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Essential Works of Western Philosophy

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Examine and understand the core disciplines that constitute the essence of Western philosophy.

To best grasp the core disciplines that constitute the essence of Western philosophy, it is necessary to examine those seminal philosophical texts - including works by Plato, Kant, Locke, Descartes and Rousseau - which inform our understanding and our approach to these now established fields of enquiry.

Through examining these texts we learn to philosophize ourselves and acquire the necessary tools to justify our favoured solutions to these perennial, and still pressing, problems.

The list of texts and subjects to be examined over this 10-session course is far from exhaustive for a tradition that has persisted for two-and-a-half thousand years, but those covered should inspire further investigation on topics which are of special interest.

Learning and teaching

This course is taught in 10, two-hour sessions, delivered on a weekly basis.

  • Week 1: Introduction - The scope and methods of philosophical enquiry
  • Week 2: The Nature of Reality - Plato 'Republic'
  • Week 3: The Nature of Reality - John Locke 'An Essay Concerning Human Understanding'
  • Week 4: Ethics - Immanuel Kant  'Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals'
  • Week 5: Ethics - John Stuart Mill 'Utilitarianism'
  • Week 6: Politics - Jean-Jacques Rousseau 'The Social Contract'
  • Week 7: Politics - John Rawls  'A Theory of Justice'
  • Week 8: Religion - Thomas Aquinas  'Summa Theologica'
  • Week 9: The Mind - Rene Descartes 'Discourse on the Method'
  • Week 10: Science - Thomas Kuhn 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions'

There will be a mixture of lectures and seminars, the precise proportion to be determined by the needs of the students enrolled.

The seminar element may include debate, discussion, group activities, presentations and readings. Additional reading material will be recommended and a reading list will be supplied.

Course handouts will be provided as appropriate. The seminars will encourage the development of knowledge and understanding of the ideas and concepts discussed in the course.

Intellectual skills will be encouraged through participation in class discussion, reading and coursework.

Coursework and assessment

Essays or other equivalent written assignments to a total of 1500 words demonstrating an understanding of core elements of the course material.

For us, the most important element of assessment is that it should enhance your learning. Our methods are designed to increase your confidence and we try very hard to devise ways of assessing you that are enjoyable and suitable for adults with busy lives.

To award credits we need to have evidence of the knowledge and skills you have gained or improved.

Some of this has to be in a form that can be shown to external examiners so that we can be absolutely sure that standards are met across all courses and subjects.

Reading suggestions

  • Plato. Republic (Penguin Classics, 2003)
  • Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism (Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The social Contract (Penguin Classics, 2004)
  • Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1999)
  • Kenny, Anthony. The Five Ways: St Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (Routledge, 2003)
  • Descartes, Rene. Discourse on the Method (Penguin Classics, 2005)
  • Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, fourth edn (University of Chicago Press, 2012)

In addition, and to provide an overview of the history of philosophy from its beginnings in ancient Greece, the following books are recommended:

  • Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy, new edn (Routledge, 2004)
  • Honderich, Ted. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2005)

Library and computing facilities

As a student on this course you are entitled to join and use the University’s library and computing facilities. Find out more about using these facilities.


Our aim is access for all. We aim to provide a confidential advice and support service for any student with a long term medical condition, disability or specific learning difficulty. We are able to offer one-to-one advice about disability, pre-enrolment visits, liaison with tutors and co-ordinating lecturers, material in alternative formats, arrangements for accessible courses, assessment arrangements, loan equipment and dyslexia screening.