Masters Courses (2020)

Postgraduate Courses on offer in Philosophy during 2020:


Note: Honours and MA Coursework students can take ONE course outside the Philosophy Department as part of their Philosophy programme.


Semester 1:

Paper 1: Philosophy and Literature (Uchenna Okeja)

Term 1 & 2

Franz Kafka, the 20th Century novelist once noted that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us”. This is not just a profound statement. It is philosophical in the sense that it tells us something meaningful about human experience. It is often the case that we imagine reality differently after reading a particularly remarkable work of literature. In this course, we will aim to understand the similarities and differences between literature and philosophy. What kind of knowledge do we acquire from literature and philosophy? Can literature be a source of political philosophy? These questions will be discussed through analysis of central questions of political philosophy posed in literature. Examples include questions about authority, liberty, property, justice and rights. We will pay particular attention to the reflection on political reality offered by Asian and African writers. An international conference that will involve participants in the course and prominent writers and critics from around the world is planned for a date that will be communicated in due course.

Paper 2: Wittgenstein’s On Certainty (Tess Dewhurst) 
Terms 1 & 2

In 1939, G.E. Moore shocked philosophers the world over by claiming that he knew that he had two hands. And even worse, that he could, thereby, prove that there was an external world.  Moore’s claims in defence of common sense were, and still are, much discussed. They prodded Ludwig Wittgenstein into action, and in the last year and a half of his life, he wrote a series of notes on the topic of knowledge and scepticism, that were collected and published posthumously as On Certainty.  In this course I want to look closely at Moore’s provoking paper ‘Proof of an External World’, and at Wittgenstein’s consequent philosophical outpourings.  We will consider and attempt to understand his views on the concepts of doubt, knowledge, certainty, and belief; and hopefully come to a better understanding ourselves about what these things are, or what we expect them to be.

Paper 3: Divine Agency (Francis Williamson)

Term 2 only

This is a course in Metaphysics, Natural Theology and the Philosophy of Religion. It explores the question of just how we are to conceive the agency of God, especially in relation to the world. Divine agency seems caught between two incompatible and impossible demands: on the one hand, if God is fully transcendent, then it seems that God is just too metaphysically remote to be a causal player in the events of the world; on the other hand, if God is fully immanent, then God is — as it were — within the things that comprise the world and is a causal player at the same level and alongside the various natural causes. Neither of these are attractive propositions. We explore this issue by way of its manifestation in a variety of related issues in the broad Philosophy of Religion: the problem of petitionary prayer, providence and freedom, prophecy, God in relation to creation and time and then the problem of evolutionary theism.

Semester 2:



Paper 4: Political Philosophy (Larry Bloom)
Terms 3 & 4

This course will focus on a single question. The question of this course will be: What is the purpose, function or role of government? What is it, primarily, that government is supposed to do? All of the philosophers we will be reading for this course are attempting to give some answer to this overarching question and we will be reading and discussing them with it in mind. The question is not a simple one and admits of a variety of answers, perhaps even of a variety of approaches to answering. For example, one person might maintain that government has an entirely negative function--that it is a necessary (or even an unnecessary) evil--while another might argue that the government has a positive and essential role to play in the development of its citizens or of human beings as a species; one might argue that government has many functions, another that these can all be reduced to a single function. Some further questions we will consider: What is Justice? Is justice a natural virtue or is it man made? Is it even acceptable, let alone desirable, to allow the state to influence our moral development? What is freedom? Does living in a state inhibit or foster our ability to be free? If so, how?

The question of the state’s primary function may seem too abstract and useless, or perhaps even too difficult, to be worth struggling with. After all, politics is a concrete pursuit that should be focused on making people’s lives better. However, understanding what it is that government does, or what it is that government should do, enables us to better answer other questions about it. Not unlike a mechanic who must know what a car engine is supposed to do if he is to effectively build or repair one, it is important to know what a government is supposed to do if we are to think about, fix, and participate responsibly in government. Indeed, if we have a clearer idea of what the state is supposed to do we will be in a better position to answer other questions about it. For example: Is any one form of government better than the others? Is a state ever justified in going to war? Is patriotism important? Is it even moral? Should the state support diversity?

This is a philosophy course and, consequently, we will focus on philosopher’s reasons for holding their views. This will entail learning their arguments. That is, the emphasis of this course will not be on memorizing views or conclusions but rather on understanding and thinking about how those views are arrived at and defended. This process can be very rewarding and, at times, enjoyable. However, it can also be frustrating and difficult. Philosophy, like any activity, requires hard work and regular practice. Proficiency may not come immediately. Keep in mind that, over and above any particular material under consideration, you are working on bettering yourself, as a thinker, a person, and a citizen.


Paper 5: Classical Chinese Philosophy (Marius Vermaak)
Term 3 only

  • A reading of the Zhuangzi
  • Ritual (vs discourse)
  • Hierarchy (vs equality)
  • Aphorism (vs argument).

Paper 6: Love and Friendship (Chris Megone: Uni of Leeds)
Term 3 only

Paper 7: Term 3 person (tbd)


Paper 8: WJ Leave Replacement (tbd)

Paper 9: PT Replacement New Person (tbd)

Paper 10: Philosophy of Race (Mandisi Majavu, Politics)
In this course, we explore the themes of race, racism, whiteness, blackness, and non-racialism. We investigate the legacies of racism and colonialism in post-apartheid South Africa, and the impact of this history on the lives of people in contemporary society. We will explore the philosophical questions of racial injustice, social justice, and what makes a fair and equitable society. We will study philosophical debates about whether or not: 1), race is biologically real, 2) whether or not we have a social responsibility to redress racial injustice and to combat white privilege. The objective is to think systematically about ways in which race ought to inform political processes in post-apartheid South Africa. We live in a society that is characterised by racial segregation and racial inequality. This course will ask us to reflect on the underlying legacies and social norms of our racialised society.

Paper 11: Inquiries Into International Thought (And Relations)

Semester 2

Presented by Professor Siba N'Zatioula Grovogui


NOTE: Professor Grovogui, who is Professor of international relations theory and law at Cornell University in the United States of America, is the Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor for 2020 and 2021.

To postulate African thought is to assert first and foremost that the peoples now constituted as ‘African’ never ceased to cogitate, think, reason, and thus apply mental attention to life and the conditions of life under their and others’ circumstances. Still, African political thought is neither necessarily philosophical nor inherently theoretical. The term refers to coherent, sustained, and sustainable thinking: deliberations, meditations, and reflections that apply to politics, its objects, as well as conceptions of life and its purposes. These contain spatial-temporal dimensions and ideas that are themselves neither wholly particular and parochial nor untranslatable or inscrutable.

The seminar focuses on three African figures of global politics – Telli Diallo (on the question of self-determination), Amadou-Mahtar M'Bow (universalism and humanism), and Boutros Boutros Ghali (humanitarianism and international morality). These figures offered sensibilities to norms derived canonically from European conventions yet had universal applications in African appreciations. Failing to understand the latter truism, their critics exhibited two foundational flaws of disciplinary canons – in two senses of the phrase. The first is that present canons (and derived discourses) couldn’t countenance (or even apprehend) African thought on matters of international law, morality, and ethics. The second is that scholars of international relations have universally failed to develop adequate methods for exploring African thought, which necessarily remains deeply engaged with time, global dynamics, and their modes of subjectivities, regimes of truth and morality. In short, the seminar offers new genealogies of thought with which African thought may be considered as integral to broader universal conversations on politics, morality, and their economies of ethics, war, and materialism.



Last Modified: Tue, 10 Mar 2020 12:24:13 SAST