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VCE Humanities

Philosophy Unit 1: Existence, Knowledge and Reasoning


There are no prerequisites for this unit.

Course Description

What is the nature of reality? How can we acquire certain knowledge? These are some of the questions that have challenged humans for millennia and underpin ongoing endeavours in areas as diverse as science, justice and the arts. This unit engages students with fundamental philosophical questions through active, guided investigation and critical discussion of two key areas of philosophy: epistemology and metaphysics. The emphasis is on philosophical inquiry – ‘doing philosophy’ – and hence the study and practise of techniques of logic are central to this unit. As students learn to think philosophically, appropriate examples of philosophical viewpoints and arguments, both contemporary and historical, are used to support, stimulate and enhance their thinking about central concepts and problems. Students investigate relevant debates in applied epistemology and metaphysics, and consider whether the philosophical bases of these debates continue to have relevance in contemporary society and our everyday lives.

Areas of Study


Metaphysics is the study of the basic structures and categories of what exists, or of reality. It is the attempt to work out a logical account of everything that we know or believe about existence, including all our scientific knowledge.

This area of study introduces students to metaphysical problems through a study of questions associated with selected themes. The themes include:

  • On the material mind
  • On the existence and nature of God
  • On free will and determinism
  • On time


The word epistemology derives from two Ancient Greek words: episteme meaning ‘knowledge’ and logos meaning ‘what is said about something’. In the ancient world, episteme was contrasted with doxa meaning ‘belief’, or something falling short of genuine knowledge. This ancient contrast points to one of the basic problems in epistemology: the difference between belief/opinion, and the certainty associated with knowledge.

This area of study introduces students to basic epistemological problems through a study of questions associated with selected themes. Students also consider philosophical problems in contemporary debates, including the implications of accepting particular views about knowledge; for example, what are the implications for the authority of science from a position that knowledge, belief and truth are relative to different cultures? Does considering this implication lead to a revision of the initial position?

Introduction to philosophical inquiry

Philosophy is an activity as much as it is a body of thought, and students of philosophy benefit not just from attaining new knowledge, but through the development of their reasoning faculties. Philosophy is the activity of considering central, contestable problems, and attempting to develop good reasons for holding one position rather than another. In analysing concepts and clarifying positions, philosophers also discover how ideas are logically and conceptually connected with each other. Precise use of language is essential to these processes as a means of supporting coherence and the rigorous testing of ideas.

This area of study introduces students to the distinctive nature of philosophical thinking and a variety of approaches to philosophical inquiry. They practise some basics of formal and informal logic and other techniques of critical thinking, such as analogy, that are essential to the study of problems in metaphysics and epistemology. They explore cognitive biases and consider any implications for approaching problems in epistemology and metaphysics, for example the relation between confirmation bias, science and pseudo-science, and attribution bias and questions of causality.


Assessment Tasks
(school-assessed coursework)

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse metaphysical problems and evaluate viewpoints and arguments arising from these, and identify metaphysical problems in relevant contemporary debates.

A short written analysis and an essay.

On completion of this unit the student should be able to analyse epistemological problems and evaluate viewpoints and arguments arising from these, and analyse epistemological problems in the context of relevant contemporary debates.

An oral reflection / response and a short written exercise.

On completion of this unit the student should be able to apply methods of philosophical inquiry to the analysis of philosophical viewpoints and arguments, including those in metaphysics and epistemology.

•  a written reflection

• presentations (oral, multimedia)

• a dialogue (oral, written)

• a research task.


Overall Final Assessment

End of Semester Examination – 1.5 hours.

Information can be obtained from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: