Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2011-2012 (archived)

Module PHIL52160: Dissertation

Department: Philosophy

PHIL52160: Dissertation

Type Tied Level 4 Credits 60 Availability Available in 2011/12 Module Cap None.
Tied to V7K107


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To enable students to pursue independent, in depth philosophical research in a specialised area, under the guidance of an appropriate supervisor.
  • Where appropriate, to inform students of related work in other disciplines, assist them in integrating that work into a philosophical project, and convey an undertanding of the interdisciplinary nature of almost all philosophical enquiry.
  • To teach students how to identify, succinctly summarise and criticise arguments and philosophical positions that are central to their research question.
  • To enable students to work autonomously in formulating their own philosophical position and providing detailed critical discussion of relevant arguments.
  • To teach students how to present a piece of scholarly research in the form of a 12,000 - 15,000 word dissertation on an approproved topic. This will require research skills appropriate to Level 4, in research, analysis and argument.


  • Students will study a suitably focused topic in an area of philosophy, under the direction of a supervisor who is an expert in the area. Potential areas of study for dissertations include Philosophy of Mind, Language and Logic, Philosophy of Science, Ethics, Aesthetics, Political Philosophy, History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine, Philosophy of Religion. The topic, issue or question to be addressed will be of approrpiate scope for a 12,000 to 15,000 word research paper.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Advanced, in depth knowledge of a specific philosophical topic.
  • A broader knowledge of the general area of philosophy in which that topic is situated.
  • An awareness of books and articles that are of relevance to the chosen area.
  • A critical understanding of those philosophical positions, arguments and disagreements that are of particular relevance to the proposed topic.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will acquire the ability to:
  • identify a research topic for a 12,000 to 15,000 word philosophy paper and formulate a clear and appropriately focused research question.
  • use their own initiative to seek out relevant literature, focusing selectively on issues and texts that are of most relevance to the research problem.
  • understand the philosophical context in which the research problem arises, identify and summarise issues and arguments that are central to the chosen topic.
  • critically review a specialised area of philosophy in an innovative way, identify the weak points in an argument, communicate them clearly and offer alternative arguments.
  • produce a clear, well written, clearly structured research paper of betwen 12,000 and 15,000 words in a style that is appropriate to the discipline. This will incorporate an advanced knowledge of style, presentation and argument structure.
Key Skills:
  • Students will acquire the generic research skills of formulating a suitably focused research question, seeking out material that is of relevance to that question, setting out work in a manner that is clear, rigorous and succinct and working independently. They will be able to manage their time effectively and communicate their ideas clearly.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Students will have six tutorials with a supervisor, who will be an expert in the relevant area. During these tutorials, they will be offered guidance on how to seek out readings of particular relevance to their chosen topic. They will discuss research questions, texts, issues and arguments with the supervisor, sometimes focusing specifically on particular articles, chapters or books. They will also formulate progressively more detailed research plans and critically discuss drafts of written work with the supervisor.
  • The MA dissertation conference will take place in July, approximately eight weeks prior to submission of dissertations. It will last for twelve hours and will occupy two consecutive days. All dissertation students will present a focused selection of ideas and arguments from their dissertations to an audience consisting of taught postgraduates, research postgraduates and staff. They will be given the opportunity to reflect on their work, through lengthy, critical, group discussion. This will inform their written work, helping them to further focus their discussion and refine the argument structure prior to submission.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Tutorials 6 Flexible as required 1 hour 6
MA dissertation conference 1 Mid-August 12 hours 12
Preparation and Reading Time 582
Total 600

Summative Assessment

Component: Dissertation Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Dissertation 12,000-15,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:


Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University