A level Philosophy

Ashbourne’s philosophers grapple with the big questions of life (and death) and develop their analytical and debating skills in small class groups. Tutor Michael Peat is always ready for a lively discussion and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, not least from his training in Physics, Philosophy and Theology.

Philosophy A level is an academically challenging course that can be complemented by Arts and Science subjects equally.

Why study Philosophy?

Can war ever be just? What is reality? Does god exist? Should people have the right to die? Is there such thing as free will? What is happiness? Should some jobs be paid more than others? Do we live in a nanny state?

What separates philosophers from mere mortals is that they go beyond just answering abstract and often very difficult questions born of everyday experiences; they explore and challenge the fundamental ideas and assumptions that lie behind these questions to develop moral guidelines or codes of conduct that can be applied (through unspoken and/or statutory laws) in real life: how we engage and interact with others, how we expect or would like to be treated, how we make judgements and decisions and how we govern and are governed.

Understanding how to begin to answer such questions takes training. Rather than using scientific experiments to explore and test theories, philosophers use reasoning through discussion. Students learn to analyse, construct, deconstruct and justify their views on a variety of complex issues. This not only broadens their outlook and interpretation of the world around them but develops critical skills for any academic learning.

Philosophy A level is an excellent choice for further study at degree level in politics, history, law, theology, psychology, philosophy, physics and many more subjects.

Which syllabus do we follow?

Ashbourne follows the AQA specification for AS and A level Philosophy.

What is covered in the course?

Both AS and A level Philosophy students will explore Epistemology (theory of knowledge) and Moral Philosophy (what’s right and what’s wrong); A level students will also cover Metaphysics of God (is God real?) and Metaphysics of mind (what is the ‘mind’?).

EpistemologyMoral PhilosophyMetaphysics of GodMetaphysics of mind
You probably think you know quite a bit about the world around you and how things work. But have you considered how you know these things to be so? For example, if someone is running how do you know they are moving? Is it because you can ‘see’ or sense they are moving or you think you understand motion or you just know? Epistemology explores the nature, origin and limits of human knowledge.

In this component students will examine ‘what is knowledge’ and how perception and reason are used as a sources of knowledge. Students will explore ‘justified true belief’ (the tripartite view) as well as other theoretical arguments of Plato, Gottfried Leibniz, René Descartes, Linda Zagzebski, John Locke, Catharine Trotter Cockburn, Bertrand Russell and George Berkeley.

Is lying always wrong? Does effort deserve reward? Is it right to give to charity? Should you have the right to die?

Morals, for most people, are a set of rules used to determine what is right and wrong, guiding us to make decisions and lead our lives. This system of rules is derived from religious, philosophical and cultural beliefs. Having a moral map however does not necessarily mean people always follow it. And that map is not always the same as others’. Can we really share ‘universal values’ like freedom from violence or are these simply constructs of dominant or privileged groups?

In this component students will examine Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill’s utilitarianism (experience-based morality), Kantian deontological (duty-based) ethics and Aristotelian virtue (aspiring to be good) ethics, applied ethics (how specific moral issues might play out in real life situations) and meta-ethics (working out the moral underpinnings, e.g. how can we discern right from wrong; what is right?)

If God is all powerful could ‘he’ create a stone so heavy that even he could not lift? Could he make a triangle whose angles do not add up to 180 degrees? Could God design a prison so secure that he could not escape? This type of paradox is used to challenge the assumption that God is omnipotent. In defence, St Thomas Aquinas’ would have argued that it is not possible to bring about an impossible state of affairs (like defying the laws of Mathematics).

In this component students will explore the concept and nature of God and arguments relating to the existence of God. They will examine the ontological (nature of being) arguments of St Anselm, Descartes and Norman Malcom and objections of Gaunilo, empiricists, Kant, Hume, William Paley and Richard Swinburne; as well as the cosmological (natural order of the universe) arguments of the Kalām, St Thomas Aquinas, Descartes, Leibniz and Russell. Students will also consider endeavours to reconcile God’s existence with ‘the problem of evil’.

What is the mind? Is it simply a collection of thoughts and feelings or an entity that comprises a physical or other (mental) substance? Is the ‘mind’ discrete from the body or contingent? Metaphysics of mind explores what is meant by mind and the nature of consciousness, thought and emotion.

In this component students will investigate dualist theories of mind including substance (mind and body are discrete – Descartes), property (distinct physical and mental properties of one substance – David Chalmers, Frank Jackson and Gilbert Ryle) and epiphenomenalist (mental events dependent on physicals events). They will also explore physicalism (everything is physical), mind–brain type identity theory, eliminative materialism (commonsense ‘folk’ psychology should be replaced by neuroscience explanation) and functionalism (mental states can be characterised by functional roles).

Who teaches this course?

Michael Peat

BSc (Birmingham); DipTheol (London); BD (London)
Michael Peat has a broad academic background with his first degree in Physics. He did doctoral studies in methodology and hermeneutics in Philadelphia and returned to lecture to under- and postgraduate students in the UK. He has been teaching Philosophy at Ashbourne for many years now and enjoys a philosophical debate with anyone and everyone. He is also a keen chess player and runs Ashbourne’s club with Chris Todd who teaches Chemistry.

Beyond A level Philosophy

Now you have delved into the deepest issues of existence and come out the other side you will be superbly equipped to come up with public policy, start your own political party, write the laws of the land, champion civil liberties, train to be a member of the Queen’s Council, become a film director, writer, poet or professional philosopher, and much more besides.

A level Philosophy is excellent preparation for a degree in Law, and Philosophy of course, and combines well with a wide selection of Arts and Humanities subjects.

Suggested reading and resources

BooksBroadcastFilmOnlineOrganisations
Think, Simon Blackburn
Think proposes techniques for approaching the big questions in life and illustrates how prominent Western philosophers like Descartes, Hume and Kant have tackled major themes and shaped the way we think.

Philosophy: The Basics and Philosophy: The Classics, Nigel Warburton
Clear and comprehensive introduction to the world of philosophy, key ideas and themes and classical philosophers from Plato, Aristotle and Descartes to Sartre, Wittgenstein and Rawls.

Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
Sophie receives mysterious letters that make her question her very existence and that lead her on a journey through the history of philosophy.

Philosophy for Dummies, Martin Cohen
Confused by metaphysics? In a muddle with aesthetics? Intimidated by Kant? This is a complete crash-course in philosophy.

The Problems of Philosophy, Bertrand Russell
Inquiry into the purpose of philosophy by seminal analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell.

In Our Time
Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas in this BBC Radio 4 programme covering a huge range of philosophical issues (e.g. altruism), philosophers, theories and key themes, with links to further reading and resources.

The Moral Maze
Live debate on moral issues of the week, with individual ‘witnesses’ defending their views under cross examination. Presented by Michael Buerk and David Aaronovitch on BBC Radio 4.

Essential movies for a student of philosophy
A beefy list of films that take major philosophical issues as the main theme and some that are based on the lives of famous philosophers.
Philosophy Now
Bi-monthly print and online magazine for philosophy lovers.

Radical Philosophy
Left wing radical philosophy journal.

Institute of Philosophy
Organises events, fellowships and research support.

Royal Institute of Philosophy
Debates, lectures, conferences and prize events throughout the year. They also produce the journals Philosophy and Think.

Philosophy in pubs
Bringing life’s big questions to the local community, oh alright, the pub. Variety of philosophical issued raised in pubs across London and UK.

Textbooks

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Scheme of work