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Oxford Thinking

The Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford is one of the largest departments of philosophy in the world, and is widely recognized to be amongst the best: the results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) show that Oxford Philosophy has more than twice as much research activity at the highest quality level as any other philosophy department in the UK, and the 2009 edition of the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR) ranks Oxford Philosophy outright second overall in the English-speaking world, behind only New York University.

The philosophical community at Oxford is vibrant and diverse: in total, there are 180 members of the Faculty, over 100 graduate students, and around 1200 undergraduate students. We have statutory professors working in ancient philosophy, metaphysics, moral philosophy, philosophical logic, philosophy of mind, and practical ethics, and between them, our postholders undertake research in almost all areas of the subject. Podcast interviews with some members of the Faculty can be found on our website.

Philosophy has been studied at Oxford for over 800 years. In fact, there can be little doubt that there has been philosophy teaching here for as long as there have been both scholars and students. Some of the most famous Oxford philosophers include John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, John Locke, T.H. Green, and F.H. Bradley. More recently, Oxford has been home to A.J. Ayer, J.L. Austin, Gilbert Ryle, Elizabeth Anscombe, Isaiah Berlin, Sir Peter Strawson, Sir Michael Dummett, Baroness Warnock and Sir Bernard Williams. Outside the main seminar room in the Philosophy Centre at Radcliffe Humanities, named after Gilbert Ryle, is a unique collection of photographic portraits of distinguished Oxford philosophers. Readers who would like to discover more about the history of philosophy at Oxford might be interested to read this piece, by Dr Bill Mander, Tutorial Fellow in Philosophy at Harris Manchester College.

In the present day, philosophy can only be studied at undergraduate level in conjunction with at least one other subject: there are eight joint schools involving philosophy, including the new BA in Computer Science and Philosophy.  Perhaps the most famous of all Oxford’s joint schools is Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (established in the 1920s as a modern alternative to Classics). The Faculty also has strong links with physics, with mathematics, with theology, with psychology, and with the recently established Faculty of Linguistics, Philology, and Phonetics.

Our flagship programme for graduate study has been, and remains, the two-year BPhil – a degree that combines supervised work across three broad subject areas with a substantial thesis – followed by doctoral research leading to the DPhil, which is a thesis-only degree. In addition to the BPhil, we have recently developed one-year MSt degrees that offer an alternative route to doctoral research for candidates whose qualifications (for example, in classics, physics, or medicine) fit them for research in specialist areas of philosophy in which we have world-leading research clusters: ancient philosophy, philosophy of physics, and practical ethics.

The development of the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter (ROQ) on the site of the old Radcliffe Infirmary is the most ambitious project the University has undertaken for a hundred years. At its heart will be a new Humanities Centre. The first phase of its construction will provide new homes for English, History and Theology, as well as Philosophy. The new site offers us many exciting opportunities. For the first time, we will be able to locate our research projects under the same roof as the Philosophy Centre, helping to integrate their work more fully with the Faculty, and to provide offices for all our Statutory Professors and many of our University Lecturers. Most importantly, the ROQ will allow us to establish a Graduate Centre to meet the needs of our world-class graduate students. We will be able to provide these young philosophers with dedicated work and social space, in close proximity to the integrated Humanities Library, and right next door to many of the Faculty’s leading academic staff.

The Oxford Philosophy Faculty has three key goals, which will ensure that our position as one of the world's preeminent academic departments is not just maintained, but strengthened:

  1. Attract and admit the best national and international graduate students in philosophy, irrespective of their financial or social backgrounds, by establishing substantially more graduate scholarships.
  2. Recruit and retain outstanding teachers and researchers in philosophy by working with colleges to fund new posts and to support existing ones.
  3. Preserve and build upon the unique intellectual and educational environment of Oxford Philosophy and, crucially, provide for the first time a dedicated, world-class centre for philosophy graduate students through our move to the new Humanities Centre on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.
To find out how you can help us to achieve these aims, please contact Luke Purser, Head of Development for Humanities, or click the Give online link on the right. To subscribe to Oxford Philosophy, the Faculty’s newsletter, please email Give online logo

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