Liberal Arts Year 1

On our Liberal Arts degree modules integrate areas of study including content and perspectives from philosophy, natural sciences, arts, humanities and social sciences.
(Please note: not all modules may be available)

  • LA 1001 Freedom is to Learn (1)

    Module summary

    This double module runs across two semesters. It explores three distinct areas of enquiry within the liberal arts tradition: freedom, education and nature, looking at both ancient and modern sources. It explores the question of freedom in relation to the education of the self, as well as with regards to the tradition of liberal arts education. Indicative issues are those to do with God and enlightenment, ancient and modern philosophy and science, and questions of truth and relativity.

    Our questions

    Are we free?
    What is to be ‘enlightened’?
    What is ‘liberal’ about Liberal Arts?
    Is everything in the universe relative?
    How much are we influenced/determined by society?

    Our teachers

    Plato, Galileo, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Heisenberg

    Indicative week

    Looking at the revolution that Galileo instigated in the way the Western world thought about its place in the universe, we are left to ask if there are any fixed truths that we can hold to, either on earth or on space. And it is really the case that the faster you travel the slower time passes?

  • LA 1014 Harmonia mundi

    Module summary

    Here we explore the principal theme that has characterised ancient and medieval Liberal Arts: the search for first principles and their relation to harmony. Such principles, which must be presupposed in order to explain how anything exists at all, have been the holy grail of liberal arts. In this module we will explore aspects of this search in all of the liberal arts; in literature, philosophy, mathematics, geometry, astronomy and music, as well as in the related areas of theology and politics. This will act as an introduction to work in these areas that will be followed up in future modules.

     Our Questions 

    Can the universe sing?
    Should we ban rock music?
    What are fractals?
    What distinguishes a cause from its effects?
    Are facts just waiting ‘out there’ for us to discover them?

    Our teachers

    Robert Grosseteste, The I-Ching, Goethe, Plato, Pythagoras

     Sample week

    How is it possible that there might be  a natural harmony in the universe? We will look at the thinking of Pythagoras and Plato who tell us that harmony is the first principle of the natural universe, and that man can tune his own soul to this cosmic music. We will try to prove that the planets can sing.

  • LA1003: Models of Higher Education

    Module summary

    This module examines models of higher education through ancient, modern and postmodern theory. We will draw on the Western tradition of higher education to study philosophical, political and religious visions of higher education and to introduce ourselves to the study of concepts such as knowledge, culture, reason and truth. We will also explore more recent theories of higher education which argue that many of the concepts and ideals associated with the Western tradition of higher learning are themselves questionable. This will lead us to consider the nature and purpose of higher education in the West today.

    Our questionsLiberal Arts Degree: Models of Higher Education

    What is the purpose of a ‘higher’ education?
    How has higher education changed from Antiquity to the present day?
    What is the difference between education and training?
    What can higher education teach us about the human condition, the world in which we live and beyond?
    Is higher education the right place to explore questions about things such as life and death, truth, the soul and God?

    Our teachers

    Plato, Von Humboldt, Newman, Rorty, Lyotard

    Sample week

    This week we will introduce ourselves to the idea and ideal of a truly higher education.  Starting with the Greek theory of Paideia we will explore some of the ideals of the platonic tradition of higher learning to familiarise ourselves with the foundations on which Western higher education lies. It is from these foundations that we will examine the development of higher education in the West in future weeks.

  • LA 1006 Film & Philosophy

    Module summary

    The subject matter of this module – film – is treated in two different ways. During the first half of the module a range of philosophical ideas are introduced and discussed using selected films as the initial source of illustration. This is followed by a second half in which the medium of film itself is considered as a direct embodiment of philosophical thinking. While the first treatment is well represented within academic literature, the second is more speculative, relying on a greater understanding of the medium of film itself, as well as its possibilities of signification.

    Our questions

    Is film just a succession of still images?
    Are silent films a purer medium than the ‘Talkies’?
    In The Matrix, in what circumstances would you not take the red pill?
    Chris Marker’s La Jetée features the relationship of memory to fate – is this a rational relationship?Liberal Arts Degree: film and philosophy
    Is documentary film an art form?

    Our teachers

    Rudolf Arnheim, Roland Barthes, Stanley Cavell, Serge Eisenstein, Slavoj Zizek

     Sample week

    Eisenstein is particularly associated with the theorisation of film montage. This week, we review several illustrations taken from Eisenstein’s own work before considering how montage might contribute to the idea that film may be capable of sustaining a non-verbal, ‘figurative’ form of thinking.

  • LA 1005 Ancient ‘Canonic’ Tragedy

    Module summary

    This module reflects on the mythic and the tragic as developed in the narratives, poems, and art of earlier civilisations. There are three dimensions of content selection: the first is breadth – examples will be sourced so as to include non-Western accounts, rather than the more usual ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman samples. The second criterion is depth, engaging myths/tales with a philosophical notion of the tragic. The third criterion presents a diversity of media forms so that some estimate can be made on the nature and form of the rhetorical contexts within which these accounts were enacted.

    Our questionsLiberal Arts Degree: Golden Bough

    Is the tradition of tragedy a peculiarly Western narrative obsession?
    Does Frazer’s cult of the ‘dying king’ constitute a tragedy?
    What qualities of narrative separate ancient accounts of the death of a hero from contemporary ones?
    When Aristotle defines tragedy in relation to an error of judgement, rather than a quirk of fate, does he make it particularly hard to identify tragic heroines?
    Is tragic death related to the birth of a soul?

    Our teachers

    Aristotle, James Frazer, Homer, Nietzsche, Sophocles

     Sample week

    Nietzsche provides a polemical account of the circumstances leading up to the ‘birth of tragedy’.  This week we review his arguments in relation to the defence and praise of Richard Wagner, the composer of the Ring cycle.

  • LA 1004 Learning from the Renaissance

    Module summary

    Here we introduce students to themes and personalities that were central to the period of Western history called the Renaissance. We provide an historical overview of key events, look at the relation of the Renaissance to other historical periods, and explore more deeply into selected ideas with a view to illustrating their significance both within the Renaissance and beyond. We explore the fine arts, including sculpture, music, architecture and painting; science and technology; literature; and politics, Central to the approach of the module will be to illustrate ways in which the Renaissance holds an ‘educational’ import both within itself and in terms of a legacy.

    Our questions

    Renaissance of what?
    What was humanism?
    What difference did perspective make to art?
    How did renaissance music shape human subjectivity?
    Should we laugh at the divine comedy?

    Our teachers

    Dante, Leonardo da Vinci, Palastrina, Vasari, Plutarch

    Sample week

    This week we explore the jewel of the Renaissance: Florence in Italy. Here we find examples of art, sculpture, architecture, music and politics that changed Europe for centuries to come. Once experienced, Florence never leaves you same as you were before.

    Liberal Arts Degree: learning from the Renaissance

  • LA 1007 Spirit: Innocence and Experience

    Module summary

    In this module we will explore the two related themes of innocence and experience from across a range of philosophical, religious and literary texts and ideas. We will look at the idea of ‘nature’ and consider various ways in which it has been understood as disrupted, corrupted or ‘tamed’. This will raise questions concerning the relation between beginnings and ends, good and evil, reason and passion. We will ask whether there is still a place for the concept of innocence and if there is, what it might look like in a world suspicious of the religious and philosophical tradition which bequeaths it.Liberal Arts Degree: Innocence and Experience - Masaccio The Fall

    Our questions

    What is the Christian distinction between good and evil?
    Can we trust notions of good and evil?
    Can we or should we ‘go back to nature’?
    Was the Fall a necessarily gendered narrative?
    Do we all live corrupted lives?

    Our teachers

    Milton, Augustine, Dostoevsky, Rowan Williams, Rousseau, Nietzsche

    Sample week

    Looking at the concept of childhood in western modernity we will explore the relation between innocence and freedom in modern social and political experience. And if we are, in various ways, witnessing to the ‘loss of childhood’ then what are the political and educational implications of this?

  • LA1015: Creator texts

    Module summary

    In this module, we will explore the movement between what is defined as the ‘Eternal’ and what is defined as the merely ‘human’ and look at how various traditions have thought that the two spheres can relate to each other. These movements are down, up and across. ‘Down’ refers to the descent of the Eternal into the earthly, or into finite time; ‘up’ refers to ideas like transfiguration in which human beings are raised to the Eternal; and ‘across’… journeys over some kind of rocky broken middle.

    Our questions

    How can we relate to the eternal/Eternal?
    What lies in between binary thinking (male/female, heaven/earth, the Eternal /Human, good/evil)?
    What is the difference between a saint and a hero?
    In an age where identity is fractured and everything is relative, what do we make of absolute genius?

    Our teachers

    Joshua Ben Joseph (Jesus), Rabbi Elizabeth Sarah, St Joan of Arc, Wilfred Owen, Rumi, Tracey Emin and Muhammad Ali

    Sample week

    Using the writings and art works of transgressive ‘saints’, Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin, we study how the lives of these two artists reveal the under-side of their societies yet are transformed by their work

    Liberal Arts Degree: Art