Philosophy for AS and A Level: Epistemology and Moral Philosophy, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Philosophy for AS and A Level

Epistemology and Moral Philosophy, 1st Edition

By Michael Lacewing


458 pages

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Philosophy for AS and A Level is an accessible textbook for the new 2017 AQA Philosophy syllabus. Structured closely around the AQA specification this textbook covers the two units shared by the AS and A Level, Epistemology and Moral Philosophy, in an engaging and student-friendly way. With chapters on 'How to do philosophy', exam preparation providing students with the philosophical skills they need to succeed, and an extensive glossary to support understanding, this book is ideal for students studying philosophy.

Each chapter includes:

  • argument maps that help to develop student’s analytical and critical skills
  • comprehension questions to test understanding
  • discussion questions to generate evaluative argument
  • explanation and commentary on the AQA set texts
  • ‘Thinking harder’ sections
  • cross-references to help students make connections
  • bullet-point summaries of each topic.

The companion website hosts a wealth of further resources, including PowerPoint slides, flashcards, further reading, weblinks and handouts, all structured to accompany the textbook. It can be found at


'Michael Lacewing writes in an engaging way and really brings the A-Level philosophy syllabus to life; he focuses not only on the content but on the philosophical method itself. An essential read for any A-Level philosophy student'.

Cressida Tweed, teacher of philosophy at Woodhouse College and Lead philosophy tutor at the National Extension college, UK.

Table of Contents




How to use this book

How to do philosophy

Following the syllabus

Additional features

Using the anthology


Companion website and further resources


1 How to do philosophy

Philosophical argument

Deductive argument

Inductive argument

Hypothetical reasoning

Understanding arguments and argument maps

Evaluating arguments

Evaluating claims

An aside: why reason?


Reading philosophy

Approaching the text

Engaging with the text

Beyond the text

Writing philosophy

What you need to know

Planning an essay

Writing an essay

A standard essay structure

General advice

2 Epistemology

I. What is knowledge?

A. Knowledge and its definition

Types of knowledge

Propositional knowledge

The definition of knowledge

The purpose and nature of definition

Can propositional knowledge be defined?

Key points: knowledge and its definition

B. The tripartite view

The tripartite definition of knowledge

Why justified true belief?

Thinking harder: A note on certainty

Are the conditions individually necessary?

Justification is not a necessary condition of knowledge

Truth is not a necessary condition of knowledge

Belief is not a necessary condition of knowledge

Gettier’s objection: are the conditions jointly sufficient?

Key points: the tripartite view

C. Responses

Add a ‘no false lemmas’ condition (J+T+B+N)


Thinking harder: rejecting the argument for infallibilism

Reliabilism (R+T+B)

Truth and the third condition

Virtue epistemology (V+T+B)

Zagzebski’s analysis of knowledge

Key points: Responses

Summary: What is knowledge?

II. Perception as a source of knowledge

A. Direct realism

The argument from perceptual variation


The argument from illusion

Thinking harder: the argument from hallucination

The disjunctive theory of perception

The time-lag argument

Thinking harder: direct realism and openness

Key points: direct realism

B. Indirect realism

What are sense-data?

Why indirect realism?

Locke’s distinction between primary and secondary qualities

Scepticism about the existence of mind-independent objects

The existence of the external world is the best hypothesis

Two supporting arguments

Thinking harder: the existence of mind-independent objects is not a hypothesis

Representation, resemblance and the nature of physical objects

Berkeley’s argument that mind-dependent ideas cannot be like mind-independent objects

Key points: indirect realism

C. Berkeley’s idealism

Berkeley on primary and secondary qualities

Berkeley on secondary qualities

Berkeley’s attack on the primary/secondary quality distinction

The immediate objects of perception are mind-dependent objects

Three arguments against mind-independent objects

Berkeley’s ‘master’ argument

Idealism and God

Thinking harder: idealism and the cause of our perceptions

Issues with Berkeley’s idealism

Problems with the role played by God in Berkeley’s idealism

Arguments from illusion and hallucination

Idealism leads to solipsism

Key points: Berkeley’s idealism

Summary: perception as a source of knowledge


III. Reason as a source of knowledge

Rationalism, empiricism and innatism

A priori/a posteriori knowledge

Analytic/synthetic propositions

Necessary/contingent truth

Defining rationalism, empiricism and innatism

Key points: rationalism, empiricism and innatism

A. Innatism

Two arguments for innate knowledge

Plato’s slave boy argument

Leibniz on knowledge of necessary truths

Locke’s arguments against innate knowledge

Leibniz’s response to Locke

Thinking harder: experience triggers innate knowledge

Alternative empiricist accounts

Locke’s argument against innate concepts

Rejecting Locke’s definition of ‘innate concept’

Leibniz’s defence of innate concepts

The mind as a ‘tabula rasa’

Locke’s two sources of concepts

Hume on impressions and ideas

Simple and complex concepts

Issues with the empiricist theory of concepts

Thinking harder: challenging the copy principle

Leibniz on ‘intellectual ideas’

Thinking harder: the concept of substance


Key points: innatism

B. The intuition and deduction thesis

Rationalism and empiricism revisited

The meaning of ‘intuition’ and ‘deduction’

Empiricist alternatives

Hume’s fork

Descartes’ theory of rational intuition

The cogito

Clear and distinct ideas

Empiricist responses to the cogito

Clear and distinct ideas and God

Descartes’ Trademark argument

Thinking harder: degrees of reality

Empiricist responses to the Trademark argument

Descartes’ cosmological argument

Empiricist responses to Descartes’ cosmological argument

Descartes’ ontological argument

Empiricist responses to Descartes’ ontological argument

Descartes’ proof of the external world

The concept of a physical object

Thinking harder: The existence of physical objects

Empiricist responses to Descartes’ proof of the external world

Key points: the intuition and deduction thesis

Summary: reason as a source of knowledge

IV. The limits of knowledge

A. Philosophical scepticism

The particular nature of philosophical scepticism

Am I a brain in a vat?

The distinction between philosophical scepticism and normal incredulity

Local and global scepticism

Descartes’ sceptical arguments

Key points: philosophical scepticism

B. Responses to scepticism

Descartes’ own response

Empiricist responses

Thinking harder: Direct realism

Thinking harder: Reliabilism

Key points: responses to scepticism

Summary: the limits of knowledge

3 Moral Philosophy

I. Normative ethical theories

A. Utilitarianism

Bentham’s quantitative hedonistic utilitarianism

‘The Principle of Utility’

‘Measuring Pleasure and Pain’

Mill on utilitarianism

Mill’s qualitative hedonistic utilitarianism

Is pleasure the only good?

Smart on hedonistic and non-hedonistic utilitarianism

Nozick’s experience machine

Preference utilitarianism

Mill’s ‘proof’ of utilitarianism

Stage 1: Happiness is good

Stage 2: Only happiness is good

Issues for (act) utilitarianism

Problems with calculation

Fairness, individual liberty and rights


Moral integrity and the individual’s intentions

Rule utilitarianism

Smart on rule utilitarianism

Rule utilitarianism developed


Key points: utilitarianism

B. Kantian deontological ethics


Kant’s account of the good will and duty

The good will

The distinction between acting in accordance with duty and acting out of duty

Thinking harder: The good will again

The categorical imperative

Hypothetical and categorical imperatives

Thinking harder: Contradiction in conception and contradiction in will

The second formulation of the Categorical Imperative

Issues for Kantian deontological ethics

Universalisability and morality

Conflicts between duties

The view that consequences of actions determine their moral value

Morality is a system of hypothetical imperatives

The value of certain motives

Key points: Kantian deontological ethics

C. Aristotelian virtue ethics

The good for human beings


Final ends

The function argument

Testing the analysis

Thinking harder: the rational ‘soul’

Aristotle’s account of virtues

Virtues as character traits

Virtues, the doctrine of the mean and the importance of feelings

The role of education in the development of a moral character

Practical wisdom

The role of practical wisdom

The relation between practical wisdom, virtue and action

Key points: Aristotelian virtue ethics (I)

Eudaimonia, pleasure and philosophy

Eudaimonia and pleasure

Eudaimonia and philosophy

Voluntary action, choice and moral responsibility

Voluntary and involuntary actions

Choice and deliberation

Thinking harder: moral responsibility


Issues for Aristotelian virtue ethics

Guidance on how to act

Conflicts between virtues

The possibility of circularity involved in defining virtuous acts and

virtuous people in terms of each other

Thinking harder: Virtue and eudaimonia

Key points: Aristotelian virtue ethics (II)

Summary: normative ethical theories

II. Applied ethics



Kantian deontology

Aristotelian virtue ethics

Eating animals


Kantian deontology

Aristotle, Diamond and virtue ethics

Simulated killing

Playing the killer

An audience’s perspective

Telling lies


Kantian deontology

Aristotelian virtue ethics

Key points: applied ethics

Summary: applied ethics

III. Metaethics

What is metaethics?

The origins of moral principles: reason, emotion/attitudes, or society

The distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism

Key points: The distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism

A. Moral realism

From cognitivism to moral realism

Moral naturalism

Utilitarianism as naturalism

Thinking harder: naturalism in virtue ethics

Moral non-naturalism: Moore’s intuitionism

The naturalistic fallacy

The open question argument

Thinking harder: is the ‘naturalistic fallacy’ a real fallacy?



Issues for moral realism

A J Ayer’s verification principle

The argument from Hume’s fork

Hume’s argument from motivation

Hume’s is-ought gap

Mackie’s argument from relativity

Mackie’s arguments from queerness

Key points: moral realism

B. Moral anti-realism

Error theory

Non-cognitivism and moral anti-realism


Emotivism and subjectivism

Ayer’s defence

Emotivism after Ayer


Prescriptive meaning


Moral language

Issues for moral anti-realism

Can moral anti-realism account for how we use moral language?

Thinking harder: disagreement and moral argument

Whether moral anti-realism becomes moral nihilism

Moral progress

Key points: moral anti-realism

Metaethics and applied ethics

Summary: metaethics

4 Preparing for the exam

The examination

The structure of the exam

Assessment objectives

Understanding the question: giving the examiners what they are looking for

Short-answer questions

Nine-mark questions

Fifteen-mark questions

Revision: it’s more than memory

Exam technique: getting the best result you can

Revision tips

Exam tips

Glossary (with Joanne Lovesey)

Index by syllabus content

Subject index


About the Author

Michael Lacewing is a teacher of philosophy and theology at Christ’s Hospital school, and a former Reader in Philosophy and Vice-Principal Academic at Heythrop College, University of London. He is founder of the company A Level Philosophy (, and advises the British Philosophical Association on matters related to philosophy in schools.

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