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A-Level Philosophy

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Why study Philosophy?

Exam board and specification codes: AQA, 7172

This specification has been designed to introduce students to the key methods and
concepts in philosophy through the study of four broad themes: epistemology,
philosophy of religion, ethics and philosophy of mind. Students develop and refine a
range of transferable skills, such as the ability to ask penetrating questions, to
analyse and evaluate the arguments of others and to present their own arguments
clearly and logically. Although the specification is arranged thematically, students
have access to an anthology providing the texts required for study. This gives all
students the opportunity to engage with a full philosophical texts and associated ideas.

What is covered by the course?

Year 1

Section A - Epistemology

Perception: What are the immediate objects of perception?
Direct realism: the immediate objects of perception are mind-independent objects
and their properties. Issues, including the argument from illusion, the argument from
perceptual variation (Russell’s table example), the argument from hallucination (the
possibility of experiences that are subjectively indistinguishable from veridical
perception), the time-lag argument. Indirect realism: the immediate objects of
perception are mind-dependent objects that are caused by and represent mind-
independent objects.

Section B - Moral Philosophy

Ethical theories: How do we decide what it is morally right to do? Utilitarianism: the
maximisation of utility. Kantian deontological ethics: what maxims can be
universalised without contradiction. Aristotle’s virtue ethics: the development of a
good character. Ethical language: What is the status of ethical language?

Assessment: 3hr written examination, 50% of A-level, 5 questions on Epistemology
and 5 questions on Moral philosophy. Short and a 15 mark question.

Year 2

Section A - Metaphysics of God

The concept of God: God as omniscient, omnipotent, supremely good, and either
timeless (eternal) or within time (everlasting) and the meaning/s of these divine
attributes. Issues with claiming that God has these attributes, either singly or in
combination, including: the paradox of the stone, the Euthyphro dilemma. The
compatibility, or otherwise, of the existence of an omniscient God and free human
beings. Arguments relating to the existence of God:  Ontological arguments,
including those formulated by: Anselm, Descartes, Leibniz, Malcolm, Plantinga.

Section B – Metaphysics of the Mind

Content summary: The mind-body problem: What is the relationship between the
mental and the physical? Dualism: the mind is distinct from the physical. The
indivisibility argument for substance dualism (Descartes). The ‘philosophical
zombies’ argument for property dualism: the logical possibility of a physical
duplicate of this world but without consciousness/qualia (Chalmers). The problem of
other minds for dualism: some forms of dualism make it impossible to know other
minds: threat of solipsism. Response: the argument from analogy (e.g. Mill).
Materialism: the mind is not ontologically distinct from the physical.
Assessment: 3hr written examination; 100 marks; 50% of A-Level. All questions are compulsory. Short questions and one essay question per section.

How should students prepare?

During the course students are given a textbook that covers everything they are
required to know for the exam. Additional articles are also distributed in order to
reinforce students’ knowledge.

Related university courses and careers

Students develop the following skills and abilities:

  • Logical and analytical thinking and reasoning
  • Problem-solving
  • Written and oral communication – presentation of ideas and information
  • Ability to interpret, condense and clarify information
  • Ability to formulate opinions and defend them in debate
  • Curiosity and lateral thinking
  • Ability to interpret and analyse a variety of different information
  • Willingness to debate any point

With further training Philosophy graduates could be suitable for careers in:

  • Journalism
  • Law
  • Social services
  • Business
  • Education
  • IT
  • Sciences
  • Citizens’ advice
  • Civil Service
  • Politics
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Art

Suggested reading


Section A

'Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous' (1713) by G. Berkeley
'Meditations on First Philosophy 1, 2, 3, 5, 6' (1641) by R. Descartes
'Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?' Analysis, 23 (6): 121–123 (1963) by E. Gettier
'An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding', Section 2 and Section 4 (1748) by D.

Section B

'Proslogium', Chapters II-IV by Anselm
'Summa Theologica', Part 1, Question 25, Article 3 by T. Aquinas
'Summa Theologica', Part 1, Question 2, Article 3 by T. Aquinas
'The Central Questions of Philosophy' (Penguin, 1973/1991) 22-29 by  A.J. Ayer

Section A

'Nicomachean Ethics'; Books 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10 by Aristotle
'The Central Questions of Philosophy' (Penguin, 1973/1991) 22-29 by  A.J. Ayer
'Language, Truth and Logic' (1946, Dover) esp. Chapters 1 and 6 by A.J. Ayer
'The Principle of Utility in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation' (1879, Oxford, Clarendon Press) by J. Bentham
'The Language of Morals' (1952, Oxford, Clarendon Press) by R.M. Hare

Section B

'Letter from Princess of Bohemia to Descartes in May 1643'
'Troubles with Functionalism in Readings in Philosophy of Psychology' (1980) by N.
'Consciousness and its Place in Nature in Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind'
(2003, Blackwell) by D. Chalmers


‘Epistemology and Moral philosophy’, AQA year 1
‘Metaphysics of God and Metaphysics of the mind’, AQA year 2

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