Skip to content ↓

A level Philosophy Years 12 & 13

Specification

AQA - The specification and assessment structure can be found at the link: https://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/philosophy/as-and-a-level/philosophy-7172

The philosophy specification asks these questions:

  • What can we know?
  • Can the existence of God be proved?
  • How do we make moral decisions?
  • Are my mind and body separate?

These questions are fundamental and the material covered in the specification not only provides students with a good understanding of how these debates have, so far, been framed, but also acts as a springboard for consideration and discussion of students’ own ideas.

The range of question types for the A Level ensures that students are assessed across a core of important philosophical skills. Short-tariff items assess the students’ accuracy and precision; longer-tariff items assess their ability to articulate a particular argument in a clear and concise way; and open-ended writing tasks assess their ability to construct and evaluate arguments. The course has been designed to enable students to gain a thorough grounding in key philosophical concepts, themes, texts and techniques. Students will develop a range of transferable skills which can be applied far beyond the study of Philosophy.

Prior Learning

Candidates for A Level Philosophy should have three Grade 7s at GCSE including English.

Year 12 Course Content:

  1. Epistemology
  2. Moral Philosophy

Year 13 Course Content:

  1. Metaphysics of God
  2. Metaphysics of Mind

Examinations

There will be two 3 hour examinations at the end of Year 13.

Paper 1:  Epistemology and Moral Philosophy.  There will be 5 questions on each topic.

Paper 2:  Metaphysic of Mind.  There will be 5 questions on each topic.

Year 12

  Topic Further details about the topic Skills

Autumn Term

1

Epistemology

Moral philosophy

Epistemology - What is knowledge?

The distinction between acquaintance knowledge, ability knowledge and propositional knowledge.

The nature of definition (including Linda Zagzebski) and how propositional knowledge may be analysed/defined.

The tripartite view - Propositional knowledge is defined as justified true belief: S knows that p if and only if:

  1. S is justified in believing that p

  2. p is true and

  3. S believes that p (individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions).

Issues with the tripartite view including:

  • the conditions are not individually necessary

  • the conditions are not sufficient - cases of lucky true beliefs (including Edmund Gettier’s original two counter examples)

Responses: alternative post-Gettier analyses/definitions of knowledge including:

  • strengthen the justification condition (ie infallibilism)

  • add a 'no false lemmas' condition (J+T+B+N)

  • replace 'justified' with 'reliably formed' (R+T+B) (ie reliabilism)

  • replace 'justified' with an account of epistemic virtue (V+T+B).

Moral philosophy  - Normative ethical theories

Utilitarianism -  The question of what is meant by 'utility' and 'maximising utility', including:

  • Jeremy Bentham's quantitative hedonistic utilitarianism (his utility calculus)

  • John Stuart Mill’s qualitative hedonistic utilitarianism (higher and lower pleasures) and his ‘proof’ of the greatest happiness principle,

  • non-hedonistic utilitarianism (including preference utilitarianism)

  • act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.

Issues including:

  • whether pleasure is the only good (Nozick’s experience machine)

  • fairness and individual liberty/rights (including the risk of the ‘tyranny of the majority’)

  • problems with calculation (including      which beings to include)

  • issues around partiality

  • whether utilitarianism ignores both the moral integrity and the intentions of the individual.

  • consider and develop an understanding of the ways in which philosophers have engaged with traditional philosophical issues and philosophical approaches to problems, through the detailed study of the arguments of philosophers in identified texts.

  • develop an understanding of the core concepts of philosophy and begin to develop their own skill of conceptual analysis, through the study of the ways in which philosophers have analysed concepts and have, through conceptual analysis, identified subtle differences which have a wider impact on philosophical arguments.

  • develop their ability to identify argument forms, and analyse and evaluate arguments appropriately, through the study of the ways in which philosophers have analysed and evaluated the soundness of arguments by considering the validity of the argument and/or the truth of the premises.

  • develop and refine their ability to identify and distinguish argument within a source/text, ask thoughtful, relevant and penetrating questions; analyse and evaluate arguments of others, and present and defend their own arguments clearly, logically and cogently.

  • develop and refine their writing skills, demonstrating the ability to be precise, concise and accurate, correctly using the technical vocabulary of philosophy.

2

Epistemology

Moral philosophy

Epistemology - Perception as a source of knowledge

Direct realism

The immediate objects of perception are mind-independent objects and their properties.  Issues including:

  • the argument from illusion

  • the argument from perceptual variation

  • the argument from hallucination

  • the time-lag argument

  • and responses to these issues.

Indirect realism - The immediate objects of perception are mind-dependent objects (sense-data) that are caused by and represent mind-independent objects.

John Locke's primary/secondary quality distinction. Issues including:

  • the argument that it leads to scepticism about the existence of mind-independent objects.

Responses including:

  • Locke's argument from the involuntary nature of our experience

  • the argument from the coherence of various kinds of experience, as developed by Locke and Catharine Trotter Cockburn (attrib)

  • Bertrand Russell's response that the external world is the 'best hypothesis'

  • The argument from George Berkeley that we cannot know the nature of mind-independent objects because mind-dependent ideas cannot be like mind-independent objects.

Berkeley's idealism -The immediate objects of perception (ie ordinary objects such as tables, chairs, etc) are mind-dependent objects. Arguments for idealism including Berkeley's attack on the primary/secondary quality distinction and his 'Master' argument.

Issues including:

  • arguments from illusion and hallucination

  • idealism leads to solipsism

  • problems with the role played by God in Berkeley’s Idealism (including how can Berkeley claim that our ideas exist within God's mind given that he believes that God cannot feel pain or have sensations?) and responses to these issues

Moral philosophy  - Kantian deontological ethics

Immanuel Kant’s account of what is meant by a ‘good will’.

The distinction between acting in accordance with duty and acting out of duty.

The distinction between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives.

The first formulation of the categorical imperative (including the distinction between a contradiction in conception and a contradiction in will).

The second formulation of the categorical imperative.

Issues including:

  • clashing/competing duties

  • not all universalisable maxims are distinctly moral; not all non-universalisable maxims are immoral

  • the view that consequences of actions determine their moral value 

  • Kant ignores the value of certain motives, eg love, friendship, kindness

  • morality is a system of hypothetical, rather than categorical, imperatives (Philippa Foot).

As above

Spring Term

1

Epistemology

Moral philosophy

Epistemology - Reason as a source of knowledge.

Innatism

Arguments from Plato (ie the 'slave boy' argument) and Gottfried Leibniz (ie his argument based on necessary truths).

Empiricist responses including:

  • Locke's arguments against innatism

  • the mind as a 'tabula rasa' (the nature of impressions and ideas, simple and complex concepts)

  • and issues with these responses.

Moral philosophy - Aristotelian virtue ethics

    ‘The good’ for human beings: the meaning of Eudaimonia as the ‘final end’ and the relationship between Eudaimonia and pleasure.

The function argument and the relationship between virtues and function.     

Aristotle’s account of virtues and vices: virtues as character traits/dispositions; the role of education/habituation in the development of a moral character; the skill analogy; the importance of feelings; the doctrine of the mean and its application to particular virtues.

Moral responsibility: voluntary, involuntary and non-voluntary actions.

The relationship between virtues, actions and reasons and the role of practical reasoning/practical wisdom. Issues including:

  • whether Aristotelian virtue ethics can give sufficiently clear guidance about how to act

  • clashing/competing virtues

  • the possibility of circularity involved in defining virtuous acts and virtuous persons in terms of each other

  • whether a trait must contribute to Eudaimonia in order to be a virtue; the relationship between the good for the individual and moral good.

as above

2

Epistemology

Moral philosophy

Epistemology- The intuition and deduction Thesis

The meaning of ‘intuition’ and ‘deduction’ and the distinction between them.

René Descartes’ notion of ‘clear and distinct ideas’. His cogito as an example of a priori intuition.  His arguments for the existence of God and his proof of the external world as examples of a priori deductions.

Empiricist responses including:

  • responses to Descartes' cogito

  • responses to Descartes’ arguments for the existence of God and his proof of the external world (including how Hume’s Fork might be applied to these arguments)

  •  and issues with these responses

Moral philosophy - Applied ethics

Students must be able to apply the content of Normative ethical theories and Meta-ethics to the following issues:

  • stealing

  • simulated killing (within computer games, plays, films etc)

  • eating animals

  • telling lies.

Meta-ethics

The origins of moral principles: reason, emotion/attitudes, or society.

The distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism about ethical language

As above

Summer Term

1

Epistemology

Moral philosophy

Epistemology - The limits of knowledge

Particular nature of philosophical scepticism and the distinction between philosophical scepticism and normal incredulity.

The role/function of philosophical scepticism within epistemology.

The distinction between local and global scepticism and the (possible) global application of philosophical scepticism.

Descartes’ sceptical arguments (the three ‘waves of doubt’).

Responses to scepticism: the application of the following as responses to the challenge of scepticism:

  • Descartes' own response

  • empiricist responses (Locke, Berkeley and Russell)

  • reliabilism

Moral philosophy - Moral anti-realism

There are no mind-independent moral properties/facts.

  • error theory (cognitivist) - Mackie

  • emotivism (non-cognitivist) – Ayer

  • prescriptivism (non-cognitivist) – Richard Hare.

Issues that may arise for the theories above, including:

  • whether anti-realism can account for how we use moral language, including moral reasoning, persuading, disagreeing etc.

  • the problem of accounting for moral progress

  • whether anti-realism becomes moral nihilism.

As above

2

 

Epistemology

Moral philosophy

Internal Exams: AS Philosophy.

 

Assessment objectives (AOs) are set by Ofqual and are the same across all AS Philosophy specifications and all exam boards. The exams will measure how students have achieved the following assessment objectives.

AO1: Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the core concepts and methods of philosophy, including through the use of philosophical analysis.

AO2: Analyse and evaluate philosophical arguments to form reasoned judgements

Revision, review & exam technique and past papers.

Year 13

  Topic Further details about the topic Skills
Autumn Term
1

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Section A: Ethics.  Ethical theories: How do we decide what it is morally right to do?

Utilitarianism: the maximisation of utility, including:

  • the question of what is meant by ‘pleasure’, including Mill’s higher and lower pleasures
  • how this might be calculated, including Bentham’s utility calculus
  • forms of utilitarianism: act and rule utilitarianism; preference utilitarianism

Issues, including:

  • individual liberty/rights
  • problems with calculation
  • the possible value of certain motives (eg the desire to do good) and character of the person doing the action.
  • the possible moral status of particular relationships (family/friendship) we may have with others.

Section B: Philosophy of Mind. The mind–body problem: What is the relationship between the mental and the physical?

Dualism: the mind is distinct from the physical. The indivisibility argument for substance dualism (Descartes).  Issues, including:

  • the mental is divisible in some sense.
  • not everything thought of as physical is divisible.

The conceivability argument for substance dualism: the logical possibility of mental substance existing without the physical (Descartes).  Issues, including:

  • mind without body is not conceivable.
  • what is conceivable may not be possible.
  • what is logically possible tells us nothing about reality.

Assessment Objectives:

AO1 - Demonstrate understanding of the core concepts and methods of

Philosophy.

AO2- Analyse and evaluate philosophical argument to form reasoned judgements.

2

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Section A: Ethics

Kantian deontological ethics: what maxims can be universalised without contradiction, including:

  • the categorical and hypothetical Imperatives.
  • the categorical imperative – first and second formulations.

Issues, including:

  • the intuition that consequences of actions determine their moral value(independent of considerations of universalisability).
  • problems with application of the Principle.
  • the possible value of certain motives (eg the desire to do good) and commitments (eg those we have to family and friends).
  • clashing/competing duties.

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

The ‘philosophical zombies’ argument for property dualism: the logical possibility of a physical duplicate of this world but without consciousness/qualia (Chalmers).  Issues, including:

  • a ‘zombie’ world is not conceivable.
  • what is conceivable is not possible.
  • what is logically possible tells us nothing about reality.

The ‘knowledge’/Mary argument for property dualism based on qualia (Frank Jackson).

Qualia as introspectively accessible subjective/phenomenal features of mental states (the properties of ‘what it is like’ to undergo the mental state in question) – for many qualia would be defined as the intrinsic/non-representational properties of mental states.  Issues, including:

  • Mary gains no new propositional knowledge (but gains  acquaintance knowledge or ability knowledge)
  • all physical knowledge would include knowledge of qualia there is more than one way of knowing the same physical fact
  • qualia (as defined) do not exist and so Mary gains no propositional knowledge.

The issues of causal interaction for versions of dualism:

  • the problems facing interactionist dualism, including conceptual and empirical causation issues
  • the problems facing epiphenomenalist dualism, including the causal redundancy of the mental, the argument from introspection and issues relating to free will and responsibility.

The problem of other minds for dualism:

  • some forms of dualism make it impossible to know other minds
  • threat of solipsism.

Response: the argument from analogy eg Mill

As above

Spring Term
1

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Section A: Ethics

Aristotle’s virtue ethics: the development of a good character, including:

  • ‘the good’: pleasure; the function argument and eudaimonia
  • the role of education/habituation in developing a moral character
  • voluntary and involuntary actions and moral responsibility
  • the doctrine of the mean and Aristotle’s account of vices and virtues.

Issues, including:

  • can it give sufficiently clear guidance about how to act?
  • clashing/competing virtues
  • the possibility of circularity involved in defining virtuous acts and virtuous people in terms of each other. Students must be able to critically apply the theories above to the following issues:
  • crime and punishment
  • war
  • simulated killing (within computer games, plays, films, etc)
  • the treatment of animals
  • deception and the telling of lies.

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Materialism: the mind is not ontologically distinct from the physical.

Logical/analytical behaviourism: all statements about mental states can be analytically reduced without loss of meaning to statements about behaviour (an ‘analytic’ reduction).  Issues, including:

  • dualist arguments (above)
  • issues defining mental states satisfactorily (circularity and the multiple realisability of mental states in behaviour)
  • the conceivability of mental states without associated behaviour (Putnam’s super-Spartans)
  • the asymmetry between self-knowledge and knowledge of other people’s mental states.

Mind–brain type identity theory:

  • all mental states are identical to brain states (‘ontological’ reduction) although ‘mental state’ and ‘brain state’ are not synonymous (so not an ‘analytic’ reduction).

Issues, including:

  • dualist arguments (above)
  • issues with providing the type identities (the multiple realisability of mental states)
  • the location problem: brain states have precise spatial locations which thoughts lack.

As above

2

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Section A: Ethics

Ethical language: What is the status of ethical language?

Cognitivism: ethical language makes claims about reality which are true or false (fact-stating).

  • moral realism: ethical language makes claims about mind-independent reality that are true
  • ethical naturalism (eg utilitarianism
  • ethical non-naturalism (eg intuitionism)
  • error theory: ethical language makes claims about mind-independent reality that are false (eg Mackie’s argument from queerness).

Non-cognitivism: ethical language does not make claims about reality which are true or false (fact-stating)

  • emotivism: ethical language expresses emotions (Hume and Ayer)
  • prescriptivism: ethical language makes recommendations about action (Hare).

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Functionalism: all mental states can be reduced to functional roles which can be multiply realised.  Issues, including:

  • the possibility of a functional duplicate with different qualia (inverted qualia).
  • the possibility of a functional duplicate with no qualia (Block’s ‘Chinese mind’).
  • the ‘knowledge’/Mary argument can be applied to functional facts (no amount of facts about function suffices to explain qualia).

Eliminative materialism: some or all mental states do not exist (folk-psychology is false or at least radically misleading).  Issues, including:

  • the intuitive certainty of the existence of my mind takes priority over other considerations
  • folk-psychology has good predictive and explanatory power
  • the articulation of eliminative materialism as a theory is self-refuting.

As above

Summer Term
1

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Revision, Review, Exam prep, exam techniques.

As above

Assessments

Resources Topic Type of assessment
CAT 1

1. Epistemology

2. Moral philosophy

Test essays – internal assessment, time limited essay in class
CAT 2

1. Epistemology

2. Moral philosophy

Test essays – internal assessment, time limited essay in class
CAT 3

1. Epistemology

2. Moral philosophy

End of Year Examination

CAT 4

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Test essays – internal assessment, time limited essay in class
CAT 5

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

Test essays – internal assessment, time limited essay in class
CAT 6

Section A: Ethics

Section B: Philosophy of Mind

End of Year Examination

Main Resources

Resource Details Term
Text books

Philosophy for A2, by Michael Lacewing. Publisher: Routledge.

Epistemology Set texts
  • Berkeley, George (1713), Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous
  • Descartes, René (1641), Meditations on First Philosophy, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6
  • Gettier, Edmund (1963), ‘Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?’ Analysis, 23(6): 121–123
  • Hume, David (1748), An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section 2 and Section 4 (part 1)
  • Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm (1705), New Essays on Human Understanding, Preface and Book 1
  • Locke, John (1690), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 1 (esp. Chapter 2), Book 2 (esp. Chapters 1, 2, 8 and 14), Book 4 (esp. Chapter 11)
  • Plato, Meno, from 81e
  • Russell, Bertrand (1912), The Problems of Philosophy, Chapters 1, 2
  • Trotter Cockburn, Catharine (1732), (attrib) ‘A Letter from an anonymous writer to the author of the Minute Philosopher’ Appendix to G Berkeley Theory of Vision Vindicated and Explained
  • Zagzebski, Linda (1999), ‘What is Knowledge?’ in John Greco & Ernest Sosa (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to Epistemology 92–116
Moral Philosophy Set texts
  • Annas, Julia (2006), 'Virtue Ethics', in David Copp (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 515–536)
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Books 1 (1–5, 7–10, 13), 2 (1–7), 3 (1–5), 5, 6 (1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 12, 13), 7 (12–13), 10 (1–8)
  • Ayer, Alfred J (1973/1991), The Central Questions of Philosophy, London, Penguin, 22–29 and Ayer, A J (1946), Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd Edition, New York, Dover, (esp. Chapters 1 and 6)
  • Bentham, Jeremy (1789), Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Oxford, Clarendon Press. Chapter 1 (The Principle of Utility) and Chapter 4 (Measuring Pleasure and Pain)
  • Diamond, Cora (1978), ‘Eating Meat and Eating People’ Philosophy 53: 465–479
  • Foot, Philippa (1972), ‘Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives.’ Philosophical Review, vol 81, issue 3, 305–316.
  • Hare, Richard M (1952) The Language of Morals, Chapters 1, 5, 7, 10.2
  • Hume, David (1739–40), Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part 1
  • Kant, Immanuel (1785), Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Chapters 1 and 2
  • Mackie, John L (1977). Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, Penguin, Chapter 1, Sections 8 and 9
  • Mill, John Stuart (1863), Utilitarianism, Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5
  • Moore, George E (1903), Principia Ethica, Cambridge University Press, Sections 6–14
  • Smart, Jack J C & Williams, Bernard (1973), Utilitarianism: For and Against, Chapter 2 (Act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism) and Chapter 3 (Hedonistic and non-hedonistic utilitarianism)
Philosophy of Mind
  • Letter from Princess of Bohemia to Descartes in May 1643
  • Block, N (1980), ‘Troubles with functionalism’ in Readings in Philosophy of Psychology
  • Volume 1, Harvard University Press, 275–278 – section 1.2
  • Chalmers, D (2003), ‘Consciousness and its place in nature’ in Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Mind, Blackwell
  • Churchland, PM (1981), ‘Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes’, Journal of Philosophy 78, 67–90 (Section 2 Why folk psychology might (really) be false)
  • Descartes, R (1641), Meditations on First Philosophy, 6 (expressed without reference to God)
  • Jackson, F (1982), ‘Epiphenomenal Qualia’, Philosophical Quarterly 32, 127–136
  • Jackson, F (1986), ‘What Mary Didn’t Know’, Journal of Philosophy 83, 291–295
  • Jackson, F (1995), ‘Postscript on “What Mary didn’t know”’, in Moser, P and J Trout (1995),
  • Contemporary Materialism, London, Routledge, 184–189
  • Jackson, F (1998), ‘Postscript on Qualia’, in Mind, Methods and Conditionals, London, Routledge.
  • Putnam, H (1967) Psychological predicates, in WH Capitan and DD Merrill (eds.), Art, Mind, and Religion, University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Ryle, G (1949/2000) The Concept of Mind, London, Penguin Classics edition (introduction by Daniel Dennett)
  • Smart, JJC (1959) ‘Sensations and brain processes’, The Philosophical Review, 68 (2), 141–156.
Ethics
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Books 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10
  • Ayer, AJ (1973/1991), The Central Questions of Philosophy, London, Penguin, 22–29
  • Ayer, AJ (1946), Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd Edition, New York, Dover, (esp. Chapters 1 and 6)
  • Bentham, J (1879), ‘The Principle of Utility’ in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Oxford, Clarendon Press
  • Hare, RM (1952), The Language of Morals, Oxford, Clarendon Press, (for Prescriptivism)
  • Hume, D (1739–40), Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, Part 1 (for Emotivism)
  • Kant, I (1785) Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
  • Mackie, JL (1990), ‘The Argument from Queerness in Ethics’ Inventing Right and Wrong, Penguin
  • Mill, JS (1863), Utilitarianism
  • Moore, GE (1903), Principia Ethica, Cambridge University Press
  • Rachels, J (1993), The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill (on Kant)
  • Warnock, GJ (1967) Contemporary Moral Philosophy, New Studies In Ethics, (Intuitionism, Emotivism, Prescriptivism) Macmillan – Chapters 1, 3 and 4
All

Recommended Reading

How to Write Ethics & Philosophy Essays by Peter Baron & Brian Poxon.

The Problems of Philosophy. (Kindle Edition) by Bertrand Russell.

Meditations on First Philosophy, by Rene Descartes.

The Republic by Plato.

Descartes: A Very Short Introduction, by Tom Sorrell.

Lo> by John Dunn.

Hume: A Very Short Introduction by Alfred Ayer.

Nietzsche: A Very Short Introduction  by Michael Tanner.

Language, Truth and Logic  by  A. J. Ayer

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus” by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

All
Recommended websites

Royal Institute of Philosophy  

The Window: Philosophy on the Internet
 Guide to Philosophy on the Internet

The Guardian Philosophy and Ethics Links

Answers Encyclopedia
Philosophy Experiments

 
Equipment

Course File

Practical clothing

All

Enrichment opportunities

   
   

Where Next