Literature and Philosophy in the Eighteenth Century (Q3269)

15 credits, Level 5

Spring teaching

Tristram Shandy, the protagonist of Laurence Sterne’s novel of the same title, says that a man’s body and his mind are like a jacket and its lining: ‘rumple the one—you rumple the other’. This joke riffs on a long-running philosophical debate about the relation between mind and body; it is just one example of how eighteenth-century literature engages philosophy.

This module examines the relationship between literature and philosophy during the Enlightenment – a period equally marked by an emphasis on rationality as by a turn to feeling – by considering how some of the major questions that preoccupy eighteenth-century authors are philosophical questions about the mind, the body, the self, and one’s responsibility to others. Literature from this period is full of scenes in which characters find themselves impersonated, or hurt others by accident, or have incomplete control of their bodies. Such scenes address topics that continue to preoccupy us today concerning identity (what makes us ourselves?), responsibility (are we responsible for things we do in altered states?), and social and political obligation (how should we respond when we see others suffer?).

We will discuss works of literature that raise philosophical issues in their own right, and we will read them alongside short selections from contemporary philosophical writings. Though we will be working across disciplines, our primary focus will be on the literary works, and this module assumes no prior knowledge of philosophy.


27%: Lecture
73%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Essay, Project)

Contact hours and workload

This module is 150 hours of work. This breaks down into 24 hours of contact time and 126 hours of independent study.

This module is running in the academic year 2019/20. We also plan to offer it in future academic years. It may become unavailable due to staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of such changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.