Philosophy

Philosophy garden party

Philosophers in the Fellows' Garden [Click image to enlarge]

Welcome to the Philosophy subject page at King’s. Here you will find an overview of Philosophy at King’s, the Cambridge Philosophy course, the people who teach and research Philosophy at King’s, plus information about applying for the undergraduate course.

Philosophy at King’s

Philosophy at King’s has long been strong. Past Fellows of the College who have contributed to making it an exceptional philosophical community include Bernard Williams, Peter Lipton, and Richard Braithwaite (in whose rooms the famous incident involving Wittgenstein, Popper and a poker is said to have taken place), King’s is one of the Colleges with the biggest annual intake of undergraduates in Philosophy. This means that it is easy to find congenial intellectual company here.

A central part of the philosophical scene at King’s is the Philosopher King’s discussion group created by our former Provost, Ross Harrison, over three decades ago. Philosopher King’s is also happy to welcome people from other subjects in the College, including graduates and undergraduates from the History and Philosophy of Science.

King's College Library is well-stocked for Philosophy and provides a pleasant place to study (see the virtual tour). In addition, King's students have very easy access both to the Philosophy Faculty on the Sidgwick Site (including the Casimir Lewy Philosophy Library), and the University Library: both are only a couple of minutes' walk from College (see map).

King’s Philosophy graduates go on to a wide range of careers, including teaching, law, the arts, media, and business. A significant number of our students also go on to do graduate work in the subject. Over the last ten years more than fifteen King’s Philosophers have gone on to start a postgraduate degree in Philosophy or an adjacent discipline in Cambridge or elsewhere. Three have gone on to professional academic employment in the subject.

The Cambridge Philosophy Tripos (Tripos = course)

The Cambridge Philosophy Tripos is a course in Western philosophy, understood to include ancient Greek philosophy, modern European philosophy and contemporary philosophy in the analytical tradition. Logic and Metaphysics & Philosophy of Mind each compulsory for the first two years. Full details of the course and options can be found on the Philosophy Faculty website.

Teaching of Philosophy at Cambridge, as of every other subject, is divided between the Faculty (Department) and the College. The Faculty organises lectures, logic classes, discussion groups and seminars, and is also responsible for the end of year examinations. The College provides supervisions (individual or small group teaching) for students. The responsibility for organising these supervisions lies with the Director of Studies (see below). Each student can expect to have one supervision per week during term. Most supervisions in Philosophy at King’s are one-to-one. The main focus of the supervision is an essay submitted by the student and marked by the supervisor in advance. The supervision itself is then devoted to a critical discussion of the essay topic.

As the course is divided into three parts (Parts IA, IB, and II), it is possible to either study Philosophy for three years, or to study it for one or two years only. Many undergraduates have read Philosophy with great success either before or after another subject taught by King's. Some popular subjects Philosophy students have changed from or to in recent years include English; Law; Mathematics; Human, Social and Political Sciences; Theology; and The History and Philosophy of Science (under Natural Sciences). If you take the Experimental Psychology option in Part IB Philosophy, it is possible to go on to the Part II Natural Sciences Psychology course.

Student perspectives

Markus and Becca have written about their experiences of King's Philosophy, including the timetable and workload, supervisions, formal logic, balancing academic work with other activities, and the application process. These accounts are well worth reading to get a sense of what studying Philosophy at King's is really like. 

King's Fellows in Philosophy

Anna Alexandrova

Anna Alexandrova (Director of Studies) is a philosopher of social science. She has written on the role of idealised models in economics and on the measurement of well-being for policy, amongst other topics.

Angela Breitenbach

Angela Breitenbach's research focuses on the philosophy of Kant, philosophy of science and biology, environmental philosophy and aesthetics. She has published on Kant's natural philosophy and Kantian approaches to the philosophy of biology, and is currently working on a research project on aesthetics in science.

Lorna Finlayson

Lorna Finlayson works on political philosophy and its 'methodology', with a particular interest in theories of ideology.

Ross harrison

Ross Harrison has worked extensively in metaphysics and political philosophy, the philosopher of law, and nineteenth-century British philosophy. He has written books including On What There Must Be (Oxford 1974), Bentham (London, 1983), Democracy (London, 1993) and Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion's Masterpiece (Cambridge, 2004).

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Paul Sagar works primarily on political philosophy and the history of political thought. He is particularly interested in the works of Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Adam Smith, and theories about how to understand the nature of the modern state. He is also interested in moral philosophy, and the intersection of this with political theory.

Applying to study Philosophy at King’s

To apply to study Philosophy at King’s, you should have a strong interest in the subject but do not need to have studied Philosophy formally at school. We welcome applications from students who look able to meet our entrance requirements from all kinds of schools all over the world.

We are looking for students who can demonstrate a capacity for clear-headed logical reasoning and abstract thought. There are no required school subjects for this course. A combination of arts and science subjects at school can be useful but this is not a requirement. Students are successful on the Philosophy course from a range of subject backgrounds. You might like to look at the general advice in our Subject Matters leaflet

The application process and timetable is explained on our how to apply page, which we advise you to read thoroughly. If you are invited for an interview, you will be carefully assessed by philosophical discussion in an interview with two Fellows. You will also sit a written test while you are in King's. The test is set by the Faculty and lasts one hour. No specific preparation is needed. Some tips about the admissions process are given in the Faculty FAQ's.

There is no formal quota for the annual intake of philosophy undergraduates at King’s, but in practice the College has given offers to around four students per year in recent admissions rounds.

Reading and resources

Further information

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