University of Cambridge




Do you enjoy discussing the pros and cons of broad issues affecting society? Do you relish puzzle-solving? Do you like subjects that emphasise rigorous thought? If so, philosophy might be the right subject for you.

UCAS code V500 BA/Ph

Duration Three years

Colleges Available at all Colleges except Murray Edwards

2013 entry Applications per place: 5
Number accepted: 53

Open days and events 2015 College open days (arts)
Cambridge Open Days

Related courses
Contact details 01223 335090


Why Philosophy at Cambridge?

Philosophy considers extremely general and 'ultimate' problems, such as the nature of reality, the purpose of human existence, and the basis of knowledge. It also scrutinises the methods that are used to answer such questions.

Three Cambridge scholars, Bertrand Russell, G E Moore and Ludwig Wittgenstein, transformed the discipline of philosophy in the early twentieth century and made Cambridge the most important centre for philosophy in the English-speaking world. Along with Frank Ramsey and others, they developed the analytic style of philosophy now prominent throughout much of the world.

Today, Cambridge remains one of the best places to get a grounding in analytic philosophy and our course is one of the few in which it's possible to concentrate entirely on philosophy without taking any other subject (although you can diversify within the subject if you wish).

Teaching and learning

Throughout the degree our approach emphasises the values of the analytic school: rigour, clarity and thinking for yourself. But its content extends well beyond the analytic tradition and its main preoccupations. For instance, we currently offer papers on the history of philosophy from Plato to Wittgenstein, as well as political philosophy and aesthetics.

The Philosophy Faculty has close links with related faculties and departments such as Classics, History, and History and Philosophy of Science, so you can take advantage of a wide range of specialised lectures and seminars. You also have access to many excellent libraries.

Recommended reading

If you're thinking of applying to study Philosophy and haven't already done so, we strongly advise you to do some reading about the subject to get a realistic idea of what it's like. For example:

  • S Blackburn Think
  • R Descartes Meditations
  • D Hume Enquiries
  • J S Mill Utilitarianism
  • B Russell Problems of Philosophy

Please see the Faculty website for further suggestions.

Changing course

It's possible to combine philosophy with another subject by changing to or from another course. You can either study another subject for one or two years (such as Mathematics, Classics or Economics) and then switch to Philosophy, or change to another subject (such as Economics, History or Psychology) after Part IA or Part IB Philosophy.

Although the system is fairly flexible, not all combinations are feasible. If you're considering such changes, please consult the Colleges to which you're considering applying about your plans.

After Philosophy

Thinking philosophically requires rigour, precision and creativity, qualities that can be applied to any other problem. Although a Philosophy degree isn't an essential qualification for any particular career, the analytical and critical skills developed through its study prepare our graduates for a variety of professions, including business, computing, journalism, administration and law.

Course outline

Much of the teaching takes the form of lectures, with additional classes for some subjects (such as first-year Logic).

You have weekly supervisions, for each of which you're given topical reading and asked to write an essay which you then discuss with your supervisor. Although it varies throughout the year, each week you typically have between six and 12 lectures, and between one and three supervisions and/or small classes.

Assessment is predominantly by written examinations. However, in Parts IB and II one written examination can be substituted with two extended essays of 3,000-4,000 words. Part II offers the additional alternative of submitting a dissertation of 6,000-8,000 words on a subject of your choice.

Year 1 (Part IA)

The course is designed to accommodate the many students studying philosophy for the first time. In the first year, you acquire the reasoning skills that enable you to tackle philosophical problems and to think intelligently about abstract questions generally, not just gather information about who said what. Therefore, you're encouraged to approach topics in your own way and we organise regular discussion groups for first- and second-year students.

Part IA gives you an introduction to philosophy through the study of four core compulsory papers:

  • Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind
  • Ethics and Political Philosophy
  • Logic (A Level/IB Higher Level Mathematics isn't necessary for this)
  • Set Texts, such as Plato’s Meno, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and J S Mill’s On Liberty and The Subjection of Women
Year 2 (Part IB)

Years 2 and 3 focus on areas that particularly interest you. Part IB is about exploring the philosophical aspects of a range of issues, both practical and theoretical.

There are two compulsory papers:

  • Metaphysics and Epistemology
  • Logic

You then choose two further subjects from:

  • Ethics
  • Greek and Roman Philosophy (from Classics)
  • Modern and Medieval Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Political Philosophy
  • Experimental Psychology (from Natural Sciences, involving practical work)
Year 3 (Part II)

Our objective in Part II is to provide you with an understanding of various contemporary debates and to familiarise you with current philosophical concepts. Lectures explore current and new positions on debates, and you participate in seminar discussions on advanced subjects.

There are no compulsory papers and you choose four from an extensive range of subjects. These include most of those mentioned above, studied at a more advanced level, as well as several papers covering new areas. Papers recently available include:

  • European Philosophy from Kant
  • Mathematical Logic
  • Philosophical Logic
  • Aesthetics

In addition, there may be a Special Subject which changes from time to time (for 2013-14, the Special Subject is Wittgenstein).

It's also possible to take one or two papers from another course, such as Classics or Theology and Religious Studies.

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Essential No specific subjects
Useful An arts/science mix

No particular subjects at A Level (or equivalent) are required for the Philosophy course. However, a combination of arts and science subjects is considered useful. Studying Philosophy at A Level does not in itself confer an advantage. Applicants must be able to demonstrate a capacity for clear-headed logical reasoning and abstract thought.

For Hughes Hall, A Level (or equivalent) Mathematics or Physics is recommended, but not mandatory, for Part II of the course.

Check College websites for College specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.

Admissions tests and written work

The table below sets out the ways in which each College assesses applicants for this subject. For more information about these methods of assessment and why we use them, see the main Admissions tests and written work page.

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's Test at interview
Churchill School/college essays; Test at interview
Clare Test at interview
Corpus Christi Test at interview
Downing School/college essay; Test at interview
Emmanuel School/college essay; Test at interview
Fitzwilliam Test at interview
Girton Test at interview
Gonville & Caius Test at interview
Homerton School/college essay; Test at interview
Hughes Hall Test at interview
Jesus Test at interview
King's Test at interview
Lucy Cavendish School/college essays; Test at interview
Magdalene School/college essays; Test at interview
Murray Edwards Not available at this College
Newnham Test at interview
Pembroke Test at interview
Peterhouse School/college essays; Test at interview
Queens' School/college essay; Test at interview
Robinson School/college essay; Test at interview
St Catharine's School/college essay; Test at interview
St Edmund's One-hour essay and multiple choice test
St John's Test at interview
Selwyn Test at interview
Sidney Sussex School/college essays; Test at interview
Trinity School/college essay; Test at interview
Trinity Hall Test at interview
Wolfson Test at interview
How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about Philosophy at Cambridge

  • Course website - Explore Philosophy in more detail on the course website.
  • Course FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about the Philosophy course.
  • Course guide - A detailed guide to the Philosophy degree.
  • Teaching style - Information about the styles of teaching used in the Philosophy degree course is included in the course prospectus.
  • Facilities - Information about the facilities available to Philosophy students is provided in the course guide.

Improve your knowledge of Philosophy

  • Preparatory reading - Guidance on preparatory reading for applicants interested in Philosophy.

Tools to help you with your Philosophy application

  • Application test info - Information about the Philosophy written test (required by most Colleges) and specimen questions.

Philosophy and your future

  • Career opportunities - Information about the careers opportunities available to you after studying Philosophy at Cambridge is available in the course guide.

The student experience

  • Student comments - Some current students describe their experience of studying Philosophy.

Unistats info

Contextual Information

From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.

However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.

We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.

You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.

  1. The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.

    Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.

  2. Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.

  3. The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.

  4. Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.

  5. Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.