Philosophy is the most ancient of academic disciplines, and Cambridge is an excellent place to study it. The so-called ‘analytic’ school of philosophy originated in Cambridge in the early twentieth century, when Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein were here. Today, the Philosophy course is among the most rigorous and rewarding in the world, and the Cambridge Faculty is ranked among the very best Philosophy departments in the UK for both teaching and research.
If you read Philosophy at Cambridge, you’d take one or more parts of the Cambridge Philosophy Tripos. The Tripos is run by the Faculty of Philosophy and you would attend the same lectures, seminars and discussion groups, and sit the same University exams as students from all other Cambridge colleges. In addition, each college provides individual tutoring through the supervision system. The main focus of the supervision is an essay which you’d submit in advance, to be marked by your supervisor. The supervision itself is devoted to a critical discussion of the essay topic. As a Philosophy student at Cambridge, you’d normally have one supervision per week, either individually or in a pair.
Philosophy at Churchill
Churchill has a tradition of excellence in philosophy going back to the earliest days of the College. Edward Craig, who was until 2006 the Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, became a Fellow of the College in 1966. Simon Blackburn, until 2011 the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy, started his career as a Junior Research Fellow at Churchill in 1967. Meanwhile, the College has hosted a number of highly successful Fellows in Philosophy who have gone on to hold prestigious positions in the UK and elsewhere.
Today, Philosophy at Churchill stands out for its diversity and its focus on developing the academic potential of each individual student. Our undergraduates come from a wide range of educational backgrounds, both in the UK and abroad. What they all have in common is a desire to excel academically, and an understanding that working hard is an essential prerequisite for doing so.
There are many good introductory philosophy books, and many lists of suggested reading for beginners. Our philosophers have compiled a suggested reading list (below), but any philosophy reading you do will help, as long as you read critically. Try a number of authors. If you find one dull, exasperating, or hard to understand, try another.
- Russell, B. Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press)
- Nagel, T. What Does it All Mean? (Oxford University Press)
- Blackburn, S W. Think (Oxford University Press)
- Descartes, R. Meditations (many acceptable editions)
- Mill, J.S. Utilitarianism (many acceptable editions)
- Warnock, G.J. Contemporary Moral Philosophy (Macmillan)
- Williams, B.A.O. Morality (Cambridge University Press)
- Smith, P. Formal Logic: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press)
- Hodges, W. Logic (Penguin)
- Campbell, K. Body and Mind (Notre Dame)
- Carruthers, P. Introducing Persons (Routledge)
- Smith, P. and Jones, O.R. The Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge University Press)
Admissions and entry requirements
Course-specific information, including the University’s typical offers and the attainment level of the University’s typical entrants, is available by selecting your course from the University’s Course List then looking at the Entry Requirements tab. Academic offer conditions can vary by College so if you want to apply to Churchill then check out our entries in the by-College list of entry requirements that’s available on the same tab. The University’s Entrance Requirements and International Entry Requirements webpages may contain guidance relevant to you too.
You can learn more about the academic profiles of Churchill entrants and our approach to setting conditional offers on our undergraduate applications page.
All Philosophy applicants are required to take a written assessment after shortlisting for interview. There’s more information on and linked from the University’s Admissions Assessments webpage.
The role of academic interviews in Churchill’s admissions process is explained on our interviews page. We will likely have an informal discussion about a philosophical topic that’s relevant to the course, and see how you approach it – whether you understand the problem at hand, whether you can see the point of objections and challenges, and whether you’re able to make progress with a given line of thought. In many ways, our interview is a taste of what it’s like to have a supervision. The best way to prepare is not to read vast amounts of philosophy but to read in a focused and discriminating way, and think carefully and critically about what’s being said. Writing notes and discussing the issues with friends and teachers can also be helpful.
Past students of Philosophy at Churchill have gone on to a variety of careers, including: law, media, management consulting, engineering, science, school teaching, investment banking, medicine, policing, and others. Some of our former students are also teaching Philosophy at university themselves.
More generally, Cambridge Philosophy graduates pursue a wide variety of career paths. More than a third go on to postgraduate study, with a significant number of others progressing to law, civil service, teaching, and business.