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The University of Southampton

PHIL3048 Scepticism

Module Overview

The question of whether we can really know anything about the world around us is as old as philosophy itself. In this module you will study different forms of philosophical scepticism – Pyrrhonian, Cartesian and contemporary – as well as different ways of responding to the sceptical problem: Some philosophers argue that one needs to refute the position, others that one needs to take a ‘diagnostic’ approach that undermines the philosophical assumptions that give rise to it; others still that one needs to learn to live with a ‘sceptical solution’. You will learn to analyse and assess the relative merits of these approaches, in order to gain a deeper understanding of how great a threat to human knowledge philosophical scepticism poses.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

To explore and critically discuss different forms of, and varieties of responses to, philosophical scepticism from Antiquity to the present day.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • some of the central ways of motivating the radical sceptical problem
  • some of the central ways of responding to the radical sceptical problem
  • the key assumptions that have radical sceptical implications
  • the epistemological implications of the various positions studied in the module
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake independent work, including identifying and using appropriate resources
  • work effectively to deadlines
  • take notes from talks and written materials
  • contribute to discussion in a critical but dispassionate way
  • express views clearly and concisely
  • identify and evaluate the reasons for and against your own views and those of others
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • analyse views and their implications
  • identify and evaluate arguments critically and sympathetically
  • present and debate ideas, both orally and in writing, in an open minded and rigorous fashion
  • articulate and defend your own views regarding the issues the module concerns


In this module you can expect to explore topics such as: - Pyrrhonian scepticism - Cartesian scepticism - Contemporary forms of scepticism - Ways of ‘living with’ scepticism - Attempts to refute scepticism - Attempts to undermine the cogency of scepticism

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include • Lectures • In-class discussion, exercises and presentations • individual consultation with the module coordinator during office hours or by appointment Learning activities include • Attending lectures • Contributing to class discussion; completing exercises; giving presentations • Doing independent research for and writing assessed essays and exams

Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Follow-up work24
Wider reading or practice24
Completion of assessment task22
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

L. Wittgenstein (1969). On Certainty. 

P.F. Strawson (1959). Individuals. 

Rene Descartes (1986). Meditations on First Philosophy. 

Stroud, B. Scepticism and the Senses. European Journal of Philosophy. ,17 (4) , pp. 559-570.





MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1000 words) 40%
Exam  (2 hours) 60%


MethodPercentage contribution
Exam  (2 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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