that sometimes ...”
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“The AA308 module team is glad that the student found AA308 rewarding despite the administrative issues that were raised and ...”
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“This was a fantastic course, although it does concentrate more on naturalism rather than the phenomenological. You may take time ...”
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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 AA308
Credits 60
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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