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Philosophy & Ethics

'Philosophy' literally means 'love of wisdom'.  It is the study of the nature of existence, knowledge, truth and ethics. As a subject it involves consideration of the most fundamental questions about who we are, and examines philosophical thought across the breadth of history right up to the present day. Ethics, also called moral philosophy, is the discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad and morally right and wrong. Its subject consists of the fundamental issues of practical decision making, and its major concerns include the nature of ultimate value and the standards by which human actions can be judged right or wrong.


What exam board do we follow?

WJEC and  Eduqas A Level Religious Studies


How is the course examined?

The three components:

  • Component 1:  A Study of Religion – Option D:  Buddhism
  • Component 2:  Philosophy of Religion
  • Component 3:  Religion and Ethics

Each component has a 2 hour exam and is worth a third of your overall grade. On each paper there are five questions and students have to complete two.


How is the curriculum structured?

Component 1:  A Study of Religion – Option D:  Buddhism


Year 12 and 13 have three lessons per fortnight.

Component 2:  Philosophy of Religion


Year 12 have two lessons per fortnight

Year 13 have three lessons per fortnight

Component 3:  Religion and Ethics


Year 12 have three lessons per fortnight

Year 13 have two lessons per fortnight

Year 12

Term 1 & 2: 


Theme 1 - Religious figures and sacred texts:

Students begin with the life of Siddhartha Gautama and study extensively the key events that shaped his physical and spiritual journey to enlightenment. Students explore the hagiographical impact and significance these events have on Buddhists and Buddhism today. An introduction to the Vinaya Pittaka and the early formation of the Sangha finishes this theme.

Theme 2 - Religious concepts

Students move away from learning the significance of Buddha’s life and start to study his key teachings. The central concepts of dukkha, anicca and anatta are explored. Students are introduced to the beliefs about the nature of reality with emphasis on the concepts of rebirth, karma and samsara. Reference to key texts and parables help to illustrate these concepts. Students will also begin to study the different schools of Buddhism, starting with the differences and similarities between Theravada and Mahayana. 


Terms 3 & 4: 


Theme 2 - Religious Life


Students go on to examine the Four Noble Truths and how they are central to all other beliefs. This leads to the study of the Noble Eightfold Path and the application of moral principles in Buddhism, links are made to the awakening of the Buddha and the Middle Way. Students finish this theme by exploring the dasa sila (the ten precepts) and how they are adhered to by both laity and the monastic community.


Terms 5 & 6: 


Theme 4 - Religious practices that shape identity


With the last theme students focus on Buddhist practices. Students will study the practice of going for refuge in the three jewels. The essential practice of meditation will be explored with students developing their understanding of the different purposes of meditation and how it can bring a person closer to nirvana. Finally students will study the roles of dana (giving) and punya (merit) in Buddhism.

Terms 1 and 2: 


Theme 1 - Arguments for the existence of God


Firstly students will study Inductive Arguments (Cosmological and Teleological) - these arguments may be valid and sound but do not give an indisputable conclusion. 


Students then explore the Ontological argument which is a Deductive Argument – and as long as as for the existence of God.  These arguments, provided the premises are correct and there are no mistakes in the logic, the conclusion is the only one possible and to deny that conclusion goes against all reason.


Terms 3 and 4: 


Theme 2 - Challenges to religious belief


Having looked at arguments that seek to prove the existence of an Ultimate Reality, students will move onto Challenges to this existence, through the most classical of arguments:  The problem of evil.  This is offered as a challenge because it appears to contradict the character of God (according to monotheism)


Terms 5 and 6: 


Theme 2 -  Challenges to Religious Belief


Students will then examine arguments that Religious belief is a product of the human mind as put forward by Freud, Jung and New Atheism.

Terms 1 and 2:

Theme 1: Ethical Thought


Students will start their course by considering what it means to think ethically and find out about the different ways in which we do this. In particular, they will look at Divine Command Theory, Virtue Theory and Ethical Egoism.

Theme 2: Deontological Ethics

Students will go on to study Deontological Ethics – theories which are based on a set of rules. They will examine Aquinas’ Natural Law, and after developing a good understanding of this theory they will learn to apply it to the issues of abortion and euthanasia


Terms 3 and 4


Theme 3: Teleological Ethics


Teleological theories are those which focus on the end goals or  purposes of our actions.  Students will study Situation Ethics and will learn to apply this to homosexual and polyamorous relationships. 


Students will then develop their understanding further by exploring Utilitarianism and applying this to the issues of animal rights and the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent.


Terms 5 and 6


Theme 1 and theme 2

At the end of year 12, students will return to theme 1 and look at meta-ethical approaches. These approaches look at ethical thought language and ask questions such as ‘what is goodness?’  Students will develop an understanding of Naturalism, intuitionism and Emotivism.

Students will then revisit Natural Law, and discover how it was developed by Finnis and Hoose.  They will then apply what they have learned to the issues of Immigration and Capital Punishment.

Year 13

Term 1 & 2: 


Theme 1 - Religious figures and sacred texts

Students start their Y13 course by returning to study the Pali Canon. They will develop their understanding of the different features, purpose and significance  of each ‘basket’. They will also study the main themes and concepts in the Heart Sutra and the Lotus Sutra. Students will finish by examining the contribution made to the development of Buddhist thought by the 14th Dalai lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Theme 3 - Significant social and historical developments in religious thought.

Students will study the historical development of Japanese Buddhism including Zen, Pure land and NIchiren. Students will explore the relationship between Buddhism and modern society with a focus on responses to the challenges from Science, secularisation, Pluralism and diversity.


Terms 3 & 4:


Theme 3 - Significant social and historical developments in religious thought.


Students study the historical development of Buddhism in Britain and the changing roles of men and women, specifically feminist approaches from within Buddhism.


Theme 4 - Religious practices that shape identity


In the final part of the course students study the specific beliefs and practices of Tibetan Buddhists. Students explore the development and influence of the The Mindfulness Movement and the emergence of the ‘liberationist’ traditions such as Thich Nhat Hanh’s drive to combat suffering rather than nirvana.


Part of term 5 and 6: 


Revision and preparation for final exam


Students will recap, revise and prepare for the final exams.

Term 1 and 2: 


Theme 3 -Religious Experience


Religious experiences are a phenomenon that has been recorded across religions and cultures for thousands of years and takes a variety of forms and differ from ordinary experiences.  Students will study a wide range of experiences through this unit.


Term 3, 4 and part of 5:  


Theme 4 - Religious Language


The purpose of this unit of study is to consider what religious words mean and whether a shared understanding of religious language is possible.  Students will be required to understand what a religious statement means and what its purpose is before they can critique it.


Part of term 5 and 6: 


Revision and preparation for final exam


Students will recap, revise and prepare for the final exams.

Terms 1 and 2

Theme 4: Determinism


Students will begin year 13 with a study of Predestination and Determinism - the idea that our future has already been decided.   They will look at the theories of St Augustine and John Calvin, and their thoughts on predestination and our sinful nature.  As part of this, we will think about whether free will is an illusion.

They will go on to investigate the differences between Hard and Soft Determinism, the implications of this for God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence, the use of prayer and the existence of miracles. 


Terms 3 and 4


Theme 4: Free will


Continuing with Theme 4, students will explore the idea of Free Will by looking at the teachings of Pelagius and Arminius.  They will think about the consequences for us of exercising our free will, and they will look at different concepts of Libertarianism (philosophical, Scientific and psychological.)  


Students will then consider the implications of Free Will and Libertarianism on religious beliefs - i.e. if we have no free will, can we be blamed for our actions?



Part of term 5 and 6: 


Revision and preparation for final exam


Students will recap, revise and prepare for the final exams.


Why is A-Level Philosophy sequenced in this way?

At Ashton Sixth we are in the privileged position of having three expert teachers who specialise in the three components. As a result we deliver all three components concurrently. This allows our students to build their knowledge and understanding of each component in tandem. This is important as it allows them to make comparisons across and see the synoptic links between the three.