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Last modified: 22 May 2019 17:07

Course Overview

How “real” is reality? How does the mind relate to the world? This course introduces two approaches to answering these questions: rationalism and empiricism. By 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 see how Hume grounds knowledge in experience. We read Hume on impressions and ideas, induction, causality, miracles and critically compare and examine Descartes’ and Hume’s arguments by drawing on readers and critics. Download Course Guide

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 1
Session First Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus Old Aberdeen Sustained Study No
  • Dr Beth Lord

Qualification Prerequisites

  • Either Programme Level 1 or Programme Level 2

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


What courses cannot be taken with this course?


Are there a limited number of places available?


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

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

1st Attempt: Two 1500-word essays (50% each)
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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