Philosophy and Modern Languages
Philosophers busts placed on the terrace of Achillion palace, Corfu, Greece.
(Image credit: Shutterstock).

Philosophy and Modern Languages

Philosophy and Modern Languages brings together some of the most important approaches to understanding language, literature and ideas.

The study of philosophy develops analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically. It allows you to apply these skills to questions ranging from how we acquire knowledge and form moral judgements to the nature of language, art and literature. Since many works of literature are shaped by the dominant philosophical ideas of their epoch, study of philosophy can illuminate that intellectual background.

The study of a modern European language develops analytical and critical abilities as well as a high level of linguistic skills; the study of the literature written in that language contributes to an understanding of many aspects of European culture. It develops attention to stylistic and terminological detail and rhetorical strategies, and sensitivity to cultural and historical context, which are also of great value for the study of philosophy.

Philosophy and Modern Languages at Oxford

Studying these two disciplines in parallel has numerous advantages and affords students greater insights into each.

The Philosophy Faculty is the largest philosophy department in the UK, and one of the largest in the world, admitting more than 500 undergraduates annually to read the various degrees involving Philosophy. Many faculty members have a worldwide reputation, and our library and other facilities are acknowledged as among the best in the country.

Oxford’s Modern Languages Faculty is one of the largest in the country, with a total intake of more than 250 students a year, including those reading joint degrees. The Taylor Institution is the biggest modern languages research library in the UK. The Modern Languages Faculty also has an undergraduate lending library and a modern and an excellently equipped Language Centre.

Careers

Philosophy and Modern Languages graduates enter careers including academic teaching and research, teaching, commerce, banking and financial services, journalism and communications. An Oxford degree in a modern language opens up opportunities for internationally focused careers or careers with international companies or organisations. The www.languageswork.org.uk has further information about careers using languages.

Recent Philosophy and Modern Languages graduates include an economic consultant, a management consultant, and a bilingual editor for a publishing company.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider other language courses, or Philosophy and Linguistics (part of PPL).

A typical weekly timetable

Your work is divided between tutorials (one or two weekly), lectures (typically about six hours weekly) and classes (first-year logic, language classes throughout the course, typically about two to three hours weekly). The rest of your week will be spent in private study to prepare essays for tutorials.

1st year

Courses

Philosophy:

Introduction to philosophy

  • General philosophy

  • Moral philosophy

  • Logic

Modern Languages:

Translation into and from a European language and other exercises in the foreign language; two papers on the literature of the relevant language

Assessment

First University examinations:
Six written papers: two in Philosophy, four in Modern Languages

2nd and 4th years

Compulsory core subjects:

Philosophy:

  • Either History of philosophy from Descartes to Kant

  • or Plato’s Republic

  • or Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Modern Languages:

  • Three language papers

  • One period of literature paper

  • One further paper from a list of options

Further options:

  • Either four further papers in Philosophy (many options, including thesis)

  • or three further papers in Philosophy and one in Modern Languages (which may be an extended essay)

  • or two further papers in Philosophy and two in Modern Languages

Assessment

Final University examinations: Nine papers (with a minimum of three in Philosophy and four in Modern Languages). One Philosophy paper may be replaced by a thesis. Some Modern Languages papers may be replaced by a thesis or a portfolio of essays; Modern Languages oral

For Philosophy
Candidates are not required to have any experience of studying Philosophy, though some background reading is highly recommended.

For French, German, Russian and Spanish
Candidates would usually be expected to have the language to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another academic equivalent. 

For Czech, Italian, Modern Greek and Portuguese
Please note there are different course codes for these languages, depending on whether you are applying with an A-level or equivalent in the relevant language, or if you are applying for a beginners’ course. Beginners’ courses allow students to start studying one of these languages from scratch.

For Celtic
We generally expect all students applying for Celtic to be beginners, though those with experience are also very welcome to apply.

All candidates must also take the Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in how to apply. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Written work

Candidates must submit the same written work as required for Modern Languages by 10 November 2014. Please see Modern Languages for further details. The piece of written work submitted in English may also be seen by philosophy tutors, so it should show your capacity for reasoned argument and clear writing; a good length would be between 1000 and 2000 words.  Most candidates will not be studying philosophy, so there is no expectation that it will be on a philosophical topic.

Written test

All candidates must take the Modern Languages Admissions Tests (MLAT), normally at their own school or college, on 5 November 2014 and the deadline for final entries is 15 October 2014. Separate registration for this test is required. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test.

Candidates will need to take two sections of the MLAT: one for their chosen language, and one for Philosophy.

See mlatoxford.org.uk for further details.

What are tutors looking for?

At interview, tutors will be looking for interest in the proposed fields of study, relevant linguistic ability, a critical and analytical response to questions and/or texts and the ability to defend a viewpoint by reasoned argument.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Philosophy and for Modern Languages.

Suggested reading

There are many introductions to philosophy: we recommend Myles Burnyeat and Ted Honderich’s Philosophy as it is a very useful collection. Martin Hollis' An Invitation to Philosophy and Simon Blackburn’s Think are also recommended but feel free to pick up any introductory or beginners’ text.

For suggested reading for the Modern Languages element of this course, please see the entry for Modern Languages.

Samuel, who graduated in 2000

He is now Africa Divisional Manager for Programme Development at Christian Aid. He says:

‘ My one-to-one tutorials gave me the tools and confidence to analyse and question accepted knowledge, perspectives and structures. These skills have transferred to a variety of roles since graduating, enabling me to challenge and improve my performance and that of others. The reflex of continuous learning that my degree instilled in me has helped me adapt to different sectors – from oil and gas to international development – and navigate across diverse cultures on the four continents where I’ve worked.’

Click on the UCAS code list below to see KIS data for each subject option.

KIS data linksUCAS codes
Philosophy and CelticVQ55
Philosophy and Beginners' CzechVR5R
Philosophy and CzechVR57
Philosophy and FrenchVR51
Philosophy and GermanVR52
Philosophy and Beginners' Modern GreekVR59
Philosophy and Modern GreekVQ57
Philosophy and Beginners' Italian RV35
Philosophy and ItalianVR53
Philosophy and Beginners' PortugueseVR5M
Philosophy and PortugueseVR55
Philosophy and RussianVRM7
Philosophy and SpanishVR54

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provide a lot of numbers about the Oxford experience – but there is so much about what you get here that numbers can’t convey. It’s not just the quantity of the Oxford education that you need to consider, there is also the quality – let us tell you more.

Oxford’s tutorial system

Regular tutorials, which are the responsibility of the colleges, are the focal point of teaching and learning at Oxford. The tutorial system is one of the most distinctive features of an Oxford education: it ensures that students work closely with tutors throughout their undergraduate careers, and offers a learning experience which is second to none.

A typical tutorial is a one-hour meeting between a tutor and one, two, or three students to discuss reading and written work that the students have prepared in advance. It gives students the chance to interact directly with tutors, to engage with them in debate, to exchange ideas and argue, to ask questions, and of course to learn through the discussion of the prepared work. Many tutors are world-leaders in their fields of research, and Oxford undergraduates frequently learn of new discoveries before they are published.

Each student also receives teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. But the tutorial is the place where all the elements of the course come together and make sense. Meeting regularly with the same tutor – often weekly throughout the term – ensures a high level of individual attention and enables the process of learning and teaching to take place in the context of a student’s individual needs.

The tutorial system also offers the sustained commitment of one or more senior academics – as college tutors – to each student’s progress. It helps students to grow in confidence, to develop their skills in analysis and persuasive argument, and to flourish as independent learners and thinkers.

More information about tutorials

The benefits of the college system

  • Every Oxford student is a member of a college. The college system is at the heart of the Oxford experience, giving students the benefits of belonging to both a large and internationally renowned university and a much smaller, interdisciplinary, college community.
  • Each college brings together academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students, and college staff. The college gives its members the chance to be part of a close and friendly community made up of both leading academics and students from different subjects, year groups, cultures and countries. The relatively small size of each college means that it is easy to make friends and contribute to college life. There is a sense of belonging, which can be harder to achieve in a larger setting, and a supportive environment for study and all sorts of other activities.
  • Colleges organise tutorial teaching for their undergraduates, and one or more college tutors will oversee and guide each student’s progress throughout his or her career at Oxford. The college system fosters a sense of community between tutors and students, and among students themselves, allowing for close and supportive personal attention to each student’s academic development.

It is the norm that undergraduates live in college accommodation in their first year, and in many cases they will continue to be accommodated by their college for the majority or the entire duration of their course. Colleges invest heavily in providing an extensive range of services for their students, and as well as accommodation colleges provide food, library and IT resources, sports facilities and clubs, drama and music, social spaces and societies, access to travel or project grants, and extensive welfare support. For students the college often becomes the hub of their social, sporting and cultural life.

More about Oxford’s unique college system and how to choose a college