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:
Module version for: 2016/7

Module Convenor: Prof David Oderberg

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

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:

• Does reality even exist outside our own minds?
• Is reality only what science tells us? Or is there more?
• What is causation, the ‘glue’ that holds reality together? Maybe it isn’t a real phenomenon?
• What are space and time?
• Is everything that exists material? Is physics the real truth about reality? What, if any, are the problems with materialism and/or physicalism?
• Is there a fundamental distinction between the living and non-living?
• What is it to be a person?
• Does the universe need an explanation? If so, must the explanation lie outside the universe?


Required readings will be posted online.


S. Mumford, Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction, OUP 2012.

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:

• Scepticism old and new: does mind-independent reality exist?
• Science and scientism
• Causation and its analysis
• The nature of space and time
• Materialism and physicalism
• The nature of life; the distinction, if any, between the living and the non-living
• The nature of personhood
• 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 50
Oral assessment and presentation 50

Other information on summative assessment:

Formative assessment methods:
Students will have to write a short report on each topic covered, demonstrating both understanding of the topic and an ability to evaluate one or more key arguments. Feedback will involve brief, written comments.

Penalties for late submission:

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

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:
    A mark of 40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:
    A one hour test consisting of two short essays on set questions.

    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 January 2017

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