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Study information

History of Philosophy

Module titleHistory of Philosophy
Module codePHL2053
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Kirsten Walsh (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Early Modern Philosophers contributed to huge advances in science and technology, while at the same time witnessing, and sometimes causing, political and social upheaval on a grand scale. In this module, we shall track the philosophical thoughts and motivations behind some of these advances and upheavals. We shall proceed via a close reading of primary texts, drawing on additional material by scholars, background material and influential responses. The particular themes and figures addressed in this module varies from year-to-year, depending on the expertise and research interests of the module convenor. It may focus on the writings of a particular philosopher, or be structured around problems and topics of inquiry. Students should expect to become familiar with the writings of influential philosophers such as (but not necessarily) Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Rousseau and Leibniz, while also examining the less well-known philosophical ideas of figures such as Anne Conway, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Margaret Cavendish, Damaris Cudworth Masham and Robert Hooke.

Module aims - intentions of the module

You will gain a good understanding of some key problems addressed by early modern philosophers, including their rationale and various attempts at solving them. By making a critical study of these topics, focusing on primary texts, your skills in the analysis, evaluation and presentation of arguments will be enhanced.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Identify and discuss the questions, themes and topics addressed by some early modern philosophers.
  • 2. Distinguish and evaluate certain positions and arguments within early modern philosophy.
  • 3. Read and understand early modern philosophical texts in their historical and philosophical context.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Demonstrate a good understanding of the interrelation between historical events and philosophical developments.
  • 5. Demonstrate sound knowledge of different types of philosophical analysis.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Demonstrate an expanded philosophical vocabulary and understanding with respect to key ideas in early modern philosophy.
  • 7. Engage in complex arguments both orally and through writing.
  • 8. Conduct research independently engaging with complex ideas and problems.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics in early modern philosophy:

  • Natural philosophy, including questions about methodology, natural laws, the nature of space and time, and God’s place in the universe.
  • Early modern epistemology, including a variety of scepticisms, as well as questions regarding the existence of innate ideas and the notion of a tabula rasa, theories of perception, and knowledge of substance.
  • Early modern philosophy of mind, including questions about the relationship between mind and body and whether or not animals have cognition, as well as problems of personal identity.
  • Early modern moral philosophy, including questions of belief, freedom, will, and the existence of God.
  • Early modern political philosophy, including questions of rights, the relationship between state and polis, and property ownership.

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 Activities22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent Study45Preparation for lectures and tutorial participation including reading, and preparing reading reports and answers to tutorial questions.
Preparation for lectures and tutorial participation including reading, and preparing reading reports and answers to tutorial questions.83Independent research for the first and final essays.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Tutorial ParticipationFortnightly1-8Oral
Final Essay draftDraft of final essay1-8Peer review

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
Reading reports*105 reports x 150 words1-3Oral
Essay301,000 words1-7Written Feedback
Final Essay602,000 words1-8Written Feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Reading reports*Literature summary (750 words)1-3August/September reassessment period
EssayEssay (1000 words)1-7August/September reassessment period
EssayEssay (2000 words)1-8August/September reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

*The mark will be an overall mark for the set: you will have 8 chances to submit a reading report, and if you submit at least 5 reports over the semester, you’ll get the full 10% (each report is worth 2%, up to a total of 10%). You will get feedback on these assignments in three ways: (1) Reading reports will form the basis of tutorial discussion, so you will receive (and offer) feedback from your peers during class; (2) I’ll provide general feedback during classes; (3) Students can receive individual feedback on request.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Readings will primarily come from the following two anthologies:

1. Ariew, Roger & Watkins, Eric (eds.) (2009), Modern Philosophy: An Anthology of Primary Sources, 2nd edition, Hackett Pub Co.
2. Atherton, Margaret (ed.) (1994), Women philosophers of the early modern period, Hackett Pub Co.

Key words search

Early Modern Philosophy, 17th-century philosophy, 18th-century philosophy, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz, Conway, Boyle, Newton, Cavendish, Hooke.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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