Philosophy & the Human Sciences
Explaining and understanding human behaviour
- Offered to 2nd Years
- Mondays 16.00-18.00
- Planned delivery: On campus (South Kensington)
- 2-term module worth 5 ECTS
- Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
- Extra Credit, or Degree Credit where your department allows
This module explores philosophical problems that surround attempts in psychology, sociology, anthropology and other ‘human sciences’ to understand and explain human behaviour. We will begin with the age-old philosophical problem of free will, asking whether it is possible to bring our individual actions and cultural practices within the scope of a theory of mind or society.
Examples in the weeks that follow will include apparently irrational beliefs in other cultures, aesthetic and moral value judgments, mental ill health, deviant behaviour and the nature and binding force of social norms. This is an interdisciplinary module in which you will be encouraged to question your own assumptions about what makes us tick.
On successful completion of this module, you will be able to:
- Critically examine empirical studies of human behaviour and understanding.
- Compare and contrast different philosophical approaches to explaining human behaviour.
- Exercise critical awareness of the arguments for and against social science.
- Integrate concepts which link philosophy and your degree discipline.
Indicative core content
The free will problem
Anscombe’s analysis of the concept of intention
Austin's discovery of 'ordinary' actions
Durkheim’s ‘first and most basic rule of sociological method’, to ‘consider social facts as things’
Malinowski’s call to consider forms of life ‘from the native’s point of view’
Value as an anthropological problem, as seen e.g. in Malinowski’s study of the Kula ring
Evans-Pritchard’s account of witchcraft among the Azande
Bourdieu’s sociology of taste
Freud’s economic, topographical and structural models of the minds, and his approach to explaining neurotic illness
Irving Goffman’s studies of the ‘interaction order’ of everyday activities
Harold Garfinkel’s studies of participants’ order-production methods
Debates surrounding cultural relativism and rationality
The regress problem of Wittgenstein’s remarks on rules and rule-following, and Peter Winch’s Wittgensteinian critique of ‘the idea of a social science’
The problem of making ‘knowledge-how’ (Gilbert Ryle) or ‘tacit knowledge’ (Polyani) propositionally explicit
The ‘strong programme’ in the sociology of knowledge
The problem of ambiguity in the human sciences as between a deed repeatedly done and the doing of it on a particular occasion
The problem of the reflexivity of the human sciences
Learning and teaching approach
- A virtual learning environment, podcasts (e.g. Philosophy Bites, In Our Time, etc.) and videos (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo).
- Recordings will be made of presentation from the module leader. Note, however, that recordings cannot be made of discussion activities, which will constitute a major component of the module.
- Coursework: 2000-word essay due at the end of term 1 (40%)
This assessment has a lower weighting than the later essay of the same length, as it comes early in the module and you may not have much experience in the subject
- Coursework: 2000-word essay due at the end of term 2 (60%)
This assessment has a higher weighting than the prior essay of the same length because it comes at the end of the module and so it will better evaluate your summative learning
- Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
- This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 module. For an explanation of levels, view the Imperial Horizons Level Descriptors page.