Philosophy BA

Our Philosophy degree is very flexible. There are no core modules, so, with the advice of staff, you can construct a path through your degree that focuses on the topics and areas that interest you most.

We offer modules in key areas such as ethics, philosophy of mind, theory of knowledge, political philosophy, metaphysics, and feminism, as well as major figures such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel.

Fast facts

  • Duration: 3 years full-time 
  • Award: BA

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Overview

Philosophy asks intriguing questions about familiar – and at first sight straightforward – features of our lives and world. For example, it is a significant fact that people have moral convictions. Are these convictions anything more than personal likes and dislikes? Can I give others good reason to share my moral outlook?

Questions like this can appear dauntingly difficult. Our Philosophy degree equips you to think about and engage with them for yourself. Our level one modules introduce some of the central areas of philosophy (ethics, political philosophy, theory of knowledge, philosophy of mind, history of philosophy and ancient philosophy). These level one modules give you a broad overview of the types of issue which arise in different areas of the subject. Level two modules enable you to take a closer and more careful look at the issues which interest you, and offer additional choices (feminism, metaphysics, philosophy of the arts, philosophy of education, philosophy of science). Level three modules are our most closely focused, with members of the department typically teaching in their own areas of research – and that gives you the chance to focus on your own areas of interest too.

Your interests will develop and form over the course of your Philosophy degree. While you will have the support of an academic personal advisor to offer advice and guidance in your module choices, you will be able to choose for yourself which areas to concentrate on in the broad range of issues covered by philosophical enquiry.

At Sheffield, we work in engaged philosophy. We believe that philosophy sheds light on complex aspects of our existence and, at its best, can help people to make sense of the world and their lives in empowering ways. Find out more about our work in areas including implicit bias, feminism, climate justice, politics and more in this collection of videos, radio programmes, interviews, news articles and more: Engaged Philosophy at Sheffield.

Studying Philosophy offers excellent preparation for a career in a wide variety of different fields, in addition to being immensely enjoyable for its own sake. Find out more about careers for philosophers.

Structure

Our course has been designed so that there are no core (compulsory) modules. Instead, you will gain a solid understanding of the ideas and theories that are the foundation of the discipline, across the full range of our modules. Students thus have the flexibility to construct their own pathway through the degree, in line with their particular interests. Your lecturers will help you do this.

The philosophy course also allows you to study a small number of modules from other departments. We encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity to broaden their university education.

We are constantly developing our courses so it is possible that the modules running during your time at Sheffield may differ slightly from those currently available. What follows is a typical list of the first, second and third year modules we offer.

Year 1

You must take 120 credits in total. First years must take at least 60 credits in philosophy including at least 20 credits from Group A and at least 20 credits from Group B.

Here is a typical list of options:

GROUP A

Elementary Logic. 10 Credits. The basic ideas and techniques of formal logic.

History of Philosophical Ideas. 10 credits. This module will introduce you to some of the central movements and traditions in the history of Western philosophy from Plato onwards, and the key philosophical concepts and issues that they have brought to Western thought.

Knowledge, Justification and Doubt. 10 Credits. An introduction to the basic questions of epistemology, which is the philosophical study of knowledge. Centrally, what is it to know something? Do we know anything? And how is it that we know what we do?

Mind, Brain and Personal Identity. 20 Credits. Philosophical issues concerning the mind-body relation, the question of free will, the nature of personal identity, animal minds and machine minds.

Philosophy of Science. 10 credits. The aim of this module is to introduce some of the philosophical issues that arise in science and through reflecting on science. Some central questions include: How should we represent scientific theories? What counts as evidence for these theories? How do scientific explanations work? How far can we treat science as revealing to us the truth about the underlying nature of reality?

Reason and Argument. 10 Credits. This module teaches you how to recognise and understand the various types of argument we all encounter and, most importantly, how to evaluate those arguments for yourself.

Writing Philosophy. 20 credits. This module introduces students to the skills necessary to write philosophy, which you will continue to develop throughout your degree. This module is only available to single and dual honours Philosophy students.

GROUP B

Death. 10 Credits. Death raises many philosophical questions. What is death? What happens to us when we die? What attitude should we have towards death? Are we right to dislike death, or is it a good thing?

Film and Philosophy. 10 Credits. This module introduces central themes in philosophy through the medium of film. Many films have clear philosophical themes and resonance, and we choose a selection to cover a range of philosophical topics.

History of Ethics. 10 Credits. An introduction to the history of Western ethical thought, examining key ideas in Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, Bentham, Mill, Nietzsche, Rawls and Gilligan.

Matters of Life and Death. 20 Credits. Ethical questions concerning topics such as suicide, abortion, euthanasia, animal rights and famine relief.

Philosophy of Religion. 10 Credits. This course examines arguments for and against the existence of God, explores the rationality of religious belief, and subjects religious doctrines to philosophical scrutiny.

Philosophy of Sex. 10 Credits. In everyday language 'sex' has a dual meaning. It can refer to an activity ('having sex') and to a set of categories (the female and the male sex). This module considers the moral, political and metaphysical issues raised by both sexual activity and sex categories, and explores the relationship between these two things.

Self and Society. 20 credits. An introduction to central questions in political philosophy for example: Do we need a state, and if so, must we obey its laws? What is freedom, and when are we free? 

You will then select between 20 and 80 credits from either section above. You have the option of taking up to 60 credits in other subjects and/or in the critical study of religion and interdisciplinary studies in gender and sexuality typically including the following modules:

Year 2

Students take 120 credits in total. Second years typically take at least 100 credits in philosophy.

All Level 2 Philosophy modules are 20 credits. Here is a typical list of options:

Ethics A comparative examination of some of the major moral theories: Utilitarianism, Kantian deontology, and Aristotelian virtue ethics.

Feminism A module available at either level two or level three. Philosophical examination of issues in feminism such as family, feminine appearance, sexual behaviour, science, culture and language.

Formal Logic An introduction to some elementary concepts from set theory, and the use of ‘trees’ as a method for proving the validity of arguments formalised in propositional and first-order logic.

Metaphysics An introduction to a variety of metaphysical issues, focused on questions concerning the metaphysics of properties. What is it for something to be, for example, red? How can we explain two distinct things being of the same type, e.g. both being red?

Philosophy of Education The first half of the course addresses such questions as: What's the aim of education? What is indoctrination? Should we teach philosophy to school children? The second half prepares students to teach their own classes to pupils from a local secondary school.

Philosophy of Mind Further questions concerning the mind. How can humans have conscious experiences? Are other animals conscious of their experiences? How can brain processes succeed in representing the world?

Philosophy of Science Why is science a paradigm of rational enquiry? Different answers to this question are compared (Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos). What should we think about our current best scientific theories – that they are true, or that they merely fit the current available data?

Philosophy of the Arts An introduction to a broad range of issues in the philosophy of art, including: What is art? Is there a link between artistic creativity and ‘madness’? Is there anything wrong with appropriating art forms from another culture? How should we understand what it is for something to be a picture?

Plato The philosopher and mathematician A N Whitehead once characterized western thought as a “series of footnotes to Plato”. An introduction to Plato through mid/late dialogues such as Meno, The Republic or Theaetetus.

Political Philosophy Some central problems of political philosophy. Does justice in distribution demand equality? Is equality compatible with liberty? Why is democracy the best form of political constitution? What is the justification for punishment?

The Rationalists An introduction to the principal ideas and arguments of the key early-modern rationalists: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Kant.

Reference and Truth Some central issues in the Philosophy of Language. How does a proper name like “Barack Obama” refer to a certain person? Is meaning just a matter of reference? What about expressions like “Santa Claus” that don’t refer to anything?

Religion and the Good Life Philosophical debates about the relationship between religion and the good life. For example, is a religious reality needed as a foundation for morality? Do religious traditions provide insights into a life well-lived?

Theory of Knowledge A broad introduction to the main aspects of epistemology covering scepticism, the nature of knowledge, the structure of knowledge and our sources of knowledge.

Year 3

Students take 120 credits in total. Third years typically take at least 100 credits in philosophy.

All Level 3 Philosophy modules are 20 credits. Here is a typical list of options:

Advanced Logic Examines some philosophically important areas of formal logic, and considers some philosophical debates concerning foundational aspects of logic.

Classical Chinese Philosophy *Proposed to be available from 2020-21* This module will consider the philosophical ideas to be found in classical Chinese thought from the pre-Qin Dynasty, including Confucius. It will put the ideas in historical and intellectual context, and consider how they should best be understood.

Feminism A module available at either level two or level three. Philosophical examination of issues in feminism such as family, feminine appearance, sexual behaviour, science, culture and language.

For the Love of Knowledge We know things as individuals, but we also know things collectively. And what we know individually can depend on our relation to other knowers. These relations are not merely epistemic, they are also practical and ethical, as when we trust others.

Free Will and Religion Considers the role of free will in religious thought: Is human freedom compatible with God's foreknowledge? Can God have free will? Can free will help account for evil?

Global Justice What does justice require between different societies? What obligations do the global wealthy have to the global poor? Do states have a moral obligation to open their borders? Should states pay reparations for wrongs which occurred many generations ago?

Hegel and the Phenomenology of Spirit This module will focus on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, one of the major works of nineteenth century German philosophy, which has influenced a range of subsequent philosophers, from Marx to Sartre.

Metaphysics Some central metaphysical themes, ancient and modern: the existence of abstract objects, ontological commitment, the ontology of material objects and people, and the nature of time.

Moral Theory and Moral Psychology A module examining the relationship between moral theory and moral psychology. It will discuss the nature of self-interest, altruism, the will, and moral intuitions, and psychological arguments for and against various moral theories.

Pain, Pleasure and Emotions A module on the nature of affective states: pleasures, pains and emotions. What do all and only affective states have in common? Why are pains and joys affective states while hearings and seeings aren’t? In virtue of what is it that some affective states feel good and others bad?

Phenomenology A text-based introduction to the work of thinkers within the Phenomenological Movement, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, and Frantz Fanon.

Philosophical Projects Students pursue independent research under the direction of a member of staff. Topics offered in recent years have included Nietzsche on Morality; Pyrrhonian Scepticism; Evil of Death; Sexual Orientation; Structuralism in the Philosophy of Maths; Moral Luck; Expressivism in Meta-ethics; Sartre on Bad Faith; Zeno of Elea; Marx on History; Philosophy as Therapy; The Emotions.

Philosophy of Law What is law, and how does it differ from other types of social regulation? How should we understand the authority of law, and our duty to obey? How does law relate to morality and rights?

Philosophy of Psychology What is the structure and organization of the human mind? What aspects of our minds are uniquely, or distinctively, human? What is the cognitive basis for such capacities as our capacity for language, science, altruism, cooperation, morality, and art?

Plato's Symposium A close study of this important text, which is one of the classic treatments of the nature of love.

The Political Philosophy of Climate Change Why is climate change a problem of global justice and how could the international community address the problem fairly?

The Radical Demand in Løgstrup's Ethics K. E. Løgstrup was a Danish philosopher and theologian who developed an account of the ethical demands for care that people make on each other. This module examines his views.

Workplace Learning Students undertake a work placement of 35—70 hours with a local organisation. Drawing on concepts and theories studied in their other philosophy modules, they write coursework critically examining an issue of philosophical interest faced by the organisation.

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

Study Abroad

Many of our students choose to spend part of their degree studying, working or teaching in another country. Find out more about our study abroad opportunities

Degree with Employment Experience

The Philosophy Department offers the option for students to spend a year in employment as part of their degree programme. For more details about this programme, see the section on Degrees with Employment Experience on the Careers Service’s placement page.

Research Led Teaching

View some examples of how the research of our staff contributes to their teaching.

Teaching and Assessment Methods

You'll learn through interactive lectures, seminars and one-to-one meetings with lecturers, and take part in presentations, debates and field work. You will be given extensive feedback on your work, which will generally be assessed through examinations, essays and longer projects. Some modules use presentations, portfolios, posters or artwork installations. Further information about teaching and learning can be found under the "learning and assessment" tab on the University 2020 prospectus.

Contact hours

You will typically have nine hours of lectures and seminars each week plus the opportunity to see staff individually in their open office hours, and some modules have one-to-one essay tutorials in the third year.

Our campus and how we use it

While some of our teaching takes place in the department, most of it is timetabled to take place in purpose-built teaching spaces across the campus (see our campus map). The campus has many amenities, and is located at the heart of the city, giving you easy access to shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

Applying

Entry requirements

Our typical entry requirements are:

  • A Levels: AAB
  • International Baccalaureate: 34
  • Scottish Highers: AAAAB
  • A Levels + Extended Project Qualification (EPQ): ABB+B. The Extended Project should be in a relevant subject

We can also accept other qualifications: Other entry requirements for Philosophy BA 

Other qualifications

If you have a question about your qualifications, please email phi-ugadmissions@sheffield.ac.uk

English language requirements

You must demonstrate that your English is good enough for you to successfully complete your course. For this course we require: GCSE English Language at grade C/4; IELTS grade of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component; or an alternative acceptable English language qualification. Equivalent English language qualifications

Part-time, Foundation, and University of Sheffield International College courses

Find out more about alternative routes to a degree in Philosophy

How to apply

Tuition Fees

Disability and Support

We welcome disabled students. We're committed to responding effectively and appropriately to individual support needs. We take all practicable steps to ensure that disabled students can participate in their studies without disadvantage, and can make full use of the University's academic and support services.

Student Experience

 Photo of Wiktoria Kulik"I chose Sheffield because of its international reputation, diverse student community, and the flexibility my degree offered."

Wiktoria Kulik, BA Philosophy

Find out from our students what it's like to live, study and work in Sheffield in our student profiles.


PhilSoc- We have a thriving Philosophy Society known as 'PhilSoc'. It's a great way to meet people on your course!

Reading Weekend  - Every year the department organises a Reading Weekend for staff, postgraduates and undergraduates. It normally takes place in the spring at a youth hostel in Derbyshire. There are philosophy talks, walks around in the Peak District and a trip to the pub.

Undergraduate conference -  The University of Sheffield Philosophy Undergraduate Conference is arranged every year by the Sheffield philosophy department and is a great chance for undergraduates to experience presenting one of their own papers to an interested group of peers.


Philosophy in the City logoPhilosophy in the City

Philosophy in the City is an award-winning outreach project, run entirely by student volunteers from the University of Sheffield’s Philosophy department. PinC volunteers go into schools and other institutions to teach philosophy, and to encourage pupils and residents to think critically about philosophical problems and develop their own ideas.


For more information: