Exploring developments in philosophy since the turn of the twentieth century

Module details

  • Offered to 3rd & 4th Years
  • Thursdays 16.00-18.00
  • South Kensington Campus 
  • 2 term module worth 7.5 ECTS
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This module is an opportunity for you to learn about crucial developments in philosophy since the turn of the twentieth century. The module will examine four schools of thought: pragmatism, logical positivism, phenomenology and structuralism/post-structuralism. The two main concerns will be the ‘linguistic turn’ in philosophy and the relationship between philosophy and other disciplines. Are philosophical problems genuine problems or merely confusions of language? And who today should be addressing questions about such things as consciousness, morality, art and mental illness – the philosopher, biologist, neuroscientist, psychologist, sociologist or a panel of experts? The aim throughout will be for students to develop an understanding of contemporary philosophical methods, which should allow them to make headway in thinking about a range of often baffling but always intriguing problems.

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

Contemporary Art

  • Arrive at an informed view of the relevance of philosophy to science students through class preparation and discussion.
  • Contribute to class discussion even where the problem exceeds your current understanding.
  • Demonstrate in class discussion sensitivity to differences between the skills of different scientific disciplines.
  • Synthesise and analyse texts and sources for deployment in written assignments and multiple-choice exam.
  • Produce written essays which go beyond critical summary to (relatively) mature defence of your own position.

Indicative core content

  • Language - The linguistic turn in twentieth-century philosophy, i.e. the turn away from problems of knowledge to problems of meaning. The relationship between formal theories of meaning and social practices. 
  • Problems of meaning - The pragmatist account of the difference between meaningful and meaningless statements. Peirce’s Maxim. The verificationist account of the difference between meaningful and meaningless statements. The verificationist principle. The structuralist account of signification. The principle of the arbitrariness of the sign. 
  • Philosophy, natural science and social studies - Differences between the pragmatist programmes of C. S. Peirce and William James. The social and psychological functions of religious belief, and how to assess unscientific claims. The relationship between verificationism and falsificationism, and how to assess unfalsifiable claims in human sciences. The phenomenological reduction and problems with descriptive particularism in the human sciences.
  • Assessing tradition - The specifically pragmatist assessment of the Cartesian philosophical tradition, which removes the subject of experience from the world of objects of experience. The specifically phenomenological assessment of the Cartesian philosophical tradition, which denies the possibility of direct experience of things as they are in themselves. Problems with the traditional distinction between analytic and synthetic statements.
  • Agency - Phenomenology and existential philosophy of the post-War period. Applications of structuralism in the human sciences and the difficulty of reconciling structure and agency.
  • Disciplinary boundaries - The relationship between neuroscience and philosophical accounts of the mind. The relationship between evolutionary biology and philosophical accounts of morality.


  • Essay: 2000-word essay answering a set question (25%) 
  • Examination: Multiple choice tests taken throughout module (35%)
  • Essay: 2000-word essay answering a question proposed by you (40%) 

Key information

  • Requirements: Students are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 2-3 hours of private study or reading each week in addition to the assessment
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 6 course.  See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Our discussions have been really excellent and have changed the way I think."
"This module is incredibly enjoyable, thought provoking and challenging. It's given me some interesting life skills in appreciation of the workings of the human mind."
"Definitely intellectually stimulating. Very good course content."
"I loved this module, it was a great change from what we usually do at imperial and a very stimulating subject, which was a starting point to many interesting thoughts and discussions outside class as well."