Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2017-2018 (archived)


Department: Philosophy


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2017/18 Module Cap Location Durham


  • At least two of the following modules: Philosophy of Mind (PHIL2011), Biomedical Ethics Past and Present (PHIL2051), Science and Religion (PHIL2071), Theory, Literature and Society (PHIL2131), and Philosophy of Science (PHIL2151)


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • The aims of this module are (i) to introduce students to some central topics in the history of psychiatry from 1750 to the present day, (ii) to critically address current philosophical issues in psychiatry and (iii) to interrelate historical and philosophical considerations.


  • The historical context of psychiatric theories and institutions from the Enlightenment to the 20th century.
  • The historical context of the concepts ‘madness’ and ‘melancholia’ and ‘neurasthenia’.
  • Asylums.
  • Historical approaches such as neohumouralism, psychopharmacology and degenerationism.
  • The origins of the concept ‘schizophrenia’ and current philosophical problems that arise in relation to schizophrenia.
  • R. D. Laing and the anti-psychiatry movement.
  • Historical and contemporary phenomenological approaches to the understanding of schizophrenia.
  • The classification of mental disorders and the question of what makes a condition pathological.
  • Current approaches to the understanding of circumscribed delusions, focusing on the Capgras and Cotard delusions.
  • Different approaches to the understanding and treatment of depression.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • By the end of this module students will have knowledge and understanding of the historical context and development of:
  • 18th – 20th Century Psychiatric Institutions;
  • 18th – 20th Century Psychiatric Nosologies;
  • 18th – 20th Century Philosophical Theories of the Mind;
  • 18th – 20th Century Medical Theories of the Mind.
  • By the end of the module students will also have knowledge and understanding of key philosophical theories, arguments and debates relating to:
  • The diagnosis and treatment of mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia;
  • The nature of mental illness;
  • The classification of mental illness;
  • The phenomenology of mental illness;
  • The interpretation of circumscribed delusions.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • By the end of the module students will be able to:
  • understand and critically discuss key concepts, theories and debates that are central to psychiatry and to its historical development;
  • identify and critically discuss central topics in the history of psychiatry from the 18th century to the present day;
  • understand different historiographic theories and their application to the history of psychiatry;
  • apply philosophical theories, arguments and concepts to issues in contemporary psychiatry;
  • contrast a range of different views regarding the nature, diagnosis, classification and proper treatment of mental illness;
  • reflect upon some of the phenomenological changes that occur in psychiatric illness;
  • seek out, identify and apply relevant literature to examine and assess arguments for and against philosophical and historical theories regarding psychiatry and psychiatric illness.
Key Skills:
  • By the end of the module students will be able to:
  • express themselves clearly and succinctly in writing;
  • identify and apply historical methods;
  • understand some of the ways in which historical and philosophical research interrelate;
  • comprehend complex ideas, propositions and theories;
  • defend their opinions by reasoned argument;
  • seek out and identify appropriate sources of evidence and information;
  • tackle problems in a clear-sighted and logical fashion.

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

  • Structured teaching within seminars will deliver basic module-specific information, and provide a framework for further study.
  • Focused discussion in seminars of (i) classic works in psychiatry and (ii) key philosophical and historical papers and chapters will give students a critical understanding of primary sources and major issues.
  • Seminars will provide the opportunity for students to present their own work in progress, to test their understanding of the course material, and defend and debate different opinions.
  • Guided reading will provide a structure within which students exercise and extend their abilities to make use of available learning resources.
  • The summative essays will test knowledge and understanding of the course material (the ability to identify and clearly explain philosophical and historical issues that arise in the context of psychiatry; the ability to identify and appropriately employ historical and philosophical sources; the ability to critically discuss and appraise historical and philosophical approaches; the ability to set out a position and defend it by means of rational argument).

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 22 weekly 90 mins 33
Preparation and Reading 167
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Essays Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 1 3000 words 50%
Essay 2 3000 words 50%

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