Clare College Cambridge

Studying Philosophy at Clare

Cambridge University has an especially distinguished place in the history of 20th-century philosophy. It was here, in the early years of the century, that Bertrand Russell, G.E.Moore, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Frank Ramsey and others developed the analytic style of philosophy that is now prominent throughout the world. The Faculty of Philosophy at Cambridge retains a strong commitment to this analytic style, though this does not preclude active study and teaching of the history of philosophy from Socrates to Nietzsche, and of such subjects as aesthetics and political philosophy.

Students who come to Cambridge to study philosophy take the Philosophy ‘Tripos’, or course. This is divided into three parts - Part IA, Part IB, and Part II - each of which takes a year; so a student can progress through all three during an undergraduate course. As with many Cambridge courses, it is also possible to take each part separately, and thus combine the study of philosophy with that of another subject.

More information is available from the Philosophy Department's website.


Studying Philosophy at Clare

We usually make between one and three offers in Philosophy each year. The Director of Studies ensures that students have supervisions in addition to the lectures and seminars organised by the Faculty.

Course outline

Much of the teaching takes the form of lectures, with additional classes for some subjects (such as first-year Logic).

You have weekly supervisions, for each of which you’re given topical reading and asked to write an essay which you then discuss with your supervisor. Although it varies throughout the year, each week you typically have between six and 12 lectures, and between one and three supervisions and/or small classes.

Assessment is predominantly by written examinations. However, in Parts IB and II one written examination can be substituted with two extended essays of 3,000-4,000 words. Part II offers the additional alternative of submitting a dissertation of 6,000-8,000 words on a subject of your choice.

Year 1 (Part IA)

The course is designed to accommodate the many students studying philosophy for the first time.

In the first year, you acquire the reasoning skills that enable you to tackle philosophical problems and to think intelligently about abstract questions generally, not just gather information about who said what. Therefore, you’re encouraged to approach topics in your own way and we organise regular discussion groups for first- and second-year students.

Part IA gives you an introduction to philosophy through the study of five core compulsory papers:

  • Metaphysics and Philosophy of Mind
  • Ethics and Political Philosophy
  • Set Texts, such as Plato’s Meno, Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy and J S Mill’s On Liberty and The Subjection of Women
  • a half paper on philosophical methods

Year 2 (Part IB)

Years 2 and 3 focus on areas that particularly interest you. Part IB is about exploring the philosophical aspects of a range of issues, both practical and theoretical.

There's one compulsory paper - Knowledge, Language and the World - and you choose three or four (depending on the combination) further subjects from:

  • History of Analytic Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Greek and Roman Philosophy (from Classics)
  • Early Modern Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Political Philosophy
  • Experimental Philosophy (from Natural Sciences, involving practical work)
  • a general paper

Year 3 (Part II)

Our objective in Part II is to provide you with an understanding of various contemporary debates and to familiarise you with current philosophical concepts. Lectures explore current and new positions on debates, and you participate in seminar discussions on advanced subjects.

There are no compulsory papers and you choose four from an extensive range of subjects. These include most of those mentioned above, studied at a more advanced level, as well as several papers covering new areas. Papers recently available include:

  • European Philosophy from Kant
  • Mathematical Logic
  • Philosophical Logic
  • Aesthetics
  • Philosophy in the Long Middle Ages

It’s also possible to take one or two papers from another course, such as Classics or Theology.