Human Nature Re-examined


What, if anything, sets us apart from other living creatures on this planet? Are we bundles of genes or a product of culture and environment, or both? If we are animals, are we essentially rational, or political animals? Is our humanity best captured in our ability to freely reason, our use of language, our cultural or religious practices? Is it defined by our ability to laugh or produce art as a means of self-expression, or a combination of all? However tempting it is to look for just a single definition of human nature, the history of philosophy has shown that there are several possible answers to this vital and also somewhat worrying question.

In a renewed attempt to help us form an understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, we will examine and discuss a variety of proposals as put forward by some of the most eminent philosophers, naturalists, sociologists, and psychologists alike. Come and join the debate. 

Programme details

Course starts: 18th April 2023

Week 0: Course Orientation

Week 1:  Human nature: A concept under scrutiny

Week 2:  Plato's divided soul and contemporary divisions in psychology

Week 3:  Aristotle on stable character versus modern situationism

Week 4:  Human spirituality, East and West

Week 5:  Hobbes on competition and social formation

Week 6:  Darwin and language as an evolutionary advantage

Week 7:  Mill on happiness and other sources of moral decision-making  

Week 8:  Sartre on human freedom and its implications for our future

Week 9:  Simone de Beauvoir and gender as social construction

Week 10: Looking back: What then is human nature?  


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £238.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Julia Weckend

Julia joined the OUDCE in 2014. Her teaching and research interests include the history of philosophy, with emphasis on metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, perception and emotion.

Course aims

To introduce students to some of the most influential conceptions of what it is to be human. 

Course Objectives

1. To come to understand some of the central views on human nature.

2. To discuss, compare and evaluate the arguments offered by various parties.

3. To engage with and examine texts and extract from them key information.

Teaching methods

A one-hour online lecture supported by powerpoint and online access to learning materials. One hour of online discussion.

This course will consist of a weekly, one-hour pre-recorded lecture to be viewed by students in preparation for the once weekly tutor-led live session at the time advertised.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. have a sound grasp of many of the key conceptions on human nature;

2. be able to evaluate the relevant philosophical argument towards certain views, both verbally and written;

3. express and support with argument one's own views on human nature.

Assessment methods

Option A: three short essays of 500 words each to be written throughout the course, starting with a submission of the first short essay by the end of week 3, the second essay no later than the end of week 6, and the third essay by week 10.

Option B: one essay of 1500 words to be submitted at the end of the course. 

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form - Declaration of Authorship form.


Each course will close for enrolments 7 days prior to the start date to allow us to complete the course set up. We will email you at that time (7 days before the course begins) with further information and joining instructions. As always, students will want to check spam and junk folders during this period to ensure that these emails are received.

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

No prior knowledge of philosophy is required or assumed, though it will enable students to engage more fully in discussion. Students will regularly be asked to read selected materials in preparation of subsequent sessions which will be made available by the tutor. 

This course is offered at FHEQ Level 4, consisting of ten 2-hour sessions or the equivalent. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study. This course is worth 10 CATS points at FHEQ level 4.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)