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Guidance on the General Philosophy Course

Each of the General Philosophy reading lists starts with a series of questions that are intended to orientate your work on the essay, but don't feel obliged to address them in sequence or to answer them all explicitly. You should aim to write about 2,000-3,000 words, covering the general ground indicated by the questions, and explaining in particular the overall position that you are inclined to take in the light of your work.

The main aim of the essay is to focus your study and encourage you to think through the issues for yourself. You learn Philosophy by doing Philosophy, and getting personally engaged in the topic – grappling with the issues – is more important than trying to "cover the bases". Once you start reading, you might decide that you want to spend most of your time on a particular part of the topic that captures your interest: this is fine, because you'll probably learn more by going deeper in this way than you will by trying to survey the whole area. Do, however, bear in mind that the essay will serve for the future as a reminder of what you have read and the main arguments and conclusions you have drawn from it. So do be sure to include specific references to the works and philosophers you make use of, including page references so that you can follow these up later, perhaps when revising for the examination or working on a more advanced paper (or indeed during the tutorial).

Note that the official syllabus and Faculty-recommended reading for this paper, together with live links to online resources, can be found from this link and also on the Faculty WebLearn. Since the examination will be based on the assumption that students are familiar with these readings, and will not presuppose familiarity with any others, these will constitute the main focus of our work.

Note also that there are lots of general materials available these days, from published "companions" to epistemology or general philosophy (often alphabetically arranged, so you can browse for useful summaries of positions and criticisms etc.), to Web resources such as the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy. The Stanford Encyclopedia, for example, already provides at least two sections that are potentially useful for the first topic of Knowledge (and more are being added):

Some of this material gets difficult, but the introductions to the topics are often well worth consulting, especially if your other reading is leaving you feeling a bit disorientated.