Philosophy for Beginners

136 TUTOR: Joanna Wilkinson

Have you ever wondered what philosophy is and how to do it? This course offers you the chance to explore five subjects from a philosophical angle and find out how to look at other subjects in the same way. The subjects will be art, religion, morality, history and identity. The tutor will ask you questions, such as what makes a work of art beautiful and can you ever know the truth about the past. No specialist knowledge is needed, just a desire to discuss some fundamental topics. The course will be run in an informal style and everyone is welcome.


1 AM
AM course

Course Notes

This course is suited to the beginner and also those with some experience of philosophy. It is based on informal group discussion and aims to give students the opportunity to think philosophically about a range of subjects. In so doing, they will gain a deeper understanding both of these subjects and of what philosophical enquiry involves. By the end of the course, students should feel confident to explore other subjects from a philosophical angle and thus gain an enriched understanding of them.

There will be a different subject focus for each of the five sessions of the course:

Session One

We shall consider what philosophy is about and why people study it. This will include discussion of the benefits to be gained from thinking philosophically, both for the individual and for society as a whole. The subject focus will be on Art. We shall look at reproductions of a number of paintings and ask questions such as: What makes a work of art beautiful? Does beauty matter, or should we be more interested in whether something is stimulating, or disturbing? What makes someone a 'great' artist? What is the purpose of art in the life of the individual and within the community?

Session Two

This session will address the subject of religion. We shall ask: What is a religion? What separates a religion from another deeply-held conviction that is not a religion? Does one need to be religious to study religion? Can one be a philosopher and believe in God? Down the centuries, philosophers have put forward a variety of arguments to prove the existence of God. We shall look at some of these arguments, and also consider whether, in fact, the existence of God is something that is open to proof.

Session Three

The subject for this session will be morality, which for philosophers is the study of ethics. We shall begin by looking at three broad types of ethical theory: consequentialist, Kantian and virtue ethics. We shall ask: Is morality possible without religion? We shall explore a variety of contemporary moral and political issues. These will include: the principles of good government in a democracy; how far a government should be able to control the lives of its citizens; to what extent we have a duty to give to charity; and our responsibility towards the environment.

Session Four

In this session we shall be discussing history. First, we shall think about what the study of history consists of and ask: Can we ever know the truth about the past? Other issues to be discussed include: Is a historian able to take an objective view of the past? Is the study of history necessary and if so, why? What should young people be learning about history in school? Can knowledge of the past help to resolve problems faced by countries in the present? Do we have any duties towards previous generations, thinking both of our own families and of the nation as a whole?

Session Five

The final session will be devoted to the issue of identity. We shall approach this topic from a variety of angles, asking: How do we define and describe ourselves? How important is memory in making us who we are? How important to our sense of ourselves are gender, family, culture, religion and nationality? How do humans differ from animals and what implications does this have for the rights of each? Does respect for human identity require us to place restrictions on how human embryos may be used? Could robots develop a sense of identity?

Background reading is not essential for this course, but the following books may be of interest. Within this list, the book most closely linked to the course content is Nigel Warburton's Philosophy: The Basics.

Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom (Eds.) New British Philosophy: The Interviews

Nicholas Fearn Philosophy: The Latest Answers to the Oldest Questions

Stephen LawThe Philosophy Gym: 25 Short Adventures in Thinking

Nigel Warburton Philosophy: The Basics

Nigel Warburton The Art Question

Course Tutor

Joanna Wilkinson

Joanna Wilkinson

About Joanna

Joanna has many years of experience in teaching philosophy at an introductory level. She is a graduate of Leeds University where she studied Philosophy and French, has a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Bristol University, and holds an Open University qualification as a Teacher in Higher Education. She is currently an Associate Lecturer with The Open University, where she tutors in philosophy and other art disciplines. She has also tutored for the Workers' Educational Association and at Dillington Adult Education Centre. She is keen to share her enthusiasm for philosophy and enjoys generating lively discussion among students!

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All courses run for 5 days

WK 1 8 Jul - 12 Jul

WK 2 15 Jul - 19 Jul

WK 3 22 Jul - 26 Jul

WK 4 29 Jul - 2 Aug

Morning Courses

9.15AM to 12.15PM

Afternoon Courses

1.45PM to 4.30PM

All Day Courses

9.15AM to 4.30PM