Philosophy is simultaneously similar to, yet radically different from science. It is similar to science insofar as its enterprise is to further human understanding, but it is fundamentally different from science in the way that it seeks to do so. Understanding achieved through science rests on the construction of theories, testable hypotheses, predictions and explanations. Philosophy, by contrast, seeks to attain understanding through conceptual clarification in relation to the construction of arguments; in other words, it strives to clarify what makes sense, the conditions under which such sense is possible, and what that sense is able to reveal. One cannot, for example, create a theory that something makes sense; in order to create a theory – for the concept of a theory to even be coherent – sense needs to be there already.
Studying philosophy develops one’s ability to ask searching questions, analyse and evaluate one’s arguments together with the arguments of others and present them in a clear logical form.
A level philosophy comprises four topic areas:
- Moral philosophy
- Metaphysics of God
- Metaphysics of mind.
Students are required to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the content, including through the use of philosophical analysis (conceptual analysis and argument analysis). They must also be able to analyse and evaluate the philosophical arguments within the subject content to form reasoned judgements
Epistemology is the study of the theory of knowledge. What is knowledge? What counts as knowledge? How is it that we know anything at all? What methods of justification do we have for our various knowledge claims? What is the difference between knowledge, true belief and certainty? Can science tell us what knowledge is, or does it presuppose the possibility of knowledge before embarking on investigations? In this unit, you will explore some of the methods used to answer these questions. You will examine the idea that we might have innate knowledge, together with the conflicting thought that all knowledge comes from experience. If the latter is true then one needs to answer the question: how does experience teach you what to learn from it? Are our perceptions always reliable? Can we always tell if they are not? What implications might this have? What are concepts? Are concepts real? If we understand the world through concepts and they are not real, how can we be said to have knowledge of the world at all?
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Religion is neither a species of religious studies nor religious philosophy. Rather, it is philosophy about religion which means that it tries to understand the kinds of thinking that underpin peoples’ religious convictions and clarify the nature of religion in general. Like other areas of philosophy, you will approach it dispassionately whether or not you have personal religious convictions. How might we determine whether or not God exists? What is the role of faith in religious conviction? Can one rationalise religious belief? How might one reconcile religious belief with the presence of evil in the world? What kind of relationship does religious belief have with evolutionary theory? How might organised religion play a role in the survival of the human race? If faith is a central aspect of religious belief, is there any merit in even trying to formulate rational arguments for the existence or non-existence of God?
Are there moral truths, or is our ethical thought made up entirely of opinions? Can reason shed light on what our moral duties are or should we restrict ourselves to trying to make the majority happy whilst minimising pain? Are there circumstances in which it is right to kill an innocent human being? Are we morally obliged to torture? How do we judge the moral weight of problems in medical ethics such as those connected with abortion and euthanasia?
Moral philosophy explores the different forms of thought and argument that give rise to these questions by examining their foundations. It attempts to understand the nature of our moral judgements by examining what kinds of foundational beliefs are internal to different moral positions.
Philosophy of Mind
It is the task of the philosophy of mind to examine different theories of mind and how they relate to (and have been influenced by) developments in modern neuroscience.
Is the mind identical to the brain? If so, can the mind and brain be characterised as separate entities? If not, how might we understand the nature of the mind? Does research in neuroscience assume a kind of brain/body dualism? Are psychological states, such as pain, reducible to brain states or merely behaviour (or, perhaps, neither)? Does the mind stand in relation to the brain as software stands in relation to the hardware of a computer? Can computers think? In this unit, you will become familiar with various theories of mind that attempt to address these questions, together with learning how to evaluate them critically philosophically and in relation to progress in modern neuroscience.