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AS/A PHILOSOPHY at Peter Symonds College

Course description

At AS level you will study two units. Each unit is made up of two key philosophical themes:

Unit One: An Introduction to Philosophy (1)

Reason and Experience
In this topic we examine where our knowledge comes from. Is all our knowledge gained, as the Empiricists argue, through the experiences we have in the world around us or could it be the case, as the Rationalists claim, that there are some things we can know innately (from birth)?

Why should I be governed?
This course raises fundamental questions about how free individuals become obliged to obey the laws of the state. It supports the work we go on to do at A2 in Political philosophy and covers questions concerning the basis of political obligation, consent and the justification of disobedience and dissent.

Unit Two: An Introduction to Philosophy (2)

The value of Art
It is clear that most of us value art (be it music, films or plays). This course explores some of the theories which attempt to account for what it is exactly about good art that we value. Do we value art because it represents the world around us? Do we value art because it expresses emotions or is the value of art wrapped up in the formal qualities of the work?

Free will and determinism
Are we really free? You may think you have chosen to read this information sheet out of your own free will; a conscious, unhindered free decision. Determinism says that given the set of conditions you find yourself in, you had absolutely no choice in the matter; your behaviour was determined and inevitable. This argument has serious implications for us making sense of our ability to make decisions and choices. It has an impact on our notions of praise and blame and punishment too.

Unit One and Unit Two are both examined in June.


At A2 Level we explore key themes and problems in more detail:

Unit Three: Key themes in Philosophy

Political Philosophy
This course raises philosophical questions concerning how human wellbeing can be advanced or hindered by the political organisation of society. We will consider differing conceptions of human nature and the purpose of the state by exploring the classical liberal state, the conservative conception of the state and the Marxist and Anarchist views of the state as an oppressor. We will study issues of Liberty, Rights, Justice and apply these concepts to the notion of nation state and relations between states. What does it mean to be free? Are there really any such things as human rights? Should we re-distribute our wealth in the name of justice? How should a political community be structured to enable appropriate functioning and flourishing citizens?

Moral philosophy
Are there moral truths? Can there be such a thing as an absolute “right” and “wrong”? Or is it all a matter of perspective? Is there no such thing as a moral truth? This course explores the alternative arguments and evaluates each position. We also look at how moral decisions are made: should we decide what to do in a moral dilemma by looking at the consequences of our behaviour alone? Or should we appeal to moral duties and principles to guide our actions? We will consider at least one practical ethical problem in our discussions, for instance abortion, euthanasia, our treatment of the environment, or animal rights.

Unit Four: Philosophical Problems
Plato’s Republic
In this unit we explore a series of philosophical problems raised in a classic text. The problems link to other areas of the course and you are expected to draw on your knowledge of the text to discuss the issues in a wider, whole course based context. Plato’s Republic is concerned with issues about the nature of morality, the nature of knowledge and the ideal form of political rule. We will read sections of the text and highlight the issues raised. This will form the basis of our discussion and subsequent evaluation of the arguments.

Entry requirements

5 GCSE’s at A* - C including Maths and English. We strongly advise a Grade B in GCSE English due to the complexity of the texts studied and the need for advanced essay writing skills. We don’t expect you to have studied any Philosophy before but any relevant reading that enhances your interest in the subject would be beneficial.

How to apply

If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact Peter Symonds College directly.

Last updated date: 20 May 2014

Key information

  • Start date: Next September
  • Duration: 1/2 years

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