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Undergraduate modules in Philosophy at Warwick

Tailor your course to your interests

Modules involve seminars and lectures on a set topic within Philosophy. You will take modules at every stage of your degree. You will complete assignments within each module for assessment. Look at your course page to see which modules are compulsory or optional for your course.

Please note the below is an indicative list of modules for students considering study of Philosophy at the University of Warwick in the future. Current students looking for Philosophy modules should refer to the relevant intranet page.


Year One


Year Two


Year Abroad


Year Three

Year One

Reason, Argument and Analysis

We rely on our ability to reason and justify our beliefs in every aspect of our lives. For instance, in deciding which university to go to, why your taste in music is better than your friend’s, whether you should eat meat and even where you stand on global moral issues, such as whether it is ever right for a nation to go to war.

We don’t just want to reason well for our own sake but we also want to challenge the attitudes and thinking of others in a positive way. However, human beings are often bad at doing this; we are surrounded by examples of bad reasoning that has the power to infect our ability to think clearly and rationally. For example, the misleading advertisements promising to transform our lives that convince us to buy something we don't need, or the irrelevant personal attacks made during debates that lead us to doubt the concrete evidence presented.

This module will introduce you to common patterns of good and bad reasoning, which will help you to expose errors in reasoning in everyday life and help you to think better.

Through weekly exercises, you will develop the art of persuasion by practising the necessary skills for good quality philosophical argument. By focusing on key issues in moral philosophy, we will see how these skills are applied to philosophical debate.

This module has been specially designed to help you develop the skills you need to prepare you for your degree and help you to fulfil your philosophical potential. The skills acquired on this course will serve as a foundation for all other philosophy modules and will help you to take a robust philosophical approach to your studies. The module will help you to work independently during the course of your degree, equipping you with valuable reading, analysis, and academic writing skills. The module will also help you to identify the transferable skills at the heart of your study of philosophy.


Central Themes in Philosophy

The world as you experience it seems to contain a wide variety of things, including people, paintings, conversations, and rainbows. And those things seem to have a variety of qualities: the rainbow appears blue in parts; the conversation indiscreet; the painting seems elegant; the person tall. How many of those qualities are really ‘out there in the world’, rather than merely reflecting your own idiosyncrasies? Is the blue of the rainbow there independently of your experience? What about the elegance of the painting, or the inconsiderateness of the conversation? How should we understand these qualities and the things that seem to bear them?

Throughout this module, you’ll be exposed to major philosophical arguments and positions on these and related topics, with the aim of deepening your understanding of the seemingly multi-faceted world that you inhabit.

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Mind and Reality

Look around. What do you see? We ordinarily think that our experience puts us in touch with things around us, and so enables us to know about those things. But things appear differently from different angles, distances, perspectives. Which, if any, of those appearances reveals to you how things really are?

Worse, it seems imaginable that all of your experiences might be the products of dreams, or neuroscientific experiments. Can you prove that you’re not so benighted? If not, how can you know anything about the world around you? How can you even think about such a world?

If you can’t learn about the world, perhaps you can at least learn about your own experience, what it’s like to be you. But doesn’t your experience depend on your brain, an element of the external world? You’ll be exposed to major philosophical arguments and positions on these and related topics, with the aim of deepening your understanding of the relationship between your mind and the rest of the world.

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Plato and Descartes

What would you do if you had a magic ring that made you invisible, and which guaranteed that, whatever you did, you’d go unnoticed? Perhaps you’d spend your time like an invisible superhero, striking from nowhere to trip up bag-snatchers, using your power to expose criminal conspiracies by companies to use child slaves to make their products, or to dump toxic waste in rivers? If you did do things like this, would it bother you that no-one ever gave you even the tiniest bit of credit, or thanks, or even showed any acknowledgement at all of the fact that it was you that had done all of that? Would that not bother you? Not even a little bit? On the other hand, with the power of invisibility and a guarantee that you would never get caught, you could take what you wanted from anyone, at any time, anywhere. And you wouldn’t have to fear punishment, or shame, or retribution. What do you think? Which would it be?

In the Republic, Plato uses this question, and others like it, to make us think about why exactly we should be just, and be good. His profound answers to this question, as well as his further claims about how to organize society in a way that promotes justice and goodness in the state, are at the foundation of the discipline of philosophy. We will think and argue with Plato on the way to considering our own answers to these questions.

What do you now know most certainly of all? Perhaps you take yourself to know that there is a computer screen in front of you because you can see one? Or, perhaps you can take yourself to know that a car alarm is going off outside because you can hear one? Most of the things we know with certainty appear to come to us through the senses; through sight, smell and touch. But does all of our knowledge about the world come to us through the senses? Suppose that there was a powerful evil demon who has brought it about that the experiences that you are having now are all radically misleading about the real world. There is no computer, no cup of coffee on the desk, and no walls that surround you, even though it appears that there are. If all of the evidence of the senses cannot be trusted, is there anything at all that you are able to know in these circumstances? If so, how?

In the Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes uses an exercise of this kind to show that it is possible to arrive at truths about the world independent of the use of the senses, simply through reasoning and reflection. This is an idea that places Descartes squarely in the Platonic tradition. But Descartes also combines his Platonism with the worldview of the new physics. What reason reveals—according to Descartes—is that the world is very different from the way it appears, lacking colour, taste, smell and sound, and composed only of extended stuff. Is he right?

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Logic I: Introduction to Symbolic Logic

Consider the following two arguments: A) All Martians are green. Andres is a Martian, therefore Andres is green. B) Most Martians are green. Andres is Martian, therefore Andres is green. There is, clearly, a sense in which A is a good argument and B isn’t: it is impossible for both premises of A to be true while its conclusion is false – that is, it is impossible for all Martians to be green, and for Andres to be a Martian, and also for Andres to be, say, pink. B lacks this property: it is possible that most Martians are green, Andres is Martian, and he isn’t green. In this sense in A but not in B the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion.

This property, which A has and B lacks, is what philosophers call ‘logical validity’, and it is the central notion of this module. Symbolic logic uses specially-designed formal languages to capture the idea of logical validity in virtue of logical form, and to develop methods for establishing the validity and invalidity of arguments. You will learn two such languages and a number of methods. And you will learn how to translate English sentences into formal language ones and vice versa. Learning to make such translations will increase your sensitivity to the subtleties of natural languages, and will provide you with the tools for articulating structural ambiguities and to capture the logical relationships between English sentences. With the methods for establishing validity and invalidity which you will learn, you will then be able to determine the validity or invalidity of English arguments. These skills are essential not only for reading and writing philosophy, but also for any aspect of life which involves reasoning and clear articulation of thoughts.

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Problems in Philosophy and Literature

What do philosophical texts and literary works have in common? How can they be read together in a fruitful way? Philosophers from Parmenides to Berkeley, Nietzsche to Heidegger, have used literary forms, such as poetry and dialogue, to express their philosophical ideas. Others, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Iris Murdoch have written novels to complement their standard philosophical works. It is common for philosophers to make use of literature as a way of exploring philosophical ideas, concepts and theories. Likewise, literary critics make use of philosophical concepts, ideas, and theories as a way of deepening their engagement with literary texts.

Jointly taught by staff from Philosophy and English, the module introduces students to the combined study of philosophy and literature. It will study how central themes are addressed in core texts, (such as J. M. Coetzee's The Lives of Animals and Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye), and understand how philosophical and literary concerns combine in the address of these themes. The module will reflect on what benefit can be gained from drawing on the methods and concerns of both disciplines, and will address themes and questions of shared importance within philosophy and literature. The module is available only to first-year students on the Philosophy and Literature BA course and offers a good opportunity to get to know fellow students on the course in the first term.

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Ideas of Freedom

Do stone walls make a prison and iron bars a cage? Or, does your degree of freedom depend on how you view your situation? Can fear or poverty rob you of your freedom? Can you have power without having freedom? Is freedom a right, a birthright, a privilege, or an illusion? Does freedom clash with security? Are legal and social constraints on individual freedom necessary to make our freedoms meaningful? What does it mean to have freedom of thought, expression, association, or movement? What do such freedoms amount to in practice?

This module will explore the complex conceptual contours of freedom and the ethical and political implications of taking freedom seriously. By the end of the module, students will be familiar with a range of key concepts and theories in moral, political, and legal philosophy including those relating to negative and positive freedom; autonomy and agency; Hohfeldian categories; political theories, (liberalism, republicanism, libertarianism); justice and equality; and free will, moral luck, and responsibility. Students will be expected to become familiar with the relevant literatures on these themes and be prepared to analyse competing philosophical accounts of freedom, both in seminar discussions and assessment.

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Introduction to Philosophy

What does it mean to be happy? Are all disputes over art pointless? How is the thought that you are having right now related to your physical brain and body?

These questions give a small flavour of the diversity of philosophical discussion. Introduction to Philosophy sets out to do two things: give you a solid grounding in what some of the greatest philosophers in history have had to say about these issues; provide you with the skills to challenge and interrogate those ideas, developing your own perspective.

Typical topics covered include moral philosophy; political philosophy; ancient philosophy; continental philosophy; aesthetics; epistemology and metaphysics; in the third term you will also be given focussed instruction on the skills of formal logical analysis. By the end of the course you will have developed as a thinker and conversation partner; you will also have a better idea of which parts of philosophy you wish to develop your interests in.

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Introduction to Philosophy (for outside students) without Logic

What does it mean to be happy? Are all disputes over art pointless? How is the thought that you are having right now related to your physical brain and body?

These questions give a small flavour of the diversity of philosophical discussion. Introduction to Philosophy sets out to do two things: give you a solid grounding in what some of the greatest philosophers in history have had to say about these issues; and provide you with the skills to challenge and interrogate those ideas, developing your own perspective.

Typical topics covered include moral philosophy; political philosophy; ancient philosophy; continental philosophy; aesthetics; epistemology and metaphysics. By the end of the course you will have developed as a thinker and conversation partner; you will also have a better idea of which parts of philosophy you wish to develop your interests in.

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Introduction to Philosophy (for Philosophy and Literature students)

What does it mean to be happy? Are all disputes over art pointless? How is the thought that you are having right now related to your physical brain and body?

These questions give a small flavour of the diversity of philosophical discussion. Introduction to Philosophy sets out to do two things: give you a solid grounding in what some of the greatest philosophers in history have had to say about these issues; and provide you with the skills to challenge and interrogate those ideas, developing your own perspective.

Typical topics covered include moral philosophy; political philosophy; ancient philosophy; continental philosophy; aesthetics; epistemology and metaphysics. By the end of the course you will have developed as a thinker and conversation partner; you will also have a better idea of which parts of philosophy you wish to develop your interests in.

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Introduction to Symbolic Logic

Consider the following two arguments: A) All Martians are green. Andres is a Martian, therefore Andres is green. B) Most Martians are green. Andres is Martian, therefore Andres is green. There is, clearly, a sense in which A is a good argument and B isn’t: it is impossible for both premises of A to be true while its conclusion is false – that is, it is impossible for all Martians to be green, and for Andres to be a Martian, and also for Andres to be, say, pink. B lacks this property: it is possible that most Martians are green, Andres is Martian, and he isn’t green. In this sense in A but not in B the truth of the premises guarantees the truth of the conclusion.

This property, which A has and B lacks, is what philosophers call ‘logical validity’, and it is the central notion of this module. Symbolic logic uses specially-designed formal languages to capture the idea of logical validity in virtue of logical form, and to develop methods for establishing the validity and invalidity of arguments. You will learn two such languages and a number of methods. And you will learn how to translate English sentences into formal language ones and vice versa. Learning to make such translations will increase your sensitivity to the subtleties of natural languages, and will provide you with the tools for articulating structural ambiguities and to capture the logical relationships between English sentences. With the methods for establishing validity and invalidity which you will learn, you will then be able to determine the validity or invalidity of English arguments. These skills are essential not only for reading and writing philosophy, but also for any aspect of life which involves reasoning and clear articulation of thoughts.

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Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

In the time of Homer, the eruption of a volcano might have been explained as a sign of Hephaestos’s anger. The world was ruled over by gods and goddesses who could intervene, when they wished, to cause natural disasters, triumphs and tragedies for human beings. Philosophy began when a number of writers, known to us through mysterious and obscure fragments of surviving text, suggested ways of making sense of things without the action of the gods and goddesses of traditional Greek religion, in terms of the workings of material stuffs known to us from our everyday experience.

This module follows the story of the development of Philosophy from the work of these mysterious early figures; inhabitants of a number of small Greek trading colonies on the coast of Asia Minor at around 600-500 BC, through the events around the trial and execution of Socrates, Plato’s extraordinary development of Socratic ideas, and the synthesis of Platonic and materialist ideas in the work of Plato’s most brilliant pupil, Aristotle. By 352BC, these thinkers, between them, had founded philosophy as a discipline of rational thought and enquiry about things at their most general, that now, over 2000 years later, is as healthy and important as it has ever been.

On this module, you will not only learn about the discipline established by these early writers, we will engage philosophically with these ideas by trying to make sense of them. A central question concerns Socrates’ famous method of interrogation and cross-examination, as portrayed in Plato’s early dialogues. Socrates professes not to know anything, but through careful questioning, seems to show that his interlocutors fail to know what they say they do. What is Socrates trying to do when he argues in this way? What is the point of it? Why is it something that we should think it worthwhile to spend our time doing? Indeed, if the Socratic method is the very model of how to do philosophy, why should we bother doing philosophy?! In the remainder of the module, by reading and discussing different aspects of their writings, we will try to make sense of Plato and Aristotle’s own answers to these questions.

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Existence, Experience, History: Key Topics in Continental Philosophy

This module will introduce you to the key topics in the continental philosophical tradition. Texts by central figures in this tradition will be analysed and discussed in connection with the specific philosophical problems and themes that make continental philosophy distinctive. These problems and themes may include the nature of human existence and experience, the loss of meaning and value occasioned by the ‘death of God’, the question of what it means to be truly free, and the problem of how to understand philosophically such essentially historical concepts as Enlightenment and Humanism.

The module will introduce you to the work of some of the key philosophical thinkers in this tradition, including Hegel, Marx, Nietzche, Sartre, and Foucault. A close reading of relevant texts followed by discussion of them will be encouraged, enabling you to develop some of the basic skills required to engage with the continental philosophical tradition at a more advanced level.

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Introduction to PPL

Find out more on the PPL website

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Philosophy for the Real World: Knowledge, Ignorance and Bullshit

This module is about the production and maintenance of ignorance. Specifically, the focus will be on strategies, habits and practices that undermine our ability to gain, keep or transfer knowledge.

The module will use real examples to understand the phenomenon of loss of knowledge. Our knowledge of the world around us is threatened by bullshit, propaganda, the undermining of trust in experts and the promotion of conspiracy theories. There will be lectures on each of these topics, and on epistemic vices such as stupidity and prejudice that also contribute to the fragility of knowledge. This module will be an introduction to epistemology but epistemology for the real world.

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Year Two
History of Modern Philosophy

Has modern science shown that objects are not coloured? Is scepticism about our ability to know and understand the world an essential part of a rational, enlightened outlook? Is Berkeley right that the idea of a perceived object existing ‘without the mind’ involves a ‘manifest contradiction’? Can human thought and action be understood as part of the natural world? Does the notion of God play an essential role in moral thinking? How useful is the schema ‘rationalism versus empiricism', (plus Kant’s attempt to combine insights from both traditions), in understanding the evolution of 17th/18th century philosophy?

These are some illustrative examples of the questions we will be tackling as part of this two-term exploration of (some key episodes in) the history of modern philosophy. Term 1 will focus on Locke, Berkeley and Hume, term 2 on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. We will look at the historical context shaping, and occasionally shaped by, the thinking of our protagonists, (reformation, scientific revolution, Enlightenment). We will also examine some crucial disagreements between them, e.g. over the nature of human rationality and the question of which aspects of reality, if any, are mind-independent.

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Logic II : Metatheory

This module is an exploration of the metatheory of propositional and first-order logic - i.e. rather than just proving statements in these systems, we will use mathematical tools to prove facts about them from the outside.

In order to better understand how we prove things about as opposed to within a logical system, we will first study elementary set theory and inductive definitions. Along the way, we will encounter developments such as Russell's paradox and the distinction between countable and uncountable sets, both of which played a role in the crisis in the foundations of mathematics in the early 20th century.

We will then consider Tarski’s definition of truth in a model which was a key step in convincing philosophers and mathematicians that truth was not an inherently paradoxical notion. Next, we will develop a method for adding new constants symbols to a language to build models by purely linguistic means. This will enable us to prove the Completeness Theorem for first-order logic - i.e. every logically true statement is provable. After this, we will obtain the Compactness Theorem as a corollary and use it show that certain mathematical notions cannot be captured in first-order logic.

Ethics

We evaluate each other’s actions constantly. You might think that your friend acted wrongly in breaking their promise; perhaps you argue and protest against a government welfare policy because it’s cruel; you reflect on what would be the best way to live your life. This sort of thinking is commonplace, but also puzzling. It’s not entirely clear what makes these moral claims true. Also, how do we find out which moral claims are true? When we observe someone tormenting a cat, say, we might all feel that something wrong is happening; but we don’t directly see the wrongness in the same way that we see the cat’s furriness.

In this module we use the tools of philosophy to shed light on these questions. We study different theories of what makes things right or wrong, (normative ethics). We will then take a step back and think about more basic questions – is anything right or wrong anyway?; what does it mean to say that something ought to be done?; how do we tell which things are unfair? (metaethics).

We will look at these issues by studying what the most influential moral philosophers in history have had to say about these sorts of questions, but always with an eye to how they can help us resolve contemporary debates. Studying this module will provide you with knowledge and skills useful to the exploration of ethical and political questions in your further study.

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Applied Ethics

Are there some things that just shouldn’t be for sale? Should I be able to buy your ‘spare’ kidney? You might think that if you are willing and I have the money then there’s no harm involved. But think about why you might want to sell that kidney – would you really do it unless you were desperate? And does your desperation mean I would be taking advantage of you?

These are the sorts of questions that we cover in Applied Ethics. We identify ethical questions of concern and attempt to go about answering them in systematic ways. We thus learn about the issues themselves and also about how best to think through the right answers to our ethical problems.

Given the applied nature of the course the topics surveyed vary year by year, but typically we ask questions such as: what is our duty to animals; whether it’s permissible to have children, (life may be a gift but it’s not a gift without downsides); what is it that’s bad about death?

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Consciousness and Reality

Consciousness has become the focus of much recent research in the philosophy of mind. This module will focus on three puzzles it raises.

  1. Whether and how consciousness can be accommodated in a naturalistic conception of the world.
  2. How we should explain the nature of perceptual consciousness and the kind of access it provides us with to the world.
  3. How we should explain the relation between consciousness and self-consciousness, in experience and thought.

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Words and Things

How do thoughts and words connect to the things we think and talk about?

According to John Dewey, “the implication of the thinking situation is of some ‘correspondence’ or ‘agreement’ between two sets of distinguished relations; the problem of its nature and valid determination remains the central question of any theory of thinking” (1907: 200). This is the problem for the module.

Topics characteristic of this module include the following:

Russell's theory of reference, the role of acquaintance for Russellian reference; Russell's theory of descriptions; Frege's distinction between sense and reference: his account of how the sentences ‘Superman is Superman’ and ‘Superman is Clark Kent’ express different thoughts, even though Clark Kent is Superman; Kripke's view of proper names: his view that the way proper names are used to talk about things is not to be accounted for by appeal to descriptions that we associate with those names, but rather by appeal to our causal relations to those things; the nature of demonstrative reference

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Metaphysics

There can’t be two things in the same place at the same time, right? Take your phone in one hand and your keys in the other and see if you can get these two objects to occupy the very same bit of space. Try squeezing them together, and I doubt you will get any further than scratching the surface.

But some philosophers think that two things can be in just the same place at the same time. Take the parcel of cells that composed you when you were three years old. That parcel of cells no longer composes you; all those particles have now been replaced. So that mass of cells that existed when you were three cannot have been just the same thing as you. Those cells are now scattered to all corners of the planet. But you are not; you are still here. So back when you were three, there were really two objects in the place where you were: you, and the parcel of cells that composed your body. And, for just the same reasons, as you now sit there reading this, there are two things sitting in your chair, not one.

But how can that be? You, and the parcel of cells that compose you, are just as solid and impermeable as your phone and your keys. So how do they occupy the same place at the same time?

Metaphysics is about what there is in the world, and what those things are like. People who do metaphysics are particularly interested in challenging commonsense assumptions about what there is, and what those things are like. On this course, we will be looking at the puzzle introduced above, and many others like it. We will try to work out amongst ourselves whether commonsense can be defended, or whether philosophy should lead us to radically revise our views about the world.

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PPE: Interdisciplinary Topics

When we study the social world around us we find many phenomena that we can’t explain from a single theoretical perspective. If we want to know, for example, what a just tax system looks like we need to understand: what a tax system is for (philosophy); what economic consequences follow from a particular policy (economics); how the mechanics of politics limits the systems we can implement (politics). The PPE course as a whole provides you with the specialist knowledge to deal with these component issues: this module will help you develop the ability to pull these components together.

In this module you will be taught by specialist researchers in each discipline of PPE - the exact topics covered each year will vary according to their interests. Our emphasis will be on developing the skills required to bring these theoretical perspectives together and develop cohesive policy responses to contemporary social problems. As such you will receive training both on the issues themselves and on preparing the novel forms of assessment used in this module.

In selecting topics we will be guided by: (i) providing opportunities to enrich your understanding of how the component parts of your degree programme fit together; (ii) the policy relevance of the topic; (iii) researchers interests. Issues covered could include: justice in taxation; the future of work and unemployment; poverty and welfare; migration; gender justice; democracy and liberalism; political speech, propaganda and persuasion.

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The Politics of Life: An Introduction to Biopolitics

Biopolitics designates an operative concept and an open question, and has been central to contemporary debates in philosophy and continental political theory. Moreover, it has informed and framed a multitude of critical studies in the humanities and the social sciences.

In order to offer an effective cartography of the shifting margins of contemporary biopolitical thought, this module will start from an exploration of Michel Foucault’s political and philosophical writings on the topic. In particular, we will engage with Foucault’s reflections on ‘life’ as a distinctively modern concept, and as a field of (power) knowledge. In the second part, the module will focus on some of the most influential contemporary interpretations, elaborations and critiques of Foucault's seminal studies featuring the work of contemporary thinkers such as Judith Butler, Giorgio Agamben, Antonio Negri, Roberto Esposito, Achille Mbembe and Cary Wolfe.

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Year Abroad

Our department is part of a global network of exchange partners enabling you to spend time studying in another country during your time with us. We have long-standing agreements with prestigious universities in countries around the world. There are two options for study abroad: an integrated year or an intercalated year.

  • Integrated: study abroad included within your three year degree. An integrated year allows you to replace year two of your programme with a year abroad. The marks you earn will count as the second year of your final degree results. Single Honours, Joint Honours or Philosophy with students are eligible to apply. We participate in exchange schemes with two North American universities.
  • Intercalated: study abroad adding a year to your degree. The intercalated option will add one year to your degree programme. Undergraduate students doing Single Honours Philosophy, Philosophy and Literature and the Philosophy with degree programmes can also set up an approved work placement abroad. Typically students apply in their second year of study to go abroad for a third year of study at a European institution. Students then return to Warwick for their final year. Warwick also has university-wide partnerships with universities all around the world. Each year the Philosophy department is allocated a number of places on these exchanges to which you can apply.

Below is an example list of places open to our students in 2018/19. The list is illustrative of what might be on offer in future years, as places and availability are always subject to change on an annual basis.

Integrated country options

  • Canada - Queen’s University in Ontario; Western University in Ontario
  • USA - University of Wisconsin-Madison

Intercalated country options

  • Europe – Our department has partners in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Denmark and more. You can choose from amongst the finest universities in Europe in cities such as: Madrid, Dijon, Rome, Koln, Vienna and Copenhagen.
  • Australia – Monash University (Melbourne campus).
  • Malaysia – Monash University (Selangor campus).
  • Japan – If you’re interested in Japan, you can apply for options such as: University of Tokyo or Hokkaido University.
  • China – Tsinghua University.

A full list of partner institutions and further information on how to apply can be found on the Study Abroad webpages.

You can also contact the current Undergraduate Study Abroad Coordinator for Philosophy: Associate Professor Tom Crowther: t.crowther@warwick.ac.uk.

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Year Three
Textual Studies

Some texts ask us to read in complex ways, not just as people with literary knowledge and sensitivity, and not just as philosophical thinkers. We need to do both of those things. How do we do that? One assumption of this module is that, at the very least, we have to spend dedicated time with a given text, getting inside the way it uses its linguistic and other resources to communicate, to question, to give pleasure, and, perhaps, to initiate something new.

A further assumption is that engaging with such texts is important – they show people who have responded acutely and creatively to the complexity of being human. What are we? What are we capable of? Can we identify and express what is most valuable to us? In this module we are open to the resources needed—passion, reason, memory, bodily and imaginative experience, cultural awareness, a sense of humour—to understand and respond adequately to works of literary and philosophical significance.

Textual Studies is specifically for final-year Philosophy and Literature students and is taught jointly by tutors from Philosophy and English and Comparative Literary Studies. The module aims to draw on and consolidate the experience, reading and training of Philosophy and Literature students over the course of their degree. The work of the module falls into two parts: seminar work and an independent essay on a topic of the student’s choice. The seminar carries out in-depth study of a small range of texts. Authors studied have included: Plato, Augustine, Rousseau, Coleridge, Dickinson, Nietzsche, Woolf, and Nabokov. Students simultaneously work on a research essay, guided by tutorials with both tutors.

Recent themes have included:

  • Media of thought and communication: writing, speech, visual image
  • Creativity, destruction, re-making
  • Death, suffering and immortality
  • Love, madness, and transformation
  • Memory, time and self-knowledge
  • Chance, control and meaning

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Sartre and Existentialism

No philosophy has had a more pervasive impact on the wider culture in the last 70-odd years than existentialism. Film, literature, social and cultural commentary, and our very self-understanding have been greatly influenced by it. Among the most famous doctrines of existentialism are the ideas that human beings are ‘radically free’ and that a human being’s existence ‘consists not in what it is already, but in what it is not yet … Existence is the process of realizing … the aspiration we are'. (Ortega y Gasset).

This module will be devoted to a study of Jean-Paul Sartre, the key philosopher of existentialism. Partly under the influence of earlier phenomenologists, Sartre might be said to have set a new agenda for philosophy. In Sartre’s existentialism, the exploration of the texture and the structures of everyday human being in the world became a central philosophical theme in its own right. His extraordinarily original ideas influence how we live today; selfhood, consciousness, freedom and our ‘anguish’ about it, self-deception and ‘bad faith’, affectivity and the nature of the emotions, the lived body, ‘knowledge of other minds’, concrete relations with others including love and sexuality, the nature of value, and on an ‘authentic’ human existence.

The main text studied on the module will be (selections of) Sartre's central philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, supplemented on some topics by minor writings and essays of Sartre's, including ‘Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions’.

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Nietzsche in Context

In this year’s Nietzsche in Context module, we will investigate the evolution of Nietzsche’s understanding of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), a philosopher famous for his pessimism whom Nietzsche (1844-1900) described as: ‘the first admitted and uncompromising atheist among us Germans’, ‘the last German who was worthy of consideration’, and ‘impoverished, insensitive, un-German to the point of genius’.

Along the way we will encounter many of Nietzsche’s most famous ideas, including the eternal return, amor fati (love of fate), the will to power, and the death of God. We shall study Nietzsche’s earlier works, including The Birth of Tragedy and Untimely Meditations, his later works, including The Genealogy of Morality and Twilight of the Idols, and even relevant musings and observations from Nietzsche’s notebooks and letters, unpublished in his day.

By examining Nietzsche’s historical and critical relationship with the Schopenhauer, and through this his relation to the wider agenda of German philosophy at the time, we will acquire a deeper and fuller understanding of Nietzsche’s philosophy. We will also learn a lot about Nietzsche’s self-understanding and conception of his own project and legacy.

During the course of this module students will acquire a deeper knowledge and understanding of this period in the history of philosophy and learn essential skills in close reading, textual interpretation, and critical analysis. Students will also acquire skills and abilities needed for developing and defending interpretations of primary texts and critically engaging with scholarly commentary.

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Principles of Political Economy: Economics & Politics

Why do citizens vote (or not)? What forces political parties to fight elections on the centre ground? How should collective goods, such as environmental protection, be provided, both within and between countries? What influence do special interest groups have on governance? Are business interests in a privileged position? How can we account for the growth of altruistic interest groups? Is it possible to devise micro-level solutions to global problems such as climate change? What causes institutions to change over time? This module addresses these questions and others from the perspective of both economics and politics, exploring their particular methodological contributions. In doing so, we exposit and critically evaluate the public choice approach to collective decision-making, which for some, represents the “colonization” of part of the traditional territory of political studies by microeconomics.

This Module is only available to final year PPE students.

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Principles of Political Economy: Economics & Philosophy

Economic policies have many effects on markets and other ways of producing and distributing goods and services. Economic policies influence, for example, how many different types of food you can buy and at what prices, how income and wealth are distributed, and how the health care system is organised.

What should the goals of economic policies be and how can we measure the likely benefits of different policies? One possibility is that economic policies should foster economic growth. This supports measuring how national income per capita changes over time, as all countries do. Another possibility is that they should strive to make society more just. This supports measuring the distribution of income and wealth as well as of other goods. For example, we might want to know how healthy rich and poor people are, how access to education changes over time for different social groups, or how happy different people report they are.

This module, which is co-taught by an economist and a philosopher, aims to help you gain an understanding of the ethics of markets and economic policy. We will help you combine the insights and tools that economists and philosophers use, focusing on topics such as the following:

  • Rational and moral choice: how do consumers, companies, or policy-makers make economic choices and how should they make these choices?
  • The goals of economic policy: efficiency or social justice?
  • The regulation of markets: should ethical concerns limit market trade?
  • Evaluating and measuring policy success: national income or happiness?

This Module is only available to final year PPE students.

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Principles of Political Economy: Philosophy & Politics

Philosophy deals with what’s possible; politics with what’s practical. However, can we really get a handle on either of these areas without thinking about the other? Addressing many of the contemporary problems we face requires both a detailed understanding of political realities, on the one hand, and ethical analysis and philosophical reasoning, on the other. This year we will explore how the two disciplines can complement each other by looking closely at three interconnected topics:

  • Global Poverty and Inequality. Many of the world's population live in gruelling poverty. This raises many philosophical and political questions: Do the affluent have duties to eradicate global poverty? Is there a human right not to suffer poverty? People's standard of living varies enormously between countries. Is global inequality unjust? Is there nothing unjust about global inequalities so long as everyone is above a decent minimum?
  • Climate Change. A second major challenge facing humanity is climate change. This too raises complex philosophical and political questions. One of the key questions is: Who should pay the costs of climate change, and how? How do we distribute those costs fairly across actors separated in space and time? A further question is whether these responsibilities are borne only by governments? Or do we, as individuals, have duties to lower our own greenhouse gas emissions?
  • Migration. The changes to the environment will also lead to increasing climate change refugees: up to 200 million by mid-century (according to some estimates). Do these individuals have a right to migrate? More generally, is there a human right to free movement? Alternatively, do states have rights to exclude migrants? If they do, are there limits on their rights? Must they, for example, accept some, (such as refugees), even if they can exclude others?

Suppose that states fail to comply with their duties to others, (for example, they impose unjust immigration or climate policies or fail to honour duties to the global poor), what should others do? Should other states take up extra responsibilities? Can those who bear the brunt of injustice engage in acts of civil disobedience?

Understanding these issues requires combining your understanding of politics with the tools of philosophy. By the end of this module, you will have a firm understanding of a set of contemporary political problems and how thinking them through philosophically deepens our understanding.

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Philosophy of Mathematics (PH342)

This module will be a survey of philosophy of mathematics. We will begin by focusing on classical, (Plato and Aristotle), and modern, (Descartes, Kant, and Mill), sources. We will then turn to the major foundational schools of the early 20th century: logicism, (Frege and Russell), intuitionism, (Brouwer and Heyting) and formalism, (Hilbert). We’ll next consider the early development of set theory and the major limitative results of the 1930s, (e.g. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems), and inquire into their significance with respect to mathematical knowledge, provability, truth, and ontology. Finally, we will survey several recent philosophical proposals about the nature of mathematics, (structuralism, nominalism, fictionalism).

By the end of the module the student should be able to: 1) demonstrate knowledge of some of the central topics in the philosophy of mathematics, and of the history; 2) understand the significance questions in the philosophy of mathematics have to wider issues in philosophy and the foundations of mathematics; 3) articulate their own view of the relative merits of different theories and engage critically with the arguments put forward in support of them.

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The Philosophy of Photography (PH347)

We generally think we have good reason to believe what we see in photographs. Why is that? We tend to think that photographs are especially reliable sources of knowledge, evidence or information in virtue of the automatic way in which they come into being. Photographs are causally dependent on their sources in a peculiarly direct way—at least compared to many hand made pictures. What’s crucial is that they come into being independently of the beliefs of the photographer. Of course the photographer has to know how to operate the camera, must point it in the right direction, set all manner of variables (etc) and presumably does so because she has various beliefs about what she is photographing. But suppose she is having a particularly vivid acid trip: she’s at the zoo and is convinced she’s photographing pink elephants with tusks the size of their trunks. In fact they’re just the common grey variety. When she later looks at her images that’s what she sees. This is because, unlike painting and drawing, the camera records what is there irrespective of what the photographer believes (rightly or wrongly) is there. Call this the orthodox view.

It is a powerful and intuitive picture, but has come under increasing pressure from a number of more recent theorists who recognise the problems this way of thinking poses for taking photography seriously as art. We have no problem appreciating different photographer’s styles, oeuvres, and outlooks. Just as we look to one artists work but not another’s because different painters and sculptors depict the world differently, stressing some features while down-playing others. But these are just the aspects of depiction that depend on the beliefs and intentions of the artist that photography’s automatic nature is supposed to braket. So, it seems photography’s epistemic and aesthetic capacities are in conflict. It this really the case? We’ll trace the debate back to its 19th Century origins, but focus on philosophical thinkers from the last 30-40 years, particularly the last decade.

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Post-Kantian Social and Political Philosophy: Hegel and Marx

The module aims to provide an in-depth examination of and critical engagement with one of the best-known and controversial works in the history of social and political philosophy, Hegel's Elements of the Philosophy of Right, and to show how this work provides the basis for the Marx's critique of the modern liberal-capitalist state as an alienated form of life.

Particular attention will be paid to the various types of freedom that Hegel identifies and to his attempt to situate personality and moral subjectivity within a modern form of ethical life, (Sittlichkeit), so as to reconcile individualism with the human being's social nature.

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Feminism

Men and women are treated differently simply because of their gender. Why do we, as a society, do this? In which ways is this unfair? What should we do about this?

These questions express the animating concerns behind the political movement of feminism. Broadly speaking feminism aims at the elimination of all gendered oppression. This module will engage with the philosophical upshots of reflection on this political movement. Typical topics covered will be the nature of genders, (what does it take to be a man, or a woman?); how does your social position affect what you are able to know, (are there some things that it’s easier to know as a man or a woman?); how does thinking about the relative social position of people of different genders affect political questions?

This module will place an emphasis on how thinking about feminism impacts on traditional philosophical issues in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language and political philosophy. We will see how feminist philosophy can contribute to these central questions in philosophy.

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Philosophy through Film

We sometimes admire cinematic works for their philosophical value but what does it mean for a film to be philosophical? What role, if any, can a film such as Blade Runner, (directed by Ridley Scott), or Into the Abyss, (directed by Werner Herzog), play in philosophical inquiry? Can it provide useful examples, thought experiments or even deliver a philosophical argument? Or does it merely offer us representations of concrete particulars that are of limited philosophical value?

The aim of this module is to introduce you to key philosophical ideas relating to film, in particular, to explore whether philosophy can be done through the medium of film. The module will also cover the important related debates concerning to what extent the aesthetics of a work contribute to the promotion of philosophical reflection, and whether our attempts to work out a film's philosophical meaning conflicts with the goal of appreciating its value as a work of art. Alongside these theoretical concerns regarding the philosophical value of film, the module will also explore the philosophical themes of the works studied, which will be used as the focus of the theoretical debates covered on the course.

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Philosophy of Religion

Religious beliefs raise a lot of interesting philosophical questions. What, if anything, are religious beliefs founded on? Can compelling rational arguments be given in support of religious beliefs? Or are religious beliefs matters of faith and piety, rather than reason and argument?

In this year’s Philosophy of Religion module, we aim to examine and answer these questions as they pertain to religious beliefs about the existence and nature of God. Is belief in the existence of God a matter of faith or reason, or something else? What are the main arguments for belief in the existence of God, and how good are they? Are beliefs about the nature and existence of God untenable in light of certain observable features of God’s creation, such as the existence of evil? Are they compatible with other widely held religious beliefs, such as the doctrine of hell?

The module is divided into three parts. In the first part – on knowledge – we examine the epistemic status of religious belief in God by reference to a number of theoretical options presented in the contemporary philosophy of religion literature. In the second – on arguments – we study some popular arguments for believing that God exists, including versions of the cosmological argument, the argument from design, and the argument from religious experience. In the third and final section – on problems – we consider some noted challenges to religious belief in God, namely the problem of evil, the problem of hiddenness, and the problem of hell.

By addressing these questions and many others, this modules aims to introduce key themes, ideas, debates and arguments in contemporary philosophy of religion, and to encourage students to formulate, develop and refine their own ideas and arguments about religious ideas and the nature of religious belief.

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Philosophy and the Good Life

This module asks after the nature of the good life and its relation to notions of pleasure, virtue, happiness, and serenity. The inspiration for the module comes from the idea that philosophy should not only be an abstract, theoretical discourse but a practical guide to life and to living well. The module offers the chance to study selections from some of the most interesting and rewarding texts and materials in the history of philosophy, including Epicurean and Stoic philosophies, the writings of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Pierre Hadot.

Topics to be covered include: philosophy as a form of health of the soul and its therapeutic functions; the role of pleasure in the good life; the nature of Stoic virtue; the nature and function of spiritual exercises; meditations on death; ideas of self-cultivation; the love of one’s fate and life-affirmation.

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Ethics of Sociability

Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh?’ he whispered.

‘Yes, Piglet?’

‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh's paw. ‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’

(The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne)

Being sure of each other – being socially connected – is fundamentally important to us. There is a growing body of evidence in psychology and neuroscience that we human beings are deeply social creatures who need to live near and with each other in order to survive and flourish.

This module will explore the ethics and politics of being social. It will examine key issues of sociability under three main headings: 1) social rights, 2) social virtues, and 3) social policies. You'll consider such questions as:

  • What social human rights, if any, do we have?
  • Do children have a right to be loved?
  • Do we have a right to associate or not with whom we please?
  • Is it morally wrong for someone to suffer chronic, acute, unwanted loneliness?
  • Is it virtuous to be sociable?
  • Can we exercise autonomy without other people?
  • What ethical issues are raised by institutional segregation such as medical quarantine, isolated dentention, and solitary confinement?
  • Could we defensibly replace social contact with robots and virtual worlds?

The module will draw on debates in various branches of moral and political philosophy, and will examine key contemporary articles on the social aspects of being human.

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Making Decisions

We constantly face the need to make decisions, may they be relatively trivial: do I go for the pepperoni pizza or the ham and pineapple one? Or momentous ones: do I get married to him? Philosophers have looked at human decision making from a variety of different perspectives: What are the processes involved in the way people actually make decisions? How should we go about making decisions? What sorts of challenges do we face in making decisions, and how might we be able to overcome them? Should we regret bad decisions we made in the past, or just move on?

This module aims to introduce students to some of the answers philosophers have given to these questions, and to evaluate them critically.

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Philosophical issues in behavioural science

Philosophical investigation is indispensible for fully understanding many discoveries in the behavioural sciences, and for identifying new areas of investigation. Key questions include:

Are any cognitive processes modular? Is a distinction such as that between implicit and explicit knowledge needed in explaining cognitive development? Are there distinct roles for intention and motor representation in explaining the purposiveness of action? How if it all do motor representations shape experiences of actions, one’s own or others’? What is categorical perception and how is it related to phenomenology? Are there multiple systems for tracking others’ actions, beliefs and other mental states? Can emotions or other mental phenomena be known by means of perceiving them? When two or more agents act together, in virtue of what can their actions have a collective goal? What is it for agents to act together cooperatively, or to be committed to do so?

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The Philosophy of Terrorism and Counterterrorism

The spread of terrorism in its different forms is one of the most important and troubling developments of our age. Governments and intelligence agencies try to counter it while academics try to understand it. Many of the most interesting and fundamental questions about terrorism and counterterrorism are, in essence, philosophical. These questions will be the focus of this module. They include: how should 'terrorism' be defined? Is terrorism rational?

Can terrorism ever be justified? What explains the turn to political violence? How useful or legitimate is the concept of 'radicalisation' in understanding the turn to political violence? Standard attempts to understand terrorism and devise counterterrorism strategies rely on a range of epistemological and metaphysical assumptions which will be subjected to critical scrutiny in this module. Terrorism raises in a vivid and striking form, questions about the nature of prediction, explanation, rationality and morality. This module will be of particular interest to students who are not only interested in terrorism and counterterrorism, but also want to see how metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and philosophy of science can have practical application.

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Independent Project

This module involves you carrying out independent research, throughout one term of your final year, on a topic chosen in consultation with their supervisor, to produce a piece of work of around 5,000 words. The module is worth 15 CATS.

The independent project will demonstrate your ability to select an interesting, but manageable philosophical topic for discussion, find out about existing views on this topic in the literature, put forward a sustained, structured argument for your own view, and defend it against counter-arguments.

Examples of undergraduate independent projects our students have carried out previously include:

  • Animal Rights without Ownership or Liberation
  • Doping In Sport: Testing the Limits of Fair Play

This module is available to final-year single honours Philosophy students (including 'Philosophy with...' variants). It is also available to final-year PPE students and Mathematics and Philosophy students as an option. Students who have opted to write a dissertation in Philosophy are precluded from taking an independent project at the same time.

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Dissertation

This module is an opportunity for you to carry out independent research, throughout the autumn and spring term of your final year, on a topic chosen in consultation with your supervisor, to produce a piece of work of up to 10,000 words.

The dissertation will demonstrate your ability to select an interesting, but manageable philosophical topic for discussion, find out about existing views on this topic in the literature, put forward a sustained, structured argument for your own view, and defend it against counter-arguments.

Examples of undergraduate dissertations our students have carried out in 2015/16 include:

  • What is feminist art and why do we need it?
  • On the Possibility and Implications of Achieving Human-Level Artificial Intelligence.
  • What is Heidegger’s conception of the nature and task of Philosophy?
  • Feminism, Vegetarianism and Sentimentality: Why We Should ‘Love’ Animals
  • Moral Obligations to Alleviate Poverty: A Virtue Ethics Approach to Overcome the Demandingness Objection
  • What does an infant know when they communicate referentially?
  • What is the role of Eudaimonia in Plato’s Republic and how can it be applied to modern day?
  • Nietzsche’s account of Nihilism and a critical engagement with Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche
  • Grammar in Philosophical Investigations

This module is available to final-year single honours Philosophy students, (including 'Philosophy with...' variants). It is also available to final-year PPE students and Mathematics and Philosophy students as an option. Students who have opted to take an independent project in Philosophy are precluded from taking a dissertation at the same time. Students wishing to submit a Philosophy dissertation in year 3 must normally have obtained an average of at least a 2:1 in their second year to be approved to do so.

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Further information
Explanation of terms on this page
Seminar

A seminar is a group discussion where you'll take part and share your views. Seminars might have between 5 and 15 people and are often led by postgraduates. Postgraduates have already completed their first degree and specialise in a similar topic. Your seminar leader will help you to explore and understand the material together.

Lecture

A lecture is usually one person talking to a large group of students. Lecturers are usually research specialists in the topic they're talking about. They will inspire you with new ideas and insights on your topic.

Assignments

Assignments are usually examinations or coursework. They usually take place in the third term. Sometimes the workload will spread out across the year, and you will take practice papers too.

Will all these modules be available for me to study?

We update our modules every year based on availability and demand, and to update information based on the latest research. Given the interval between the publication of courses and enrolment, some of the information may change. Please read our terms and conditions to find out more.

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