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2023/24 Taught Postgraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL5960M Topics in the Philosophy of Biology

30 creditsClass Size: 30

Module manager: Dr Kal Kalewold

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

This module is mutually exclusive with

PHIL2600Philosophical Issues in Biology
PHIL2611How Biology Works
PHIL3320Philosophy of Biology

This module is not approved as an Elective

Module summary

This module supports students to deepen their understanding of the living world and the science that studies it. The module will introduce students to some important conceptual issues surrounding controversial biological concepts, such as race, disease, and gene. We will evaluate arguments concerning those concepts and their far-reaching social consequences. We will also evaluate some controversial biological methodologies, such as adaptationism, and look at the role played by values in shaping biological theory.


The module is designed to teach a critical understanding of philosophical issues concerning the nature and status of biological science and of a selection of the concepts utilised by that science.

Learning outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students should have acquired

1. Advanced knowledge and understanding of issues in the Philosophy of Biological Science.

2. Advanced skills of engagement with complex and varied material.

3. Ability to develop and produce a critical and nuanced written account of relevant material, identifying areas for further research and drawing on material from a range of relevant sources.

4. Ability to work independently, making appropriate use of supervision structures.


The module will provide detailed discussions of contemporary issues in the philosophy of biology. Questions covered may include:

Is race real? Is health subjective? What is a gene? Is adaptationism dangerous? Is Biology sexist? What makes biology different from physics? Is biology even a real science?

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours276.00
Total Contact hours24.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)300.00

Private study

8 hours per seminar reading - 88 hours
Further reading – 88 hours
Essay preparation – 100 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Seminar performance/discussion and 1 x 3000 word essay (assessed or rough draft). Tutorials to discuss plans.

The students will also be invited to participate in discussion boards. These are used for assessment of the level 3 students taking the jointly taught module PHIL3320. Those students submit short answers to reflection questions each week, and are given qualitative and quantitative feedback, as well as being able to view and respond to each others’ submissions. The MA students will have the option of doing the same, although their feedback will be only formative. This will help the MA students to get a sense of what common responses are to the issues, as well as to get feedback from the module leader about each issue.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay6000 words (end of module)100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:44:03


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