The University of Southampton

PHIL1002 Knowledge and Mind

Module Overview

According to rationalists, we can discover important truths about reality through the use of reason alone. The rationalists of the 17th century helped to found modern philosophy. In their seminal works, they introduced or cast in a new light fundamental questions about human beings and their place in the universe. The aim of this module is introduce you to some of the key ideas and arguments of Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Leibniz. You will explore such questions as: What can we know about the world? Is the mind distinct from the body? Is there a God? What room is there for freedom of thought and action in a law-governed universe?

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To explore and critically evaluate some of the key ideas and arguments of the 17th century rationalists.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • some of the central issues raised in the work of rationalist philosophers, such as Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Leibniz.
  • the rationalist project, its motivations, and the problems it faces.
  • the relationship between the views of the rationalists and contemporary discussions of the topics in question.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake, with adequate supervision, independent work, including identifying and using appropriate resources.
  • work as part of a team in your essay group meetings on the analysis and evaluation of texts.
  • work effectively to deadlines.
  • take notes from talks and written materials.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • interpret, synthesise and criticise complex texts and positions.
  • present and debate ideas, both orally and in writing, in an open minded and rigorous way.


The syllabus for this module may vary from year to year. It may include topics such as: - What sort of knowledge, if any, can we have of the external world? - What am I? - How does the mind relate to the body? - Is there a God? - What are material objects? - Are we free in thought or action?

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - In-class discussion - Essay group tutorials Learning activities include - Attending lectures - Contributing to discussion in lectures and tutorials - Doing research for and writing assessed essays - Applying techniques and skills learnt to your reading and writing inside and outside the module In the lectures, you will not only be introduced to the philosophical issues central to this module and the ideas of the philosophers studied but also encouraged to think about them for yourself. Your own ideas and any difficulties you encounter can be raised and discussed in essay group meetings. The writing of essays should involve you in thinking deeply about the relevant issues and texts.

Completion of assessment task30
Wider reading or practice30
Preparation for scheduled sessions50
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Malebranche. The Search After Truth. 

Spinoza. Ethics. 

Descartes. Meditations on First Philosophy. 

J Cottingham (1988). The Rationalists. 

Leibniz. Discourse on Metaphysics. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1000 words) 33.33%
Essay  (1000 words) 33.34%
Essay  (1000 words) 33.33%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (120 minutes) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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