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philosophy & world religions

The Philosophy and World Religions course is delivered via the Goldsmiths' Sutherland Centre at Ashton Sixth Form College and in close collaboration with the Department of Religions and Theology at the University of Manchester. It examines broad questions of theology and philosophy and encourages pupils to think laterally about their learning.

The seminar series for this course is themed around the theme, "Beyond Belief". This draws from exciting content from BBC Radio 4's ongoing broadcast, which can be accessed here. 

The course prepares students for undergraduate study by encouraging them to ask questions of the difficult texts they encounter. 

To apply for the Philosophy and World Religions course, there are two steps. Both of these are compulsory.

1) Fill in this application form

2) Answer one of the following questions in response to the prompt. You must write a one-page essay (one side of paper) using size 12 font. 

You must submit your completed essay to before 9am on 8th November.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Before proceeding to the extracts in the theme you are interested in, you should read the following:


REMEMBER: This is simply a device to allow us to get (a) a sense of your understanding and approach to an unfamiliar exercise that you are unlikely to have encountered at school or college  and (b) find out your approach to writing or/and problem solving. 

What is a Gobbet?  

It is a short commentary relating to a piece of primary evidence, a passage of literature, an ancient image, an artefact etc. or (included in this instance) a science or mathematics-based question.  

A response to a gobbet is an analytical commentary on a brief extract from texts that you are probably not encountered before based on the themes of our intensive courses.

It should not be a wide-ranging essay and should be no more than a page in length. It does not require an introduction and a conclusion in the way an essay does. However, it should have a narrative arc; that is, the reader should note a structure and shape to what you have written. 

What you need to do above all is to extract as much meaning as you can from the text. Squeeze it until the pips squeak! In the case of science, what is the essence of the problem under review and how might it be solved. 

What is its purpose?  

The idea of a gobbet is for you to show that you less know something about the extract but that you can display curiosity, imagination, and enough intellectual independence to tackle material that you would have not necessarily have encountered before. It is a chance for you to show the examiner you can work critically, deploy the relevant knowledge that you do have and feel able to either assess the value of what they tell us or answer the problem with some flourish.  

No extract will be without bias of some kind, and none will give you the complete picture, so it is your job to identify that bias, establish the limits of the picture it gives us, and to extract information accordingly shaping it as you will.  

How do you write a Gobbet?  

Approach a gobbet like an upturned pyramid: start with the more general information and work toward the more specific. 



1. DON’T write an essay about the subject the piece relates to. If you are shown an extract, say from and eighteenth century ‘economist’, don’t just write an essay about she/he was. Say a little bit about him but also talk about the WHEN, WHERE and WHY the source was created.  

2. DON’T just paraphrase what is already in the piece. You need to evaluate that information as well, that is the point of a gobbet.   

3. DON’T get carried away writing a short biography of the author or the extended background to the scientific of mathematical problem: only include information on the author that is relevant to assessing the value of this particular piece; for example, don’t write a gobbet about a passage from Hume by writing down all you know about his life. The gobbet is about THIS PASSAGE, not Hume in general. Aspects of his life will be relevant to evaluating the information contained in the passage, so keep it to that.  

4. DON’T write an introduction and conclusion as you would with an essay.  


1. DO include cross-references to any other sources, written or otherwise, that you are aware of that contrast or corroborate with what is said in this piece 

2. DO be PRECISE, CONCISE and STRICT about only sticking to relevant information:  you’ve a limited time on each response 

Make one response from each extract in your chosen subject. You may seek to answer the accompanying ‘guide question’ or challenge it. 

Respond to one of the extracts and questions below. Submit your response to before midnight on 8th of November 2021.

  1. A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable that all men must die; that lead cannot of itself remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or, in other words, a miracle, to prevent them? .. There must, therefore, be a uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as a uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof which is superior.  
    'OUR most holy religion is founded on faith, not on reason; and it is a sure method of exposing it to put it to such a trial as it is by no means fitted to endure. To make this more evident, let us examine those miracles related in the Pentateuch, which we shall examine as the production of a mere human writer and historian. Here, then, we are first to consider a book, presented to us by a barbarous and ignorant people, written in an age when they were still more barbarous, and in all probability long after the facts which it relates, corroborated by no concurring testimony, and resembling those fabulous accounts which every nation gives of its origin.  

Extract from David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748) 

Why is the writer so concerned to disprove the existence of miracles? 

2. The commonsense view of technology is one that some philosophers call the instrumentalist conception. According to the instrumentalist conception, while the ends that technology can be applied to can be cognitively and morally significant, technology itself is value-neutral. Technology, in other words, is subservient to our beliefs and desires; it does not significantly constrain much less determine them. This view is famously touted in the National Rifle Association's maxim: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." The NRA maxim "Guns don't kill people. People kill people," captures the widely believed idea that the appropriate source to blame for a murder is the person who pulled the gun's trigger. To be sure, this statement is more of a slogan than well-formulated argument. But even as a shorthand expression, it captures the widely believed idea that murder is wrong and the appropriate source to blame for committing murder is the person who pulled a gun's trigger. Indeed, the NRA's proposition is not unusual; it aptly expresses the folk psychology that underlies moral and legal norms. The main idea, here, is that guns are neither animate nor supernatural beings; they cannot use coercion or possession to make a person shoot. By contrast, murderers should be held responsible for their actions because they can resolve conflict without resorting to violence, even during moments of intense passion. Furthermore, it would be absurd to incarcerate a firearm as punishment. Unlike people, guns cannot reflect on wrongdoing or be rehabilitated.  

Evan Selinger, ‘The Philosophy of the Technology of the Gun,’ The Atlantic (July 2012) 

What is the argument here and what might be the shortcomings of the argument? 

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