What is philosophy?

Philosophy deals with problems that are extremely general and in some sense ultimate, such as the nature of reality, logic and its relation to natural languages, the basis of knowledge and the foundations of value. It also scrutinises and evaluates the methods that are used to answer such questions.

Cambridge offers a course in which it is possible to concentrate entirely on philosophy without taking any other subject, even as a subsidiary. You begin by studying a core of compulsory subjects, and then focus in the second and third years on areas that particularly interest you. Throughout your three years you are encouraged to read the works of modern philosophers and to think directly about philosophical topics, constructing your own arguments and exploring criticisms of the arguments of others. The history of philosophy is taught at every level, and the course includes papers on ancient, early modern, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century European philosophers.

Philosophy at Corpus


Corpus admits 2-4 philosophers per year. We ask for two grade As and one A* at A Level, but the choice of subjects can involve the Sciences, Arts, or a mixture of both. You are strongly urged to attend one of our College Open Days, where you will have an opportunity to discuss your plans with the Director of Studies.  There is a lot of useful information on the Philosophy Faculty’s website. You can also download the College’s Philosophy Subject Notes as a pdf file.

You can use the links in the menu on the left to discover more about the College’s teaching staff in philosophy, some recommended reading if you are interested in studying philosophy at Cambridge, and student accounts of what it is like to study philosophy at Corpus.

Undergraduate teaching at the College is organised by the Director of Studies in Philosophy, Dr James Warren, whose particular research interests lie in ancient philosophy. He also teaches papers in metaphysics and ethics. Students will also receive supervisions from other Fellows of Corpus and philosophers based in other Colleges, according to their choice of papers. Corpus is fortunate to have a comparatively large number of senior members with philosophical interests who are actively involved in undergraduate teaching. Dr Marina Frasca-Spada, the Senior Tutor, is a philosopher whose research interests lie in the history of philosophy from Descartes to Kant. Dr Nigel Simmonds also has an interest in the philosophy of law.


A significant proportion of the teaching is conducted through lectures. There are also classes for some subjects (e.g. first-year logic), and discussion groups in the first and second years. You are recommended topical reading for your weekly supervision in College and asked to write a substantial essay about it. You then discuss the essay and the topic with your supervisor.

Subject Combinations

Many undergraduates study philosophy for three years, but a substantial number combine it with another subject by changing to or from another Tripos. After studying another subject for one or two years (Mathematics, Classics), it is possible to switch to Philosophy Part II. Alternatively, you can switch to another subject (History, HSPS, PBS) after Part IA or Part IB Philosophy. Although the system is fairly flexible, not all combinations are feasible. Applicants who are thinking of such changes are advised to consult the College’s Admissions Tutor, Dr Michael Sutherland, about their plans.

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