Possible A-Level Exam Questions 2019

Having had a look at the questions which have come up in the last two years for both AS and A Level, I have arrived at a list of topics and sometimes questions for each area which could possibly come up. Some of these are more likely than others to do so.


Two topics have never come up at all – Plato and 20th Century approaches to religious language. I think it is likely that one of the year 2 questions will be on either falsification, verification or Wittgenstein. A question on Plato’s understanding of reality or his theory of Forms is possible.

Other areas in philosophy might be Mind body and soul – materialism, Anselm’s ontological argument or one of the theodicies.

Edit: I’ve decided to add some possible questions:

To what extent does Plato’s theory of the Forms make sense of reality?

‘Religious texts are best interpreted non-cognitively’ Discuss.

‘Aquinas view of religious language is no longer valuable’ Discuss.

Critically evaluate soul-making theodicies.


Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on Ethics questions.

Sins Against the Environment

The A Level doesn’t have Environmental Ethics as a topic any more which is a shame, as this is something which has come to the forefront of public consciousness over the past year, and has even penetrated and made an impact on the Catholic Church with the announcement by the Pope that ‘environmental sins’ would be added to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Just recently, one of the dioceses of England and Wales, Arundel and Brighton, have brought out a programme designed to implement these developments.

As you can see here with this ‘eco-examen’ (an examination of conscience is something Catholics do before going to confession, to help them pinpoint their sins), some things that are recommended to confess are:

Have I taken any unnecessary flights?

Have I bought clothes that I will not wear frequently enough?

Have I done car-sharing?

Have I thought about animal welfare and sustainability?

Have I bought local organic produce?

Some questions relating to this which to a certain extent impinge on the Liberation topic in the A Level might be:

To what extent can there be a sin against the environment? If the Catholic view is that sin is fundamentally a disruption of a human’s relationship with God, either by directly offending Him, or by breaking a commandment relating to other human beings, then clearly no-one sins directly against the environment, but may sin against other humans if they make irresponsible choices which harm them.

For instance, if I knowingly pour toxic waste on a farmer’s land, clearly I have sinned against my neighbour, not the environment.

But when we get to things like unnecessary flights, how do I determine what impact this will have, and secondly, who gets to decide what is unnecessary? Should I really have refused to go on one or more of the four journeys I made this year, none of which were for work?

To many Catholics, including many priests I have spoken to, the idea of ‘eco-sins’ is derisory. There is no need to define new sins, and even if we do, an eco-sin is too vague to be of use. What factors count in the determination of unnecessary flying? Where does the responsibility lie for these things? Corporations create vast amounts of waste and pollution. Can corporations sin?

Perhaps even more concerning for some is the willingness of the Church to get on board with something so unrelated to its primary mission- the salvation of souls. Pope Leo XIII makes clear in his encyclical Immortale Dei that the proper sphere for these sorts of decisions is at the state level, and the details do not concern the Church:

“The Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme, each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as it might come to pass that one and the same thing – related differently, but still remaining one and the same thing – might belong to the jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, Who foresees all things, and Who is the Author of these two powers, has marked out the course of each in right correlation to the other. …

… There must, accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of heaven. Whatever, therefore, in things human is of a sacred character, whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to which it is referred to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is Caesar’s is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is to be rendered to God.” (Immortale Dei, n. 13, 14)


Natural Law Part II

One criticism aimed at natural law is that it falls foul of the naturalistic fallacy, but as we will see there are good reasons both for doubting the validity of this very term, and that it could be applied to natural law.

John Finnis, in a conversation with Peter Vardy, says that the neo-scholastics were confused by the order in which we come to know nature and the ontological order itself. We understand human nature by understanding human goods, BUT these goods do depend on the way we are. We look to objects, act, capacities and therefore to nature. The failure to make the distinction between these two ways = the naturalistic fallacy.

Vardy says:

“Controversially, Finnis starts with the argument that Aquinas, properly interpreted, was an ethical non-naturalist. He argues that the ‘basic goods’ of natural law appeal directly to reason without any need to make particular observations of nature”

But Finnis is simply noting that Aquinas’ first principles are axiomatic. If they were derived from some prior observations then those observations themselves would require further underpinning.

Thomas Storck says in the post I linked to from here, that:

“Moral goodness is in fact a subset of ontological goodness, a part of ontological goodness applicable only to creatures with intellect and will”


“Moral goodness and badness are simply that part of ontological goodness or badness which is more or less subject to our free choice. And because our possession of intellect and will is what specifically distinguishes us from the other animals, who lack those endowments, the goodness or badness which depend upon our intellect and will mark out a human being as good or bad more clearly than any mere ontological deficits, deficits which have absolutely no moral aspect. Thus a bad man is not someone who is blind or lame, but someone who steals or cheats and so on.”

Finally, Phillipa Foot, in her commentary on ‘thick concepts’ argues that some terms such as ‘rude’ ” undermine the is-ought gap: calling something rude is evaluative because it expresses condemnation in the same kind of way as bad and wrong do, but this evaluation can be derived from evaluative description. “


In summary, criticisms of natural law which rely on some version of the naturalistic fallacy should be used with care.


Natural Law


Image: Sir James Thornhill, St. Paul preaching in the Areopagus, 1729-31

Natural Law at A Level is often treated as one more ethical theory which can be applied to an issue such as pre-marital sex and placed alongside Kantian ethics, Utilitarianism, or Situation ethics. Of course the spec requires this sort of approach, but a simple historical look at the development of each of these ethical approaches shows how different Natural Law is from the rest.

It will help students to bear this in mind when writing essays. It would be easy to get the impression that Natural Law is the theory of Aquinas rather than seeing it, more helpfully, as a set of related but remarkably diverse ethical frameworks stretching back over 2000 years. It has its roots in an Aristotelian conception of telos and flourishing which also gave rise to what is known as virtue ethics. It has been articulated in various forms by people like the Stoics, Cicero, St Paul, Aquinas, Suarez, and in the modern era John Finnis.

By contrast, the other ethical theories studied in the OCR spec all date from the Enlightenment period onwards. The most recent theory, situation ethics, was formulated in the 1960s and grew out of liberal Biblical scholarship by people like Rudolf Bultmann.

Anyway, I am going to link to Thomas Storck’s account of Natural Law, which should help you to get an idea of the richness I am talking about:

An Approach to Natural Law

Possible DCT Questions 2019

There have been a few areas that haven’t come up over the last two years – From the year 1 modules:

Augustine – original Sin and Grace

Death and the Afterlife – Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

Knowledge of God – Natural Theology

Christian Moral Principles – Bible/Agape

The Year 2 modules:


Gender and Society

Liberation and Marx

This makes it rather tough to have any kind of an educated guess as the field is so wide. I would be surprised though, if Pluralism didn’t come up, as that is essentially two topics. Perhaps also a question on Liberation. You could do worse than do some practice questions in these areas anyway. In future posts I will attempt to write some exemplar answers for the three modules.

Possible Ethics Questions 2019

Ethics is the least easy area to guess at possible questions. Most of the topics in it have already come up. However, situation ethics and utilitarianism are possibilities, as they have come up the least. I would guess perhaps something on the rejection of absolute moral rules by situation ethics, and maybe something on whether it is possible to measure good. In the year 2 Ethics topics, sexual ethics has not come up yet. Therefore a question on whether religious beliefs should have a bearing on sexual morality might come up. You might want to have a go at doing an essay on each of those topics to practise.

DCT June 18th

Well it’s the last exam and in many ways I believe the trickiest. Development of Christian Thought, especially in year 2, covers a vast area including such topics as secularism, pluralism and its influence on society as well as theology, and feminism’s influence on theology. There is also a topic on Marx and Liberation Theology. These are all areas which most teachers will not have taught before 2 years ago, even if they have studied them before. I found the year 2 DCT to be a genuinely fascinating area to study with my students – our discussions covered so many interesting themes such as gender politics and feminism, Christianity and its relation to our culture and so on. But I have to admit it  is a challenge getting students ready to actually answer questions in these areas.

I will give some question examples which are really not predictions, but just topics that I will explore how to answer questions in.

‘Ruether’s approach to theology does not go far enough to be truly feminist’. Discuss

To what extent is Western culture Christian culture?

‘Universalism is incoherent.’ Discuss

‘Christ is more a teacher of wisdom than a political liberator’ Discuss

Over the next few days I hope to post some answers to these questions.

A Level Philosophy Exam 2018

So the exam is tomorrow. Remember there will be 4 questions and you answer 3. They will be marked out of 40, 16 marks for AO1 and 24 for AO2, which means you must be evaluative and have an answer which is driven by answering the question rather than reciting a list of views. The questions could be from year 1:

Plato and Aristotle

Mind, Body and Soul

Arguments for God from experience

Arguments for God from reason

Religious Experience

Problem of Evil

or from Year 2:

Religious Language – traditional approaches

Religious language – 20th Century approaches

Nature of God

As this is the first year of this exam I have nothing to go on for a prediction as no areas have come up yet. However, I think it would be odd if they didn’t have at least 2 questions from the second year, perhaps even three. In that case there is likely to be a question on God’s nature, and one on religious language. So here we go, here are my four guesses – no idea if anything like this will come up, but it’s always good to have a focus, and as I say, there should be something in at least a few of these areas.

“The conflicts between the divine attributes make belief in the classical view of God impossible” Discuss.

Critically assess non-cognitive approaches to religious language.

“Tillich’s view of Symbol is incoherent” Discuss.

To what extent can teleological arguments be defended from the challenge of chance?

Update: The questions were:

Boethius on eternity and free will

Hume on arguments from observation

The Cataphatic Way

Corporate Experiences


DCT AS OCR exam part 4

I have two more possible questions (see last post for the Augustine one):


“God cannot be known through reason alone.” Discuss.

For this you would be able to use people like Calvin and Aquinas, who viewed things differently but who would both agree with the statement. The question is about the validity of natural theology, and whether it is enough for knowledge of God.


Critically assess the extent to which Christian ethical principles can be based on the Bible alone.

This question involves looking at Protestant views based on ‘sola scriptura’ or the principle that the Bible alone can be an authority, or looking at the Catholic belief that Bible, tradition, and reason have to all be involved in moral decisions.

OK, good luck!

DCT exam 2018 part 3

The previous post included a possible question for the Augustine topic, and a link to my mind map on the pre and post-lapsarian will (pre and post Fall).

Some things to bear in mind when looking at how Original Sin corrupts humans and societies:

  • The will is key to it in Augustine. The will is seen as love, love of self and love of neighbour. Before the Fall these are in harmony.
  • These are respectively, cupiditas and caritas. They can work together in the friendship of Adam and Eve before the Fall. No lust or concupiscence has entered into that relationship and brought about strife and conflict.
  • The will orients itself in friendship as a cohesive force over soul and body – there is no division in the will in the garden of Eden.
  • After the Fall pride drives itself as a wedge between caritas and cupiditas such that there is now a division in the will. Human beings begin to experience a conflict between their own desires and what should be accorded to others.
  • Pride is both the sin of Adam and the sin of the fallen angels (chiefly Lucifer). Now true friendship is only possible by putting Christ first, then love for neighbour is generous, forgiving and removed from cupiditas.
  • So Christ is the remedy for the weakened will.

Next post: Knowledge of God’s Existence question.