PH427 Half Unit
Genes, Brains and Society
This information is for the 2017/18 session.
Dr Jonathan Birch
This course is available on the MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy, MSc in Philosophy of Science and MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.
This course examines, from a philosophical perspective, the ways in which recent developments in genetics and neuroscience challenge our conceptions of what we are — and what we could become.
Topics covered include:
Human nature: Does the concept of 'human nature’ have any biological basis? Can we distinguish between those traits which are part of 'human nature' and those which are not? And is ‘human nature’ fixed, or can it be altered by technological means?
Sex and gender: Are ‘sex' and ‘gender' the same thing? Are gender categories natural or social? Are there robust psychological differences between men and women? If so, are they explained by genes or by culture? And should we reconcile ourselves to these differences, or should we try to eliminate them?
Race: Do races exist? Is there any objective biological basis for racial categorization, or are races socially constructed? Does the concept of ‘race' have a legitimate role in medicine?
Free will and responsibility: Has neuroscience debunked the notion of ‘free will’? If so, can we still be held responsible for our actions? Should neuroscientific data be used to predict—and prevent—wrongdoing?
Right and wrong: Has neuroscience shown that morality is more a matter of emotion than reason? Can we use neuroscience to help us choose between ethical theories, and to help us improve our own behaviour?
10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT.
Lectures: Weeks 1 - 10
Seminars: Weeks 1 - 10
A critical analysis exercise (1000 words)
Suggested introductory readings:
Glover, J. (2008) Choosing Children.
Fine, C. (2005) Delusions of Gender.
James, M. (2011) “Race”, in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [online]
Greene, J. D. (2013) Moral Tribes.
Essay (45%, 2000 words) and wiki entry (10%) in the LT.
Essay (45%, 2000 words) in the ST.
There is no exam for this half-unit. There will be two summative essays, each worth 45% of the final mark. 10% of the final mark will be awarded for contributions to a collaborative wiki.
Student performance results
(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)
|Classification||% of students|
Total students 2016/17: 13
Average class size 2016/17: 13
Controlled access 2016/17: No
Lecture capture used 2016/17: Yes (LT)
Value: Half Unit
Personal development skills
- Problem solving
- Application of information skills
- Specialist skills
Course survey results
(2013/14 - 2015/16 combined)1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score
The scores below are average responses.
Response rate: 79%
Reading list (Q2.1)
Course satisfied (Q2.4)