Philosophy will show students how to think about some of life’s most important questions in a new and critical way: Does God exist? What is the mind? Is eating animals for food wrong? Do humans have freedom? Why does the universe exist?
Students will explore and discuss ideas, examine beliefs, be shown how to explain different views clearly and reach judgements based on a precise evaluation of the available information.
Past Philosophy students have been accepted on a range of degree courses at both Oxford and Cambridge including: Politics, Philosophy & Economics; Mathematics & Philosophy; Languages and Classics.
Topics explored in Philosophy complement other studies including:
- The Natural Sciences & Mathematics
- Languages & Literature
- Law, Politics and Sociology
- Computer Science & IT
- History & Classics
- Film & Media
The skills of analysis, interpretation and evaluation, which are gained from a close study of philosophical ideas, are relevant and useful in most areas of study.
Studying Philosophy will provide students with an advanced level of generic skills that are immensely useful in a wide range of jobs in such diverse fields as Journalism and Media, Government and Public Administration, Computing, Law, Education and Research, Social Work and of course, Teaching.
This course includes the following two topics in the first year:
1. Epistemology which covers major themes such as:
- What is Knowledge? – distinguishing between different kinds of knowledge and defining the concept
- Perception as a Source of Knowledge – exploring our knowledge of the external world
- Reason as a Source of Knowledge – considering whether we can know about the world through reason alone
- The Limits of Knowledge – questioning whether humans can have any knowledge at all
2. The Metaphysics of God which looks at arguments both for and against God’s existence. It covers the following themes:
- The concept and nature of ‘God’ – Does the idea of an all-powerful, all-loving and all-knowing God make sense?
- Arguments relating to the existence of God – Does the existence and nature of the world prove God’s existence? Does suffering show that He could not exist?
- Religious language – Does religious language make sense or is it just nonsense?
In the second year, students study a further two topics:
3. Moral Philosophy which examines ethical theories and their application to areas like:
- Simulated killing (within computer games, plays, films etc)
- The treatment of animals
- Deception and the telling of lies
4. The Metaphysics of Mind which explores some of the most important issues in philosophical psychology, including:
- What do we mean by ‘mind’? What are the defining features of the mind?
- Substance dualism – Is the mind a non-physical soul?
- Property dualism – Are mental states non-physical properties which emerge from the brain?
- Physicalist theories – Is the mind behaviour or the brain? Do minds even exist?
Course Specific Trips, Visits & Experiences
Philosophy students have the opportunity to take part in a variety of course related experiences. In recent years, these have included:
- A trip to St. Mary’s Church, Reigate, where students had the opportunity to meet the Reverend Dave Bull and ask questions concerning religious truth.
- A trip to the Southampton philosophy conference, where students attended a number of fascinating lectures on topics like: ‘Nietzsche on the meaning of life’, and ‘Can we justify human rights?’
In addition to course specific experiences, students also have the opportunity to get involved in the College’s Activities Programme.
All students need to gain an experience of the work place during their time at College and for students studying vocational courses it should ideally be linked to one of their subject areas.
Philosophy is assessed 100% by examination.
The exam board for Philosophy A Level is AQA.
All students need to have at least five GCSEs at Grade 4 or above (and a satisfactory school reference) in order to be accepted on an A Level/BTEC Level 3 Programme.
In addition, students should meet the following minimum GCSE requirements:
- Grade 5 in English Language, and
- Grade 4 in Maths
No previous experience of Philosophy is required.
Students should have an enquiring mind, enjoy reading and exchanging ideas in discussion. The ability to argue a case, in speech and writing, is essential.
What do the top universities think about A level Philosophy?
It is highly regarded by both Oxford and Cambridge. Former A Level Philosophy students have gone on to study a range of subjects at these prestigious institutions, including Mathematics and Philosophy, Classics, Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) and Languages.
Will it fit with my other subjects?
Philosophical questions lay at the foundations of virtually every other academic discipline. Different branches of this ancient subject, which we will explore throughout the course, include Philosophical Psychology, the Philosophy of Language, the Philosophy of Mathematics, Social and Political Philosophy, Natural Theology, as well as Classical Philosophy. Subjects that go particularly well with Philosophy include:
- Government & Politics
- The Sciences
The great philosophers have often made significant contributions to these other areas of study. For instance, Aristotle is sometimes said to be the ‘father of Biology’, Hume was a great Historian, while Sartre and Nietzsche are both important literary figures. Furthermore a number of intellectual giants, such as Einstein and Turing have studied Philosophy, furthering their understanding of their own subject areas.
What careers can the study of Philosophy lead to?
In terms of career prospects, Philosophy is similar to other humanities subjects, such as History and English Literature. It will provide you with a range of generic skills, which can assist you in a number of areas from Law and Journalism, to Computing, Social Work and Teaching. Explore the Prospects website for a list of career opportunities available to philosophy graduates:
Is it similar to Religious Studies (RS)?
Yes and no. We discuss arguments both for and against the existence of God, as well as the major ethical theories, like virtue ethics and utilitarianism. But philosophy is distinct from RS in three important ways. Firstly, we DO NOT spend time studying descriptions of religious practices, texts and traditions. Our key concern is with arguments and theories. Secondly, we DO look at topics like the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of mind, which are not examined, in any detail, in an RS classroom. Finally, the content is much more abstract and students typically find it to be considerably more challenging.
Does Philosophy A Level involve much writing?
Yes. Philosophy is an essay-based subject, which involves regular written assignments, as well as two exams at the end of the course. The course would not be appropriate for students who do not enjoy writing.
Is Philosophy A Level difficult?
Yes, it is intellectually demanding, but it can be incredibly rewarding if you are prepared to work hard. Philosophy is a highly prized, challenging, academic discipline. The arguments and concepts that we discuss will stretch even the most able minds. However, the department is very well resourced. We have lots of experience teaching difficult, abstract ideas. We are able to provide students with plenty of support, which includes bespoke booklets and video lectures covering every topic on the syllabus.
Is there much homework?
Yes. While there is no externally assessed coursework in Philosophy, there are weekly pieces of homework, which will take students several hours to complete. Students will also be expected to go through their notes after lessons, in order to consolidate their knowledge of the topics.
Do you need to study Philosophy at A Level to study it at university?
No, but it would be highly beneficial to do so. It would set you apart from many of your peers, who may lack a firm foundation in the subject. In short, if you wish to study Philosophy at university, then you would be strongly advised to study it at A Level.