Philosophy for Beginners Part 1 – Online

Explore some of the most important ideas, themes and thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. Learn about some of the central problems of philosophy, and how to puzzle them our for yourselves.

Who is this course for

This course is for absolute beginners, and no previous experience of philosophy is necessary. Students will need English language skills to the equivalent of level 2, however, in order to benefit fully from the classes.

What does this course cover

The course will provide an introduction to a range of key issues and debates in Philosophy. In particular, we will be looking at issues in epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and metaphysics (questions concerning the ultimate nature reality). We will be investigating questions such as: Is it ever possible to have certain knowledge about ourselves and the world around us? How does knowledge come about? Is the ultimate nature of reality something that we can have access to? What is the nature of that ultimate reality? Is it purely physical or must it really be something mental or spiritual? Is reason the defining characteristics or humans or are we really creatures of instinct and habit?

We will be exploring these question and others through an examination of the work of the Ancient Greek philosophers in the first half of the term. Here we will look at the some Pre-Socratic philosophers and especially Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In the second half of the term we will explore the debates within the European Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th Centuries, looking at the contributions of Rene Descartes and David Hume in particular.
By the end of the course, you should be able to:
Describe the distinctive nature of philosophical problems and give examples of these
Explain and evaluate some of the key ideas and debates in Ancient Greek Philosophy (e.g. Plato's theory of the Forms, Aristotle's theory of the 'Golden mean')

Compare and contrast Descartes and Hume's approach to the question of knowledge and the nature of mind

What will it be like

The course will be run online using Zoom for the live class sessions and either the Moodle page for the course or some other system for the distribution of the electronic resources for the session sitting alongside this. Although there will be some adjustments that need to be made for the online version of this course, we will aim to keep the experience as close as possible to that of a face to face course taught in the Centre.

The classes will be discussion-based, allowing participants to explore, debate, and (inevitably) disagree. Please note that in a philosophy class, disagreement is not only acceptable, but is actively encouraged. Be prepared to have your preconceptions challenged.
Your tutors will assess your progress through your class participation, in conjunction with your own self-assessment of your progress. In philosophy, however, progress often means becoming less certain, or more perplexed.

What else do you need to buy or do

The course will be run on Zoom, please make sure you have installed it in advance of your first class on your computer or mobile device. You can sign up for free here:

You will need a microphone (it's fine to use whatever is built into your device) and camera, so we can see you via video. You may also want to use headphones during the session.

You can participate in class sessions through the use of a computer, laptop, tablet or other similar internet enabled device. Please note that if you only have access to a smartphone, you will be able to attend the class sessions and participate in them but you will find it more difficult to benefit from the full range of materials and activities involved in the course if this is your only means of connection.

Make sure you have a small space to work in during the session and that as far as possible that you can keep this space quite and clear of interruption so that you can concentrate on what is happening in the class.

By signing up to the course you are consenting to being on camera. The content of the lesson may occasionally be recorded by the tutor for internal education and training purposes but any such recordings will not be made available to anyone outside of the Mary Ward Centre organisation without us asking you again for further permission to do so.

You will need a notebook, a pen, and an open mind. Your tutors may also recommend further reading, but the course does not require the purchase of any more materials. We will also make course materials and other resources available to you outside of class via the College's Moodle website.

What this course could lead to

You could continue into the second term of the Introduction to Philosophy course, where the focus will be on questions of moral and political philosophy. Other courses which may be relevant would be any course in the Humanities and Social Sciences with an emphasis on theory and debate. For example, Anthropology, Psychology, Economics, History etc.


I started a course in ethics and philosophy, purely out of curiosity and interest. I loved it so much that I went on to do Advanced European Philosophy. Now I teach philosophy here!


Got a Question about this Course?

Contact The Departmental Administrator.

Why choose Mary Ward?

Mary Ward Centre is the adult education centre with a difference. We provide a wide range of subjects for people at all levels and run courses during the day, evening and weekends to suit your timetable. You can learn face to face at one of our centres (Bloomsbury or Waterloo) or take an online course

Get inspired and enjoy excellent teaching in an environment where each individual’s learning experience is valued. That’s what makes Mary Ward Centre ‘the friendly place to learn.’