The BPhil is an intellectually demanding postgraduate course, presupposing an undergraduate and/or graduate background in philosophy (or equivalent). It is not suitable as a conversion course for students changing to philosophy from another subject and it cannot be studied part-time or externally. It is regarded both as training for the DPhil and as a basis for teaching a range of philosophical subjects and requires sustained and focused work over two years.
For information on how to make an application please see our Admissions Procedure and Entry Requirements webpage.
Candidates admitted for the BPhil are taught through a combination of classes and one-to-one supervisions. Each candidate will be required to submit six assessed essays (of no more than 5,000 words each) across at least five subjects (with no more than two essays on any one subject), together with a thesis of up to 30,000 words.
The assessed essays must be chosen from three broad subject Groups: one essay must be on a subject from Group 1 (“Theoretical Philosophy”), one on a subject from Group 2 (“Practical Philosophy”), and two on a subject or subjects from Group 3 (“History of Philosophy”), of which at least one must be concerned with philosophy written before 1800. The precise list of subjects in the three groups is published at the beginning of each year and may be tailored to the particular strengths of the Faculty members who will be teaching that year, but a typical list might be as follows:
Group 1: Epistemology; Logic and Philosophy of Logic; Metaphysics; Philosophy of Language; Philosophy of Mathematics; Philosophy of Mind; Philosophy of Physics; Philosophy of Probability and Decision Theory; Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science; Philosophy of Religion; Philosophy of Science.
Group 2: Aesthetics; Meta-Ethics; Normative and Applied Ethics; Philosophy of Law; Political Philosophy.
Group 3: Ancient Philosophy; Medieval Philosophy; Early Modern Philosophy; History of Philosophy from 1800 to 1950.
There will be provision for candidates to apply to submit up to two essays on at most one subject not included in the list of approved subjects.
During their first four terms of study, students normally receive one-to-one supervision on two chosen subjects: two supervisions per term, four supervisions per subject in total. A 'Pro-seminar' is normally held in the first term of the first year and covers classic papers in theoretical philosophy and practical philosophy. In every term, there will also be a wide range of specialised graduate classes on offer. Students are expected to attend two graduate classes per term (not including the Pro-seminar) during the first four terms of study.
Students will be assessed continuously over the first four terms of study, with two essays due for submission at the beginning of the third, fourth and fifth term. The thesis is submitted at the end of the sixth (and final) term. Students will be allocated a thesis supervisor, and can expect to receive two one-to-one supervisions on their thesis in each of their final two terms of study (four in total).
To be awarded the BPhil degree, students must achieve (i) a passing mark in six essays, which collectively must meet the distribution requirement described above; and (ii) a passing mark in the thesis. The lowest passing mark for the essays and the thesis is 60. A mark of 70 or more signifies distinction level for essays and thesis. Details of arrangements for the resubmission of failed work will be set out in the Graduate Student Handbook.
Opportunities for Specialisation
Oxford is widely acknowledged to contain one of the leading groups, arguably the leading group, of ancient philosophers in the world; ancient philosophy at Oxford is ranked top in the Philosophical Gourmet Report's breakdown of programmes by speciality.
For students interested in specialising in Ancient Philosophy there is a possibility of following the “Ancient Philosophy track” in the BPhil in Philosophy. This is not a separate degree, but a way of studying Ancient Philosophy in particular within the existing BPhil structure.
Students on such a track would write two of the six essays on Ancient Philosophy in Group 3 and the thesis would be written on some aspect of Ancient Philosophy. They may also tailor some of their chosen topics from Groups 1 or 2 appropriately to match their interests: for example issues arising from Ancient metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics, etc. They may also apply to the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee for a waiver from one essay’s worth of the BPhil distribution requirement.
Those applying for the Ancient Philosophy track should state their intention clearly in their Statement of Purpose when applying.
For students interested in specialising in Philosophy of Physics there is a possibility of a “Philosophy of Physics track” in the BPhil in Philosophy. This is not a separate course, but a way of studying Philosophy of Physics within the existing BPhil structure.
Students on such a track would study primarily philosophy of physics and philosophy of science in the first two terms, study more general philosophical topics in the third and fourth term, and write a 30,000-word thesis on philosophy of physics or philosophy of science in the final two terms. They may also apply to the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee for a waiver from one essay’s worth of the BPhil distribution requirement.
Applicants for the BPhil are normally expected to have studied philosophy at undergraduate level, but the “Philosophy of Physics track” is also suitable for students with a very strong physics background who wish to move into the philosophy of physics or science, as an alternative to the MSt in Philosophy of Physics.
Those applying for the Philosophy of Physics track should state their intention clearly in their Statement of Purpose when applying.
After the BPhil in Philosophy
Some students take the BPhil without the intention of proceeding to the DPhil at Oxford. However, most BPhil students do apply for progression to the DPhil in Philosophy. To apply for admission as a DPhil student, you will be asked to submit a re-admissions application form and the requisite supporting documents by the Faculty admissions deadline in early January. Further guidance on how to apply will be provided at the beginning of the second year of the BPhil in a special information session on applying to doctoral programmes both here and abroad.
BPhil students are eligible to apply for a place to study for the DPhil, although progression is not guaranteed. Candidates who achieve an overall distinction on the BPhil in Philosophy are automatically eligible to progress to the DPhil, provided that the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee is satisfied that their proposed thesis topic and outline indicate that they can be adequately supervised by members of the Philosophy Faculty. Candidates who pass the BPhil without a distinction can be admitted to the DPhil at the discretion of the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee. To achieve a distinction, students must obtain an average of 70 or above across their five highest essay marks, with no essay mark falling below 63, and a mark of 70 or above on the thesis.
It should be noted that BPhil students who progress to the DPhil in Philosophy may bypass the first year as a “Probationary Research Student” and as such will only have two years of fee liability instead of the usual three. Moreover, students progressing from the BPhil are permitted (but are not required) to incorporate the contents of their entire BPhil thesis of 30,000 words into their 75,000 word DPhil thesis.
The majority of BPhil students go on to doctoral studies either in Oxford or at another institution. However, many BPhil graduates go on to exciting careers outside of philosophy. For information on what previous BPhil graduates are doing now, please visit our BPhil Alumni Information page.