Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2012-2013 (archived)


Department: Philosophy


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None.


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • Address the topic of human nature in a naturalistic and evolutionary perspective.
  • Familiarization with interdisciplinary research methods and synthesis across disciplines such as philosophy, linguistics, psychology, biology, and anthropology .
  • Connect the problem of the evolution of language with the problem of human speciation.
  • Contrastively discuss different models of the evolution of language, addressing its nature as a bio-cultural hybrid.
  • Introduce and problematize the notion of ‘Universal Grammar’.
  • Thematize the connection between language and thought, and aspects of thought that are humanly specific.
  • Discuss the philosophical significance of recent and not so recent empirical findings that speak to the evolution of language and mind.


  • The course is taught in the form of seminars, implementing strategies for research-led teaching and letting students creatively engage with research. There will be student presentations throughout, as well as discussion groups.
  • The first seminar is devoted to an introduction and overview of the field of research in its various dimensions.
  • The next three seminars discuss the topic of human nature and specificity in a contemporary and naturalistic setting, reviewing the common critique of the traditional notion coming from Neo-Darwinian perspectives as well as its resuscitation from an evolutionary psychology perspective, and addressing the role of language.
  • The next block of three seminars is devoted to the topic of the relation between language and thought, stressing the connections between grammar and meaning. This includes recent cutting-edge issues in the nature of meaning and the nature of thought, including recent findings on an inherent connection between language and mental health/illness.
  • A final seminar is devoted to a review of the course and its materials.
  • There may be guest seminars by relevant researchers from the region and abroad, as appropriate to the topics.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students with an interest in mind learn about a naturalistic perspective on the mind and the scope and limits of an evolutionary approach to higher cognitive abilities in general.
  • Students learn to adopt a perspective that is sensitive to both biological and cultural aspects of human evolution.
  • Students learn to assess the distinctiveness of cultural evolution, but also the possibility of overarching explanatory principles cutting across biology and culture.
  • Students learn about structural features of language that form particular obstacles to understanding the evolution of human language and culture, hence us.
  • Students will learn to integrate both philosophical (philosophy of mind, philosophy of science) of human nature, and more empirical, anthropological aspects (material culture, empirical aspects of gene-culture co-evolution).
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify key issues, questions and debates concerning language as an aspect of human nature and its evolution.
  • Identify and make use of relevant literature.
  • Train their minds on assessing the correctness of widespread claims on the evolution of mind and culture in both science and the public domain.
  • Identify key explanatory problems in the evolution of language and culture, learn about their impact on some key philosophical and anthropological positions and employ advanced critical skills and conceptual knowledge to address the problem and defend the position.
  • Write an essay with an appropriately focused research question, a clear, knowledgeable discussion of the topic area, and a structured argument. Essays will display evidence of critical understanding and innovative thought.
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify and locate key research issues and research materials on a topic of high contemporary public concern.
  • Learn to write about and articulate a position in the relevant debates.
  • Pursue interdisciplinary research.
  • Exercise self-discipline, responsibility and autonomy in pursuing a research project.
  • Engage in disciplined reflection upon the nature and origin of their mind and human linguistic ability.

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

  • The course takes a seminar format with emphasis on student participation, presentations and discussion groups.
  • Outlines of presentations are discussed briefly with the module leader beforehand.
  • There will be a formative essay after the first block of four seminars, the topic of which is to be discussed with the module leader after the third session.
  • There is a summative essay in the end. Proposals for topics are to be made in the course of the second block of seminars.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 7 Bi-weekly 2 hours 14
One-to-one supervisions 4 Flexible, as required 1 hour 4
Preparation and reading 282
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

An essay of 2000 words.

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