On this degree programme you’ll meet the great minds of history on equal terms, not just learning what they thought, but engaging with them critically. Philosophy requires clarity and rigor of thought, imaginative flexibility and inventiveness. It also means learning to understand what others think and write, and being able to examine their arguments for weak spots and errors. This is an ability that carries over into your whole life. You’ll win more arguments, you’ll hear politician’s speeches in a whole new way, and you’ll have a real edge in the jobs market.
The study of philosophy gets divided up into sub-fields, all of which relate to, and interact with, each other. Some of the central ones are: Metaphysics, dealing with appearance and reality, substance, causation, identity, the freedom of the will, and so on; Epistemology, dealing with the foundations, scope and limits of knowledge; Ethics, dealing with the nature of morality, with whether there’s an absolute standard of morality, with the basis of justice; and Philosophy of Mind, dealing with the nature of the mind, its relationship with the body, the character of thought and feeling, and the nature of conscious experience. But there are lots of others that you’ll meet on this course: political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language, philosophical logic, philosophy of science … and so on, and on!
In your first year you’ll explore Knowledge and Reality; what the world is like and how, if it all, we come to know about it. You’ll also be introduced to moral and political philosophy. In seminars you’ll learn how to analyse and criticise, and practise your essay-writing and research skills. As a Single Honours student, you will also take a module from another subject area.
First year modules include:
You’ll be given some freedom of choice to pursue the topics and questions that interest and inspire you, such as Thought and Language, Topics in the History of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mind and Meta-ethics. You’ll also focus on a single classic book from a range of choices and have further opportunities to hone your essay-writing skills, including an essay on a question of your own devising.
Second year modules include:
Your final year gives you an even greater choice of modules. Some areas, like ethics and metaphysics, will be familiar to you but will be studied at a more advanced level; others will be totally new. You can also opt for the Philosophical Project module in your third year, module in your third year, for which you research and write a dissertation with the help of a supervisor who advises you and generally guides you through the process.
Final year modules include:
Philosophy with a year abroad
Subject to satisfactory performance over your first two years, you may have the option of spending your third year studying Philosophy at any overseas university. You will then come back to Birmingham for your fourth and final year.
- The Department of Philosophy has a growing international reputation as a centre of excellence for research in analytic philosophy, especially in metaphysics and epistemology, philosophy of language and mind, and ethics and ethical theory.
- Our Centre for the Study of Global Ethics is the first of its kind in the UK. Work in the Centre addresses the practical and theoretical issues raised by globalisation.
- Opportunity for a year abroad. In your third year there is the option to study at an overseas university.
- Birmingham is in the top 10 for philosophy graduate employment from UK universities.
Rachel Moriarty (BA Joint Honours Philosophy and English Literature)
What is Philosophy? Is it for me?
Good, let's start with the tough questions. Philosophers are characterized chiefly by their ability to argue about anything, and they even argue about what Philosophy is. So there will be plenty of philosophers who would disagree with at least some of what is said here.
Philosophers see problems where other people don't. It's quite common, for example, for one person to ask another how they know something, e.g.
My Dad's home.
Oh yeah? How do you know?
His keys are on the table.
Now for most people, such exchanges end there. Some of us, however, are occasionally prompted to consider the reasoning being engaged in here: is the presence of the keys really conclusive evidence of Dad's presence? It's easy to think up scenarios in which the keys are present but he is absent (he forgot them, he came home and then popped out again, he's been kidnapped by aliens, your memories of having a father are false, etc.).
This turns philosophical when it becomes an investigation not of whether Dad is home or not, but an investigation of the relationship between experience, evidence, belief and knowledge. For instance, if you think that seeing the keys is enough to give you knowledge of Dad's presence, the cases in which the keys are there but he isn't will cause problems: you'll 'know' something that isn?t true. But if you react to this by deciding that you only know something if you can be absolutely certain of it, you may end up worrying that you don't know anything. If you try hard enough, just about any evidence can be doubted, even if it's right in front of you. You could be dreaming, or in the Matrix, and so on.
This is the kind of thing that kicks off Descartes' philosophy. He tries to work out what he can be certain of, in order to defeat scepticism. In the end he thinks that he can be certain of quite a lot: his own existence, the world's existence, and even God's. Whether he was right is something you'll have to decide for yourself if you study Philosophy.
That's one of the good things about studying Philosophy, actually. You meet the great minds of history on equal terms. You don't just learn what they thought, you engage with them critically. Sometimes you catch someone like Aristotle using a flawed argument, and you can say what mistake he's making.
You: one. Great minds of history: nil.
Soon you'll doing the same with philosophers working today, evaluating their claims and arguments and finding reasons to disagree with them. A large part of doing Philosophy is learning how to do this: how to understand what others think and write, and be able to examine their arguments for weak spots and errors. This is an ability which carries over into your whole life. You'll win more arguments in the pub, and you'll hear politician's speeches in a whole new way.
Imaginative flexibility and inventiveness
The ability to criticise other people's views and arguments effectively isn't the whole story, however. Good philosophy requires clarity and rigour of thought, but also it calls for imaginative flexibility and inventiveness. It's all very well being able to argue convincingly that the standard arguments for the existence of God don't work, but can you do any better? Or can you think of principled reasons why the existence of God just can't be proved? Once you start being able to formulate and justify your own views, you're really starting to think like a philosopher.
Philosophy is the ideal discipline for people who find that they are bothered by questions that their friends can cheerfully ignore, and for people who don't want to settle for conventional answers and received wisdom, but want to arrive at answers that stand up to the most searching examination.
Another way to answer the question, 'what is philosophy?' is of course simply to list the kinds of topic and issue that typically come under the heading of 'philosophy'. So let's do it that way as well - or at least make a start, because it's a very long list!
Philosophy gets divided up into sub-fields, all of which relate to and interact with each other. Some of the central ones are:
Metaphysics - dealing with appearance and reality, with substance, causation, identity, the freedom of the will, and so on
Epistemology - dealing with the foundations, scope and limits of knowledge
Ethics - dealing with the nature of morality, with whether there is an absolute standard of morality, with the basis of justice
Philosophy of Mind - dealing with the nature of the mind, its relationship with the body, the character of thought and feeling, the nature of conscious experience
But there are lots of others too: political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language, philosophical logic, philosophy of science - and so on, and on!
Why study Philosophy at Birmingham?
Part of the School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion, the Department of Philosophy has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Our academic staff know students by name and are always happy to talk about philosophical questions, provide additional feedback on academic performance and discuss any problems you might be having with your degree programme.
You'll be taught by experts in their field who are all active in research. We take pride in listening and responding to student opinion concerning the quality of teaching, the structure of the degree programme, the content of particular modules, and other aspects of the learning and teaching experience. You?ll be invited to fill in a questionnaire on each module you take, and the member of staff responsible for the module will provide a written response which for everyone to see. The Department also has an active Staff-Student Committee, where students are consulted about changes to teaching, assessment and feedback procedures.
The School is home to the John Hick Centre for Philosophy of Religion, which is dedicated to promoting critical thinking about the metaphysical, epistemological and moral questions concerning religion, belief and reality. The Centre is named after John Hick, Emeritus H. G. Wood Professor of Theology at the University of Birmingham. Hick is one of the most prominent philosophers of religion in our time and his work has been influential for the last half century. He delivered the 1986-1987 Gifford Lectures and won the 1991 Grawemeyer Award for Religion.
Above all, at Birmingham you'll benefit from an intellectually challenging and stimulating environment for your undergraduate studies, focused on ensuring you?re a fully supported and active learner. Our unique degrees are designed to provide both academic excellence and vocational development; a balance that?s highly sought after by employers in today's intellectual and creative industries. The courses are also very flexible, allowing you to specialise more and more as you progress, culminating in a final-year dissertation that allows you to carry out in-depth, individually supervised research into topics of your choice.
A sample Philosophy lecture on Metaphysics given by Dr Nikk Effingham
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