A level Philosophy

Philosophy is a very popular subject at Ashbourne. It appeals to students from Arts and Science backgrounds. The goals of philosophy at Ashbourne are to train students to think, which takes place within focused debate in class, to produce philosophical investigation, which takes place in essays and to familiarize students with key questions and answers in the topics studied. The seminar style of teaching and learning, which is made possible by Ashbourne’s small class sizes, is ideal for studying the subject.

Why study Philosophy?

Philosophy trains students to ask questions about the things other people do not ask questions about. It also trains students to analyse and argue and by this means come up with some answers to the big questions. Philosophy combines well with almost all A Level subjects. As it improves logical, precise thinking it is a great help to those studying not only essay subjects but also Maths and Sciences.

Which syllabus do we follow?

We follow the AQA specification for Philosophy.

How many units are there?

There are four units in total: two at AS and two at A2.

What is each unit about?


EpistemologyPhilosophy of Religion

  • Perception: What are the immediate objects of perception?
  • Direct realism: the immediate objects of perception are mind-independent objects and their properties.
  • Indirect realism: the immediate objects of perception are mind-dependent objects that are caused by and represent mind- independent objects
  • Berkeley’s idealism: the immediate objects of perception (ie ordinary objects such as tables, chairs, etc) are mind-dependent objects
  • Berkeley’s attack on the primary/secondary property distinction and his ‘master’ argument.
  • The definition of knowledge: What is propositional knowledge?
  • Terminology: distinction between: acquaintance knowledge, ability knowledge and propositional knowledge (knowing ‘of’, knowing ‘how’ and knowing ‘that’).
  • The tripartite view: justified true belief is necessary and sufficient for propositional knowledge (S knows that p only if S is justified in believing that p, p is true and S believes that p) (necessary and sufficient conditions).
  • The origin of concepts and the nature of knowledge: where do ideas/concepts and knowledge come from?
  • Concept empiricism: all concepts are derived from experience (tabula rasa, impressions and ideas, simple and complex concepts)
  • Locke’s arguments against innatism; its reliance on the non-natural
  • Knowledge empiricism: all synthetic knowledge is a posteriori (Hume’s ‘fork’); all a priori knowledge is (merely) analytic.
The concept of God

  • God as omniscient, omnipotent, supremely good, and either timeless (eternal) or within time (everlasting) and the meaning(s) of these divine attributes
  • The compatibility, or otherwise, of the existence of an omniscient God and free human beings
  • Arguments relating to the existence of God. Ontological arguments, including those formulated by: Anselm, Descartes, Leibniz, Malcolm, Plantinga
  • The argument from design: arguments from purpose and regularity, including those formulated by: Paley and Swinburne
  • The cosmological argument: causal and contingency arguments, including those formulated by: Aquinas’ Five Ways (first three), Descartes and the Kalam argument
  • The problem of evil: how to reconcile God’s omnipotence, omniscience and supreme goodness with the existence of physical/ moral evil


EthicsPhilosophy of Mind
Ethical theories: How do we decide what it is morally right to do?
Utilitarianism: the maximisation of utility, including:

  • the question of what is meant by ‘pleasure’, including Mill’s higher and lower pleasures
  • forms of utilitarianism: act and rule utilitarianism; preference utilitarianism

Kantian deontological ethics: what maxims can be universalised without contradiction, including:

  • the categorical and hypothetical imperatives
  • the categorical imperative – first and second formulations

Aristotle’s virtue ethics: the development of a good character, including:

  • ‘the good’: pleasure; the function argument and eudaimonia
  • the role of education/habituation in developing a moral character
  • voluntary and involuntary actions and moral responsibility
  • the doctrine of the mean and Aristotle’s account of vices and virtues

Students must be able to critically apply the theories above to the following issues: crime and punishment, war, simulated killing (within computer games, plays, films, etc), the treatment of animals, deception and the telling of lies.

Ethical language: What is the status of ethical language?

Cognitivism: ethical language makes claims about reality which are true or false (fact-stating)

  • moral realism: ethical language makes claims about mind-independent reality that are true
  • ethical naturalism (eg utilitarianism)
  • ethical non-naturalism (eg intuitionism)
  • error theory: ethical language makes claims about mind-independent reality that are false (eg Mackie’s argument from queerness).

Non-cognitivism: ethical language does not make claims about reality which are true or false (fact-stating)

  • Emotivism: ethical language expresses emotions (Hume and Ayer)
  • Prescriptivism: ethical language makes recommendations about action (Hare)
The mind–body problem: What is the relationship between the mental and the physical?
Dualism: the mind is distinct from the physical
The indivisibility argument for substance dualism (Descartes)
The conceivability argument for substance dualism: the logical possibility of mental substance existing without the physical (Descartes).
The ‘philosophical zombies’ argument for property dualism: the logical possibility of a physical duplicate of this world but without consciousness/qualia (Chalmers).
The ‘knowledge’/Mary argument for property dualism based on qualia (Frank Jackson).
Qualia as introspectively accessible subjective/phenomenal features of mental states (the properties of ‘what it is like’ to undergo the mental state in question)
for many qualia would be defined as the intrinsic/non-representational properties of mental states.
Materialism: the mind is not ontologically distinct from the physical.
Logical/analytical behaviourism: all statements about mental states can be analytically reduced without loss of meaning to statements about behaviour (an ‘analytic’ reduction).
Mind–brain type identity theory: all mental states are identical to brain states (‘ontological’ reduction) although ‘mental state’ and ‘brain state’ are not synonymous (so not an ‘analytic’ reduction).
Functionalism: all mental states can be reduced to functional roles which can be multiply realised.
Eliminative materialism: some or all mental states do not exist (folk-psychology is false or at least radically misleading).

How is the content assessed?


Section A: Epistemology
Section B: Philosophy of Religion

The students sit a 3 hours written paper. 80 marks are available. 100% of AS, 50% of A-level.

Section A: Ethics
Section B: Philosophy of Mind

The students sit a 3 hours written paper. 100 marks are available 50% of A-level

How is the course structured?

The first two components from the AS syllabus in the first year, followed by components 3 and 4 in the A2 syllabus, studied in the second year. In each year the components are covered in the first two terms, up to the Easter break, when we embark on an intensive program of revision and examination practice.

When do I sit my exams?

Students sit their examinations in June.

Which Ashbourne teachers teach this course?

Michael Peat

BD Hons, DipTheol (London) BSc Hons (Birmingham) Religious Studies, Mathematics and Philosophy

Michael Peat has a very broad academic background as his first degree was in Physics. Doctoral studies took him to Philadephia where he lived for a number or years and on his return he lectured for many years to undergraduates and postgraduates in Philosophy and Theology. He now teaches Philosophy and Theology at Ashbourne. Philosophy, though challenging, is a particularly popular subject. Michael is a keen chess player and along with Chris Todd runs the chess club.

Beyond A Level for Philosophy Students

This A level is a particularly good preparation for Philosophy or Law, which several of our students have gone on to study. However, Philosophy is a very well respected A Level which combines well with Arts and Humanities subjects and will benefit students aiming for courses and careers in almost every area.


Title: Philosophy for AS

Author: by Michael Lacewing

Title: Philosophy for A2

Author: by Michael Lacewing

Scheme of work