Undergraduate Prospectus 2014–2015
- Philosophy at Cambridge
- Members of Staff
- The Philosophy Tripos
- Part IA (first year)
- Part IB (second year)
- Part II (third year)
- Faculty Resources and Support for Students
- Disabled Students
- Life after the Tripos
- Admissions and applications
- What our students say
Philosophy studies human thought and the reality that we think about. Its topics include the basis of knowledge, the nature of reason, consciousness and cognition, as well as the foundations of value and the problems of political theory. It also enquires into and evaluates methods for addressing such issues. Its questions intrigue all thoughtful people, but the methods that are needed in order to make progress with them are often intricate and difficult.
Cambridge has occupied a uniquely distinguished place in the history of philosophy in the last 100 years. It was here, in the early years of the 20th century, that Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, Ramsey and others developed the analytic style of philosophy that is now prominent in much of the world. The Faculty of Philosophy today retains a strong commitment to this analytic tradition, combining it with study and teaching of the history of philosophy from Plato to the present day.
The Philosophy Faculty is housed in Sidgwick Avenue, near to many colleges and the river. We take seriously our procedures for assuring the quality of our programmes, an essential part of which is the close involvement of students in our major decision-making bodies, and students play an important role in shaping the work of the Faculty. Above all, it is a place where an enthusiasm for philosophy pervades and informs all our activity, whether in teaching or in research.
Before you apply, I would encourage you to find out as much as you can about the subject and our approach to it (which is in itself similar to that in all major UK universities, although because we have a single honours degree we can take undergraduates further than many). Apart from this prospectus, the most useful resource is our website. Then there are the Cambridge Open Days on 4 and 5 July 2013 and I invite you to come and see for yourself.
I hope you find this prospectus useful in helping you to make your choice of where and what to study.
Professor Tim Crane
Chair, Faculty Board of Philosophy
An historical perspective
Any account of Philosophy in Cambridge must emphasise the work of at least three men, Russell, Moore and Wittgenstein. These three transformed the discipline of philosophy during the first half of the 20th century and made Cambridge the subject's most important centre in the world.
Bertrand Russell (18721970) came to philosophy from mathematics and his early work led him to argue in Principia Mathematica that mathematics is nothing but logic, although his famous paradox also shows that the connection between logic and mathematics cannot be at all straightforward. In the course of this work Russell developed a new logical theory, which underpinned a method of logical analysis that he hoped would resolve many traditional problems of philosophy. His thought was that in a 'logically perfect language' it would be possible to transform the obscure tangles of traditional metaphysics into soluble scientific problems.
In Principia Ethica G.E. Moore (18731958) argued that because ethical disputes cannot be resolved by appeal to the natural and social sciences we should acknowledge that ethical values constitute an irreducible dimension of reality. Moore further held that friendship and beauty are pre-eminent among these values, and thus that the best of lives is a life successfully dedicated to their enhancement. This message was taken to heart by Cambridge 'Apostles' such as Clive Bell and John Maynard Keynes, and became characteristic of the Bloomsbury Group. In later years Moore, who became Professor of Philosophy in 1925, turned his attention to the traditional issues of metaphysics and propounded a defence of 'common sense' against a variety of sceptical arguments.
Ludwig Wittgenstein (18891951) came to Cambridge from Vienna in 1911 to study with Russell. In the Tractatus he developed Russell's account of the role of logic and presented an account of the limits of language which implies that problems of philosophy are either such that they can be solved by logical analysis or else such that nothing can be said about them. Having, as he thought, finished philosophy, Wittgenstein left Cambridge; but he returned in 1929 and throughout the 1930s conducted his famous classes. He brought together many of his reflections from these classes in his Philosophical Investigations, in which he pursued much further the questions about the limits of language which he had raised earlier.
Later in the 20th century, the general approach to philosophy contained in the work of these figures was carried further by their students and successors, including G. E. M. Anscombe (19192001) and Bernard Williams (19292003), both of whom applied it to a wide variety of topics, from the philosophy of mind and language on the one hand to some of the most contested issues in morality and politics on the other.Back to the beginning
The research interests of the Faculty's current staff span modern analytic philosophy and its history.
Dr Arif Ahmed (Girton College) works on logic and metaphysics.
Dr Angela Breitenbach (King's College) works on Kant, Philosophy of Science, Aesthetics.
Dr Tim Button (St John's College) works on Metaphysics, Philosophy of Mathemtica and Philosophical Logic.
Dr Clare Chambers (Jesus College) works on political philosophy.
Professor Tim Crane (Peterhouse) works on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of language, epistemology and Leibniz.
Dr Hallvard Lillehammer (Churchill College) works in ethics and political philosophy.
Professor John Marenbon (Trinity College) specializes in medieval philosophy.
Professor Derek Matravers (Emmanuel College) Affiliated Lecturer, works on aesthetics and the theory of value.
Professor Alex Oliver (Gonville & Caius) works on logic, metaphysics and philosophy of mathematics.
Professor Michael Potter (Fitzwilliam College) works on Philosophy of Mathematics, philosophical logic and history of analytical philosophy.
Professor Huw Price (Trinity College) works on pragmatism, philosophy of physics, metaphysics and philosophy of language.
Dr Paulina Sliwa (Sidney Sussex College) works on ethics, epistemology and their intersection.
By October 2013 it is expected that a further two permanent members of staff will join the Faculty.
Back to the beginning
The Papers currently on offer are as described later in this prospectus but the Faculty regularly reviews the structure of the Tripos and the content of the papers. There may be some differences by the time you arrive.
The undergraduate course of study in philosophy at Cambridge is called the Philosophy Tripos. It is divided into three parts, Part IA, Part IB, and Part II. The majority of our students study philosophy for all three years of their undergraduate course, taking one part of the Tripos each year.
Unlike many other universities Cambridge does not offer joint honours degrees in which philosophy can be studied concurrently with another subject such as Mathematics or English. It is, however, possible to take each part of the Tripos separately, and thus to combine the study of philosophy at Cambridge with that of another subject. A student could, for example, study Part I English (which takes two years) and then do Part II Philosophy in the third year.
Additional course costs
Philosophy of its nature does not generate large additional course costs. But of course there are sundry expenses involved in collecting materials for study and preparing and backing up of students own work.
This prospectus describes the course as it is at the time of printing. For more up to date information consult the website http://www.phil.cam.ac.uk. Be aware in any case that the course is revised annually and may be different by the time current applicants come to study it.
Part IA of the Tripos is an introduction to the study of Philosophy and is normally taken in the first year. It consists of metaphysics, ethics, logic, and some historically important texts in philosophy. The emphasis is on developing students' ability to articulate and defend their own treatment of philosophical issues.
1. Metaphysics and philosophy of mind
Metaphysics is at the foundation of virtually the whole of philosophy. The Part IA paper asks very general metaphysical questions of great antiquity. What must be the case for many things to have something in common? Is there, in addition to all the round things, such a thing as roundness in general? What is it for one thing to cause another? Is the present metaphysically privileged over the past or future? How do we know about the future? Is there a god? Could there be? The paper also asks questions about the mind, and minded beings. Is what we do ever up to us? What does it take for us to persist through time? What is the relation between mental and physical phenomena? What is the general form of our awareness of the world beyond the mind? What is it to believe something? How is believing that it will rain different from hoping that it will?
2. Ethics and political philosophy
This paper introduces a selection of the main problems in philosophical ethics. Can we know what is morally right and wrong, or is there nothing to be known because, in making pronouncements on moral matters, people are merely expressing their own emotions? Do people ever act completely altruistically, or is there a selfish element in all motivation? If we can act purely for others, why should we do so when it would be inconvenient for our own projects? One influential ethical theory, utilitarianism, prescribes that we should act so as to maximize the net balance of happiness over suffering. It has faced a variety of objections, and has taken many forms, often in response to objections. The course aims to provide an understanding of the main variants, and to provide the necessary tools for evaluating them. Much moral and political argument invokes the notion of rights. Do all rights depend on the existence of humanly made rules and choices? Are some rights natural, in that they exist regardless of any convention? Are any rights absolute, in the sense that it is always wrong to act against them? Theories that invoke rights often appear to be in opposition to utilitarianism, and the course investigates this apparent conflict. Finally, it introduces a central topic in political philosophy, namely the question of political obligation and authority. With what right does the state rule over us? What are the conditions in which we are obliged to obey one political authority or another?
This paper introduces basic issues in the philosophy of logic and language as well as key ideas of formal logic. There is a complex interplay between these informal and formal elements of the course. The central notion is that of a valid argument (e.g. All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; so Socrates is mortal). Arguments can be constructed in English and in the various formal languages which the logician invents, and formalised arguments are supposed to tell us something about the corresponding English arguments. Hence we need to know what an argument is, what validity is, and why it is significant. Are all good arguments valid? Are all valid arguments good? Validity of English arguments is an imprecise and intuitive notion, but validity of arguments framed in a formal language can be, and in this course is, made precise. Students practise translating between English and various formal languages: this helps them understand modern philosophical writings, in which uses of this symbolism are common. They also study the notion of meaning, which is central to the philosophy of logic and to the philosophy of language; as well as the nature of elements of which meaningful statements are made up such as names, descriptions and quantifier phrases. Distinct notions of meaning and the relationship between meaning and verification are also considered. Some truths, analytic truths, seem to be true solely in virtue of their meaning (e.g. All bachelors are unmarried) unlike synthetic truths which require the world to be a certain way (e.g. Most people die before the age of 80). How is this distinction related to two others, that between necessary and contingent truths and that between a priori and a posteriori truths? And are there any analytic truths anyway?
4. Set texts
This paper offers an introduction to the study of the history of philosophy. You will be required to develop a detailed knowledge of the texts you study and of relevant aspects of their historical background. At the same time, you will be encouraged to exercise your own judgement on the interpretation of the texts and the arguments and other materials they contain. You may be asked to study texts such as Plato, Meno; or Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion; or Mill, On Liberty and The Subjection of Women. Currently students are asked to study two out of three set texts but remember that by the time you arrive in Cambridge these texts may have changed and they are only listed here as examples.
Students normally take Part IB in their second year. Two papers — metaphysics and epistemology, and logic — are compulsory: they develop themes and issues introduced in Part IA and introduce further concepts that are essential to the understanding of much current philosophy. In addition, students choose two other subjects from a range covering topics in ethics, Greek and Roman philosophy (from the Faculty of Classics Tripos), modern and medieval philosophy, philosophy of science, political philosophy, and experimental psychology.
1. Metaphysics and epistemology
This paper covers a range of central questions in metaphysics and epistemology, including the relationship between mind and reality, the nature of possibility and necessity, the nature and sources of knowledge, and the challenge of skepticism.
This paper extends the study of both the formal and the philosophical components of logic to which students were introduced in the first year. Topics covered include theories of meaning, truth, logical form, names and descriptions, and theories of logic.
This paper provides an opportunity to study a wide range of issues in contemporary and historical moral philosophy, including moral responsibility; reasons for action; moral relativism; intentions and consequences; impartiality and universalisability; as well as practical isues of life and death, including suicide and euthanasia.
4. Greek and Roman philosophy (Part IB, Paper 8, from the Faculty of Classics)
The paper aims to introduce the variety and scope of ancient philosophy within its historical and cultural context. Students are introduced to a wide range of ancient texts from the pre-Socratics, through Plato and Aristotle, to Hellenistic and Roman philosophy.
5. Early modern philosophy
This course aims to provide an opportunity to study some of the central problems of early modern philosophy, approached through the works of central authors such as Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley and Hume. It examines the way these problems developed during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and considers how some of the greatest philosophers of the period proposed to solve them. At the same time, it offers an opportunity to study key philosophical texts in depth. These aims are reflected in the examination, which includes both questions about individual philosophers and broader, comparative questions.
6. Philosophy of science
This paper studies the nature and confirmation of scientific method, the nature of explanation in the various sciences, the status and character of laws of nature, and philosophical problems generated by the theory of probability. It also introduces students to some of the central issues in the philosophy of physics.
7. Political philosophy
This course examines a set of central issues in contemporary political philosophy and can work as an introduction to the subject. It is focused on the analysis of central political values, such as equality and liberty; on the nature and justification of democracy; and the question of what it is to have power, how it is exercised, and how it is justified.
8. Experimental psychology
This paper covers human experimental psychology, human learning and memory, neuropsychology, intelligence, developmental psychology, reasoning, emotion, and abnormal psychology. It involves practical work in the Psychological Laboratory. A scientific GCE A level or equivalent is not a prerequisite but may be an advantage for some of the material taught in the course.
This paper is offered from Part IB of the Natural Sciences Tripos.
This part of the Tripos is normally taken in a student's third year at Cambridge. There are no compulsory subject papers. Instead there is a wide range of options, some providing a more extended and sophisticated treatment of themes introduced in Parts IA and IB, others (such as Aesthetics) covering areas that students will not have encountered before. The papers currently taught are as follows:
This paper continues the study of metaphysics and the nature of mind, including such topics as realism and idealism, facts and truth, the nature of properties, the abstract and the concrete, persistence and change, the nature of time and causation, and the nature of personhood.
2. Philosophy of mind
This paper is focused on a range of questions in the contemporary philosophy of mind. Topics include what the mind is and how it works; how we know about the mind (either our own, or those of others); the nature of consciousness and intentionality, and the nature of the will, emotion and imagination.
This paper provides an opportunity to study a wide range of issues in contemporary and historical moral philosophy, including questions of ethical realism and irrealism, expressivism and constructivism; the nature of prudence and well-being, the relationship between value and preference; as well as the application of moral thought to issues in biomedical ethics (such as abortion and eugenics) and the ethics of organization (such as corporate social responsibility).
4. European philosophy from Kant
This paper enables the student to study the central movements of nineteenth century European philosophy, beginning with Kant and continuing through Hegel to Nietzsche. The course is a background to any engagement with later movements in European thought.
5. Philosophy in the Long Middle Ages
This paper covers philosophy in the period from c.400 to c.1700, in the Latin, Arabic and Hebrew traditions. The texts of some of the most significant philosophers in this period are studied in translation, focusing on core topics in epistemology and metaphysics (Universals and Mind & Body in 2013-14).
6. Philosophy of Science
This paper offers the opportunity to engage in the targeted study of the philosophy of the various sciences, including physics, biology and the social sciences. There is also the opportunity to study one general topic in the philosophy of science (Explanation in 2013-14).
7. Mathematical logic
The modern philosophy of mathematics has been shaped by technical results in mathematical logic, such as Gödel's incompleteness theorems and the Church-Turing undecidability theorem, which demonstrate the limitations of certain sorts of formal treatment of mathematics. This paper gives students a chance to study these technical results in detail and reflect on their philosophical significance. Some background in mathematics (e.g. A-level mathematics or the equivalent) is advisable.
8. Philosophical logic
This paper includes advanced topics in logic and the philosophy of language, such as truth and meaning; conditionals; and plurals. The paper also includes advanced topics in the philosophy of mathematics, including standard theories about the nature of logical and mathematical truth.
9. Special subject
From time to time the Faculty puts on a special subject, in response to the current teaching strengths and interests of the Faculty. In 20132014 the subject is Wittgenstein.
10. Political philosophy
This paper examines a range of advanced topics in political philosophy, including distributive justice (across distance, age and generations); liberalism; multiculturalism and community; feminism, and Marxism.
The course deals mainly with central questions that arise in connection with the study of art and beauty, such as the nature of artistic representation and expression, the nature and value of art and aesthetic experience; the connection between art and morality; and the nature of aesthetic interpretation.
PAPERS FROM PART II OF THE CLASSICAL TRIPOS THAT MAY BE TAKEN IN PART II
A candidate for Part II of the Philosophy Tripos may take one or two of the following papers:
Group B (Ancient Philosophy)
B1. Plato (Tripos 2013–2014)
This course is intended to be accessible to all students who have studied the Plato element of the Philosophy Tripos Part IB, Paper 4, whether or not they know Greek. There are two sections: Section A concentrates on a particular dialogue (in 2013-14: Plato Phaedo); Section B contains questions on a number of other dialogues and themes in Platos's thought.
B2. Aristotle's moral and political thought (Tripos 2013–2014)
Aristotle is invoked by thinkers as diverse as political theorists seeking communitarian alternatives to liberal individualism, and moral philosophers seeking to replace legalistic Kantianism with anything from moral particularism to virtue ethics. For Aristotle, however, his moral and political thought formed one continuous series of reflections. This course examines the whole of that thought, as presented in the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics.
The lectures for this course are intended to be accessible to all students, classicists and others, regardless of their knowledge of Greek.
B3. A prescribed subject or period in Greek and Roman philosophy
In 2013–2014: 'God and anti-god'
This paper will study Greek and Roman philosophers' treatments of the divine, focusing on the running debates among the theists, with further contributions by atheists, agnostics and theological sceptics. Topics will include the gods' disputed status as moral agents and paradigms, and the arguments for and against divine causation in the world. The questions will be divided into three sections (Presocratic and Socratic thought; Plato and Aristotle; Hellenistic philosophers), and candidates will be required to answer three questions, taken from at least two sections.
Students will be asked to contact the Faculty of Classics for further details for the above papers.
PAPER FROM PART IIB OF THE DIVINITY TRIPOS THAT MAY BE TAKEN IN PART II
A candidate for Part II of the Philosophy Tripos may also take Paper C11, Metaphysics, from Part IIB of the Divinity Tripos.
Students will be asked to contact the Faculty of Divinity for further details for this paper.Back to the beginning
Responsibility for the teaching of philosophy at Cambridge is divided between the Faculty of Philosophy and the individual colleges. The Faculty organises lectures, logic classes, discussion groups and seminars; the Director of Studies at each individual college organises tutorials (which in Cambridge are known as supervisions) for its students. This division of responsibility contributes greatly to the diversity of philosophy teaching at Cambridge, since it allows the Director of Studies to tailor each student's teaching to his or her own abilities and needs.
In the first two years of the course the lectures organised by the Faculty introduce students to the concepts and arguments characteristic of philosophical debates. At Part II level, some lectures are more advanced, and lecturers may take the opportunity to develop new positions rather than just explore the existing state of the debate.
Although the lectures are designed to provide adequate coverage of the content of each part of the course, they do not define the content of the course or any part of it. Students are free to approach the topics they study in their own way; equally, lecturers are not constrained by the need to cover all the topics of a paper in their lectures.
It is a general principle of Cambridge University that its lectures are open to all members of the University. This is especially useful for philosophy students because philosophical arguments have an important place in several academic disciplines and so there may be lectures relevant to philosophers in various departments of the University other than the Faculty of Philosophy Classics, History, Divinity, Human, Social and Political Sciences, and History and Philosophy of Science. It is normal practice, therefore, for philosophy students to attend lectures organised by these departments.
Discussion groups and classes
The Faculty organises logic classes for first year students, and discussion groups for first and second year students. The latter provide an opportunity for students from different colleges to meet each other and compare their initial responses to philosophical issues. The teaching for advanced Part II courses sometimes takes the form of seminar discussions rather than lectures, and can in some cases be open to both graduates and undergraduate students.
All students have a Director of Studies appointed by their college to oversee their work, give advice on the choice of papers and arrange supervisions. Most Directors of Studies will do some supervisions themselves; but philosophy students will have several different supervisors during their Cambridge careers, possibly including other Faculty teaching officers and advanced postgraduate students.
Philosophy students can expect to have one supervision each week. Probably the most distinctive feature of reading philosophy at Cambridge is that supervisions are usually one-to-one. The supervisor will set an essay on a topic covered by the syllabus and recommend relevant reading. The student will then hand in the essay prior to the supervision so that the supervisor can read and comment on it in advance. The supervision itself is then devoted to a critical discussion of the essay topic.
The Moral Sciences Club is the University's main philosophical society. (Its name reflects the fact that until 1973 the Cambridge philosophy course was called the Moral Sciences Tripos.) It meets every Tuesday at 5 p.m. during term to hear and discuss talks normally given by visiting philosophers. All members of the Faculty, from first year undergraduates to professors, are welcome to join. The Amoral Sciences Club is run by undergraduates and puts on an alternative series of philosophy talks.
Once a year the Faculty invites an eminent philosopher to give an Open Lecture, currently sponsored by Routledge Publishers. Previous lecturers include Amartya Sen, Sir Michael Dummett, the late Sir Bernard Williams, Professor Jerry Fodor, Professor Ronald Dworkin, Professor Thomas Pogge, Professor Richard Moran, Professor Philip Pettit, Professor David Luban and Professor Susan Wolf.
There are examinations for each part of the philosophy course in late May/early June in the latter half of the Easter (third) term. Students sit one three-hour examination for each of their four subjects, in which they normally have to answer three essay-type questions. In addition they sit a fifth paper in which they write one longer essay over three hours: this is designed to give students an opportunity to write in greater depth on one of the topics they have studied and demonstrate their ability to sustain a more extended argument.
Part IB students may, if they wish, replace one of their written exam papers with two extended essays written in their own time earlier in the year on appropriate topics. Part II students also have this option, and they may also submit one longer dissertation in place of another written exam paper: this can be on any philosophical topic of the student's choosing that the Faculty is able to teach and examine.
Each part of the Tripos is marked separately and independently. There is no overall mark/class for all 3 years.
The Faculty aims to detach undergraduate teaching, and especially supervisions, from the examination process. We encourage students to work through difficult points throughout the year with no fear that any misunderstandings will count against their final marks.
The Casimir Lewy Library is the primary source of printed and electronic material needed for the study and teaching of philosophy and related subjects in Cambridge. It covers all the areas taught in the Philosophy Tripos as well as most of the areas researched by graduates and teaching staff. The library stock, therefore, extends well beyond philosophy itself to cover the interdisciplinary subjects related to philosophy taught and researched in the University.
The University Library, as one of Britain's five copyright libraries, holds every academically important book published in Britain since the early eighteenth century as well as extensive stocks from overseas.
The Classics, Divinity, History, and History and Philosophy of Science libraries also contain much material useful to philosophy students, as do college libraries.
Various courses in languages useful to philosophers are open to students and the University Language Centre is open to all students.
All students are encouraged to use University Public Workstation Facilities (PWF) which are located in many sites around the University. Most of the computers in the Faculty Library are part of the Raised Faculty Building PWF. This service gives access to a number of electronic resources and word processing. E-mail is the normal method of communication between students and the Faculty's staff.
All colleges also provide computing facilities for their students. Many give access to electronic resources via ethernet sockets installed in students' study bedrooms.
Colleges judge applications from students with physical disabilities on the same academic terms as those from other candidates. However, they find it helpful to know in advance about the degree of a candidate's disability or impairment, so that they can offer advice on the suitability of their facilities. Prospective candidates with questions about the Faculty's own facilities should contact the Faculty Office.
Information on the University's Disability Resource Centre can be found on
Deciding to read philosophy at Cambridge does not commit you to a narrow range of careers. Our recent graduates include an RAF test pilot as well as IT consultants, management consultants, fund-raisers, civil servants, lawyers, arts administrators and teachers. In addition, many of our students choose to carry on with further study towards graduate degrees such as the M.Phil. and Ph.D. in philosophy. For some of them philosophy will become their career: the last time we tried to count, there were 58 people holding senior posts in philosophy departments around the world who started their philosophical careers by reading for a degree in the Cambridge Philosophy Faculty.
(2010 2011 survey)
Undergraduate admissions are handled by individual colleges and not by the Faculty of Philosophy. Prospective candidates should obtain a copy of the Cambridge Undergraduate Prospectus either from the Admissions Office of any college or from the Cambridge Admissions Office, Fitzwilliam House, 32 Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 lQY (telephone 01223 333308). Details of financial arrangements must be obtained from colleges. Some helpful information about costs is included in the Cambridge Undergraduate Prospectus.
There is no formal quota for the annual intake of philosophy undergraduates, but in practice we admit about fifty students each year. A number of our applicants have been doing either Philosophy or Religious Studies at A-level, but this is by no means universal and the Faculty has no formal restrictions on the school subjects applicants should have studied. Although a mixture of arts and science subjects can be useful, many different combinations provide a suitable basis for studying philosophy. The one thing that is vital is for prospective applicants to read some books on the subject first, to give them an idea of what philosophy is like. These recent books (all of them by Cambridge philosophers) are recommended for the purpose:
Simon Blackburn, Think (OUP, 2001) and Being Good (OUP, 2002)
Edward Craig, Philosophy: A very short introduction (OUP, 2002)
Bernard Williams, Morality (CUP, 1993)
The following classic texts are also well worth reading to gain some idea of the flavour of the subject:
Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic
Berkeley, Principles of Human Knowledge
Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy
Other suggestions are listed on the following web page under Suggested Preliminary Readings:
The most frequently asked questions about admissions are listed on:
Frequently Asked Questions
Cambridge Open Days 4 and 5 July 2013. Details from: Cambridge Open Days
Seriously engaging with philosophy is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, it involves considering some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of the world and our place in it from mind to morality, from anarchism to aesthetics. For another, many of the arguments that address these topics are as frustrating as they are perplexing.
However, for those who remain undeterred, Cambridge is a wonderful place to study philosophy. Right from the start, the emphasis is on doing philosophy rather than merely learning about it. The weekly supervisions are a great — if challenging — opportunity to experiment with ideas and arguments in real depth. Each week, students study a topic in detail and write an essay about it. The essay provides a starting point for discussion, with the supervisor helping to correct any misunderstandings while developing the student's own ideas. This one-to-one attention gives students the chance to practice talking as well as writing about philosophy. No less important, however, are the opportunities to argue and explore with other undergrads, whether in formal discussion groups, college bars or cofffee shops.
The syllabus puts a heavy emphasis on logic in the first two years. Whether or not you are interested in the philosophical questions surrounding logic, this emphasis is a good way to develop the analytical skills that come in useful for all areas of philosophy. It's not necessary to have a background or interest in maths — a critical mind is all that is needed.
Being in Cambridge is also a great place to witness first-hand developments in the world of philosophy. Whether through talking to the distinguished members of our own Faculty or the many philosophers who pass through Cambridge, for instance at the Moral Sciences Club, studying here gives you a ring side seat for many of the cutting edge developments in contemporary philosophy.
All in all, studying philosophy at Cambridge will enable you to analyse the positions of leading philosophers past and present, to uncover and challenge your own and other people's presumptions, and to develop good arguments about fascinating ideas.
Christina Cameron (Sidney Sussex) and Sebastian Nye (King's)