What is philosophy?
Philosophy is the study of the nature of existence, knowledge, truth and ethics. It involves consideration of the most fundamental questions about who we are, and examines philosophical thought across the breadth of history right up to the present day.
It hones your ability to reason effectively and form coherent arguments, to write persuasively, and improves your logical and critical thinking. It challenges your understanding and assumptions of concepts like human nature and whether God exists. The diverse sub-sections of philosophy address questions ranging from why we dream to whether free will exists.
Expect lots of essays, chances to debate different philosophical theories and set texts, and the opportunity to diversify your studies to explore philosophy further.
What jobs can you get with a philosophy degree?
Philosophy graduates think about the big questions in life and have the ability to analyse and communicate complex ideas intelligently. These are skills that employers value and can lead to several career paths.
Some common careers for philosophy graduates include:
- Business analyst
- Civil Service officer
- Government officer
- Human resources officer
- Marketing executive
- Non-profit officer
- Policy officer
- Recruitment officer
What do you learn in a philosophy degree?
The first year of a philosophy degree usually has broad modules, offering you a solid grounding in fundamental ideas and arguments. From second and third year, students tend to begin to specialise or choose a particular pathway or modules that best reflect their interests.
Undergraduate courses tend to take three but sometimes four years. Modules can include logic, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy of science and political philosophy. Many modules are heavily essay-based, which can lead to independent research and dissertations towards the end of your degree.
Philosophy is often classed as a humanities degree, although there are strands that are in fact closer to mathematics and science. It can be taken as a single honours subject or in addition to another subject. It is particularly complemented by humanities courses like history, politics, English literature, law, a language or classics, but also by science subjects like maths, computer science, physics and psychology.
Consider the size of the groups, whether you want to be part of a smaller or larger department of philosophy, whether it’s more lecture-led or focused on smaller seminars, and the links the department has with other faculties. Look closely at the modules on offer and don’t be afraid to chat to department representatives about the aspects you’re particularly interested in.
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What should I study at high school if I want to study philosophy?
Broadly speaking, students who like reading, analysis and forming arguments might enjoy undergraduate philosophy.
Many students don't have the option to study philosophy as a formal subject at high school. Universities do recognise this and no specific subjects are necessary in order to apply for a philosophy degree, but you might find suggestions of useful or related subjects on university websites. You may find an essay based subject such as English is helpful, as is a science or mathematics which can help you hone your logic. A language may also be useful.
What do people who study philosophy do after graduation?
The skills learned on a philosophy degree include clear and analytical thinking, persuasive writing and speaking innovative questioning and effective reasoning.
These skills are highly transferable to a range of careers, such as teaching, PR, communications, publishing, HR, advertising and many more.
Often, the parts of a philosophy course you enjoy the most can be a good indication of where you might want to go with it. If you’re interested in justice you may want to pursue a career in the legal field, an interest in ethics might take you into politics, journalism, or the civil service, or if logic’s your thing you may be attracted to business or science.
Alex Court studied philosophy at University College Dublin, which became a springboard to a successful career in journalism.
“My degree taught me how to construct a persuasive argument and clearly articulate a point of view. I learned that no matter what your belief is, it’s only as strong as your ability to persuade others that one set of beliefs is more logical than another,” he says.
“This way of thinking about argumentation and persuasion has really helped me develop a career in journalism and corporate communications.” Alex went on to study a master’s degree in journalism and write breaking news stories for CNN, the BBC and Bloomberg. He later joined the United Nations Refugee Agency in a communications role.
Which famous people studied philosophy?
Among those who studied philosophy at university are former US president Bill Clinton, who spent time at the University of Oxford doing the subject with politics and economics and actress Rashida Jones, who took it with religion at Harvard University. Director Wes Anderson studied it at the University of Texas and actor Ricky Gervais, graduated from UCL with a degree in philosophy
Other famous philosophy graduates include novelist Dame Iris Murdoch, who studied at the University of Cambridge; writer and political activist Simone de Beauvoir, who completed her studies at the Sorbonne University; co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel, who did philosophy at Stanford University; former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Carly Fiorina, who studied it with medieval history at Stanford University; and TV reporter Stone Phillips, who graduated in philosophy from Yale University.
Why study a philosophy degree? Our essential guide to what you will learn on a philosophy course, what you should study to get your place on a degree, and what jobs you can get once you graduate.