Examination Board: AQA
A level Philosophy splits into four sections assessed in two examination papers.
Section 1 Epistemology – We all believe we know some truths; however, could we explain what it means to know a claim? How does knowing differ from having an opinion or a belief, if at all? This is the first big question of this unit of work. We all perceive things every day. We see, touch, taste, hear and smell; however, could we explain in a clear fashion what happens in every instance of perception? This is the second big question of this unit of work. Finally, we all have ideas and knowledge; however, would we be comfortable explaining where all of our ideas and knowledge come from? Are ideas only gained through experience? If this is the case where do our ideas of things we have never experienced, nor ever could experience, come from?
Section 2 Moral philosophy – Many great thinkers have claimed that every person wants to do the morally right action but sometimes, despite our best intentions, we find it hard to determine what the morally right action is. The first big question of this section of the course is: does a method exist for establishing what is the best moral action in every situation I could find myself in? Three classic methods are explored and applied. The second big question for this portion of the course is: what does ethical language even mean? We say some actions are right and others wrong, but in what way? Are moral actions right or wrong in the same way mathematics is right or wrong? Or are moral actions right or wrong in the same way some art is good and other art not so good?
Section 3 Metaphysics of God – Many millions of people of many different faiths have claimed to believe that God exists. Their beliefs have impacted upon their behaviour, and decisions which believers make affect non- believers lives too. The first big question of this portion of the course is: does the idea of God even make sense? Does the idea of God have internal contradictions? A further big question follows: can God’s existence be proved? The course covers three of the classic arguments for the existence of God. The third big question of this section of the course is: how are we to make sense of talk about God? Many people will say things like, ‘God is my shield’ or ‘God looks over me’; however, what sense can be made of these statements, if the person saying them also believes that God is a spiritual being outside of space and time?
Section 4 Metaphysics of Mind – As you have read this hand out you have explored certain thoughts; however, what is a thought? And who is it that does the exploring of your thoughts. Clearly your eyes scanned this page but presumably your eyes alone cannot think. You might say that it is your brain that thinks thoughts. But what is a brain? Isn’t a brain made out of exactly the same basic material as an eye? And if this is the case what is it that separates a brain from an eye and allows the former to think whereas the later cannot? We could sum up all of these questions in one big question: are you just matter (physical stuff) or is there a non-material, mental element to you as well?
Section 1 (25%) Epistemology Section 2 (25%) Moral philosophy Section 3 (25%) Metaphysics of God Section 4 (25%) Metaphysics of Mind
Philosophy enables you to develop strong analytical skills. Ability to suspend judgement, argue a case (both orally and in writing), and evaluate different arguments. Textual study, the ability to debate and discuss in a logical, well- organised order to present a coherent study. How to articulate an argument, and how to benefit from listening and evaluating other people’s views.
What kinds of student are most suited to this course?
Those who are inquisitive, open minded, resilient to challenge, enjoy a good argument, and can produce detailed and cogently-argued essays. Students are expected to be able to read, not necessarily long, but certainly argumentatively dense prose. Above all, you will be required to think!
Long-cherished assumptions may be challenged, but you will emerge with a clearer understanding of the world around you.
N.B: philosophy is not an easy option. It is rigorous and intellectually demanding and not for the faint-hearted!
What other courses often combine successfully with this?
Any subject in which written analysis is an important feature; English, History, Psychology and the Sciences. It is permissible for those opting for Religious Studies to take Philosophy as a separate subject, even though there is a small degree of overlap.
What higher education or career options might this course lead to?
Philosophy is regarded as a ‘hard’ academic subject by all the leading universities in the UK and is highly valued by the Russell Group and Oxbridge. Bennett students who have studied Philosophy in the past have gone on to study for BA degrees in Philosophy or Theology at various universities, including Oxford, Durham, Sussex, Southampton, Cardiff and Leeds. Philosophy can be studied in combination with subjects such as Theology, History and English, among others, or it can be simply taken on its own. A Philosophy degree can open the door to a variety of careers, including law, journalism, teaching, management, local and national government, finance, public relations and so on.
What extra-curricular activities support this course?
In previous years, students have been invited to attend conferences in London and philosophy master classes involving senior AQA examiners have also been run at Bennett. In the 2012-13 academic year Bennett hosted a Philosophy Conference for local schools during which some of Britain’s most prominent philosophers ran workshops on topics such as Personhood and Naïve Scientism. (The philosophers were Julian Baggini, Stephen Law, Keith Ward and Oliver McAdoo).
Quotations from students:
“This is doing my head in!” (Frequently said of Philosophy of Religion). When people say this, I know that I’m doing my job!
“Philosophy is challenging and rewarding; I always smiled when I knew I had philosophy the following day on my timetable. It is a luxury that you can attempt to answer questions that the fast-paced modern world doesn’t normally allow you time for.”