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2024/25 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHIL1121 Introduction to the History of Western Philosophy

20 creditsClass Size: 250

Module manager: Prof. Helen Beebee

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2024/25

This module is mutually exclusive with

PHIL1120Great Philosophical Thinkers

Module replaces

PHIL1120 Great Philosophical Thinkers

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module aims to provide students with an understanding of how Western philosophy has developed, as a distinct approach to philosophical enquiry, by examining a selection of thinkers who influenced its development, potentially going back as far as the Ancient Greeks and extending to the Eighteenth Century. It will locate those thinkers in their historical context, which includes exploring presuppositions of their work and time, to help elucidate — and hold up to scrutiny — both their thought and ours. It will also compare or contrast these thinkers with work from other philosophical traditions and/or women working at the time, in the same Western philosophical tradition, whose work has been neglected. Students can then form their own views about the merits of ‘the canon’ at the same time as developing a good grasp of the roots of modern Western philosophy. The module involves the close reading of some of the primary texts written by the selected philosophers, and so students will gain skills of close textual reading. Anyone interested in the history of ideas will benefit from this module.


This module introduces students to key thinkers in the development of the Western philosophical tradition and so provides an understanding of why Western philosophy has come to be as it is – a specific approach to philosophical enquiry. While the aim is to introduce students to some of the ‘canonical’ thinkers who shaped the tradition, the module includes some of what was excluded by that canon; for example, female thinkers whose work was or has come to be neglected, or thinkers in other philosophical traditions.

In doing so, it contextualises the canon, and makes explicit that the canon is selective and does not represent all important or valuable work in Philosophy during the historical period under study.

Learning outcomes
By the end of the module, students will be able to:

1. Display an understanding of the views of the philosophers studied;
2. Demonstrate a sense of the historical context in which these views developed;
3. Construct an argument for a point of view, and express it in clear, concise prose;
4. Read philosophical texts critically and with attention to detail;
5. Explain and respond to central ideas in the work of the philosophers studied.


The module will study a number of philosophers typically (but not necessarily) drawn from the following canonical list - Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant – to develop an understanding of how Western philosophy has been shaped and the thinkers whose ideas continue to influence contemporary Western philosophy.

The module will place these philosophers in their historical context, and in doing so will elucidate the development of the history of Western philosophy up until the Eighteenth Century. By way of comparison and/or contrast, and to elucidate the context of thinkers who form the traditional canon, the study of these philosophers will be complemented by a focus on one or more areas outside the traditional canon of Western Philosophy, for example: women thinkers in early Modern Philosophy; or non-Western philosophical traditions. This will enable students to take a reflective view of the canon and understand its limitations as well as its merits.

Students will study a range of philosophical issues. The precise issues studied will depend on the philosophers selected by the academic staff member(s) teaching the module which may vary in any given year.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours169.00
Total Contact hours31.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Follow up study for lectures: 36 hours (2 hrs per lecture)
Preparatory work for proctorials: 10 hours (2 hrs per proctorial)
Preparatory work for tutorials: 32 hours (4 hrs per tutorial)
Researching and writing mid-semester formative essay: 30 hours
Researching and writing end-of-semester assessment: 61 hours

Total: 169 hours

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Formative feedback on understanding is provided by discussion during proctorials and tutorials.

In addition, there is the opportunity for formative feedback outside of class time with the module leader during office hours.

There is a purely formative 1000-word essay which students have the option to submit mid-semester, on which they will be given written feedback.

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Essay1500 words75.00
Assignment500 word text interpretation exercise25.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

The essay and text interpretation are submitted at the same time – end of module. The essay questions are released earlier so that students have time to decide which essay to write and start appropriate research and drafting. The text interpretation exercise requires much less preparatory work and so is released at the end of the module (week 11). It could include sections of primary source text from any of the readings set for tutorial classes and thereby acts as an incentive to attend all classes.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2024 16:19:42


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