You are viewing this course for 2021-22 entry. 2022-23 entry is also available.

MA
2021 start

Philosophy

Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Humanities

Study the areas of philosophy that matter to you with this highly flexible course. You'll develop a deeper understanding of philosophy, with the freedom to explore the areas that most interest and inspire you.
Philosophy postgraduates standing in room

Course description

This general course explores key ideas in philosophy. You’ll develop your philosophical knowledge and understanding to a higher level. We offer an extensive range of optional modules, allowing you to focus your studies towards a particular specialism or to explore the breadth of this hugely varied subject.

Our MA is designed to prepare students who wish to continue to a PhD, as many do. We also welcome anyone who just wants to learn more about philosophy, even if your first degree is in another subject. 

Modules

Core modules:

Dissertation

Contact department for more information.

60 credits

Research modules:

Cognitive Studies Seminar

Cognitive science is a research field in which philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, computer science, and anthropology come together to discover how the mind works. This module aims to:
1. Introduce students to major theoretical issues in cognitive science.
2. Help students to see how empirical evidence drawn from different disciplines is relevant to key issues in cognitive science.
3. Equip students with an understanding of the philosophical importance of cognitive science.

30 credits
Political Philosophy Research Seminar

Students on this module will attend a two-hour seminar every week (except reading week). The objectives of the module are to: (i) read and discuss certain key texts in political philosophy; and (ii) have each student develop a writing project, on which they will be evaluated. The selection of texts will reflect the expertise of the staff involved. The seminars will be discussion orientated and students will on occasion be expected to deliver informal presentations. Students are entitled to advisory tutorials with the staff members involved, depending on which topic they want to focus on in their writing assignment.

30 credits
Mind and Language Seminar

This seminar will be run by a single member of staff in a two-hour block meeting once a week except writing week. The staff organizer will select a sequence of 10 or 11 papers/chapters that are central to the subject area, to be discussed at a rate of one per week. Students will probably be expected to take turns in providing introductory comments at the start of the Seminar. They will then write a paper of 6-8,000 words for assessment purposes (with MA students having the option of doing two shorter papers), which could be more or less loosely related to topics in the Seminar. They will be entitled to advisory tutorials with the staff organizer on drafts of their paper.

30 credits
Moral and Other Values Research Seminar

This module will have a two-hour seminar every week except writing week. The objectives of the module are (i) to read and discuss certain key short philosophical texts in ethics and aesthetics; and (ii) to have each student develop a writing project, on which he or she will be evalulated for the course. The selection of texts will reflect the expertise of the staff involved, and interests of the students enrolled. The meetings are discussion orientated and students will be expected to give informal presentations on occasion. Students are entitled to advisory tutorials with the staff members involved, depending on which text they want to focus on in their writing assignment.

30 credits
Metaphysics and Epistemology Seminar

Each seminar will be run by a single member of staff in a two-hour block meeting once a week except writing week. We will select a sequence of 10 or 11 papers/chapters that are central to the subject area, to be discussed at the rate of one per week. Students will probably be expected to take turns in providing introductory comments at the start of the Seminar. You will then write a paper of 6-8,000 words for assessment purposes (with MA students having the option of doing two shorter papers), which could be more or less loosely related to topics in the Seminar. You will be entitled to advisory tutorials with the staff organizer on drafts of your paper.

30 credits

Taught modules:

Phenomenology

This module introduces students to Phenomenology - a philosophical tradition in continental European philosophy, which is closely related to Existentialism. Phenomenology seeks to understand the human condition. Its starting-point is everyday experience, where this includes both mundane and less ordinary forms of experience such as those typically associated with conditions such as schizophrenia. Whilst Phenomenology encompasses a diverse range of thinkers and ideas, there tends to be a focus on consciousness as embodied, situated in a particular physical, social, and cultural environment, essentially related to other people, and existing in time. (This is in contrast to the disembodied, universal, and isolated notion of the subject that comes largely from the Cartesian tradition.) There is a corresponding emphasis on the world we inhabit as a distinctively human environment that depends in certain ways on us for its character and existence. Some of the central topics addressed by Phenomenology include: embodiment; ageing and death; the lived experience of oppression; human freedom; our relations with and knowledge of, other people; the experience of time; and the nature of the world. In this module, we will discuss a selection of these and related topics, examining them through the work of key figures in the Phenomenological Movement, such as Edmund Husserl, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Frantz Fanon, and Edith Stein.

30 credits
Philosophical Problems I

The detailed content of this course will vary from year to year depending upon the member of staff teaching it. For details contact the Department of Philosophy.

30 credits
Philosophical Problems II

The detailed content of this course will vary from year to year depending upon the member of staff teaching it. For details contact the Department of Philosophy.

30 credits
Global Justice

What are the demands of justice at the global level? On this module we will examine this question from the perspective of analytic, Anglo-American political philosophy. We will start by looking at some debates about the nature of global justice, such as whether justice demands the eradication of global inequalities. We will then turn to various questions of justice that arise at the global level, potentially including: how jurisdiction over territory might be justified; whether states have a right to exclude would-be immigrants; whether reparations are owed for past international injustices such as colonialism; and how to identify responsibilities for combating global injustice.

30 credits
Philosophy of Psychology

This course provides an in-depth look at a selection of issues in contemporary philosophy of psychology. Philosophy of psychology is concerned with such questions as : What is the structure and organisation of the human mind? Is the mind one big homogenous thing, or is it made up of smaller interacting components? If it has components, what sort are they and how are they interrelated? What aspects of our minds are uniquely, or distinctively human? What is the cognitive basis for such capacities as our capacity for language, rationality,science, mathematics, cultural artefacts, altruism, cooperation, war, morality and art? To what extent are the concepts, rules, biases, and cognitive processes that we possess universal features of all human beings and to what extent are they culturally (or otherwise) variable? Do infants (non-human) animals, and individuals with cognitive deficits have minds, and if so, what are they like? To what extent are these capacities learned as opposed to innately given? How important is evolutionary theory to the study of the mind? What is the Self? What are concepts? Is all thought conceptual? Is all thought conscious? What is consciousness? This course will discuss a selection of these and related issues by looking at the work of philosophers, psychologists, and others working within the cognitive sciences more generally.

30 credits
Plato's Symposium

The Symposium is a vivid, funny and moving dramatic dialogue in which a wide variety of characters - orators, doctor, comic poet, tragic poet, soldier-cum-statesman, philosopher and others - give widely differing accounts of the nature or erotic love (eros) at a banquet. Students should be willing to engage in close textual study, although no previous knowledge of either ancient philosophy or ancient Greek is required. We will be exploring the origins, definition, aims, objects and effects or eros, and asking whether it is viewed as a predominantly beneficial or harmful force. Are some manifestations or eros better than others? Is re-channelling either possible or desirable, and if so, how and in what contexts? What happens to eros if it is consummated? We will in addition explore the issues that the dialogue raises about relations between philosophy and literature, and the influence it has on Western thought (e.g. Freud). The edition we will use is Rowe, C . J., 1998, Plato Symposium. Oxford: Aris and Phillips Classical texts.

30 credits
Philosophy of Law

Law is a pervasive feature of modern societies and governs most aspects of our lives. This module is about some of the philosophical questions raised by life under a legal system. The first part of the module investigates the nature of law. Is law simply a method of social control? For example, the group calling itself Islamic State issued commands over a defined territory and backed up these commands with deadly force. Was that a legal system? Or is law necessarily concerned with justice? Do legal systems contain only rules or do they also contain underlying principles? Is “international law” really law?
The second part of the module investigates the relationship between law and individual rights. What kinds of laws should we have? Do we have the moral right to break the law through acts of civil disobedience? What is the justification of punishment? Is there any justification for capital punishment? Are we right to legally differentiate between intended crimes (like murder) and unintended crimes (like manslaughter), or does this involve the unjustified punishment of “thought crime”? Are we right to legally differentiate between murder and attempted murder, despite the fact that both crimes involve the same intent to kill?

30 credits
Pain, Pleasure, and Emotions

In this module, we will discuss the nature of affective states like pleasures, pains, and emotions. We will focus on three problems: (1) The constitution problem: What all and only affective states have in common? E.g., what makes pains and joys, but not visual experiences, affective states? (2) The distinction problem: What makes each type of affective state the particular type it is? E.g., what makes an orgasm a sensory pleasure and fear an emotion? (3)The problem of affective phenomenology: Some affective states feel good, others feel bad. In virtue of what affective states have this distinctive phenomenal character?

30 credits
Free Will & Religion

This module focuses on philosophical questions about the relationship between free will and religion. Historically, theistic religions have been dogged by questions concerning the nature of human agency, for instance on account of the traditional conception of God as omniscient and hence as having full foreknowledge. The module will examine philosophical conceptions of the relationship between religious states of affairs and positions regarding the status of human action, by considering relevant historical developments within theology and philosophy.

30 credits
The Radical Demand in Logstrup's Ethics

The biblical commandment 'to love your neighbour as yourself' still has great resonance with people, as does the story of the Good Samaritan who helps the injured traveller he encounters on the road. But what exactly does this love require, and what it its basis? Do we have an obligation to care for others, or is it beyond the call of duty? How can love be a matter of obligation at all? If you help the neighbour, can you demand something in return? Should we help them by giving them what they want, or instead what they need? How far do our obligations to others extend - who is the 'neighbour', and might it include 'the enemy' ? And does the requirement to help the other come from God's command, or from some sort of practical inconisistency given we all need help ourselves, or from their right to be helped - or simply from the fact they are in need? But can our needs be enough on their own to generate obligations of this sort? We will consider these sorts of questions in relation to the work of K.E. Logstrup [1905-1981], a Danish philosopher and theologian, who discussed them in his key work The Ethical Demand [1956] in which he characterized this relation between individuals as involving a 'radical demand' for care, involving important commitments about the nature of life, value, and human interdependency. We will compare his ideas to related themes in Kant, Kierkegaard, Levinas, and contemporary care ethics.

30 credits
Moral Theory and Moral Psychology

This course examines the relationship of moral theory and moral psychology. We discuss the relationship of science and ethics, examine the nature of self-interest, altruism, sympathy, the will, and moral intuitions, explore psychological arguments for and against familiar moral theories including utilitarianism, virtue ethics, deontology and relativism, and confront the proposal that understanding the origins of moral thought ¿debunks¿ the authority of ethics. In doing so, we will engage with readings from historical philosophers, including Hobbes, Butler, Hume, Smith, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche and Moore, as well as contemporary authors in philosophy and empirical psychology.

30 credits
Advanced Political Philosophy

This module aims will investigate a broad range of topics and issues in political philosophy and explore these questions in some detail. It will include both historical and foundational matters and recent state of the art research.

30 credits
Ancient Chinese Philosophy

This course will introduce students to ancient Chinese philosophy through a study of some of its classical texts.

30 credits
Language, Speakers and the World

This module explores in depth some of the most important notions in 20th and 21st century Philosophy of Language, an area of study which has often been seen as central to analytic philosophy more generally. As well as examining theories of central elements of language, such as names and descriptions, it investigates potentially puzzling phenomena such as fiction and the vagueness of language. And it explores issues in Applied Philosophy of Language including questions about lying and misleading, about forms of silencing, and about language and power. Language is at the heart of much distinctively human activity, and so study of language provides insight into us – its users/speakers – and also into how we relate to each other and to the world.

30 credits
Philosophy of Cognitive Science

Cognitive science is the multidisciplinary study of the mind. It involves contributions from philosophy, psychology, linguistics, computer science, neuroscience, and other fields. This module will investigate a number of topics within the cognitive sciences themselves as they attempt to understand the mind and some of the philosophical issues that arise when we reflect on the cognitive sciences as a scientific discipline. Some of the questions to be investigated include: how do we adjudicate disagreements in theory and methodology between the branches of the cognitive sciences, how does biology and neuroscience influence our thinking about the mind, and what is the relationship between observation and theory in the cognitive sciences. This module will address these topics by focusing on historical and current literature on specific topics. Representative topics include: what is the self, what is memory, how does consciousness fit in the biological world, and is the mind a computer. This module is equal parts cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science.

30 credits
Topics in Social Philosophy

This module will introduce students to some contemporary issues in social philosophy

30 credits
Utopia, Reform and Democracy

Humanity faces a recurrent political challenge: the task of steering itself towards a sustainable and just future. A
crucial part of this challenge involves developing a vision of change, of an achievable good society: a vision of the
harbour we are aiming for as we sail through these troubled waters. But how are those visions to be enacted in
the world? What theories of change lay at the heart of various philosophical visions? This module will introduce
students to some of the major schools of thought - historical and contemporary - regarding the relationship
between social theory and political practice.

30 credits
Troublesome Forms of Knowledge

Certain forms of knowledge are particularly philosophically puzzling, because otherwise attractive metaphysical accounts of the sorts of facts at issue make it hard to see quite how being like us could know facts of the relevant types. How do we know about what is merely possible – that there could be talking donkeys and the like, for example - given that we only directly experience the actual world? And how do we know truths about numbers – even basic truths like 2+2=4 – given that numbers seem to be radically different to the objects that that we directly encounter? The course will introduce students to central philosophical theories about various epistemologically challenging areas, by examining arguments and ideas that have been developed to shed light on these sorts of problems.

30 credits
Gender and Religion

This module is an interdisciplinary module in feminist philosophy of religion, and religious studies, which applies feminist, queer and trans* philosophies and scholarship on gender and sexuality in the study of diverse religious identities, traditions and cultures around the world. The module will examine examples of gendered and sexual identities and practices in different religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, as well as philosophies and cultures in China, and Japan. The module will contribute to students’ global education, as we will analyse examples from many different cultures and global contexts. Students can choose their topics for assessment and examine religious scriptures, Chinese Philosophies, literary traditions like Kama Sutra, or religious institutions, and their policies or practices in their essays.

30 credits

Students without a substantial background in Philosophy (for example, those whose first degrees are in another subject) may be advised, to take one or two modules based on the undergraduate philosophy modules:

Reference and Truth

This module offers students an introduction to central issues in the Philosophy of Language, focusing on questions of meaning, reference and truth. We will consider questions like the following: How does a proper name like 'Tony Blair' refer to a certain person? Is meaning just a matter of reference? Do descriptions work like names? What are we to make of expressions that don't refer to anything that currently exists, e.g. 'Santa Claus' or 'the largest natural number'? What is the relation between the meaning of a sentence I utter and what I intend to convey by it? And we will ask what it means to say that a statement is true.

30 credits
Formal Logic

The course will start by introducing some elementary concepts from set theory; along the way, we will consider some fundamental and philosophically interesting results and forms of argumentation. It will then examine the use of 'trees' as a method for proving the validity of arguments formalised in propositional and first-order logic. It will also show how we may prove a range of fundamental results about the use of trees within those logics, using certain ways of assigning meanings to the sentences of the languages which those logics employ.

30 credits
Feminism

Feminists have famously claimed that the personal is political. This module takes up various topics with that methodological idea in mind: the family, cultural critique, language. We examine feminist methodologies - how these topics might be addressed by a feminism that is inclusive of all women - and also turn attention to social structures within which personal choices are made - capitalism, and climate crisis.

30 credits
Ethics: Theoretical and Practical

There are some things we morally ought to do, ways we ought to live. Those of us who are not moral sceptics will agree so far. Indeed, we may even agree extensively about what we ought to do or how we ought to live. But why? Ethicists don't just ask what we ought to do. They also try to work out, as systematically as possible, what explains the demands, obligations and requirements that stem from morality. That is what this module will explore. Is morality all about promoting the well-being of humans and other creatures? Does it stem from the requirements of rationality? Is it aimed at achieving the distinctive kinds of excellence that creatures like us can attain?

30 credits
Theory of Knowledge

The aim of the course is to provide an introduction to philosophical issues surrounding the knowledge. We will be concerned with the nature and extent of knowledge. How must a believer be related to the world in order to know that something is the case? Can knowledge be analysed in terms of more basic notions? Must our beliefs be structured in a certain way if they are to be knowledge? In considering these questions we will look at various sceptical arguments that suggest that the extent of knowledge is much less than we suppose. And we will look at the various faculties of knowledge: perception, memory, introspection, and testimony.

30 credits
Topics in Political Philosophy

This module will investigate a broad range of topics and issues in political philosophy and through doing so provide students with a broad understanding of those. It will include both historical and foundational matters and recent state of the art research.

30 credits
Philosophy of Mind

This module provides a survey of philosophical theories of the mind. One of the reasons why mental phenomena have been particularly interesting to philosophers is that they seem so unlike anything else there is in the world. Unlike gravity, or oxidation, or cell division, there is something that it is like to think and perceive, and thoughts and experiences have content or are about things outside of the individual having those thoughts. Are experiences and thoughts simply neurological states and processes? If not, what else could they be? We'll look at a variety of answers to these questions and examine the most important and influential theories in recent philosophy of mind, including logical behaviourism, psychological behaviourism, central-state identity theory, functionalism, and the representational theory of mind.

30 credits
Ethics

How should we live? How should we conduct ourselves? What duties do we owe t9 other people? Are there certain things we should never do in any circumstances? If so what things are they? Do questions like the foregoing have determinate, correct answers? If so can we know what they are? If so, how? These questions and questions like them are the subject matter of ethics. We will be studying and thinking about such questions by engaging with classical and/or contemporary texts

30 credits
Philosophy of the Arts

The module will present some fundamental debates in meta-ethics concerning the foundations of norms, obligations and reasons. We will read parts of Korsgaard's book 'The Sources of Normativity' and more recent literature grappling with the question Korsgaard has raised. We will try to understand what it means to ground a norm, whether norms must be grounded, what could possibly ground them and whether the grounding process has a terminus point.

30 credits
Metaphysics

This course will take on some metaphysical themes of perennial interest, such as ontological commitment, the problem of universals, and the ontology of material objects. Readings will be drawn mainly from recent and contemporary sources.

30 credits
Religion and the Good Life

What, if anything, does religion have to do with a well-lived life? For example, does living well require obeying God's commands? Does it require atheism? Are the possibilities for a good life enhanced or only diminished if there is a God, or if Karma is true? Does living well take distinctive virtues like faith, mindfulness, or humility as these have been understood within religious traditions? In this module, we will examine recent philosophical work on questions like these while engaging with a variety of religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Islam, and Judaism.

20 credits

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.

Teaching

You’ll learn through lectures, seminars and tutorials.

Dr Paul Faulkner, Philosophy

Dr Paul Faulkner

Research focus: Testimony and trust
Joined the department: 2001

Recent publications: What is Wrong With Lying?, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2007, 75(3); The Moral Obligations of Trust, Philosophical Explorations online, first 2014; A Virtue Theory of Testimony, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2014, 114(2) Knowledge on Trust (OUP, 2011); (co-ed), The Philosophy of Trust (OUP, 2017).

In what ways does believing what someone says introduce problems of trust? Is there anything wrong with lying? Do knowledge and belief differ in the way they get transmitted across persons? In what ways do we need to invoke communities in order to explain the ways in which knowledge is social?

Assessment

You’ll write a long essay for each module and a dissertation. If you’re going on to a PhD you may choose to write a PhD proposal.

Duration

  • 1 year full-time
  • 2 years part-time

Student profiles

Postgraduate philosophy students sitting around coffee table

Philosophy is challenging, it forces you to question your deep-seated beliefs and values. The great thing about philosophy is that it teaches you not what to think, but how to think.

Briana Toole

MA Philosophy

Entry requirements

You'll need a first-class or a 2.1 honours degree from a UK university or an equivalent grade from overseas.

Overall IELTS score of 7.0 with a minimum of 6.5 in each component, or equivalent.

We also accept a range of other UK qualifications and other EU/international qualifications.

If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.

Fees and funding

If you qualify, you may be able to get financial support through the University’s scholarships and fee waivers. 

Department's postgraduate funding opportunities page

Apply

You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

Apply now

Contact

phi-pgadmissions@sheffield.ac.uk
+44 114 222 0587

Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

Our student protection plan

Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

Explore this course:

    Dr Paul Faulkner, Philosophy

    Dr Paul Faulkner

    Research focus: Testimony and trust
    Joined the department: 2001

    Recent publications: What is Wrong With Lying?, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 2007, 75(3); The Moral Obligations of Trust, Philosophical Explorations online, first 2014; A Virtue Theory of Testimony, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2014, 114(2) Knowledge on Trust (OUP, 2011); (co-ed), The Philosophy of Trust (OUP, 2017).

    In what ways does believing what someone says introduce problems of trust? Is there anything wrong with lying? Do knowledge and belief differ in the way they get transmitted across persons? In what ways do we need to invoke communities in order to explain the ways in which knowledge is social?

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