Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2018-2019 (archived)


Department: Philosophy


Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2018/19 Module Cap


  • None.


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • To introduce students to central issues within current metaphysics.
  • To enable students to gain an advanced understanding of these issues.
  • To enable students to critically analyse these issues.
  • To introduce topics, debates and concepts that are central to these issues, through structured group discussion of specific texts.
  • To provide students with the knowledge and skills required to pursue self-directed research on a specific topic, under the direction of a member of staff.
  • To introduce students to on-going debates within metaphysics that have scope for original contributions, with a view to encouraging PhD research in the field.


  • The seminars will address seven topics within metaphysics that have been the focus of recent attention. Each will be based around a specific text:
  • Universals (Text: Armstrong, Universals: An Opinionated Introduction)
  • Levels of Being (Text: Heil, From an Ontological Point of View)
  • Dispositions (Text: Molnar, Powers: A Study in Dispositions)
  • Persistence (Text: Sider, Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time)
  • Time (Text: Mellor, Real Time II)
  • Essentialism (Text: Mackie, How Things Might Have Been)
  • Truthmakers (Text: Armstrong, Truth and Truthmakers)
  • One-to-one supervisions will provide more focused teaching on one of these topics, which students will explore in depth through their formative and summative assignments.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Students will:
  • Acquire an appreciation and understanding of some of the central issues within current metaphysics
  • Relate some of these issues to a more specific research question.
  • Acquire an advanced, in-depth knowledge of recent research in at least one of the seven areas discussed.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify central issues, questions and debates within metaphysics.
  • Identify and make use of relevant literature.
  • Critically review some recent work on metaphysics in a clear, structured fashion.
  • Identify a philosophical problem, formulate a philosophical position 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 philosophical thought.
Key Skills:
  • Students will be able to:
  • Identify and locate research materials.
  • Write in a clear, rigorous, argumentative style.
  • Manage their time effectively.
  • Use their own initiative to choose a research topic.
  • Exercise self-discipline, responsibility and autonomy in pursuing a research project.

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

  • Seminars provide structured group teaching, addressing central issues within metaphysics. Seminars also provide the opportunity for group discussion, allowing students to clarify points and refine their views, through interaction with the seminar leader and their peers. Through seminars, students will further develop their argumentative abilities and learn to put forward their views in a clear, structured manner.
  • One-to-one supervisions are tailored specifically to the research projects of individual students, providing a valuable opportunity for them to clarify and discuss ideas. One-to-one supervisions will also assist students in locating relevant library resources, formulating appropriate and concise essay topics, and working out argument structures. Supervision sessions are also used to offer critical feedback on draft summative essays, prior to submission.
  • Students are required to attend the weekly student-led Taught MA in Philosophy Work-in-Progress Seminar, where they will be encouraged to present their ideas to peers and seek feedback. They are also encouraged to attend relevant EIDOS (postgraduate philosophy society) talks and departmental Research Seminars.
  • Students will write a formative essay, which examines and critically analyses a key text or philosophical position discussed in seminars. Feedback on the formative assignment will assist students in preparing the summative assignment.
  • For the summative essay, students will be required to focus on a specific research question, demonstrate advanced knowledge of the relevant literature, develop a critical understanding of relevant ideas and arguments and put forward a philosophical position in the form of a clear, structured philosophical argument.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 7 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