Philosophy Modules

Courses in Philosophy at UKZN

Somewhat different courses are offered at Howard College and Pietermaritzburg:

At  first year level both centres offer ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ (16 credits) in the first semester, and ‘Philosophy and Ethics, Ancient and Modern’ (16 credits) in the second semester.

At second and third year each campus offers a variety of more specialised courses on topics including ethics, knowledge, philosophy and society, and the history of philosophy.

Honours, Masters and Doctoral degrees are offered at both centres. The modules offered for Honours or Master study vary from year to year.

For more information about what studying philosophy involves, please follow this link:



First Year

PHIL 101 – Introduction to Philosophy (semester 1)

In this course students encounter a selection of classic positions in the history of philosophy, and are introduced to the skills required to interpret and reason about these positions. The mix of topics and readings varies from year to year, but usually includes some of the following:

  • What is knowledge? What can we actually know?
  • How is the mind related to the body?
  • What makes life worth living?
  • What is philosophy?

The course involves a mixture of lectures and tutorial sessions (link) and students are assessed on the basis of a mixture of written essay assignments, tests and a final examination.

Prerequisites: None

PHIL 102 – Philosophy and Ethics (semester 2)

This course engages with a number of introductory topics in philosophy and ethics. Students will learn about some of the most enduring philosophical questions, and about some of the ways philosophers have attempted to respond to those questions. The mix of topics and readings varies from year to year, but usually includes some of the following:

  • What makes an action good or moral?
  • Does life have a meaning?
  • What are the best ways of distributing goods and rights?
  • What is justice?

As with Philosophy 101, this course involves a mixture of lectures and tutorial sessions (link) and students are assessed on the basis of a mixture of written essay assignments, tests and a final examination.

Prerequisites: None (although we recommend Philosophy 101)

Second year

PHIL 205 – Being and knowing (semester 1)

This course focuses on questions of knowledge and justification. On the one hand we develop the reasoning skills of students by teaching more about the logic of arguments, and how to distinguish good and bad arguments. On the other, we look at some issues regarding the nature and possibility of knowledge. This course is required for students majoring in philosophy.

Prerequisites: 96 unspecified credit points. (Philosophy 101 recommended.)

PHIL 206 – Ethics (semester 2)

This course is about ethical problems in the lives of ordinary people. The problems we will focus on include such everyday issues as humour (joke-telling), sex (promiscuity, adultery and homosexuality), the physical punishment of children, eating meat, smoking and drug-taking, forgiveness, giving aid (the extent to which we are obliged to help those of the world’s poor who are starving to death), gambling, copyright violation and gossip. These topics are not only engaging but also very important, affecting the way in which we lead (or should lead) our daily lives.

Prerequisites: 96 unspecified credits.

Third Year

The following courses will be offered at final year level in 2015.

Semester 1

PHIL 301 (A central philosophical problem)
Philosophy of Law – Prof Patrick Lenta

This module, comprised of four sections, provides an introduction to the philosophy of law. In the first section we shall address questions relating to the nature of law including: What is law? What is the relationship between law and morality? What should judges do when a legal rule mandates an unjust result? In the second section, we shall take up the question whether the law should enforce morality. In the third section, we shall ask whether judicial review is democratic, and to the extent that it is undemocratic, whether it could be changed to make it more democratic. In the fourth and final section, we shall examine some rationales for criminal punishment and justifications advanced for certain types of punishment.

PHIL 302 (Cognitive Processes, Language and Consciousness)
Philosophy of Mind – Dr Adriano Palma

This course will focus on three related topics in philosophy of mind. The first is innate knowledge and arguments for it. The second is the problem of dualism, or the separation of mind and body. The last is the possibility of artificial intelligence, and the related notion that minds are in some sense machines.

PHIL303: Issues in Ethical Theory (not offered at Howard College)
PHIL304 African Philosophy and Ethics(not offered at Howard College)

Semester 2

PHIL 305 (Philosophy and Society)
Natural Kinds and Race – Prof David Spurrett

This course focuses on the philosophical question of what, if anything, is a ‘natural kind’ (something featuring in laws and explanations) and applies these philosophical questions to the specific topic of race. We will ask whether races are natural kinds, and what races, and racism could be if they are not.

PHIL 306 (History of Philosophy)
Hume and Kant – Mr Deepak Mistrey

This is a course in classical modern epistemology focusing on Hume and Kant. Its aim is to give students an introduction to, and an opportunity to read and examine, significant parts of Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. In particular it is expected that students will emerge with an understanding of Hume’s basic position, his treatment of causality, of personal identity, and other matters of epistemology and metaphysics; and with an understanding of the basic position of the Critique of Pure Reason, esp. Kant’s views on space and time and the deduction of the pure concepts of the understanding. Students will be expected to know these particular aspects of Hume and Kant well, and to be able to respond analytically and critically to them.

For more information about any of these courses, please contact the lecturers concerned.

PHIL 307 Philosophy of Mind (not offered at Howard College)
PHIL 308 Study of a Contemporary Philosopher (not offered at Howard College)


PHIL701 - Political Philosophy

Aim: Exploration of selected themes in political philosophy.

Content: Likely topics include, but are not restricted to, social contract theory, liberalism and multiculturalism, game theoretical

approaches to politics, utopianism and utopias, justice and development, democracy and deliberation.


PHIL702 - Contemporary Continental Philosophy Aim: Exploration of selected themes in contemporary continental philosophy. Content: Likely topics include, but are not limited to, themes in the work of Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, Foucault, Levinas, Bataille and others.


PHIL703 - Meta-Ethics

Aim: To introduce learners to recent theories and arguments in meta-ethics so that they are able to engage with these debates at graduate level. We examine competing theories about the nature of moral  judgements and the role of reason in action and in relation to moral judgements.


PHIL704 - Metaphysics

Aim: Advanced critical investigation of a central field of analytic metaphysics to enable learners to engage with contemporary debates at graduate level.        

Content: The precise content of the module will vary from year to year. Likely topics include persons and personal identity or causation. The course will focus on a recent major text in the area.


PHIL705 - Advanced Study of a Philosophical Problem

Aim: Advanced critical investigation of a

single issue that is recognised to be of major importance in philosophy.

Content: The selected issue will vary from year

to year. The course will usually focus on a recent major text.


PHIL706 - Directed Study in Philosophy

Aim: Directed study in philosophical topics of interest to philosophy postgraduate students. The content of the module will reflect current postgraduate research interests and will be taught by various members of the Philosophy staff in tandem, using a seminar format.

PHIL707 - Topics in Distributed Cognition

Aim: Exploration of key problems in cognitive science.

Content: Topics include cognitive processes; central and distributed models; cognitive architectures; strengths and weaknesses of serial and parallel distributed models; distributed cognition in locomotion; distributed cognition in the solution of computational problems, navigation; language and distributed cognition; evolution.


PHIL708 - Directed Research in Cognitive Science

Aim: Supervised research in theoretical or empirical

cognitive science. Content: The seminar component of this course will be negotiated by students and staff. Students will pursue a partly independent course of research culminating in a theoretical paper or research report, under the direction of experienced researchers.


PHIL7RP - Honours Research Project: Philosophy

Aim: To undertake and complete a competent research project.    

Content: Research portfolio over one semester.

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