Introducing central problems of western philosophy

Module details

Offered to 1st years
Tuesdays 16.00-18.00
8 weeks (autumn or spring term)
Non-credit only

How to enrol

What are the limits of human knowledge? What is the difference between knowledge and opinion? How is the mind related to the physical body? What is it to do the right thing and why should we even try? Are we free? Can a machine be conscious? What is the nature of Beauty?

These are some of the key questions that have puzzled philosophers and scientists for centuries, and each has spawned its own specific area of philosophical enquiry. In this short introductory module we will engage in a brief overview of some of the answers that have been proposed to these, and other, questions. Starting in the ancient world with Socrates’ inquiries about the nature of goodness and the difference between appearance and reality, the course of 8 lectures and discussions will address a different area of philosophical enquiry each week.

This structure is designed to give students a taster in a range of philosophical disciplines, such as ethics, epistemology, Aesthetics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science and political philosophy, introducing students not only to the roots and structure of these philosophical debates, but also giving a brief account of modern developments in philosophical thinking across a range of issues. The module can function as a stand-alone introduction to philosophy, or it can function as an introduction to the more specialised philosophical courses offered in subsequent years by the Imperial Horizons programme. 

Information blocks

Learning outcomes

A statue

  • Acquire the to discuss critically and articulate in a class philosophical concepts and problems
  • Develop the ability to identify between opinion and argument through class debate and peer and facilitator critique.
  • Integrate concepts using self-directed primary and secondary research using philosophical texts.
  • Demonstrate the ability to conduct self-directed research as evidenced by the production of a written philosophical essay.
  • Evaluate current curriculum provision and use digital tools to contribute to future curriculum development.

Indicative core content

  • Plato’s ‘theory of forms’ and his distinction between reality and appearance, and the way that this model shaped not only his moral theory, but also much subsequent thinking about mathematics and science being the discovery of truths that already exist in the abstract realm beyond appearances
  • Basic epistemological problems based around the reliability of the senses, and how such problems led Kant to develop the theory that informs so much modern thinking about knowledge
  • What is the nature of consciousness, or ‘mind’, and what is its relation to our physical bodies? We will explore the general structure of the mind/body problem and will look at some competing theories in this area of philosophy
  • Questions surrounding the possibility of artificial intelligence, and the degree to which certain conceptual questions about the nature of mind need to be settled before we can even begin to understand what an artificial intelligence might look like
  • Basic logical literacy and the difference between opinion and argument, induction and deduction, and an introduction to some of the basic logical fallacies
  • Is beauty simply in the eye of the beholder? What is it to say that something is beautiful? Is it to pick out features of objects such that we can say objectively that one object is more beautiful than another, or are all judgements of beauty merely expressions of subjective taste?
  • How ought we to live? Do we have moral obligations to help others or is our only obligation to the pursuit of our own happiness? 
  • Is there such a thing as human nature?



  • Essay analysing one of the topics addressed during the course (1500–2000 words). (80%) 
  • Class test on key concepts (20%)

Key information

  • ECTS value: 0
  • Requirements: You must be prepared to attend all classes and to spend about an hour a week preparing for each session
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 4 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"The lecturer was fantastic and made the course very interesting, there was just the right amount of discussion in class."
“Highlight of my week, every week.”
“Discussing in lectures works well and is helpful at getting to grips with philosophical concepts.”
"I like the small group discussion element of the lectures."
"Great module a good break from solely focusing on STEM and useful for developing necessary skills like essay writing that are not really the focus of my degree."