PHIL233-24S2 (D) Semester Two 2024 (Distance)

Epistemology and Metaphysics

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 15 July 2024
End Date: Sunday, 10 November 2024
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 28 July 2024
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Sunday, 29 September 2024


This course is an introduction to selected topics in the theory of knowledge and of reality. For example: What is a physical object? Are you the same physical object now that you were 10 years ago? What makes the black squiggles you're now reading mean something? Are meanings ideas? Do deep metaphysical statements, such as ‘I am the only conscious being in the universe’ or 'Everything is fated', really say anything? Do males and females have different ways of knowing? What is time? Do humans have free will? Is cause-and-effect real, or just a way of looking at things? This course presupposes no prior knowledge of philosophy; it is aimed at students from a wide range of backgrounds, as well as philosophy majors.

Our initial topic is a look back to the first bold exciting steps of modern epistemology and the work of a group of philosophers called the ‘British Empiricists’. From there we move forward in time to the Logical Positivists, a group of 20th century conceptual revolutionaries based in Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s. The positivists’ claim was that deep metaphysical statements, such as ‘I am a brain in a vat’ or ‘Everything is fated’ are meaningless. Then we move forwards again to the present and study various topics in modern epistemology and metaphysics. For example: What is science? Causation? Identity and personal identity?

In the second half of the course, we address the  black squiggles you are reading right now, which have an amazing property—they can change you from one state (ignorance) to another (knowledge). But how could mere marks on a computer screen do that? (To get a feel for how amazing this is, imagine showing the same black squiggles to a baby, or your pet dog!) The answer may seem simple: the squiggles carry meaning. But what is meaning?

In addition, we look at philosophy itself: Do philosophers have a specific philosophical ‘personality’? Does philosophy have a ‘diversity’ problem? Is epistemology based on parochial cultural concepts? We also consider the view, assumed by many philosophers (and psychologists), that what you can and do know depends on the kind of soul or mind that you have, and that this in turn depends on biology. From Aristotle to Baron-Cohen in the 21st century—the view is constant. Human males mostly use logic and human females empathy—and this is because even 21st century humans have Stone Age minds. But is all this true?

Learning Outcomes

Why study philosophy? Not only is philosophy one of the most interesting and challenging subjects, it teaches skills that employers want: thinking outside the box, logic, ethics, and excellent writing and communication skills.

The aim of PHIL233 is that you will:

o Gain detailed knowledge of selected core topics in philosophy
o Improve your verbal and analytic reasoning skills
o Enhance your ability to think independently, systematically and creatively

University Graduate Attributes

This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.

Employable, innovative and enterprising

Students will develop key skills and attributes sought by employers that can be used in a range of applications.


Any 15 points at 100 level in PHIL, or
any 60 points at 100 level from the Schedule V of the BA or the BSc.

Course Coordinators

Diane Proudfoot and Jack Copeland

Contact Diane for further information.


Please check the course LEARN page for further details and updates.

Textbooks / Resources

The textbook for the first part of this course is The Empiricists ISBN: 9780385096225 (available in UBS and on loan in the high demand collection in the Central Library). Core readings for weeks 7-12 will all be available in Learn.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $844.00

International fee $3,950.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see Humanities .

All PHIL233 Occurrences

  • PHIL233-24S2 (C) Semester Two 2024
  • PHIL233-24S2 (D) Semester Two 2024 (Distance)