Proposal for a GCSE Philosophy Possible Subject Content

Please download this file for the rationale of the proposed GCSE: PEP_GCSE_Philosophy_Proposal

The proposal is informed by the following considerations:

  1. Primary focus on concepts and debates, able to be taught through enquiry and supporting the development of philosophical skills
  2. Preparation for A level, without too much overlap
  3. Accessibility and interest of topics
  4. Importance of political philosophy and addressing issues around truth
  5. Availability of teaching materials and familiarity of topics for teachers
  6. Importance of meta-cognition – hence reflection on forms of reasoning used, reflection on the importance of reasoning and truth, and the introduction of education as a topic in ethics

This proposal includes the minimum of named philosophers; we would expect a more detailed proposal to include further examples of philosophers of both genders and a variety of traditions.

Unit 1: Epistemology and metaphysics

1. Reason and argument (This content would be taught explicitly but with the expectation that students would develop their skills in applying these forms of argument to the analysis of the specific topics contained within the remainder of the course.)

  • What is an argument?
  • Argument evaluation
  • Objections and replies
    • Counter-arguments
    • The features of good and bad argument
    • Elements of formal and informal logic
  • Why is reasoning important?
    • Issues of truth, evidence, contradiction and the nature of the thought
    • Principle of charity

2. The self/personal identity

  • Personal identity as a metaphysical question
  • Identity
    • Identity conditions
    • The distinction between identity at a time and identity through time
  • Person/self as mind
    • First person perspective: Consciousness and self-awareness (Locke)
    • Can machines think? Can machines be persons?
    • Is the mind independent of the body? (Avicenna, Descartes)
    • Teleportation and duplication
  • Person/self as animal
    • Brain transplants
  • The self as illusion

3. Free will

  • Free will as a metaphysical question
  • Determinism
    • Physical determinism
    • Psychological determinism: nature/nurture
  • Incompatibilism
    • Libertarianism
    • Free will as illusion
  • Compatibilism
    • The meaning of ‘free will’, ‘voluntary action’ and ‘choice’ (Simone de Beauvoir, Hume; Aristotle)

4. Truth

  • Objective truth, relativism and subjectivism
    • ‘Plain truth’ and Truth (with a capital T)
    • The difference between belief and true belief
  • The denial of objective truth
    • Forms of relativism and subjectivism about truth; the meaning of ‘true for’
    • The differences between relativism/subjectivism, scepticism and fallibilism
  • Scepticism and fallibilism
    • Fallibilism and science
    • Scepticism and the limits of knowledge
  • The importance of truth
    • Truth, reasoning and contradiction
    • The virtues of accuracy and sincerity

5. Reality

  • Plato’s theory of forms
  • Is beauty objective?
  • Naturalism and physicalism
  • Paradoxes of space and time
    • Zeno’s paradoxes: Achilles and the tortoise; the arrow
    • Time travel
    • The mirror puzzle (Plato)

6. Ways of knowing

  • Science and its limits
    • The problem of induction (Hume)
    • Falsification and the scientific method (Popper)
    • Scientific progress
  • Emotion, imagination and art
    • Does emotion yield knowledge or hinder it?
    • Can imagination help expand what and how we know?
    • Does art communicate understanding through emotion and imagination? (Collingwood)
  • Religion and faith
    • Is faith a special kind of cognitive state?
    • The relation between faith and reason

Unit 2 Ethics and Political Philosophy

1. Theories of well-being and the good

  • Pleasure (Mill)
  • Desire and its satisfaction
  • The value of money
  • Eudaimonia and objective well-being (Aristotle)
  • Morality and self-interest

2. Being good and doing right

  • Deontology: the concept of duty and doing right for its own sake
  • Virtue: the concept of virtues as traits of character (Aristotle, Foot)
  • Whether being good is more than doing right

3. Practical issues

  • Environment
    • Is ethics always about individuals or do ecosystems and species count?
    • The difference between intrinsic and instrumental good, and whether we should preserve the environment because it contributes to human well-being or also for its own sake
  • Ethics and science
    • Are there ethical limits on scientific investigation?
    • Are there ethical limits on innovations in biotechnology?
  • Education
    • What is the purpose of education? (Dewey)
    • What is a good education?
  • The distribution of wealth
    • How should we respond to poverty and the inequality of wealth?
    • Should wealth be distributed by markets? Is taxation justified? (Sandel)

4. Liberty

  • What is liberty? (Mill)
    • Negative and positive liberty
  • The value of liberty
    • Whether liberty is intrinsically valuable or only instrumentally valuable (Plato)
    • Possible conflicts between liberty and what is morally right
  • Terrorism and the conflict between liberty and security
  • Social media and freedom of expression

5. Tolerance

  • What is tolerance?
    • The difference between tolerance, subjectivism and relativism
  • Arguments for tolerance (Locke; Mill)
    • Pragmatism and the ‘modus vivendi’
    • Fallibilism
    • The value of autonomy/liberty
    • The value of diversity
  • The limits of tolerance
    • The incompatibility of tolerance with certain religious and moral beliefs
    • The paradox of tolerance

6. Political obligation and democracy

  • The difference between political and moral obligation
  • Consent as the basis of political obligation (Locke; Hume)
    • Whether consent has been given: explicit, tacit and hypothetical consent
    • Voting
  • Democracy and legitimacy
    • Whether democracy is necessary for legitimate government (Plato)
    • Whether democracy is sufficient for legitimate government
    • Justice as the basis of legitimacy and political obligation (Rawls)

Comments and suggestions are welcome below. Thank you.

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Proposal for a GCSE Philosophy Possible Subject Content

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