PH105      Half Unit
Historical and Global Perspectives on Philosophy

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Marius Backmann LAK.301


This course is available on the BSc in Philosophy and Economics, BSc in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and BSc in Politics and Philosophy. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The traditionally received Western-centric canon as a narrative history of philosophy does not respect the true complexity of the global history of philosophical inquiry. We explore some of the global diversity by focussing on specific topics that are relevant to research and teaching within the philosophical tradition of the Department of Philosophy at LSE and provide a historical and multicultural perspective on them. We will draw from the multitude of philosophical traditions and schools around the globe, aiming to incorporate ones that have heretofore been largely neglected. Topics discussed in this course may include the following:

  • Introduction – We introduce the students to the history and philosophy of the “history of philosophy”. In particular, we ask how it was that the received narrative of philosophy as a direct succession from the pre-Socratics to Russell and Frege, or to Heidegger, became established? How, when, and why did the narrow focus on European, and later North American philosophy, come about? And how should we seek to construct an intellectually richer, but necessarily messier and more complicated, inclusive history of philosophy? We aim to provide a rich historical perspective on either individual philosophical issues or on specific traditions and how they intersect.

This will be followed by sections featuring historical perspectives on various topics, such as the following:

  • Political Philosophy: In contemporary political philosophy, the liberal tradition with its emphasis on the preservation and protection of individual rights and freedoms has been highly influential. We can contrast this perspective, by, for instance, consulting classical Greek texts such as Plato’s “Republic”, and its argument against democracy, and classical Chinese works such as Confucius’s or Mengzi’s, which when compared with Western virtue ethics offers a contrasting vision of what sort of virtues a good person should display.
  • Epistemology: A concern in Western philosophy has been the quest for certainty and the attempt to refute the sceptic. Exploring, for instance, Descartes’ foundationalism of the “Meditiations” or Hume’s sceptical solution from “An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding”, it will prove illuminating to also examine Teresa of Avila’s 16th century text "The Interior Castle" or al-Ghazali’s 12th century text "The Rescuer From Error".
  • Philosophy of Mind: Neo-Aristotelian metaphysics has come to increased prominence in a number of contemporary debates such as in the philosophy of mind, and so it will be helpful to begin with Aristotle’s “De Anima”. Descartes’ views on mind-body dualism can, e.g., be contrasted with Anne Conway’s 16th century defence of monism in "The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy". Contemporary arguments for mental epiphenomenalism could, e.g., be contrasted with the 18th century Ghanian philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo’s view of reverse epiphenomenalism from "The Apathy of the Human Mind".
  • Early Analytic Philosophy. The Department is a singular school in the sense that it developed out of a fairly specific philosophical tradition. It will prove useful for students to engage with some of the works of our department’s founding figures. Popper’s “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” and Lakatos’s “The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” will provide the students with valuable insight into the development of their own department. Alongside their work, it is useful to highlight the work of early analytic philosophers whose contributions to the development of analytical philosophy are often neglected, such as, for instance, Susan Stebbing’s.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT.

No meetings will take place in reading week (Week 6).

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay and 1 exercise in the LT.

Each student will write 1 formative essay of 1500 words, and will answer one short answer question to get acquainted with this form of assessment. Each student will receive feedback before turning in their summative work.

Indicative reading

  • Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics, ed. by Roger Crisp (ed./trans.). Cambridge, 2000: Cambridge University Press.
  • Anne Conway: The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy, ed. by Allison P. Coudert and Taylor Course. Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy. Cambridge, 1996: Cambridge University Press.
  • René Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy: With Selections from the Objections and Replies, trans. Michael Moriarty. Oxford 2008: Oxford University Press.
  • David Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. by David F. Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford Philosophical Texts. Oxford, 2000: Oxford University Press.
  • Mengzi: With Selections from Traditional Commentaries, ed. by Bryan W. Van Norden. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. 2008.
  • Christia Mercer, "Descartes’ debt to Teresa of Ávila, or why we should work on women in the history of philosophy." Philosophical Studies 174 (10): 2539-2555, 2017
  • Uma Narayan & Sandra Harding (eds.): Decentering the Center: Philosophy for a Multicultural, Postcolonial, and Feminist World. Bloomington, IN 2000: Indiana University Press.
  • Plato: The Republic, ed. by G.R.F Ferrari, trans. by Tom Griffith. Cambridge 2000: Cambridge University Press.
  • Karl R. Popper: The logic of scientific discovery. Routledge classics. London 2005: Routledge.
  • Eric Schliesser, (ed.): Ten Neglected Classics of Philosophy. Oxford 2016: Oxford University Press.


Essay (70%, 1500 words), in-class assessment (10%), class participation (10%) and exercise (10%) in the LT.

There is no exam for this course. Each student will write an essay of 1500 words, which constitutes 70% of the mark. Each student will answer 6 short answer questions, 5 of which will be part of the summative assessment, contributing 10% of the mark. A feedback exercise in which the students practice acting on the feedback received on their formative essay will be worth 10%. The remaining 10% will be assessed through class participation.

Key facts

Department: Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method

Total students 2020/21: 68

Average class size 2020/21: 15

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills