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Study information

The Philosophy of Nature

Module titleThe Philosophy of Nature
Module codePHL2129
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Celso Alves Neto (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

What is Life? Is Nature a product of a Designer (God)? What makes humans unique, if anything at all? In this module, we examine these and other fundamental questions about the natural world, its basic principles, and our place in it. These questions involve deep social and scientific controversies, but we will use philosophical reasoning to make progress on them. Hence, no background in science is needed and there are no prerequisites. Students with an interest in the philosophy of science, metaphysics, animal studies, and interdisciplinary pathways will particularly enjoy this module. As a seminar-type module, our class is based on student-led discussions and requires active participation.    

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to: 

  • Expose students to central concepts and problems in the philosophy of nature with emphasis on recent and cutting-edge work on the area 
  • Enable students to critically evaluate arguments about the nature, its principles and processes, as well as the place of humans in it 
  • Enable students to learn central skills in reading, writing, and communicating philosophical ideas 
  • Create a discussion environment in which students can learn to work cooperatively through group discussions and peer feedback activities  

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. understand the basic concepts and problems in the philosophy of nature past and present
  • 2. philosophically analyse the ways in which these problems have been addressed by past and contemporary philosophers
  • 3. Demonstrate critical analysis, evaluating concepts and arguments that make reference to nature, and how to expose their ethical and ideological foundations

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. make explicit underlying assumptions about nature that are often uncritically presupposed in other areas of philosophy, the sciences and the humanities
  • 5. Assess how concepts such as 'nature' change over time and across cultures, and reflect on the reasons for such changes

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. develop ideas and construct arguments and evaluate the ideas and arguments of others
  • 7. question received wisdom
  • 8. examine texts, and write cogent and cohesive essays

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some of the following topics:  


  • Life 
  • The Design Argument and Purpose 
  • Evolution, Natural Selection, and their limits 
  • The Gaia Hypothesis  
  • Essentialism 
  • Human Nature and Human Evolution 
  • Human Races and Genders 
  • Mechanisms, Substances, and Processes in Nature 
  • Reductionism, Causation and Emergence 
  • Laws of Nature 
  • Genes, Cells, Organisms, and Levels of Organization  

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 Teaching22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent Study28Preparation for essay, library, research etc.
Guided Independent Study100Private study: Reading books and articles, and taking notes from them, as specified in reading lists for each seminar. Guidance on this will be provided through ELE and in the seminars.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay planDraft outline: 500 words1-8Oral and/or written, as appropriate

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
Research Portfolio (5 discussion questions and one final essay)1002500 words (5 x 100 words for essay questions and 2000 words essay)1-8Written and oral feedback

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research Portfolio (5 x 100 words for essay questions and 2000-word essay)Research Portfolio (5 x 100 words for essay questions and 2000-word essay)1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment takes place when the summative assessment has not been completed by the original deadline, and the student has been allowed to refer or defer it to a later date (this only happens following certain criteria and is always subject to exam board approval). At times re-assessments cannot be the same as the original assessment and so these alternatives are set. In cases where the form of assessment is the same, the content will nevertheless be different. 


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

  • Coates, P. (1998) Nature: Western Attitudes since Ancient Times 
  • Collingwood, R.G. (1945). The Idea         of Nature  
  • Dear, P. (2006) The Intelligibility of Nature: How Science Makes Sense of the World 
  • Koyré, A. (1957) From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe 
  • Merchant, C. (1980) The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution 
  • Sterelny, K. and Griffiths, P. E. (1999) Sex and Death 

Key words search

Nature; Darwin; Design; Life; Human Nature

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


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NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date