St John’s College typically admits three undergraduates each year to read Philosophy, making it one of the largest colleges for the subject.
Teaching comes in several forms.
- Lectures, which are run by the Faculty of Philosophy
- Discussion groups and classes, which are also run by the Faculty
- One-on-one supervisions, which are organised by the College's Director of Studies
The Director of Studies is Dr Tim Button who is also a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty. We also have Dr Adam Bales, a Research Fellow, and Prof Jane Heal, an emeritus professor. In October 2018, two more Research Fellows will join us: Jessie Munton and James Read.
The College provides generous grants to help with the purchase of books, and the College library has a excellent collection of philosophy books. Many teaching materials are also available online to Cambridge students for free.
Courses in Philosophy
The first year course, Part IA of the Philosophy Tripos, provides a grounding in some core areas of the subject: Metaphysics, Logic, Ethics & Politics, and some history of philosophy.
The second year course, Part IB, involves some compulsory elements (Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology) and a choice of two further papers from a range which includes Ethics, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, some areas of the History of Philosophy, and indeed Experimental Psychology (offered from the Natural Sciences tripos).
Part II, typically taken at the end of the third year, allows a completely free choice from eleven papers covering all major areas of Philosophy in the Anglo--American tradition.
Most undergraduates who take Philosophy sit Parts IA, IB and II. However, it is possible to combine Philosophy with another subject, by changing into or out of the Tripos at a suitable stage. For example, some recent undergraduates have decided to take Psychology in third year, after their first two years of Philosophy. Equally, we have had undergraduates switch into Philosophy after taking Economics, HSPS, and Medicine.
UCAS Code: V500
If you are following an A-level curriculum, the usual conditions of the offer will be that you obtain specified grades at A-level: typically grades A*AA. No specific A-Level subjects are required, and studying Philosophy at A-Level does not in itself confer an advantage.
Application / interview procedure
Those who are invited to interview will have two interviews at St John's. Your first interview will be with the Tutor for the subject, and the second with the Director of Studies in Philosophy. The aim of these interviews, which last up to 30 minutes each, is to find out from you first hand about your motivation and aptitude for studying Philosophy. We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner and you should not feel daunted by the prospect of them.
Applicants who are invited to interview will sit the University’s At-Interview assessment for Philosophy. More information can be found on the University’s webpage for Admissions Assessments.
Suggested Preparation for Interview
The Director of Studies will want to discuss philosophical questions with you, but the interview is not a test of your subject knowledge: unless you mention it yourself, either in your application or during the interview, the interviewer will not assume that you have studied any particular area of philosophy. Nonetheless, you should come to the interview with some idea of what philosophy is, and what it would be like to study it.
An excellent way to do this is by reading some introductory books, such as:
- S Blackburn, Think
- E. Craig, Philosophy: A very short introduction
- M. Sainsbury, Paradoxes
- J. Annas, various Very short introductions to ancient philosphy
You might also look at some of the "classics", many of which are available online:
Descartes, Meditations I
A word from the Director of Studies, Dr Tim Button
"When I was at school, I always wanted to dig deeper into things ideas I was allowed to by the subjects I was studying. So I decided to study philosophy at university.
I knew I would enjoy ethics & political philosophy, because I had encountered those subjects a little already. I was excited, too, to find out more about the history of philosophy. But, to my complete surprise, I found myself really falling in love with philosophy of logic and mathematics.
I did experiment with leaving philosophy -- I was a software engineer and then a management consultant -- but I always found myself drawn back to the questions I had fallen in love with as as student. I realised that philosophy had chosen me, and I never looked back.
After completing a PhD at Cambridge, I joined St John's College in 2010 as a research fellow, and then became a University Teaching Officer in 2012."
Further information on the Philosophy Tripos can be found in the Undergraduate Prospectus available from: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA, by phone (01223) 335090, email or you can visit their website. You can also book a place on the Philosophy Open Day by phoning or emailing them as above.