What you will study
Block 1: The emotions
Emotions permeate our everyday lives yet questions about what emotions are and their role in human psychology remain deeply controversial. In this block, you'll investigate the nature and value of emotion, via three connected debates in contemporary philosophy of emotion.
The first debate concerns situations in which emotions conflict with our considered judgements. How should we understand these conflicts? Can they usefully be compared with cases involving sensory illusions? What do these cases tell us about the nature of emotion?
The second debate concerns the role of emotion as a source of knowledge. Are our emotions an important source of knowledge or understanding? If so, how does this come about? Do our emotions inform us about the world in the same direct and reliable way as our senses?
The third debate concerns emotion as a guide to action. Emotions certainly often move us to act. But do they provide reasons to act? When head and heart conflict, is it ever rational to follow our hearts? In studying this material, you will focus on a tightly defined set of issues at the heart of current philosophical debate about emotion. Even so, these are issues that point to broader questions in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of action, epistemology and ethics.
Block 2: Nietzsche
In his short treatise On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) Nietzsche publishes his most sustained attack on Western morality. You'll examine his bold thesis that our deeply held and widely shared values, such as compassion and equality, are neither God-given nor are they the result of disinterested reasoning about what is right and wrong. Morality, he claims, is an invention by a certain type of person or group, he calls them ‘slaves’, who thereby tried to assert their power over another type or group, the ‘masters’ or ‘nobles’. ‘Morality' is a natural, human phenomenon with history, an ‘all-too-human’ history, steeped in oppression, suffering, hatred, ressentiment, and revenge. It was only through establishing systems of values that suited their own interests that the initially powerless asserted themselves.
The principal goal of this block is for you to understand the ways in which Nietzsche argues for this main thesis in the three essays of the Genealogy. You'll focus on five topics: the scope of Nietzsche’s critique, 'genealogy’ as his method, what he means by ‘ressentiment’, the development of ‘guilt’ from ‘debt’, and his attack on the 'ascetic ideal’.
Block 3: Foucault and Arendt
What is power? Is the power to punish different from the power of curing and educating? Is power (always) connected with violence? What is the relationship between power and freedom, and power and the law? In this block, you'll explore these and other questions concerning the concept of power. You'll begin with the debates about power by considering classic and current definitions of this concept. You'll then learn the views of two major twentieth-century philosophers: Michel Foucault and Hannah Arendt. Through them, you'll consider power in a variety of settings, including schools, prisons, society as a whole, governments and revolutions. Most critics regard Foucault’s and Arendt’s strikingly different views as incompatible; however, some of them have in fact attempted to combine them.
You'll have the opportunity to develop your study in the direction that most interests you. You can concentrate on the assessment of Foucault’s and Arendt’s philosophies, or on their comparison. Alternatively, you may focus on the uses that current philosophers have made of their ideas, for instance in the context of feminist philosophy; or develop your own answers to the questions posed, in dialogue with the texts that you have studied.
Block 4: Dirty Hands
We are said to get ‘dirty hands’ when forced by circumstances or others’ evildoings into ‘doing wrong to do right’: into doing something that is, in Michael Stocker’s words, ‘justified, even obligatory, but none the less wrong and shameful’. What does that mean? What kinds of acts are supposed to be like this? Does it even make sense to talk in this way? If you found yourself asking any such questions, then you have to some extent already engaged with this problem in moral and political philosophy which you will be exploring in this final part of your MA. You'll read the classic modern articulation of the problem by Michael Walzer, from which we get the now (in) famous ‘ticking bomb’ example, among others. Following this you'll engage with debates over what kind of problem or phenomenon dirty hands is, what if any threat it poses to well-established moral theories, and indeed whether the problem itself is merely an illusion. In the second half of the block you'll focus on dirty hands and politics where some philosophers have found the problem especially, or most, urgent.
You will learn
You will learn about four key areas of philosophy, drawing on both the history of philosophy and contemporary enquiry. This will cover the emotions, Nietzsche and ethics, Foucault and Arendt on power, and political philosophy. In writing your dissertation you will also learn how to pursue independent research in philosophy, including how to communicate your ideas to an academic (and other) audience.