Philosophy: Fundamental Questions, Major Thinkers

The details
Essex Pathways
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Foundation/Year Zero: Level 3
Thursday 03 October 2019
Friday 26 June 2020
24 May 2019


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V31B Art History (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA V350 Art History (Including Foundation Year),
BA W808 Creative Writing (Including Foundation Year),
BA W408 Drama (Including Foundation Year),
BA WQ28 Drama and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA T728 English and United States Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA Q320 English Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA PW88 Film and Creative Writing (Including Foundation Year),
BA W628 Film Studies (Including Foundation Year),
BA PQ38 Film Studies and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA LQ38 Literature and Sociology (Including Foundation Year),
BA V502 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year),
BA V508 Philosophy (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV54 Philosophy and Art History (Including Foundation Year),
BA VVHP Philosophy and Art History (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV51 Philosophy and History (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV5X Philosophy and History (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA MVC8 Philosophy and Law (Including Foundation Year),
BA VM58 Philosophy and Law (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VQ52 Philosophy and Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA VQ58 Philosophy and Literature (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA LV2H Philosophy and Politics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA LV8M Philosophy and Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA LV83 Philosophy and Sociology (Including Foundation Year),
BA VL58 Philosophy and Sociology (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA V5M8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA VLM8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA VV58 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year),
BA VV59 Philosophy, Religion and Ethics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA C807 Psychology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C812 Psychology (Including Foundation Year),
BSC C813 Psychology with Cognitive Neuroscience (Including Foundation Year),
BA C89C Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies (Including Foundation Year),
BA QW38 Literature and Creative Writing (Including Foundation Year),
BA Q218 English and Comparative Literature (Including Foundation Year),
BA L523 Childhood Studies (Including Foundation Year)

Module description

This module provides students with an introduction to the major themes and thinkers in Western Philosophy. It is divided into three main sections. The first provides a general introduction to the study of philosophy and explains what makes this subject so important and distinctive. It assumes no prior knowledge of the subject and it proceeds at a pace that is appropriate to students who are new to the subject. After the introduction, the module focuses on two main philosophical questions: what can we know and how should we live? The first of these questions refers to the possibility of knowledge. This area of philosophy is known as epistemology. The second question is about what it means to live a good life. This area of philosophy is known as ethics.

The section on epistemology begins with a study of the work of Plato and Aristotle. We then look at the major philosophical schools of thought in the Hellenistic world such as Cynicism and Stoicism. The module then proceeds to examine the work of Descartes, Hume and Kant. The following section on ethics engages with the work of Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Bentham, Mill and Nietzsche. The final section examines some contemporary examples of applied ethics. There are a broad range of topics that can be chosen such as Animal Rights, Embryo Research and Just War Theory.

Module aims

1. To provide an introduction to the main themes in ethics and epistemology

2. To enable students to critically evaluate arguments and positions in the fields of ethics, applied ethics and epistemology

3. To ensure that students understand the academic conventions of university life

4. To ensure that students are confident in the expression of their thoughts and ideas

Module learning outcomes

By the end of this module a student will be expected to be able to:

1. Have a secure knowledge of the main ideas and arguments in epistemology and ethics

2. Understand and evaluate different epistemological and ethical positions and arguments

3. Write clear, well-structured and critical philosophical essays

4. Comprehend major themes within philosophical texts

5. Articulate and defend their philosophical positions in class discussions

6. Select and evaluate primary and secondary sources and complete accompanying bibliography

Module information


Topic 1: Introduction to Western Philosophy
Topic 2: Introduction to Epistemology: Rationalism and Empiricism
Topic 3: Plato and Aristotle
Topic 4: Stoicism, Scepticism, Cynicism and Epicureanism
Topic 4: The philosophy of Doubt: Descartes and Hume
Topic 7: Kant: A response to Hume.
Topic 8: Introduction to Ethics
Topic 10: Aristotle's 'Virtue Ethics'.
Topic 11: Hume's ethics: 'Sympathy and the Passions'.
Topic 12: Kant's ethics: 'The Categorical Imperative'.
Topic 13: Bentham and Mill: 'Happiness and the Good Life'.
Topic 14: Nietzsche: 'Slave Morality'.
Topic 16: Applied ethics: Any two of the following: Embryo Research, Just War Theory, Animal Rights, Prostitution, Just War Theory, Euthanasia, Capital Punishment, Abortion.


Formative assessment:
Guided source and reading activity to be completed in week 3.

Summative assessment:
Coursework consists of the following assessments

Essay 1: (1,200 words – 15% weighting)
Essay 2: (1,500 words – 20% weighting)
Group debates: (10-15 minutes – 10% weighting)
Participation mark: (5%)

A final three-hour exam will constitute the other 50 per cent of the total mark for the module.

Reassessment strategy
- Failed Exam: Resit the exam which is re-aggregated with existing coursework mark to create a new module aggregate.

- Failed Coursework: Resubmit a piece of coursework (1,500 words) which is re-aggregated with existing exam mark to create a new module aggregate. The reassessment task will replace the coursework component and will enable the relevant learning outcomes to be met.

- Failed Exam and Coursework: Resit the exam and resubmit one piece of coursework (1,500 words) to be aggregated to create a new module aggregate.

Learning and teaching methods

The module is delivered via a weekly two hour lecture. This is followed by a two-hour seminar. There is also tutorial time available for individual consultations. Students are set a reading task for each week from one of the set texts especially chosen for the module. They are also expected to complete detailed lecture notes to use as a basis for class discussion in the seminars and tutorials. Photocopied handouts are provided during the course of the year with relevant information from journals although students are encouraged to become independent learners in this regard. Students will have the opportunity to present their own work in seminars on a non-assessed basis.

Lecture notes and slides will be available every week via Moodle.This module provides ideal preparation for further study in the Philosophy department where students will have the opportunity to study these and many other topics in more detail.


  • Double, Richard. (1999) Beginning philosophy, New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Cottingham, John. (2008) Western philosophy: an anthology, Malden, MA: Blackwell. vol. Blackwell philosophy anthologies
  • Bryan Magee. (2016) The Story of Philosophy: DK.
  • Norman, Richard. (1998) The moral philosophers: an introduction to ethics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   IA121 - Group Debates    20% 
Coursework   IA121 - Participation    10% 
Coursework   IA121 - Essay 1 - 1,200 Words    30% 
Coursework   IA121 - Essay 2 - 1,500 Words    40% 
Exam  1440 minutes during Summer (Main Period) (Main) 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
50% 50%


Coursework Exam
50% 50%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Kalina Stamenova, email: knstam@essex.ac.uk.
Dr Kalina Stamenova
Becky Humphreys (becky.humphreys@essex.ac.uk or 01206 872217)



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 713 hours, 220 (30.9%) hours available to students:
491 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
2 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Essex Pathways

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