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PHIL1024 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:

  • demonstrate knowledge and understanding of some of the central issues raised in the work of rationalist philosophers, such as Descartes, Malebranche, Spinoza, and Leibniz.
  • demonstrate a critical appreciation of the rationalist project and its motivations
  • be able to situate the views of the rationalists in relation to contemporary discussions of the topics in question.
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.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake, withadequate 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.


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 - Weekly lectures - Small group seminars - In class discussion Learning activities include - Attending lectures - Contributing to discussion in lectures and seminars - Reading primary and secondary texts. - Doing research for and writing assessed essays

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

Resources & Reading list

J Cottingham (1988). The Rationalists. 

Descartes. Meditations on First Philosophy. 

Spinoza. Ethics. 

Malebranche. The Search After Truth. 

Leibniz. Discourse on Metaphysics. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Assessment  (250 words) 33%
Essay  (1500 words) 67%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (3 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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