You will be given a reading list when you arrive and the first year modules will provide a thorough introduction to Philosophy, but if you do find that you have some spare time beforehand, here are some recommendations from some of our lecturers and current students to really get you thinking and to further add to the excited anticipation of your future studies:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This was so captivating I started it at 21:00 and stayed up till 03:00 to finish it. In my interpretation it’s not about what it appears to be, but it’s about the horror of poverty. We know poverty is truly horrific and yet it is constantly amongst us and we do little. Science fiction is beloved by philosophers – especially moral philosophers – for helping us see what is and what could be.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Another I couldn’t put down. It tells a ‘big’ story of the Biafran war through the very personal lives of twin young women and their relationships and loves. It makes the evil and hopelessness of conflict real, without grandstanding. Vivid and emotive and well worth reading.
Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes. In time travel movies there’s a theme which constantly recurs: The protagonist goes back in time to change something and (shock horror!) it turns out that they caused it all along. It can get a bit dull seeing this trope recycled time and again! ‘Timecrimes’ is an exception. Vigalondo's award winning movie is food for thought, exploring the ramifications of what it’d be like were you to actually use a time machine. Those interested in the philosophy of time travel may also wish to take a look at Dr Effingham's recently published book Time Travel: Probability and Impossibility.
Carol Morley's Out of Blue (2018). Out of Blue is a force for good in bringing about a much-needed change in how society views mental illness and those experiencing it. The film makes a very powerful case for seeing Mike as a person, not as a brain stuck in a body. In the movie, the whole of her experiences contribute to her failures and achievements, showing how mental health struggles can be at the same time debilitating and enlightening. Professor Bortolotti acted as a consultant on the film and gave advice on the screenplay and on the first cut of the film.
Conspiracy Theories by Quassim Cassam. A very accessible book that one can read in a short time. Quassam explains in details what characterises conspiracy ‘theories’ and why they are not really theories. More importantly, though, Quassam explains why these stories, that have become even more pervasive during the Covid-19 pandemic, have a clear political function. This function is not neutral but is actually dangerous to democracies. Absolutely worth reading for anyone interested in our current political context and how philosophy can help us understand what is going on. Dr Reglitz is a lecturer in Global Ethics, his article on internet access as a human right further explores the intersection of Philosophy and Politics.
The Good Place (2016-2020) is a wonderfully witty sitcom that explores moral philosophy in a hilarious and accessible way. It largely focuses on meta-ethics, questioning the difference between learning ethics versus actually doing ethics. This really brought these conceptual ideas down to earth and made them relatable to real life. I laughed out loud at the philosophy jokes, I cried at the emotional character arcs and I nerded-out at the references to some of my favourite thinkers. It is absolutely essential watching for anyone who's ever thought about what it is to be a "good" person.
Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004) is a story which essentially studies the nature of heartbreak. However, it is told in such an innovative and philosophical way. It explores human autonomy, consciousness, emotion, memory and ethics within an exploitative, neo-liberal, capitalist society not so far from our own. The cinematography is beautiful and the story is incredibly thought-provoking. It is one of my all time favourite movies and, after watching it for the first time, it left me contemplating it for days.
Sex, Culture and Justice’ by Clare Chambers. Chapters from this book are discussed on several modules in the course, so this is a great place to start for Feminist Philosophy.
by Heather Widdows explores whether beauty ideals are actually ethical ideals and whether we have a moral duty to be beautiful. It approaches a lot of feminist theories surrounding beauty as well as beauty treatments and their effects on the body. Professor Widdows teaches in the department of Philosophy at University Birmingham and ‘Perfect Me’ also features as required reading on the third year ‘Bodies and Beauty’ module.
Wisecrack is a really great YouTube channel that explores all things relating to philosophy and film/pop culture. The videos are really well put together, entertaining but also intellectually stimulating. One of my personal favourites!
'Puppies, Pigs and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases', Alastair Norcross. This text discusses the ethical implications of animal exploitation for human benefit and is typically studied in the first year Applied Ethics module.
'Recent work on the nature and development of delusions' is an interesting insight to the Philosophy of Mental Health module. The author, Professor Lisa Bortolotti also teaches on this module. Prof. Bortolotti has also delivered a TED talk on deconstructing the stigmas surrounding mental health.
Jack's recommendations for University of Birmingham Philosophy applicants
Philosophy student Jack offers some recommendations for prospective students to help them prepare for their studies.
Try watching some lectures online
Listening to, digesting and following up on lecture material will be – for many – a new skill when they come to university. If you’ve never heard a lecture before there are lots available online where you can get used to this type of teaching. iTunes U is a fantastic resource where you can find free educational content from universities all around the world. We also have content from some of our own academics online, so their faces and voices can become familiar to you before you arrive!
Listen to these somewhere comfortable where there won’t be too many other distractions. Let the information wash over you at first: there’s no need to jot everything down. Instead, try to identify any major or particularly important points. See if you can follow the academic’s line of thinking. If there’s anything you don’t understand, write down your questions, and follow these up afterwards. Like any other skill, this is something that you will improve at with time. The more lectures you watch or listen to, the better at this you will get!
This is a list of interesting and accessible philosophy books which you might want to have a look at before you start your course. These are not compulsory in any way and by no means should you try to read many of them (after all, it is summer). But if you have a look at one or two, they will give you a sense of what you will be doing and also help you to begin your studies.
History of philosophy
Philosophy of mind