Proposals for A-Level Philosophy

Posted by Edward Willatt on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 Under: A-level Philosophy

The mailing list Philos-l brings alarming news about The Future of A-level Philosophy.  In a previous post I sought to defend this qualification and to question the increasing move towards the philosophical aspects of the religious studies A-level in school sixth forms.  Rather than going into either subject in sufficient depth and breadth there is a tendency to focus on the areas these two subjects have in common.  Now AQA are planning changes to A-level philosophy which bring it much closer to the religious studies A-level specifications.  You can view the proposed specification by clicking here.

The proposal is for AS-level philosophy to comprise epistemology and the philosophy of religion.  Currently epistemology is compulsory at AS-level but three further areas must be chosen from a list including the philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, political philosophy, the philosophy of art, personal identity and metaphysics.  At A2-level the proposal is again to have two compulsory areas: ethics and the philosophy of mind.   Currently students have to study at least one of a selection of texts (I say more about this in the paragraph below) and two areas from amongst philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, moral philosophy and epistemology and metaphysics.  The new specification keeps two distinctive areas of philosophy (epistemology and the philosophy of mind) but the remaining half of the course content mirrors the religious studies A-level.  The various religious studies A-level courses are popular in many schools and are often referred to as ‘philosophy and ethics’ because they focus on religious philosophy and ethics.  As correspondents on philos-l have argued, this means that schools are likely offer either the AQA A-level Philosophy or one of the ‘Philosophy and Ethics’ courses found within the AQA, Edexcel and OCR A-level Religous Studies syllabi.  If these courses do become so similar it would clearly be hard to justify offering both philosophy and religious studies. 

If the proposed specification is adopted the tendency for philosophy and religious studies to be combined will be intensified.  The result will be that the opportunity to study distinctive aspects of both subjects will be lost.  Ethics and religious philosophy are two areas that these subjects share and there is great potential here for collaboration and interdisciplinary endeavour.  However, philosophy has essential areas which don’t concern themselves with the existence and nature of a God (or Gods) or with questions of morality that have religious and non-religious answers.  The opportunity to study philosophy texts in depth and at length is lost if we increasingly concern ourselves only with problems that range across a wide range of texts.   Equally, religious studies cannot devote itself to lengthy studies of religious texts if it has to concern itself with the ground it shares with philosophy.   

There is no doubt that disciplines can and do work well together.  The interdisciplinary territory between chemistry and biology has been filled with the flourishing discipline of biochemistry.  However, if A-level chemistry were to focus on organic chemistry because of its links to biology there is no doubt that many voices would protest at the neglect of inorganic chemistry.  We might also find that philosophy’s relations with mathematics or literature are just as fertile as its relation with religious studies.  The tendency to combine philosophy with religious studies in particular is certainly something that needs more consideration.  Why should an A-level in a subject neglect, or not engage so fully with, areas that do not happen to connect closely with another subject that has been wedded to it for reasons that haven’t been fully interrogated.

There seems to be no role in the proposed specification for the compulsory set text module at A2-level which currently requires students to read a text such as Plato’s Republic or Hume’s Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding.  The skills developed through such close and sustained reading are just as important to philosophy as the ability to take part in verbal discussions or construct a written argument.  While the new syllabus does involve some very worthwhile  texts it takes away this highly rewarding and valuable requirement.  The proposed specification does seek to make Descartes’ Meditations ‘the key text which runs through the course’ (p. 21).  This is a good idea because students’ get to consider this philosophical text in some depth.  However, I would argue that the current set text module ensures that philosophical reading skills can be developed in a focused way and that students’ gain the confidence and fulfilment of having tackled a philosophical text as a whole. 

No doubt this debate will continue on philos-l and it is to be hoped that the value of AQA philosophy in its current distinctive form can be recognised.  

In : A-level Philosophy 



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Proposals for A-Level Philosophy

Posted by Edward Willatt on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 Under: A-level Philosophy

The mailing list Philos-l brings alarming news about The Future of A-level Philosophy.  In a previous post I sought to defend this qualification and to question the increasing move towards the philosophical aspects of the religious studies A-level in school sixth forms.  Rather than going into either subject in sufficient depth and breadth there is a tendency to focus on the areas these two subjects have in common.  Now AQA are planning changes to A-level philosophy which bring it much closer to the religious studies A-level specifications.  You can view the proposed specification by clicking here.

The proposal is for AS-level philosophy to comprise epistemology and the philosophy of religion.  Currently epistemology is compulsory at AS-level but three further areas must be chosen from a list including the philosophy of religion, moral philosophy, political philosophy, the philosophy of art, personal identity and metaphysics.  At A2-level the proposal is again to have two compulsory areas: ethics and the philosophy of mind.   Currently students have to study at least one of a selection of texts (I say more about this in the paragraph below) and two areas from amongst philosophy of religion, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, moral philosophy and epistemology and metaphysics.  The new specification keeps two distinctive areas of philosophy (epistemology and the philosophy of mind) but the remaining half of the course content mirrors the religious studies A-level.  The various religious studies A-level courses are popular in many schools and are often referred to as ‘philosophy and ethics’ because they focus on religious philosophy and ethics.  As correspondents on philos-l have argued, this means that schools are likely offer either the AQA A-level Philosophy or one of the ‘Philosophy and Ethics’ courses found within the AQA, Edexcel and OCR A-level Religous Studies syllabi.  If these courses do become so similar it would clearly be hard to justify offering both philosophy and religious studies. 

If the proposed specification is adopted the tendency for philosophy and religious studies to be combined will be intensified.  The result will be that the opportunity to study distinctive aspects of both subjects will be lost.  Ethics and religious philosophy are two areas that these subjects share and there is great potential here for collaboration and interdisciplinary endeavour.  However, philosophy has essential areas which don’t concern themselves with the existence and nature of a God (or Gods) or with questions of morality that have religious and non-religious answers.  The opportunity to study philosophy texts in depth and at length is lost if we increasingly concern ourselves only with problems that range across a wide range of texts.   Equally, religious studies cannot devote itself to lengthy studies of religious texts if it has to concern itself with the ground it shares with philosophy.   

There is no doubt that disciplines can and do work well together.  The interdisciplinary territory between chemistry and biology has been filled with the flourishing discipline of biochemistry.  However, if A-level chemistry were to focus on organic chemistry because of its links to biology there is no doubt that many voices would protest at the neglect of inorganic chemistry.  We might also find that philosophy’s relations with mathematics or literature are just as fertile as its relation with religious studies.  The tendency to combine philosophy with religious studies in particular is certainly something that needs more consideration.  Why should an A-level in a subject neglect, or not engage so fully with, areas that do not happen to connect closely with another subject that has been wedded to it for reasons that haven’t been fully interrogated.

There seems to be no role in the proposed specification for the compulsory set text module at A2-level which currently requires students to read a text such as Plato’s Republic or Hume’s Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding.  The skills developed through such close and sustained reading are just as important to philosophy as the ability to take part in verbal discussions or construct a written argument.  While the new syllabus does involve some very worthwhile  texts it takes away this highly rewarding and valuable requirement.  The proposed specification does seek to make Descartes’ Meditations ‘the key text which runs through the course’ (p. 21).  This is a good idea because students’ get to consider this philosophical text in some depth.  However, I would argue that the current set text module ensures that philosophical reading skills can be developed in a focused way and that students’ gain the confidence and fulfilment of having tackled a philosophical text as a whole. 

No doubt this debate will continue on philos-l and it is to be hoped that the value of AQA philosophy in its current distinctive form can be recognised.  

In : A-level Philosophy 



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