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Philosophical Fiction and Fantasy

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Do Greek tragedies reveal virtue's fragility?  Does virtue presuppose temptation? Can nefarious neuroscientists illuminate free will?

Does science fiction elucidate minds' nature? Could you survive a ‘body transplant’? Might a machine know your mind better than you?

Many varieties of fiction and fantasy raise questions concerning minds, machines and morality, the limits of human knowledge and the nature of thought and reality. Philosophers themselves create mini-fictions in constructing ‘thought experiments’, creating examples and imagining possible cases.

From Plato’s cave and Twin Earth, where ‘water’ is not H2O, to time travel and super-kittens, philosophers have created a panoply of fantastic scenarios with bewildering arrays of subtle variants.

We will explore philosophical questions using fiction and critically assess its philosophical uses. No previous knowledge of philosophy, fiction or fantasy is required.

Learning and teaching

The module will be delivered through ten 2-hour sessions, made up of workshops, class discussions, small group work and debates.

Topics may include:

  • Philosophical fictions: Thought experiments, hypothetical cases and fantastical scenarios
    • How are philosophical fictions used in philosophy? What role do they play in supporting and refuting philosophical claims, theories and arguments?
  • Fiction in philosophy
    • How and why do ethicists draw on contemporary and historical novels, Greek tragedies and utopian or dystopian visions to identify questions, stimulate intuitions and illustrate theories?
  • Methodological questions
    • Can the products of human imagination help us identify philosophical questions and/or answer them?

Coursework and assessment

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.

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.

For this course, you will undertake a short question formulation exercise (5%), a case study (20%) and a paper (75%). In total, this will be around 1,700 – 2,000 words.

Reading suggestions

You will be provided with comprehensive reading suggestions before the course begins.

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.