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VCE Humanities

Philosophy Unit 3: Minds, Bodies and Persons


There are no prerequisites for this unit.

Course Description

This unit considers basic questions regarding the mind and the self through two key questions: Are human beings more than their bodies? Is there a basis for the belief that an individual remains the same person over time?

Students critically compare the viewpoints and arguments put forward in set texts from the history of philosophy to their own views on these questions and to contemporary debates.

It is important for students to understand that arguments make a claim supported by reasons and reasoning, whereas a viewpoint makes a claim without necessarily supporting it with reasons or reasoning. Philosophical debates encompass philosophical questions and associated viewpoints and arguments within other spheres of discourse such as religion, psychology, sociology and politics.

Areas of Study

Minds and Bodies

Philosophers often argue over whether everything ultimately can be explained by the laws of physics or whether there are mental events that fall outside physical and causal explanation. In this area of study students explore the ways in which ancient and modern thinkers have deployed the concepts of ‘psyche’ (usually translated as ‘soul’) and ‘mind’ in the context of these debates. From the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, the term psyche was used by ancient thinkers to speak of the distinguishing mark of living things, that is, when exploring what it is that distinguishes a living from a non-living thing. It is not equivalent to modern concepts of the mind nor to what is today commonly thought of as the soul. Students explore the concept of psyche and its relationship to body as found in ancient texts, and the concept of mind and its relationship to body in modern texts.

Students examine the views of those who deny the existence of anything that falls outside the scope of physics, as well as those who have argued that the psyche or the mind is something quite different from the physical body, and can exist independently of it. The set texts are used to provide students with a comparison of viewpoints and arguments and differing interpretations. Students apply their understanding of key concepts and arguments to an investigation of contemporary debates, such as whether there can be artificial intelligence or what the implications of a materialist/physicalist position are for the existence of free will.

Personal Identity

Starting with John Locke, modern philosophers have explored the question of the continuity of the self. They have attempted to identify the basis on which we say, for example, that an individual is the same person at 80 as they were at 8 years old. Self, in this sense, refers to the way an individual experiences the ‘I’ and in this area of study is referred to as personal identity.

In this area of study students explore selected theories of personal identity and the arguments for and against them, including theories that the continuity of self is illusory. In doing so, students consider the convergences in thinking on this issue between some Western philosophers and thinkers in the Buddhist tradition and the ethical implications of such scepticism about personal identity. Students will consider how thought experiments can be used to explore and challenge theories of personal identity. A range of relevant thought experiments are to be sourced from within the set texts where possible and beyond the set texts as appropriate. Students apply their understanding of philosophical concepts and problems related to personal identity to analyses of contemporary debates such as organ transplants and cloning.


Outcomes Assessment Tasks Marks Allocated
(school-assessed coursework)
Describe the key elements of the texts and situate them and their authors in the historical and philosophical context in which they were produced. Test 25
Analyse and evaluate the arguments developed in these texts. Analytical exercise. 45
Relate the arguments and outlooks developed in the texts to each other; to other traditions of thinking about the way we should live; and to contemporary experience. Short answer responses. 30
Total Marks 100

Overall Final Assessment

Graded Assessment Title Assessment Exam Duration Contribution to Study Score (%)
1 Unit 3 Coursework School-assessed   25
2 Unit 4 Coursework School-assessed   25
3 Written Examination November 2 hours 50


Reproduced by permission of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: