Are all truths knowable? Do human beings have free will? Are the mind and the brain just one thing, or two? Could morality be no more than a matter of social convention? The study of Philosophy provides a deeper understanding of these and other issues of similar generality, difficulty, and interest.
The undergraduate course in Philosophy – the Philosophy Tripos – is divided into three stages, each lasting a year. Those who take the full course receive in their first year a grounding in the central areas of Philosophy: logic, metaphysics, and ethics. In their second year they consolidate and build on this grounding, and also study other topics from the wide range available. In the final year the range of options is further broadened to include areas of the subject as varied as the foundations of mathematics, aesthetics, and politics, and authors as varied as Plato, Kant, and Nietzsche.
There is, however, no obligation to study Philosophy for the full three years. Many students do one or two years of Philosophy before or after time spent on another subject and find that the combination of subjects deepens their understanding of both. At Trinity there are no difficulties put in the way of people who wish to switch in this way. Subjects that Trinity students have recently combined with Philosophy include Law, Natural Sciences, Modern Languages, Mathematics, English, Classics, and Human, Social and Political Science.
Some of the most eminent philosophers of the last hundred years have been members of the College, among them Bertrand Russell, G E Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Trinity today is a lively place with a large and varied community of philosophers. At any one time we expect to have around nine undergraduates reading for the Philosophy Tripos and half a dozen graduates studying for a master’s degree or a doctorate.
The College has seven Fellows who between them cover most branches of the subject: Simon Blackburn, Julia Borcherding, Jeremy Butterfield, Nicholas Denyer, Sachiko Kusukawa, Benjamin Marschall, and John Marenbon. Julia Borcherding is the Director of Studies.
The Trinity College Philosophy Essay Prize is intended to encourage ambitious and talented Year 12 or Lower Sixth students who may be considering applying to university to read Philosophy or a related discipline. See the Philosophy pages for further details.
No one A-level subject is a prerequisite for those hoping to study Philosophy at Trinity. Entrants in recent years have arrived with A-levels in Biology, Chemistry, English, French, German, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Music, Physics, and Religious Studies. Some also take A-level Philosophy but it is not essential. The only essentials are a wish to get to the bottom of things and an ability to think long, hard, and clear in doing so.
Candidates are asked to submit two pieces of written work. There is also a short written test to be completed alongside your interview. No sample test paper is available but it is likely to contain (a) philosophical arguments on which you will be asked to comment; and (b) some general logical questions (but you will not need any technical logical knowledge). You will have two interviews with different members of the teaching staff. At interview you will be asked about your philosophical interests and reading. Professor Blackburn’s book, Think, an introduction to philosophy for the general reader, would be a good starting point if you have not so far read much on the subject, but you can find other suggestions for introductory reading on the Faculty of Philosophy website:
We aim to admit three or four applicants each year to read Philosophy. The typical conditional offer varies between A*AA and A*A*A; comparable conditions are set for those taking the IB and other school-leaving examinations.
See the Undergraduate Prospectus on the Faculty website.
All applicants for Philosophy are required to take a written assessment at interview, if interviewed.
- Multiple choice logic problems (20 minutes)
- Essay (40 minutes)
Philosophy Admissions Assessment Specification
Further details about the format of the assessment and preparatory materials can be found on the written assessments page.
You do not need to register or be registered in advance for the assessment at interview – the College will provide details of arrangements in the emails inviting applicants to interview.
Please note that your performance in the assessment at interview will not be considered in isolation, but will be taken into account alongside the other elements of your application.
- Dr Julia Borcherding