Philosophy A-Level | Surbiton High School
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Philosophy A-Level

Examination Board: AQA

Students are evidently drawn to the compelling and profound nature of the questions that Philosophy raises. These include how can I be sure that anything really exists? Does my mind accurately represent the world as it really is? Does God exist and, if so, why does God allow evil? Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Are mind and body separate?

Such matters have preoccupied the finest minds since the dawn of civilisation. Although few Philosophy students are rewarded for their hard work with certainty concerning them, far fewer regret having tackled them in the first place. Our students always enjoy the subject tremendously.

Philosophers take nothing on trust and are notoriously fastidious – some would say pedantic – when it comes to making their meaning clear and justifying every step in an argument. Accordingly, students will need patience and diligence as well as the capacity to think both abstractly and logically. The ability to transfer one’s thoughts onto paper in a lucid and succinct fashion is, given that assessment is entirely by timed written examination, crucial. However, despite the demands of the subject being significant, there is no one GCSE subject that is essential in preparation for studying A-level Philosophy.

Many who are unfamiliar with Philosophy wonder how such an apparently abstruse subject can be of much value beyond academia. The answer is that Philosophy practises skills of analysis, argument, evaluation and reasoning to levels arguably unsurpassed in any other subject, and that these are skills which are among those most highly prized by universities and employers alike. As an A-level, it complements all other subjects; after all, there is a Philosophy of Art as much as there is a Philosophy of Mathematics.


Paper 1

3-hour examination
Part 1: Epistemology
‘Epistemology’ refers to theory of knowledge. Some of the questions we study include:
■ What can we know?
■ How do we gain knowledge?
■ Can we be sure that the world outside our minds exists?
■ Is there such a thing as innate knowledge?
There are three main areas of study:
■ Perception: what are the immediate objects of perception?
■ The definition of knowledge
■ The origin of concepts and the nature of knowledge: where do ideas/concepts and knowledge come from?
Part 2: Moral Philosophy
‘Ethics’ is moral philosophy, which is about right and wrong and the way we should behave. Some of the questions we study include:
■ How do we make moral decisions?
■ Is there such a thing as right and wrong?
■ Do human beings have rights?
■ Is the right thing to do always the one that produces the most happiness?
There are three main areas of study:
■ Normative ethical theories – Utilitarianism, Kantian Deontological Ethics and Aristotelian Virtue Ethics
■ Meta Ethics: considering the origin of moral principles and distinctions in ethical language.
■ Applied Ethics: applying the content of normative ethical theories and meta-ethics to the topics of stealing, simulated killing, eating animals and telling lies.

Paper 2

3-hour examination
Part 1: Metaphysics of God
Some of the questions we study include:
■ Can the existence of God be proved?
■ Why is there evil?
■ Does it make sense to talk of an omnipotent being?
■ Do statements need to be provable by sense experience in order to be meaningful?
There are three main areas of study:
■ The concept of God
■ Arguments relating to the existence of God
■ Religious language
Part 2: Metaphysics of Mind
‘Metaphysics of Mind’ deals with some of the questions left unanswered by psychology and neuroscience, whilst also drawing on some of the findings of these subjects. Some of the questions we study include:
■ Are my mind and body separate?
■ What is the relationship between the physical and the mental?
■ Could zombies (beings without consciousness) exist?
■ Can all mental states just be explained physically?
The main areas of study include:
■ The relationship between mind and body
■ Dualism
■ Materialism
■ Logical/analytical behaviourism
■ Mind-brain type identity theory
■ Eliminative materialism