PP1RBQ-Reality: The Big Questions

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Summer term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Prof David Oderberg

Email: d.s.oderberg@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

We look at some of the fundamental questions about the nature of reality, questions no scientist can answer. Here are some of our big questions:

  • What is it to be a person? What it is to be the same person over time?

  • Is everything that happens always going to happen by fate? Is the future as fixed as the past?

  • What is it to be a material object? What puzzles surround the idea of material constitution?

  • Do we have free will, or is determinism true?

  • Does the universe need an explanation? If so, must the explanation lie outside the universe?


To introduce students to some of the perennial ‘big questions’ of philosophy, particularly concerning the nature of reality itself. By examining these questions in depth, students will develop skills of critical analysis and argumentation at a high level, skills that can be applied to other disciplines. Through examining our assumptions about the world and subjecting our presuppositions to scrutiny, students will learn to see the difference between opinion and reasoned argument. They will learn to reflect deeply on questions that sometimes seem easy to answer but are in fact profound and challenging to our view of the world. The development of high-level analytical skills will be enhanced through vigorous class discussion and coursework assignments.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module you will have:

  • gained an in-depth understanding of some of the central philosophical questions about the nature of reality

  • be able critically to expound and evaluate some of the most important metaphysical theories about the fundamental structure and character of our world

  • an understanding of the difference between a scientific question and a philosophical question

  • an appreciation of the necessity of philosophy as a foundation both for science and for ordinary thinking about the world

  • gained skills in the analysis and evaluation of philosophical argument

  • an understanding of the difference between reasoned argument and mere opinion or assumption.

Additional outcomes:

Development of a solid foundation for more advanced philosophical study, particularly in the areas of metaphysics and philosophy of science

Outline content:

Topics to be taught will be selected from some or all of the following:

  • The problem of material constitution

  • The problem of fatalism

  • Free will and determinism

  • The nature of personhood and personal identity

  • The explanation of the universe; why is there something rather than nothing?

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Teaching will be by means of lectures and seminars, including intensive class discussion. We will look at key texts on each topic, subjecting them to critical analysis and evaluation, and using them as starting points for further debate and discussion.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 5
Guided independent study 85
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Formative assessment methods:

Students will debate a topic each week, in small groups, exercising their argumentative and presentation skills.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

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

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Written assignment, to be completed in August

    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: 6 March 2018

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