Many people, once introduced to philosophy through discussion or reading, find themselves hooked and fascinated by the questions it raises.

Fundamental and persisting problems that philosophers have struggled with since Plato include:

These are just three of the fundamental, perennial problems of philosophy that are part of the core syllabus. Beyond that, studying philosophy at Oxford allows a very large range of choice in further areas.

In addition to its intrinsic fascination, the study of philosophy provides excellent training in skills of analysis and critical thinking, close scrutiny and understanding of texts and, quite generally, the ability to win an argument! Those who have studied philosophy as part of a degree course at Magdalen, often comment on how much their study of philosophy has helped them in the jobs they have gone into after graduating.

Philosophy at Oxford is not studied at undergraduate level in a single-subject course, but instead is studied as one part of ‘joint’ degree courses, combined with one or two other subjects. There are eight such Joint Honour Schools at Oxford, and Magdalen accepts students for all but two of these. For Philosophy, Politics and Economics (‘PPE’) the college currently accepts up to 9 students per year. Between 5 and 8 students a year are accepted for Classics. Up to 3 are accepted for Psychology and Philosophy and the recently introduced school of Philosophy and Linguistics. In addition, in a typical year about 3 students in total are accepted for the smaller Schools of Philosophy and Modern Languages, Physics and Philosophy, and Mathematics and Philosophy. The College has a strong tradition in these ‘small schools’, and very much welcomes applications from good candidates. We do not admit students for Philosophy with Theology, nor for Philosophy with Computer Science.

Magdalen is fortunate to be one of the few colleges with two full-time Tutorial Fellows in philosophy. Professor Paul Elbourne is the author of three books and numerous articles on the philosophy of language and related areas in theoretical linguistics; as well as these subjects, he has keen interests in moral philosophy and metaphysics. Professor Bernhard Salow works in epistemology and decision theory; he also teaches logic, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mathematics. In addition, the College is very fortunate to have as a lecturer in philosophy Dr Ralph Walker, Emeritus Fellow of the College, who recently retired after a long career as senior philosophy tutor at Magdalen. He is a specialist in Kant and in ancient philosophy (Plato and Aristotle); he has a quite exceptionally wide range of philosophical interests and competence.

Entry requirements


None generally for Philosophy, but refer to the partner subject course page for details of its own test requirements. Candidates for Philosophy and Modern Languages will take two sections of the Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT), one for their chosen language and one for Philosophy.

Written work

None required for Philosophy, but the Modern Languages written work submitted for the joint school of Philosophy and Modern Languages may be read by the Philosophy tutor.

Specific subjects

Refer to the partner subject course page for details of essential subjects. Philosophy is not required.

Deferred entry

Application for deferred entry for the Philosophy joint schools is not normally considered.