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Subject Guide to Philosophy

Find postgaduate programs in PHILOSOPHY

Philosophy studentA Masters in Philosophy allows students to pursue lines of enquiry into any number of metaphysical, political or aesthetic modes of thought. Studying philosophy at postgraduate level will give students a thorough grounding in historical philosophical thought, as well as providing training in philosophical enquiry to allow them to investigate their personal interests in the subject.

Masters in Philosophy – the lowdown

Usually taught out of the humanities department, postgraduate study in philosophy demands a high level of self-motivation and intensive research.

Eligibility requirements

Typically candidates will need a good bachelors degree with a grade of 2.1 (upper second class honours) or equivalent. It is not always necessary to have studied philosophy at undergraduate level, but many institutions will look for some evidence of interest in the field undertaken during a student’s previous studies. This may be taking an optional philosophy module while studying for a degree in a different subject or pursuing philosophical enquiry in a club or society.

Study modes

Masters in Philosophy usually run for one year if the candidate intends to study full time, or two years part time. Philosophy masters degrees are also offered by some universities via distance learning or online study. Students who pursue online study are typically invited to attend the campus in person for a one- or two-week residential workshop during the period of study.

Philosophy masters can either be research degrees, where the majority of the student’s time is spent on a single extended piece of research, or a taught degree, where students take core and optional modules in different philosophical disciplines before submitting a final dissertation.

Philosophy – areas of study

There are many areas of philosophy that a candidate can consider specialising in during their degree. Their choice may depend on the areas of expertise of their tutors, the dedicated research projects being carried out by the department at the time and, above all, their own areas of interest. Areas of study include:

Aesthetics: aesthetics looks at how notions of beauty, taste and art are formulated in a society. It looks at how sensory judgements are formed. Students interested in studying aesthetics may wish to focus on a particular strand, such as the aesthetics of art, of music or of film.

Ethics: ethics explores how we live as a society, how we order the communities we inhabit. It looks at how notions of right and wrong become formed by a society and how moral diversity affects society.

Historical philosophy: students may wish to investigate one or more modes of philosophical enquiry from history. This could mean looking at the formation and development of Greek philosophy, studying the foundation of modern analytic philosophy, or considering a school of philosophical thought from the twentieth century, such as existentialism.

Political philosophy: this area of philosophical enquiry not only looks at how systems of government are formed and developed, and how they link to political ideologies, it also considers topics such as liberty, justice and rights.

Philosophy of mind: students specialising in this strand of philosophy look at how mental events and functions take place, and how the concept of the mind relates to the physical body. The distinction (or not) between the mind and the body is one of the key philosophical questions that has engaged thinkers across centuries, so students will be tapping into a rich lineage of thought.

Epistemology: linked to the philosophy of mind, but distinct from it, is epistemology. This area looks at how knowledge is attained, formed and transmitted. It can have links to political and aesthetic philosophy.

Philosophy of science: students could choose to investigate how science relates to the progress of human societies, how something gets classified as scientific, and the purpose of science. One central question is how, or if, science can authoritatively discuss unobservable phenomena. 

Student case studies

Stephen Coote, an Open University student, felt that doing a masters was a good step towards further study in the subject. He says, “The academic demands of the course represent a definite, but hardly perceptible, transition from undergraduate to postgraduate work; and by the end of the course the student has been successfully introduced to the basic techniques and principles of academic research.”

For Pranav Dalmia, who studied a Masters in Philosophy of Science at LSE, the skills learned during the course would not only stand him in good stead for further study, but he explains, “At the same time, I feel it has equipped me with the kind of analytical thinking that is key to succeeding even outside the academic world.”

Career opportunities

A Masters in Philosophy gives students a comprehensive skill set in research, analysis of complex ideas, and forming persuasive arguments. These types of skills can be applied to many different career paths. Graduates could work in government or for an NGO, while others could consider journalism or marketing.

A Masters Degree in Philosophy is also the ideal springboard to go on to further postgraduate study, which would allow the student to build on the body of knowledge they have accrued during the masters. 

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