A-level Philosophy

A-level Philosophy

Philosophy is a subject about thinking, discussing and arguing. It examines how to do these things (so essential in so many aspects of life) accurately and successfully. There is virtually no area of human activity to which philosophy does not apply. The subject has been studied in every world culture since ancient times. The A-level course covers morals, religious and scientific views on the universe, political issues, human experience, what it means to be a human being and the implications of all of these for practical day-to-day living. Using the technical terms of the subject, we cover ethics, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, epistemology, aesthetics and metaphysics.

Students are introduced to the main problems in philosophy and answers to these questions as well as principal writers and thinkers including Plato, Nietzsche, Mill and Hume. We cover traditions from many different world cultures in a subject which prepares students well for further study and careers which require the ability to analyse and argue effectively both in discussion and on paper. The subject goes well with other liberal arts subjects such as history, English language and literature, sociology or modern foreign languages. It is also an excellent companion to science and mathematical subjects.

Entry Requirements
In order to cope successfully with reading and writing about topics in this subject, a student needs to be able to demonstrate achievement at GCSE level in subjects such as English, history, geography or religious studies. The normal grade expected is a B. The subject needs a good level of capability in English as a foreign language although, of course, teaching in the subject supports students in improving their levels of spoken and written English and essay writing.

Course Content

We use the AQA specification.

Unit 1 – PHIL1
An Introduction to Philosophy 1
Candidates must answer the compulsory question on reason and experience and one other question. We cover some basic themes for philosophy in general and for the rest of the course. These include the nature of experience, the evidence of the senses, the possibility of existence and experience beyond the material world and how knowledge works. We also cover political philosophy together with issues in ethics and the existence or non-existence of God.

Unit 2 – PHIL2
An Introduction to Philosophy 2
Candidates must answer two questions from themes which extend what is taught in Unit 1 above but also add new topics. The module includes ancient and modern ideas about reality and the universe, scientific approaches to existence, modern political thinking, the nature and value of art and whether human beings are free to make their own choices or are restricted by their environment and genetic make-up.

Unit 3 – PHIL3

Key Themes in Philosophy
Candidates must answer two questions from two different sections (i.e. on two different themes). Topics available for study are selected after discussion between teachers and students. Options cover the philosophy of mind, further political philosophy following topics in AS-level, the theory of knowledge and metaphysics. Further study in moral philosophy can include some of the major answers to questions about moral truth and why people make decisions and choices in how they act. Students interested in the philosophy of religion can extend their studies to arguments for and against the existence of God, reason, faith, miracles and religious language.

Unit 4 – PHIL4
Philosophical Problems
Candidates must choose one section and answer the compulsory question and one essay question. This module requires detailed awareness of one major philosophical text. In addition to knowledge of the major themes figuring in the chosen text, students have the opportunity to relate what they have covered in the text to other topics they have studied. The texts include an Enquiry concerning human understanding by David Hume; The Republic by Plato; On Liberty by J. S. Mill; Meditations by René Descartes.


Four units

Unit 1 50% of AS, 25% of A Level. One written paper of 1 hour 30 minutes (worth 90 marks).
Unit 2 50% of AS, 25% of A Level. One written paper of 1 hour 30 minutes (worth 90 marks).
Unit 3 30% of A Level. One written paper of 2 hours (worth 100 marks).
Unit 4 20% of A Level. One written paper written paper of 1 hour 30 minutes (worth 60 marks).

There is no coursework or work portfolio in this subject.

Students are assessed on their knowledge of issues and thinkers; on their ability to outline clearly issues and arguments; on their ability to criticise and evaluate the material they have learned.

Credit is given to students able to demonstrate good knowledge of major themes and problems and the different approaches by thinkers and philosophers.

Where does it lead?

A qualification in philosophy opens many doors. Since philosophy is a wide ranging subject and since it trains students to analyse, evaluate and criticise on paper, it is held in high regard by University admissions tutors in a range of subjects including economics, psychology, law, sociology, business studies and politics. Although it cannot replace mathematics and science A-levels required by courses in subjects such as engineering and medicine, a qualification in philosophy helps the skills of analysis and assessing evidence needed in these areas. Philosophy is also a central part in the school programs of several major European countries including France, Italy and Switzerland.

Reading List

In addition to the major texts available for Unit 4 in the second year of study, there is a textbook endorsed by the examination board which provides an excellent framework covering the material in the modules. Teachers provide course materials to supplement these resources. Students are also guided and encouraged to read other materials relating to major topics in philosophy. Many of these are in the form of articles published by modern thinkers and philosophers, challenging but easier to work with since they are short.