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Level 5

5AAT2039 Ethics, Philosophy and Literature


The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee this module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary depending between years.

Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Kate Kirkpatrick
Assessment: One 2,000-word essay (40%) and one two-hour examination (60%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: Two-hour weekly classes over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This course aims to introduce students to certain keys literary texts and the philosophical topics they explore. It also aims to introduce students to certain key conceptual issues concerning the relations between philosophy and literature. Topics that will be raised in the course will include: what is the distinctive contribution that literature and philosophy each make towards an understanding of religion and morality in the broadest senses of these terms? Are there topics which can best be understood from a philosophical, rather than literary, point of view, or vice versa? What kinds of critical concepts do we need in exploring philosophical, alternatively, literary texts? Can we even speak of texts as ‘literary’ and ‘philosophical’ in such a broad-brush way? And, most importantly, what are the respective contributions of philosophy and literature to a humane education?

There is no requirement to read foreign language texts in the original languages, but students will be encouraged to do so if possible.

NB This module complements 5AAT2601 Philosophy & Film.

Sample topics

  • Week 1-2: Introduction: Philosophy, literature and the human condition
  • Weeks 3-4: Conrad, Heart of Darkness: Unrestrained desire.
  • Weeks 5-6: Svevo, Zeno’s Conscience: Life as an illness.
  • Weeks 7-8: Camus, The Fall: The inevitability of guilt.
  • Weeks 9-10: Sebald, The Rings of Saturn: On (not) speaking about the Holocaust.

Preliminary reading

Key texts (to be used throughout the course)

  • Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  • Svevo, La coscienza di Zeno (Zeno’s Conscience [or Confessions of Zeno])
  • Camus, La Chute (The Fall)
  • Sebald, Die Ringe des Saturn (The Rings of Saturn)

Further information

Module aims
  • To introduce students to certain key issues in the relation between philosophy and literature.
  • To explore some of the ways in which literature can significantly contribute to reflection on certain ethical and religious matters.
  • To suggest ways in which certain issues in ethics and philosophy of religion may be more helpfully explored in literary, than in traditional philosophical, texts.
  • To introduce students to certain keys literary texts and the philosophical topics they explore
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

By the end of the course the student will be able to demonstrate an intermediate ability:-

  • to analyse texts and arguments
  • to summarise and present arguments
  • to research, plan and present essays to specified deadlines

Course specific skills

Students should become familiar with some key literary texts that contribute greatly to exploration of certain central philosophical issues; be able to see something of the importance for philosophy of literature; have some insight into the nature of different types of text and the demands they make on the reader; have a deepened understanding of certain keys problems in ethics and philosophy or religion.

Past syllabi
Previous syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16.

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.



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