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A level Philosophy Course

What board do we do? AQA, AS/A2 level specification code: 2176

What is Philosophy?
Philosophy is about asking, and attempting to answer, fundamental questions such as: what is knowledge; do we see the world as it is, or is our perception of the world misleading; does God exist and what is the problem of evil; what is the nature of mind and can we explain the mental purely in terms of the physical; what is moral goodness, and what is the nature of moral language.

The study of philosophy combines reading from the works of great philosophers, identifying the issues and arguments involved, and arriving at reasoned conclusions. Students will gain knowledge of important philosophical issues, and will learn how to interpret and assess arguments and counter-arguments. Students will learn the key skills of how to write clearly and accurately, how to express persuasive arguments, and how to develop their own thinking.

Which subjects combine well with Philosophy?
Philosophy combines well with the natural sciences (PhysicsChemistryBiology, Geography and Psychology), with social sciences (HistorySociology, EconomicsGovernment and Politics), and with Mathematics. It also combines well with Business Studies and ICT, and modern language courses with a literature component.

What careers and University courses can Philosophy lead to?
Philosophy is a good choice for ambitious students seeking careers with international organisations, the Civil Service, law firms and accountancy/consulting firms, and leading businesses especially in information technology and environmental sectors. The key skills of understanding ideas and arguments, clear and critical thinking and writing, and making rational decisions, are highly valued at senior management levels.

Over-subscribed universities also value Philosophy qualifications: a demonstrated capacity for independent thought and research is especially attractive to admissions tutors. As well as single honours Philosophy degree courses, Philosophy is directly relevant for degrees offering combined qualifications, such as Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE), and a range of dual honours degrees which combine Philosophy with, e.g., Theology, Physics, Linguistics, Languages, Mathematics, Music. Students also often take Philosophy as a modular component of a degree course. The A level course provides an excellent introduction for all these possibilities.

AS Examinations.  Section A: Epistemology.  Section B: Philosophy of Religion

100% of AS, 50% of A level.  3 hour written examination.  All questions are compulsory.

Section A: Epistemology

What are the direct objects of perception?  Do we see the world directly, or indirectly via sense data?  Does the world exist in the way we sense it to be?  Does the world exist independently of our sensations?

What is knowledge?  Can knowledge be defined as justified true belief?

Where does our knowledge come from?  Is all our knowledge derived from experience ('empiricism'), or is some of our knowledge also known prior to experience ('rationalism')?

Section B: Philosophy of Religion

The concept of God.  What does it mean to say that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent? Are these concepts coherent, and can they be combined with one another?

The existence of God.  Can the existence of God be proved independently of all evidence (the 'ontological' argument), or can the existence of God be proved from the existence of the universe (the 'cosmological' and 'design' arguments)?

The problem of evil. Does evil provide logical grounds, or at least supporting evidence, for the claim that God does not exist?

Religious language.  Can language be language meaningful when it is used to say things about God?

A2 Examinations.  Section A: Ethics.  Section B: Philosophy of Mind

100% of A2, 50% of A level.  3 hour written examination.  All questions are compulsory.

Section A: Ethics

How do we decide what is the morally right thing to do?  Should we look to the consequences of an action (utilitarianism), to a rationally based notion of duty (deontology), or to how a virtuous person behaves (virtue ethics)?

How do we apply ethical theory to moral issues?  What insight can we gain by applying the ethical theories to crime and punishment, war, simulated killing (in games, films, etc.), the treatment of animals, deception and the telling of lies?

What is the status of ethical language?  When we say that something is morally good, are we making an objective comment about reality ('cognitivism'), or are we expressing our emotions or prescribing a course of action ('non-cognitivism')?

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Is the mind distinct from the physical?  Is the mind a separate substance or a separate property, alongside the physical?  Can we explain the properties of conscious experience merely in terms of the physical, or do we also need to appeal to a special notion of the 'mental'?  Can we conceive of 'zombies' that are physically identical to ourselves yet have no mental life, or of a person who knows every physical fact about the colour red but does not know what red looks like?  If the mental is distinct from the physical, how does the mental causally interact with the physical?

Can the mind be explained entirely in terms of the physical?  Can mental experience be identified with a physical state of the brain?  Can mental experience be identified with our behavioural dispositions or with a functionally defined account of our responses to stimuli?  Might it be that our everyday use of mental terms such as belief, desire, thought, is misleading and that there are not really any mental properties at all?

AS and A2 Texts.

Michael Lacewing  Philosophy for AS.  Routledge 2014.  ISBN: 978–1–138–79393–4 (pbk)

Michael Lacewing  Philosophy for A2.  Routledge 2015.  ISBN: 978–1–138–83787–4 (pbk)

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