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Durham University

Faculty Handbook 2022-2023

Module Description

Please ensure you check the module availability box for each module outline, as not all modules will run each academic year.

Department: Philosophy


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2022/23 Module Cap Location Durham


  • At least one 'Year 2' module in Philosophy.


  • At least one other 'Year 3' module in Philosophy.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The aim of this module is to introduce central issues, theories and arguments arising from a philosophical examination of contemporary natural and social sciences.


  • The main topics to be covered will be selected from the following:
  • The "birth" of scientific thinking in Western thought
  • The physical sciences versus(?) metaphysics
  • What there is
  • Composition
  • Supervenience/fundamentality/grounding
  • Causation as the glue of the universe
  • Causation as the glue of the universe (part 2)
  • Causal powers
  • Bad questions in science: the problem of conceptual fragmentation
  • Expecting the unexpected in the search for extra-terrestrial life
  • What is ‘race’?
  • The replication crisis in medicine/psychology
  • Fossil origins and theories of confirmation
  • Explanation and prediction in evolutionary theory
  • Stanford (i): The problem of unconceived alternatives
  • Stanford (ii): Unconceived alternatives and ‘Big Science’
  • The problem of misleading evidence
  • Identifying future-proof science
  • Can inconsistent science be trusted?
  • Philosophical issues in quantum mechanics

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of the module students will be familiar with core philosophical questions arising in the natural and social sciences, will understand proposed answers to those questions, and will know the main arguments for and against those proposals.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students:
  • will be able to identify and articulate core philosophical questions arising in the natural and social sciences
  • will be able to explain key metaphysical and epistemological views developed in response to those questions
  • will be able to use relevant research material to examine and assess arguments for and against such theories.
Key Skills:
  • express themselves clearly and succinctly in writing
  • comprehend complex ideas, arguments and theories
  • defend their views by reasoned argument
  • seek out and identify appropriate sources of evidence and information
  • tackle problems in a clear-sighted and logical fashion

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Structured teaching within seminars will deliver basic module-specific information and provide a framework for further study.
  • Seminars will provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate and test their understanding of the course material, to defend and debate different philosophical positions presented in that material, and to propose alternative positions.
  • Guided reading provides a structure within which students exercise and extend their abilities to make use of available learning resources.
  • The formative essay provides the opportunity for students to test and extend their knowledge and understanding of the module content, and develops their ability to present and defend relevant arguments using available learning resources, uninhibited by the need for summative assessment.
  • The summative essays test knowledge and understanding of the course material as well as the ability to (i) articulate philosophical questions raised by the material, (ii) identify appropriate research sources, (iii) use those sources in presenting philosophical theories and arguments that have been developed in response to the questions at hand and (iv) make reasoned judgements about the merits and limitations of such theories and arguments.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 22 Weekly 2 hours 44
Preparation and Reading 156
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
essay1 3000 words 50%
essay 2 3000 words 50%

Formative Assessment:

One 2000 word essay, due at the end of the Michaelmas Term.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University

If you have a query about a specific module or degree programme, please contact the appropriate department.

If you have a question about Durham's modular degree programmes, please visit our FAQ webpage. If you have a question about modular programmes that is not covered by the FAQ, or a query about the on-line Faculty Handbook, please contact us using the Comments and Questions form below.