PP2IDR1-Ignorance, Doubt, and Relativism 1

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: Prof John Preston

Email: j.m.preston@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module introduces students to a core area of philosophy – epistemology (the theory of knowledge), makes them familiar with key stances on the extent and nature of human knowledge (scepticism, empiricism, relativism, etc.), and requires them to evaluate such stances and find their place on the epistemological map.


This module encourages students to think about the extent and nature of knowledge in a characteristically philosophical way. It builds on earlier modules by putting into practice the skills of philosophical argument taught in Part 1. It informs students about historical and current debates in epistemology. It cultivates skills in oral and written argument. It encourages students to compare and contrast very different ways of approaching fundamental philosophical questions such as ‘What is knowledge?’, ‘What, if anything, can humans know?’, ‘What are the best ways of coming to know?’, ‘Is science knowledge?’ and ‘Is anything other than science really knowledge?’, ‘What is superstition?’.

Assessable learning outcomes:

Students will gain awareness of historical and contemporary perspectives on issues in epistemology, learn skills of argument and presentation, and understand in depth the very ideas of epistemology and methodology. Students will continue acquiring and developing their own skills of research and enquiry: they will design their own presentations, undertake research to produce coursework essays, and learn how to critically appraise what they discover. Finally, students will further develop their personal effectiveness and self-awareness: they will learn how to communicate effectively with a range of audiences (in one-to-one, seminars and lectures) using a range of means (speaking, summary-writing, essay-writing, presenting, designing slides), how to reflect on their progress, their strengths and weaknesses, their developing sense of the goals they wish to achieve.

Additional outcomes:

Students will develop the skills of understanding and evaluating very different sorts of claims to knowledge. They will develop an awareness of the factors (conceptual, evidential, contextual, social, etc.) which feature in the construction and evaluation of knowledge-claims. They will hone their ability to evaluate claims to the effect that assertions and skills of various kinds constitute knowledge, or are justified to some extent or other.

Outline content:

Topics covered on the module will typically include: philosophical scepticism; the extent of human knowledge and justified belief; empiricist and non-empiricist conceptions of knowledge; claims about different ways of coming to know; perception and perceptual knowledge; epistemological relativism.

Global context:

The module will help students evaluate media claims and counter-claims about and on behalf of experts, and about ‘alternative facts’.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars. All students are required to write two essays from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor and to give one seminar presentation. In addition, in weeks in which a student is not giving a presentation, they will be required to write a short précis of the topic for discussion at a given seminar class. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the module.

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 30
Oral assessment and presentation 10
Class test administered by School 60

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

1 x 10% oral presentation, 1 x 30% written assignment, 1 x 60% in-class test

Formative assessment methods:

Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class in which they are not doing a presentation. Some lectures may involve quizzes. And there will be a set exercise, in class, that will test students’ knowledge of the whole module, towards the end of term.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (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 the Summer term

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 17 September 2018


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