Philosophy is a challenging subject which requires students to learn and then critically examine the theories and arguments of a range of European philosophers such as René Descartes, David Hume and John Locke.

Key topics studied: Epistemology (the study of knowledge), Metaphysics of God, Moral Philosophy and Metaphysics of Mind.

Past students have gained places on a range of prestigious degree courses at both Oxford and Cambridge including: Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE); Mathematics and Philosophy; Languages and Classics.

Students will expand their outlook and critical reasoning skills which will help equip them for life after College.

Topics explored in Philosophy complement other studies including:

  • The Natural Sciences & Mathematics
  • Languages & Literature  
  • Psychology
  • 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. This topic covers a wide range of themes, the study of which involve an in depth analysis of philosophical thought in each area:

  • 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. This topic looks at a range of logical philosophical arguments both for and against the existence of God.

  • 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. This topic examines the ethical theories of thinkers such as Bentham, Aristotle and Kant, and their application to areas like:

  • Simulated killing (within computer games, plays, films etc)
  • The treatment of animals
  • Deception and the telling of lies
  • Stealing

4. The Metaphysics of Mind. This topic explores some of the most important questions in philosophical psychology, and how philosophers have attempted to answer them, 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 the University of Southampton, where students attended a series of lectures on topics such as Epistemology, Ethics and the Nature of the Mind.
  • 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 and logical mind, enjoy reading and be able to write precisely and concisely. The subject requires a large amount of academic content to be learned, and therefore students should be prepared to revise and consolidate from the start of the course.

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:

  • English
  • Law
  • Government & Politics
  • Mathematics
  • Languages
  • Classics
  • Psychology
  • History
  • 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)?

No. Philosophy is distinct from RS in three ways. Firstly, we DO NOT spend time studying descriptions of religious practices, texts and traditions. Our key concern is with the arguments and theories of philosophers. Secondly, we look at topics like the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of mind, which are not covered 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 three-hour, essay based exams at the end of the course. 

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.

How to Apply

Applications for entry September 2024

Please apply (from 19 September 2023) via the link on this page:

Please see the Admissions timetable for information about the College’s enrolment process.

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