PP1ML-The Meaning of Life

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Dr Luke Elson

Email: luke.elson@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

What is the meaning of life? This is perhaps the most important philosophical question we can ask. What is the answer? Indeed, what is the question really asking? In this module, we seek the answers. Along the way, we will consider a series of fascinating questions which promise to enlighten our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world. What makes life worth living? Does evolution render life meaningless? Is there no reason to fear death? Could life in artificial reality be more meaningful than life in the real world? This module investigates diverse philosophical answers to these questions, as well as drawing from fields such as Health care, Psychology, and biology. 


Required readings will be posted online.


Students will gain an understanding of different perspectives on the meaning of life. A mix of lectures, guest speakers, class discussions, online content, assignments, feedback and structured reading will be used to enable you to reflectively and critically engage with these perspectives. In discussions and in your assignments, you will have the chance to develop, explain and defend your own understanding of the meaning of life. The ideas you engage with on this course provide an excellent introduction to many foundational issues across many topics in philosophy, as they include important topics in Ethics, Biomedical Ethics, Philosophy of Religion, Political Philosophy, and many others. Moreover, the ideas you engage with in this course, and the reflective and critical thinking skills you develop in the process, will be important not just in your other modules, but throughout the rest of your life!

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module you will:

  • Understand a variety of perspectives on the meaning of life, including perspectives from outside of philosophy and from different philosophical traditions.

  • Understand a number of foundational topics in philosophy and particularly value theory.

  • Be able to identify and critically engage with different perspectives on the meaning of life.

  • Have developed your ability to locate, assemble, and analyse information on the subject through your own research, using a variety of sources.

  • Have developed your ability to organize material and articulate arguments effectively, both orally and in writing.

  • Have developed your ability to work effectively in groups to research and present collective findings using appropriate technologies. 

Additional outcomes:

The module aims to:

  • Develop critical and reflective thinking skills.

  • Develop independent study skills such as use and selection of sources.

  • Develop an awareness of virtues of collaborating across disciplinary boundaries through encountering the ways that philosophical ideas play a role in many areas such as psychology and medicine, and the ways that input from other fields can help us make progress in answering philosophical questions. 

Outline content:

This module addresses the issue of the meaning of life from a number of different perspectives. We will begin by considering some of the different ways we might interpret the question before moving on to consider a series of answers. All discussion will be grounded in real world examples and issues.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Each week, there will be a two-hour lecture and a one hour seminar. The lecture will primarily consist of a powerpoint-based presentation from the module convenor, but will also include other activities such as quizzes, surveys, open discussion, and group work. The seminars will primarily involve group-led discussion based upon the required and further readings and any further materials provided in the seminar or lecture. Students will each be required to provide an oral presentation in the seminars. 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 20
Seminars 10
Guided independent study 170
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 70
Oral assessment and presentation 20
Class test administered by School 10

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Essay 1: 30%

Essay 2: 40%

The class test will be administered in the last lecture of term. 

Formative assessment methods:

  • Online activities (e.g. quizzes, short writing assignments, surveys)

  • Peer assessment of essay plans. 

Penalties for late submission:

Penalties for late submission will be in accordance with University policy.

Assessment requirements for a pass:
A mark of 40% overall.

Reassessment arrangements:

Written assignment.

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
1) Required text books:
2) Specialist equipment or materials:
3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
4) Printing and binding:
5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

Last updated: 30 August 2018


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