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PHIL2028 Appearance and Reality

Module Overview

The 17th and 18th centuries, a period of great intellectual and social upheaval, saw the rise of Modern Philosophy. In continental Europe, the 'Rationalism' of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz argued for the capacity of reason to arrive at knowledge and understanding of the fundamental nature of reality, while the British 'Empiricists', including Locke, Berkeley and Hume, argued that all knowledge and understanding is ultimately grounded in sensory experience and grew increasingly sceptical of our capacity to discover the fundamental nature of reality. Many of the ideas and problems that contemporary philosophers grapple with were inherited from the Early Modern era, and the debates in which they now participate were in large part shaped by the concerns and theories of the Rationalists and Empiricists. So, an understanding of the philosophy of this period is not simply of considerable historical interest, but is essential for a serious engagement with contemporary philosophical thought. In this module, you will focus primarily on the work of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, though you might also engage with the work of Spinoza and Leibniz. The module aims to introduce you to their views on such topics as the mind and its relationship to the body, God, the nature of the external world, and the extent to which we can have knowledge of such things. The module also aims to give you the ability to examine critically those views and the arguments in support of them.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To explore and critically discuss some of the central works in early modern philosophy.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Of the central views of Locke, Berkeley and Hume.
  • Of the development of Empiricism and its relationship to the views of Descartes and his fellow Rationalists.
  • Of the bearing of these views on contemporary philosophical issues.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Compare and contrast the views of the British Empiricists.
  • Outline and evaluate the arguments they offer in support of those views in light of recent commentary.
  • Evaluate those arguments critically and carefully.
  • Relate the issues the module concerns to issues in contemporary philosophy.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Give clear and engaging oral presentations, making effective use of visual aids.
  • Scrutinise complex texts and extract from them key information.
  • Demonstrate enhanced skills in essay writing, planning and research.


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topic may include: 1. Introduction to Rationalism and Empiricism 2. Locke on perception, the external world and the self 3. Berkeley on the external world, God and the self 4. Hume on causation, the external world and the self

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include: - Lectures - Seminars - In-class discussion - One to one consultation with the module coordinator Learning activities include: - Attending classes - Participating in class discussion - Preparing for and completing assessment tasks

Completion of assessment task22
Preparation for scheduled sessions22
Follow-up work22
Wider reading or practice22
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

David Hume. A Treatise of Human Nature. 

John Locke. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 

George Berkeley. A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. 

R Meyers (2006). Understanding Empiricism. 



Draft essay


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1750 words) 70%
Online test 10%
Presentation  (10 minutes) 20%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


No additional costs associated with this module.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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