University subject profile: philosophy

What you’ll learn

Philosophy tackles questions and concepts that others take for granted. What is private property? What does it actually mean to say that one event causes another? When can a scientific theory become a scientific fact? Students reading philosophy can find themselves engaging with modern social and political concerns, while confronting questions of personal value systems, social critique and moral life.

Philosophy may not have all the answers (for example, 2,000 years ago, Pontius Pilate was supposed to have asked the question, “What is truth?”, and philosophers still haven’t formed a satisfactory answer), giving students the space to debate the views of others and formulate their own opinions.

You can expect to study different thinkers and traditions of thought, from Plato and Aristotle through to Marx, Kant, Nietzsche, Russell and Derrida – philosophers who academics say have helped shape western thought.

Modules you are likely to cover include critical reasoning, metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics and political philosophy, plus the philosophy of science, literature, mind, religion, language and maths.

Philosophy can be studied as a joint degree, so students often pair up with history, politics or law. But because morals and ethics touch so many subjects, some universities offer a combined course with subjects as diverse as computer science and journalism.

How you’ll learn

Although you’ll touch on a small amount of work by a number of philosophers, be prepared to dig deeper and do extra reading to get the most out of the subject. You’ll be taught mostly through lectures, seminars and lots of independent work. A good philosophy course teaches you how to think about issues systematically. You’ll develop key skills in oral and written communication, critical reading, constructing and defending an argument, and independent research.

What entry requirements do I need?

Universities encourage applications from students who have A-levels (or equivalent) in subjects such as maths, religious studies, classical civilisations or philosophy.

What job can I get?

Philosophy graduates are more employable in the real world of work than you might think. Philosophy develops highly valued skills, such as verbal reasoning, creative thinking , presenting a clearly formulated and coherent argument, analysing dense and difficult written material, distinguishing the relevant from the irrelevant, and carrying out independent inquiry.

Work can be found in a whole range of fields including consultancy, law, journalism, publishing, local administration, project management, teaching, librarianship, the civil service and banking. The financial sector, the legal profession and finance are other common destination for philosophy students. Studying the philosophy of law could open doors to the legal profession, while business ethics modules could serve you well in finance.

Then there are the creative professions. Hollywood is crawling with former philosophers: Bruce LeeSusan SarandonHarrison Ford. The composer Philip Glass studied philosophy; so did the film-maker Joel Coen.

Some graduates go on to further study and a career in academia and research. Others enter teaching.

Published in The Guardian 

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