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Study information

An Introduction to French Thought

Module titleAn Introduction to French Thought
Module codeMLF1105
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Hugh Roberts (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

You’ll be introduced to French thought through four major philosophers: Montaigne, Descartes, Weil and Beauvoir. Montaigne's essay on the cannibals of Brazil raises key questions about human nature and society. Descartes’s Discours recounts how he revolutionised Western philosophy. Simone Weil’s ‘On the abolition of all political parties’ is a radical rejection of collective thinking from a philosopher who was also an activist and a mystic. The module also includes questioning of philosophical and other modes of thought from a feminist perspective, in the work of Beauvoir. By studying this module, you'll gain an insight into philosophical works that have changed the course of intellectual and social history.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will introduce you to a wide range of French philosophy and some of its key ideas and figures. You will examine the development of French thought and be introduced to the historical context in which the works studied were written. You will critically engage with sophisticated philosophical arguments.


Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate familiarity with the key arguments and ideas of the texts studied

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 2. Describe and evaluate, under guidance from the course tutor(s), key critical responses to the topic and apply standard critical approaches to the material
  • 3. Mount an argument in sound written English using basic textual or other evidence
  • 4. Read and analyse passages from texts in the TL, relating them to specified aspects of their cultural / historical / philosophical context
  • 5. Use a reading list to identify material relevant to a given aspect of the subject, and report findings in writing
  • 6. Show ability to give bibliographical information accurately and consistently, following established guidelines

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Assimilate, select and organise material in order to produce, to a deadline, a written argument
  • 8. Present a simple but cogent argument in writing, in English, on a specified topic and following guidelines provided
  • 9. Plan and write an essay to a specified length and deadline on a given theme

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • An introductory lecture
  • At least two lectures on each of the 4 main texts studies
  • At least two seminars on Descartes and 1 each on the other main texts

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 1010 x 1 hour lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching55 x 1 hour seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11 x 1 hour conclusion
Guided independent study134Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Mini essay/commentary500 words1-9Written and oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
2,000-word essay1002000 words1-9Written and oral

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
2,000-word essayEssay1-9Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment. 

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading (students doing MLF1001 will cite French originals, normally, other students will cite English translations):

  • Montaigne: "Des cannibales", Essais, I, 31 [available via ELE].
  • Descartes: Discours de la méthode (Garnier Flammarion).
  • Weil: Note sur la suppression générale des partis politiques  (Gallimard) [available via ELE]
  • Beauvoir: Le Deuxième Sexe (Selections)

Secondary reading: introductions to philosophy

  • Russell, Bertrand, Problems of Philosophy (1912, and subsequent editions)
  • Blackburn, Simon, Think (1999)
  • Nagel, Thomas, What Does It All Mean?: A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy (1987)
  • Craig, Edward, Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction (2002)
  • Scruton, Roger, From Descartes to Wittgenstein: A Short History of Modern Philosophy (1981)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Philosophy; Montaigne; Descartes; Weil; Beauvoir



Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

A-Level French or equivalent

Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date