Realism and Relativism - PHIL5880

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


We often make claims about the world, whether in Ethics, Aesthetics, Metaphysics, History or Science. These claims might be thought to involve a correspondence between how we think about the world and how the world 'really is'. This course aims to examine questions of realism and anti-realism: does the world outrun our ability to talk about it? Do some ways of talking about the world capture how the world really is? Can we even make sense of there being a world independent of how we think about it?


Contact hours

Contact hours: 10 x 2-hour weekly lecture & 10 x 1-hour weekly seminar
Total contact hours: 30
Total study hours: 150

The lecture will mainly introduce issues, although there will be some discussion time. The seminar will be students' main chance to discuss the material and correct misunderstandings. The seminar will also be the main opportunity to test students' understanding orally and whether they can present the issues well to each other. (Hence, 12.3, 12.7 will be tested explicitly in seminars, as will 12.1, 12.5 and 12.4, 12.8 as some achievement in these outcomes will be necessary for achievement in 12.2 12.6.)
The lecture and seminar will satisfy the achievement of learning outcomes 11.1-6).
Students will be advised to do the following in their study time so as to achieve all the learning outcomes:
(a) read the seminar reading and associated readings recommended by the lecturer or which they have found themselves;
(b) discuss the reading and lecture with each other away from the seminar;
(c) plan, draft and write their coursework.


Also available at Level 6 (PL552)

Method of assessment

100% coursework, for example:
(A) 2 essays: 60% of the mark (30% each). 1,800 words long each, handed in typically mid-term and at the end of term. The two essays will cover different topic areas. Summative assessment
This will test the achievements of learning outcomes 11 (1-6) primarily through testing 12.2, 12.6. In meeting 12.2, 12.6 students will also be meeting 12.1, 12.5 and 12.4, 12.8.
(B) Case study: 30% of mark. A piece of work, 1,500 words long, discussing realism and anti-realism applied to a specific domain, and recommending a particular approach to that domain.
This will test 12.4, 12.8 and 12.2, 12.6, and rely on some of the learning outcomes of 12.1, 12.5, particularly through engaging with 11.1, 11.4 and 11.2, 11.5.
(C) Seminar performance: 10% of mark. Departmentally agreed marking criteria are in place and will be available on the Moodle page. Assessed throughout term. Students are given feedback on how they are doing half-way through the term. Summative assessment.
This will test 12.3, 12.7) and in doing so will test 12.1, 12.4 and through that test 11.1-6.

Indicative reading

Button, T. (2013) The Limits of Realism, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Putnam, H. (1981) Reason Truth and History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Rorty, R. (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Oxford: Blackwell.
Wright, C. (1992) Truth and Objectivity, London: Harvard University Press.

Additional readings made available on Moodle.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module level 5 students will be able to:
11.1 show an understanding of issues of realism and various forms of anti-realism (including relativism) both in general terms and specific to certain domains (e.g. humour, ethics, aesthetics, medium sized dry goods);
11.2 engage in discussion of debates about realism and anti-realism, orally and in writing in both general terms and specific to certain domains (e.g. humour, ethics, aesthetics, medium sized dry goods);
11.3 demonstrate knowledge of key texts relevant to debates about realism and anti-realism.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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