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PPR.205: Knowledge and Reality

Tutors: Neil Manson (Michaelmas) and Nick Unwin (Lent)
Terms: Michaelmas and Lent

Course Description

In this course we will discuss some of the most fundamental problems in philosophy, problems about the nature of reality, our place in it, and our knowledge of it. We will examine different theories of reality as well as the nature and sources of knowledge, truth, justification, evidence, and reason.

The first half will be devoted primarily to metaphysical questions:

  • Is reality entirely physical?
  • What are persons or selves?
  • Is it possible to give a naturalistic explanation for the existence of the universe?
  • Can anything be said in favour of the idea that the universe was created and designed by God?
  • What is the nature of space and time?
  • If no objects existed would space still exist?
  • If nothing every happened would there still be time?
  • Is time travel into the past possible?

In the second half we turn to epistemological matters:

  • What is knowledge?
  • Do we have any?
  • Does knowledge require self-knowledge?
  • Does knowledge rest upon "foundations"?
  • If so, what are they?
  • What is the role of trust in knowledge?
  • Can we have a natural science of knowledge?

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Outline and expand upon some of the main issues and theoretical positions in epistemology and metaphysics.
  • Set out some of the influential argumentation that has been developed in relation to the various issues and problems discussed in this module.
  • Begin an independent evaluation of these problems and be in a position to make some progress towards developing authoritative views of their own.


40% coursework and 60% exam.
Coursework: 2 essays of 2500 words each. Exam: 3 hours.

Teaching Method

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

Introductory Reading

Michael J. Loux Metaphysics (Routledge 2002).

Richard Taylor Metaphysics (Prentice-Hall 1983).

Duncan Pritchard What is this thing called knowledge? (Routledge 2008).

Dan O'Brien An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge (Polity 2006).

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