Undergraduate Module Descriptor

PHL3108: Fundamental Ontology

This module descriptor refers to the 2016/7 academic year.


NQF Level 6
Credits 15 ECTS Value 7.5
Term(s) and duration

This module ran during term 2 (11 weeks)

Academic staff

Dr Jonathan Davies (Lecturer)





Available via distance learning


The course conceives of fundamental ontology as concerned with the basic categories with which we understand the world. This is often expressed as the metaphysical question, “what kinds of stuff is the world is made of”? The course is partly historical and the students’ engagement with ontological questions will be through a range of canonical philosophical texts. We will start with the problems of change and stability in Ancient Greek philosophy, which sets the stage for many of the most important ontological theories (atomism, materialism, idealism).

A significant portion of the course will be dedicated to the debate between monists and pluralists (of varying kinds). Many students will be familiar with Cartesian Dualism (one form of pluralism). The motivations for, and the responses to, this theory will be explored and the notion of “substance” (which is probably the most important in philosophical understandings of the nature of the world) will be critically engaged with. This section of the course will also explore two dominant monisms (materialism and idealism).

The latter part of the course will relate this philosophical tradition of asking questions about the fundamental nature of the world to modern science (in particular, physics), and consider the ontological assumptions that underlie our current scientific understanding. This section of the course will investigate physicalism and the place of philosophy in thinking about fundamental questions of ontology.

It is expected (but not required) that students should have some familiarity with basic questions of metaphysics (e.g. Cartesian Dualism).

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