Adventures in Philosophy

150 TUTOR: Joanna Wilkinson

This course offers a journey of discovery into some big philosophical questions. What is freedom? How can I live a good life? What is sacred and what makes it so? What can we know? You will also look at extracts from famous works of literature and identify the philosophical ideas hidden within them. Views of major philosophers will be presented, with much opportunity for group discussion in an informal atmosphere. This course suits both beginners and those with some experience of philosophy. You may not solve all the questions, but will have an enjoyable time attempting to do so.

2 AM
AM course

Course Notes

An interest in philosophy is all that is required for this course - it is suited both to beginners and to those who have some experience of the subject. The five sessions will tackle a series of thought-provoking questions, looking at each from a variety of angles. There will be plenty of opportunity for group discussion, in an informal atmosphere. The views of major philosophers and their theories will be presented in relation to each topic considered. By the end of the course, students should find they have developed their ability both to think philosophically and express their thoughts in a philosophical way. Mental adventures can be every bit as exhilarating as physical ones!

Session One

This session will start with a brief introduction to philosophy by considering the question: What is the value of doing philosophy? We shall look at the views on this expressed by Socrates and Bertrand Russell. The main part of the session will be spent looking at extracts from some famous works of literature - drama, novels and poems - and exploring the philosophical ideas that lie within them. For example, we shall consider Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, and the opening lines of George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. We shall end the session with the question: Can fiction enable us to acquire knowledge about the real world?

Session Two

In this session, we shall address the question: What is sacred and what makes it so? We shall think about the idea of sacred spaces and whether they are sacred because they are inherently mysterious and spiritual, or because people have designated them as sacred out of political or commercial motives. We shall ask: Do you need to be religious in order to hold something sacred? The views of philosophers of religion will be considered, including those of Rudolf Otto, who wrote about the 'numinous' experience that, for him, underlies all religion. We shall explore what the concept of sacredness might mean for an atheist, such as Richard Dawkins, and for a nihilist, such as Nietzsche.

Session Three

We shall seek to answer the question: How can I live a good life? by considering it in the context of a number of related questions. To start with, this question begs the question: What is a good life? Does it demand acting morally - and if so, how much of the time? We shall look at how Aristotle believed that an education in virtue could equip people to act morally at all times - a view popular among philosophers of ethics today. It could be argued that acting morally is necessaryto achieve happiness, but is it? When we are deciding what is the moral thing to do in a situation, should we use our heads or our hearts? We shall then move on to consider some case studies involving moral dilemmas and think about which action we would take in each, and why. To end this session, we shall discuss whether we are always able to distinguish between the things in our control and the things outside our control, as Epictetus and the Stoics believed - a view shared by René Descartes.

Session Four

The main question for this session will be: What is freedom? We shall explore the concept of freedom in a range of contexts, starting with that of personal freedom, asking: What is free will and do we have it? In a broader context, we shall ask: What makes a society free? This will involve considering issues of censorship, politics, religion, ethnicity, culture, sexuality and gender. We shall look at the tradition of liberalism, with reference to John Locke, noting its focus on the rights of the individual. We shall ask: What are my rights? The concept of human rights will be discussed, and we shall look at how it emerged from the concept of natural rights, with reference to philosophers such as Thomas Paine and Karl Marx.

Session Five

In the final session, the big question will be: What can we know? We shall consider the connections between belief, knowledge and truth. We shall look at what Plato wrote about knowledge, moving on to consider the history of philosophical scepticism, covering ideas held by René Descartes, John Locke and Karl Popper. We shall also consider present-day developments in the field of artificial intelligence, and ask: Can machines think? They can store far more information than humans but do they have knowledge? We shall look at the counter-argument to claims of artificial intelligence put forward by philosopher John Searle. As a conclusion to the whole course, we shall ask: What kind of knowledge does philosophy give us?

It is not essential to do preparatory reading for this course, but the following books may be of interest:

Julian Baggini Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will

Simon Blackburn The Big Questions: Philosophy

Mark Vernon The Big Questions: God

Nigel Warburton (ed.) Basic Readings

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