Philosophy: Fundamental Questions, Major Thinkers

PLEASE NOTE: This module is inactive. Visit the Module Directory to view modules and variants offered during the current academic year.

The details
Essex Pathways
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Foundation/Year Zero: Level 3
Thursday 03 October 2024
Friday 27 June 2025
05 June 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA T728 English and United States Literature (Including Foundation Year),
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 LV83 Philosophy and Sociology (Including Foundation Year),
BA VL58 Philosophy and Sociology (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

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 is a broad range of topics that can be chosen such as Animal Rights, Embryo Research and Just War Theory.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  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, students 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 the accompanying bibliography.

Skills for your professional life (Transferable Skills) 

By the end of this module, students will have practised the following transferrable skills: 

  • Intellectual skills (e.g. critical, analytical, synthesising and problem-solving skills) developed in lectures, classes discussion groups and seminars.

  • Communication skills (written and oral). Writing skills are practised in essays and end-of-year exams and oral skills are developed through participation in discussions and debates.

  • Organisational skills (e.g. working independently, taking initiative, time management.) Philosophy students are encouraged to work independently and to explore problems on their own initiative. The lecturer fosters these skills by providing bibliographies and referring to articles or books which students may then go and read.

  • Inter-personal skills (e.g. ability to work with or motivate others, flexibility/adaptability). The ability to work with other people is fostered in discussion groups, classes and seminars.

  • Research Skills. Students are encouraged to learn some research skills by selecting and evaluating relevant sources, using the University Library and desk research.

Module information


  • Introduction to Western Philosophy.

  • Introduction to Epistemology: Rationalism and Empiricism.

  • Plato and Aristotle.

  • Empiricism and Rationalism.

  • The Philosophy of Doubt: Descartes and Hume.

  • Kant: A response to Hume. Topic 7: Introduction to Ethics.

  • Aristotle's 'Virtue Ethics'.

  • Kant's ethics: 'The Categorical Imperative'.

  • Bentham and Mill: 'Happiness and the Good Life'.

  • Nietzsche: 'Slave Morality'.

  • Freud and the Good Life.

  • Applied ethics: Any two of the following: Embryo Research, Just War Theory, Animal Rights, Prostitution, Just War Theory, Euthanasia, Capital Punishment, Abortion. 

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 2-hour lecture per week.
  • One 2-hour seminar per week.

Teaching and learning on Essex Pathways modules offers students the ability to develop the foundation knowledge, skills, and competencies to study at the undergraduate level, through a curriculum that is purposely designed to provide an exceptional learning experience. All teaching, learning and assessment materials will be available via Moodle in a consistent and user-friendly manner.

Lectures will introduce key philosophical concepts and the discussion following it will consider how these can be applied to current epistemological and ethical problems. Seminars will be used to foster students' critical thinking skills. Major themes, concepts and thinkers will be discussed and elaborated.

There is 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.

Learning support

Lecture notes and slides will be available every week via Moodle as well as additional materials Students will be supported in developing their essays, in enhancing their critical thinking skills through interactive activities such as debates and various thought experiments.


  • 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 Coursework weighting

Additional coursework information

Formative assessment

  • Guided source and reading activity to be completed in week 4. Reading summary (500 words) in week 8.

Summative assessment

  • Assignment 1 - Summary 
    The assignment will investigate basic epistemological ideas covered in the Autumn Term. It will aim to find out how well students have grasped the main ideas and thinking and how these could be applied to their thinking about knowledge. The assignment will feed forward to the second assignment in the Spring Term.
  • Assignment 2 - Essay 
    The aim is to submit an essay on a topic from the syllabus which will test the students’ ability to research a topic, collect sources, synthesize and critically evaluate them. It will aim to find out how well students have grasped the main ideas and thinking in epistemology and ethics and how these could be applied to current problems.
  • Group debates 
    The aim is to discuss, evaluate and quantify issues related to applied ethical topics and problems and to communicate in a professional manner in a debating forum. The assessment exposes students to important transferable skills such as teamwork, synthesizing data, the importance of finding and using evidence and general debating skills.

Reassessment strategy

  • Failed coursework - resubmit a piece of coursework (1,500 words) which will be marked as 100% of the new module mark. The reassessment task will enable the relevant learning outcomes to be met.

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
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

Ms Linda Hurley
University of Southampton
Senior Teaching Fellow
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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