PHIL41360 Pragmatism and the Real

Academic Year 2016/2017

What’s real? The word 'real' is hardly a piece of high jargon or technical language—people make decisions about what’s real and what’s not in many different contexts, and most of the time there’s no problem about the meaning of the term. (E.g., "Her job puts real demands on her" vs "The demands she experiences aren’t real; she just puts way too much pressure on herself.") But things are very different when using the term in philosophical contexts, where decisions about what’s real usually get systematized and transformed into a doctrinaire 'ism'. There are long-standing debates about Platonic realism, realism about the 'external world,' modal realism, scientific realism, moral realism, etc. In philosophy, questions about what’s real suddenly become difficult metaphysical problems. Pragmatism is generally an anti-metaphysical view, but even pragmatists have to decide which claims to reality (or denials thereof) they endorse. This course will look some recent attempts in the tradition of Sellarsian philosophy (and related strands of contemporary thought) to limn the boundary(ies?) of the real, including some attempts to reject the project. We’ll look at some Sellars and at some of his right-wing (e.g. Rosenberg, Millikan) and left-wing epigones (Rorty, McDowell, Brandom), as well as assorted others (Huw Price, various historical figures like Kant & Hegel).

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Students will become conversant with a significant thread in the current discussion of some central metaphysical issues. Ideally, they will be empowered to take an informed stance on these issues themselves, though enduring indecision about where the preponderance of reasons lies remains a possibility. Attention to writing, both process and product, will be significant. Students should become more fluent and more confident writers.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Seminar (or Webinar)


Autonomous Student Learning




Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Description % of Final Grade Timing
Essay: Essay


Coursework (End of Trimester)
Presentation: Group presentations


Varies over the Trimester
Continuous Assessment: 3. weekly 1000 word 'assignments'


Throughout the Trimester
Continuous Assessment: 2. weekly 1000 word 'assignments'


Throughout the Trimester
Continuous Assessment: 4. weekly 1000 word 'assignments'


Throughout the Trimester
Continuous Assessment: 1. weekly 1000 word 'assignments'


Throughout the Trimester


This module is not passable by compensation

Resit Opportunities

In-semester assessment


If you fail this module you may repeat, resit or substitute where permissible. The resit will consist of an in-semester assessment.

Name Role
Professor Willem De Vries Lecturer / Co-Lecturer