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Level 6

6AAT3601 The Search for Meaning


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 Christopher Hamilton 
Assessment: One 2,500-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

Through lectures/seminars students will explore the ways in which philosophers and others have struggled to make sense of the human condition. They will explore ways in which both philosophical and literary texts approach this issue and what their distinctive contributions to this are. They will be encouraged to develop an open-ended, exploratory style of thought in which answers arrived at are less important than grasping the difficulty of formulating the most helpful kinds of questions in the present context. They will, however, of course, be expected to engage with texts in a rigorous manner, reading closely and carefully, exploring the ways in which different kinds of texts make different demands on readers.

Sample topics

  • Introduction
    • Philosophy and God, Life and Death
  • The theistic alternative
    • Tolstoy’s My Confession
  • The nontheistic alternative
    • Kleist’s short stories: ‘The Faulty Set-up of the World’
  • The problem after Auschwitz
    • Primo Levi: ‘An Infinity of Pain’
  • The Bourgeois World
    • Virginia Woolf’s The Waves
  • The sceptical stance
    • Montaigne’s ‘On Experience’: Cheerfulness, Gladness and Comedy

Past syllabus

Please find syllabus document available here for academic year 2015-16. Please be aware that the content of the syllabus will differ each academic year. 


Further information

Module aims

The aim of this course is to offer a level 6 module principally for students in RPE which brings together and deepens some of the keys themes in moral philosophy and philosophy of religion already studied at levels 4 and 5.

More specifically, the aims are to:

  • explore with students the ways in which philosophers have thought about, and continue to think about, human beings’ attempts to make sense of, to find meaning in, their lives, both within and without a religious (Christian) framework;
  • explore with students the same in the context of certain key literary texts;
  • explore with students the ways in which it might be possible to think about these issues in the light of Auschwitz and how the latter may be thought to have changed the human condition, as some philosophers and others suppose;
  • to introduce students to some key literary/philosophical texts from a variety of European traditions.
Learning outcomes

Generic skills

By the end of the course the student will be able to demonstrate an advanced ability

  • to analyse philosophical and literary texts;
  • 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 and philosophical texts that contribute greatly to exploration of human beings’ search for meaning in their life
  • be able to see something of the importance of literature for philosophy and vice versa, especially in this context
  • have a deepened understanding of a group of closely related key problems in ethics and philosophy of religion.
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