A Level Philosophy at King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford
Students will develop and refine a range of transferable skills, such as the ability to ask penetrating questions, analyse and critically evaluate the arguments of others, and present their own arguments clearly and logically. They will hone these skills through rigorously studying four large and important themes in Philosophy, and engaging with an anthology of primary philosophical sources from some of history’s greatest and most influential thinkers.
UNIT 1: Epistemology – The Study of Knowledge
- Knowledge – What is ‘knowledge’? Would a ‘lucky true belief’ count, and if not, why not? What is the nature of justification? Is there anything that I know beyond doubt?
- Perception – Do I perceive the world as it truly is? Or only as it seems to me? How can I distinguish dreams and hallucinations from reality? Can I ever truly affirm anything about the world beyond my mind, and if so, how?
- Concepts – From whence are all my concepts derived? Are any of them innate, or was I a ‘blank slate’ at birth? What are the relative roles of reason and experience in using concepts to express knowledge?
UNIT 2: Philosophy of Religion
- God’s Nature – If there is a God, what is God like? Are the divine attributes compatible with each other? For example, could an all-powerful God make a stone that he couldn’t lift? Do I truly have free will if God is all-knowing?
- God’s Existence – Can the existence of God be demonstrated through reflecting on the concept of God alone (Ontological Argument)? Or through reflecting on the evidence of the world (Design and Cosmological Arguments)? Can God’s existence be made compatible with the existence of evil?
- Religious Language – If people have no direct experience of God, what do they mean when they speak of God? How can religious language be considered ‘valid’? What does it mean to say that ‘God loves me’, for example?
UNIT 1: Philosophy of Mind.
- The Mind – What is the nature of my qualitative, introspective experience? Could machines be ‘minded’ or are minds unique to animals, or humans? To what extent is the mind private, and to what extent can it be studied?
- Dualism – Is my mind totally distinct from my body? Does it exist as a non-physical ‘soul’? If so, how does it interact with my body? And how can I know that others have minds, if I cannot experience them?
- Materialism – Is my mind reducible to a physical feature of mine, like my brain? If so, why do my thoughts seem to be so qualitatively special, unique and distinct? What is the neuroscientific evidence for this?
UNIT 2: Ethics
- Moral Truth – What does ‘that’s wrong’ or ‘you ought not do that’ really mean? How can we know if a moral judgement is correct or not? Are moral beliefs reflective of a moral reality, or simply the moral agent’s own mind?
- Teleological Approaches – Does the outcome determine the moral value of an act? Should I seek to maximise the happiness of others (Utilitarianism)? What if it conflicts with my own interests or moral sense? Should I seek to develop my moral character (Virtue Ethics)? If so, what are the most important virtues and why?
- Deontological Approaches – Is ethical activity duty orientated? Do rules determine the moral value of an act, and if so where do they come from? Should I do my duty irrespective of the consequences? What if two duties conflict?
The capacities to think clearly, to evaluate arguments, and to formulate your own justified opinion are vital. Being able to communicate your thoughts and develop an argument in precise and clear writing (under timed conditions) is a critical skill. It is recommended that students only take Philosophy if they have been successful in subjects like English, History and Religious Studies – as these subjects require the same sorts of thinking and writing skills. An enthusiasm for reflecting upon deeper questions and problems is certainly desirable, as is a willingness to engage in class debate and discussion.
There is one AS exam and one A2 exam, each lasting 3 hours. There are no January exams, or coursework units. Both exams comprise of many questions of varying lengths – the shortest essay questions are worth 2 marks (for definitionstyle answers), and the longest are worth 25 marks (for evaluative arguments).
Philosophy combines well with most subjects: it requires the logical precision of Mathematics, the articulation and analysis needed for other humanities subjects, and the issues covered overlap with History, Politics, Science, Economics and English. It trains students to argue clearly, to justify their points of views and to learn how to weigh up between different competing options – these are all essential skills for wider life and employment. Past pupils have reported that studying Philosophy A Level was useful preparation for a range of future degree courses other than Philosophy, including Medicine, Law, PPE – and, of course, the ‘cut-and-thrust’ of an academic interview, including those for Oxbridge.
How to apply
If you want to apply for this course, you will need to contact King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford directly.