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Last modified: 28 Jun 2018 10:27

Course Overview

How “real” is reality? Where does knowledge come from? How does the mind relate to the world? This course introduces two approaches to answering these questions: rationalism and empiricism. Through reading Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, we learn about Descartes’ rationalist approach to knowledge, reality, mind-body dualism, and God’s necessary existence. Through David Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding we see how Hume grounds knowledge in experience. We read Hume on impressions and ideas, induction, causality, and miracles. We critically compare and examine Descartes’ and Hume’s arguments by drawing on their readers and critics. 

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 1
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus None. Sustained Study No
  • Dr Beth Lord

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Course Description

The course introduces rationalism and empiricism as two major systems of thought taking different approaches to the same question: how does the mind relate to the world? Students will first learn about 17th century rationalism by focusing on Rene Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. Through this text, students will learn about rationalist approaches to knowledge and reality, and about specific topics in Descartes' philosophy including the method of doubt, the mind-body problem, and arguments for the existence of the self, God, and the world. We will then turn to David Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding as the key text of 18th century empiricism. Through this text, students will learn how empiricist philosophers criticized rationalism, and turned instead to experience to provide a foundation for knowledge. We will look at Hume's distinction between impressions and ideas, the problem of induction, his account of causality, and his critique of miracles. Other rationalist and empiricist philosophers will also be introduced to provide context.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: one 1500 word essay (50%) and one two-hour written examination (50%) Resit: one 1500 word essay (100%) In line with School Policy, failure to submit a component piece of assessed work, or submitting a token piece, will result in the withdrawal of the class certificate (students are not eligible for resit).

Formative Assessment

Feedback on essays; individually arranged conversations during office hours/by appointment; feedback on in-class presentations


Written on essay and marking sheet; office hours/appointment; peer questions and comments during in-class presentations

Course Learning Outcomes


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