Philosophy

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

Philosophy at Cambridge is focused on answering fundamental questions, ranging from those about political obligation, to the meaning of words, to our knowledge of the external world and what it means to be a person. The course is taught mainly through lectures, which take place at the Sidgwick Site lecture block. With roughly 50 students in each year group we are able to get the most out of our one-on-one supervisions and small discussion groups. I think a main misconception about philosophy is that it has no practical applications, but the analytic skills you acquire through assessing and extracting complex arguments are invaluable in all areas of later life.

#college image# Credit: Cambridge University

What about the Philosophy course at Cambridge appealed to you

Joao, Philosophy, Jesus College, 1st year
João
Jesus College, 1st year

The course gives you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the subject. Philosophy is a unique discipline in that it gives you the freedom to think about any aspect of the world - we study topics as diverse as the nature of political power, the philosophy of mathematics, and the foundations of morality. What I like the most about studying the course at Cambridge is being able to have one-on-one supervisions with some of the most innovative philosophers around. I love the fact that I get to dive deeply into a different topic each week, and I always find the process of discussing my own ideas with experienced philosophers to be the most stimulating part of my week!

How have you found the structure of the course?

Chiara, Philosophy, Churchill College, 1st year
Chiara
Churchill College, 1st year

The first year of the course is quite broad, as all four papers (Metaphysics, Ethics and Political Philosophy, Logic, and Set Texts) are compulsory. I’ve found this has helped give me a clearer picture of the different areas of Philosophy and allowed me to explore my interests before I specialize. After first year you are given considerably more choice - second years are able to choose two out of their four papers, and third years have complete choice in their options. One of the great things is that some papers I probably would never have chosen on my own have been really enjoyable, and the fact that they’re so varied often makes me feel like I’m studying a completely different subject from lecture to lecture.

What is your faculty/department like?

Joao, Philosophy, Jesus College, 1st year
João
Jesus College, 1st year
The Department

The Faculty of Philosophy is located in the Sidgwick Site, which is the home for many other faculties in the School of Arts and Humanities. As a student, most of the time that you’ll spend at the Faculty will be spent at the philosophy library, the Casimir Lewi Library. Our library is small (and, I think, quite cozy!), but it has an incredible collection of books - you will never again be impressed by the philosophy section of any bookstore after your library induction! You will also have access to a common area, where many undergraduate and graduate students sit down to chat over a cup of tea. Most of your teaching, however, will take place just outside the Faculty, in the Lecture Block.

What types of work do you have to do?

Chiara, Philosophy, Churchill College, 1st year
Chiara
Churchill College, 1st year
Types of work

Every week I have to write a 1500 to 2500 word essay for my weekly supervision, a total of eight essays per term. This is the main aspect of my workload, and every four weeks I specialize in a new paper so that I am able to cover all four subject areas over Michaelmas and Lent terms. Aside from this, I also have logic homework due every two weeks and bi-weekly discussion group readings. Anyone interested in the workload for the essays should consult the syllabus for first year (Part IA) of the course, which can be found on the faculty website under this link. (you don’t generally have to read everything in the subcategories for each essay). Those interested in the logic worksheets can find them, and the textbook for the Formal Logic course, here.

Do you have career plans?

Joao, Philosophy, Jesus College, 1st year
João
Jesus College, 1st year

I have more careers plans and dreams than could possibly fit on this page! Before coming to university, I used to think that a philosophy degree would necessarily lead to an academic career. After arriving at Cambridge, and seeing all the different career paths taken by other philosophers, I realized that my degree allows me to pursue many non-academic careers. One of the possibilities that I’m exploring is to work in the charity sector after graduating. I am very passionate about international development, and I would like to use the analytical and research skills that I acquired through philosophy in order to look for solutions to some of the world’s most important problems.

What about your course would you change?

Joao, Philosophy, Jesus College, 1st year
João
Jesus College, 1st year

If I could change anything about the course, I think that I would change the way in which our supervisions on each topic are distributed throughout the academic year. Typically, we have all of our supervisions on one subject in a month, so that we cover a different subject each month. The downside of that is that, although you will have lectures on all four subjects throughout the year, you may miss writing on your favorite subject after you finish being supervised on it. I've certainly missed writing about metaphysics since last term!

Typical timetable of a 1st year Philosophy

Chiara, Philosophy, Churchill College, 1st year
Chiara
Churchill College, 1st year

A typical morning varies depending on whether there is an early lecture or not, but usually I can take time getting ready and read over a few things before heading to class (or repeatedly hit snooze and rush over feeling dazed). Then I’d normally get lunch either in town with friends or back at college, and hit the library to get some essay reading done. With a flexible schedule like mine there’s plenty of time for sports and other societies in the afternoon. The workload is very regular, with one essay and one supervision a week, as well as a logic worksheet and discussion group reading every two weeks. Although there’s a lot to do, it’s not hard to find time for activities, nights out, or just relaxing with friends.

- Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
9am - - - - -
10am Discussion group (biweekly) Logic class/Lecture (biweekly) - - -
11am - Ethics Lecture Set Texts Lecture - Metaphysics Lecture
12am - - Political Philosophy Lecture - Logic Lecture
1pm - - - - -
2pm - - Set Texts Lecture - -
3pm - - - Metaphysics Lecture -
4pm Supervision essay due Supervision - - Logic HW due

What has been going on at Philosophy?

- Recent Events -

Transhumanism

An upcoming conference, organized by students, on the study of improving the human condition and developing a framework to judge what can be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in such projects as Artificial Intelligence and Longevity.

New philosophical fiction in library

The librarians have added a new philosophical fiction section, with an exciting selection of works including Sartre, Camus, Kafka and Vonnegut. A great way to explore literary works with philosophical undertones.

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