Computer Science and Philosophy | University of Oxford
Computer Science and Philosophy
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Computer Science and Philosophy

Artificial intelligence (AI), logic, robotics, virtual reality: fascinating areas where Computer Science and Philosophy meet. There are many others, since the two disciplines share a broad focus on the representation of information and rational inference, embracing common interests in algorithms, cognition, intelligence, language, models, proof and verification.

 

Computer scientists need to be able to reflect critically and philosophically about these, as they push forward into novel domains. Philosophers need to understand a world increasingly shaped by technology, in which a whole new range of enquiry has opened up, from the philosophy of AI, to the ethics of privacy and intellectual property.

Some of the greatest thinkers of the past – including Aristotle, Hobbes and Turing – dreamed of automating reasoning and what this might achieve; the computer has now made it a reality, providing a wonderful tool for extending our speculation and understanding.

The study of Philosophy develops analytical, critical and logical rigour, and the ability to think through the consequences of novel ideas and speculations. It stretches the mind by considering a wide range of thought and thinkers on subjects as fundamental as the limits of knowledge, the nature of reality and our place in it, and the basis of morality. Computer Science is about understanding computer systems at a deep level. Computers and the programs they run are among the most complex products ever created. Designing and using them effectively presents immense challenges. Facing these challenges is the aim of Computer Science as a practical discipline.

Both subjects are intellectually exciting and creative. The degree combines analytical and technical knowledge with rhetorical and literary skills, and the chance to study within two internationally acclaimed academic departments.

Computer Science and Philosophy can be studied for three years (BA) or four years (Master of Computer Science and Philosophy). Everyone applies for the four-year course and chooses their exit point during their third year.

The first year covers core material in both subjects, including a bridging course studying Turing’s pioneering work on computability and artificial intelligence. Later years include a wide range of options, with an emphasis on courses near the interface between the two subjects. The fourth year allows the study of advanced topics and an in-depth research project.

CSP Careers

Graduates will have highly marketable skills. Computer Science teaches you how to program, to design processes that are effective and efficient, to reason logically and formally. Philosophy teaches how to analyse complex concepts and the interconnections between them and – crucially – how to express this analysis, elegantly and precisely, in written form. This ability to analyse complex issues, both technically and discursively, provides the intellectual equipment needed for technical leadership and high-level positions in today’s highly complex world.

Related courses

Students interested in this course might also like to consider Computer Science, Mathematics and Computer Science, and Mathematics and Philosophy.

A typical weekly timetable

For the first two years, your work is divided between lectures (about ten a week), tutorials in your college (two or three a week) and Computer Science practical classes (about one session a week). In your third and fourth years the Philosophy courses continue similarly, but most Computer Science courses are run as classes in the department rather than tutorials.

1st year

Courses

Computer Science:

  • Functional programming
  • Design and analysis of algorithms
  • Imperative programming
  • Discrete mathematics
  • Probability

Philosophy:

  • General philosophy
  • Elements of deductive logic
  • Turing on computability and intelligence

Assessment

Five written papers, plus Computer Science practicals

2nd year

Courses

Computer Science (50%):

Models of computation

Current options include:

  • Algorithms and data structures
  • Compilers
  • Concurrent programming
  • Logic and proof
  • Intelligent systems
  • Object-oriented programming

Philosophy (50%):

Current options include:

  • Knowledge and reality
  • Early Modern philosophy
  • Philosophy of science
  • Philosophy of mind
  • Ethics

Assessment

Two Computer Science papers, plus Computer Science practicals (including a group design practical)

3rd year

Courses

Computer Science (25–75%):

Current options include:

  • Computational complexity
  • Computational learning theory
  • Computer-aided formal verification
  • Computers in society
  • Knowledge representation and reasoning

Philosophy (25–75%):

Current options include:

  • Philosophical logic
  • Philosophy of cognitive science
  • Philosophy of mathematics
  • Philosophy of logic and language

and many others

Assessment

Six three-hour written papers, including at least one in Computer Science and at least three in Philosophy, plus Computer Science practicals

4th year

Courses

Computer Science:

Current advanced options include:

  • Advanced security
  • Automata, logic and games
  • Computational linguistics
  • Concurrent algorithms and data structures
  • Machine learning
  • Optional Computer Science project

Philosophy:

Advanced options in Philosophy
Optional Philosophy thesis

The courses listed above are illustrative and may change. A full list of current options is available on the Computer Science website.

Assessment

For Computer Science options, written paper or take-home exam, plus practicals; for Philosophy options, three-hour written paper plus 5,000-word essay

Lists of options in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th years are illustrative only, and may change from time to time.

Further information about all of our courses: www.cs.ox.ac.uk/computerscienceatoxford

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

  • A-levels: A*AA with the A* in Mathematics, Further Mathematics or Computing/Computer Science
  • Advanced Highers: AA/AAB
  • IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL
  • Or any other equivalent (see details of international qualifications)

Candidates are expected to have Mathematics to A-level (A or A* grade), Advanced Higher (A grade), Higher Level in the IB (score 7) or another equivalent. Further Mathematics or another science would also be highly recommended. Recent experience of writing essays, though by no means essential, would be helpful.

All candidates must also take the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT) as part of their application. Please see how to apply for further details.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)

Fees

These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2016.

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU£9,000£0£9,000
Islands
(Channel Islands
& Isle of Man)
£9,000£0£9,000
Overseas£22,515£7,135£29,650

For more information please refer to our tuition fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for 2016/17 are estimated to be between £970 and £1,433 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support

Home/EU

A full loan is available from the UK government to cover tuition fees for students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your tuition fees up front.

In 2016 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to those on a family income of £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to those from households with incomes of £16,000 or less.  This support is available in addition to the government grants and loans.  See further details.

Islands
(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man

Overseas

Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford support page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Computer Science and Philosophy

There are no compulsory costs for this course beyond the fees shown above and your living costs.

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

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work as part of an application for this course.

Written test

All candidates must take the Mathematics Admissions Test (MAT), normally at their own school or college on 2 November 2016. Candidates must make sure they are available to take the test at this time. Separate registration for this test is required and the final deadline for entries is 15 October 2016. It is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for this test. Please see www.matoxford.org.uk for details of how to register and the Computer Science department website for specimen papers.

For more information on how to apply, including advice on interviews and sample questions, please see the Computer Science department website.

What are tutors looking for?

For Computer Science: strong mathematical aptitude, the ability to think and work independently, the capacity to absorb and use new ideas, and a great deal of enthusiasm. For Philosophy: a critical and analytical approach to abstract questions, the ability to defend a viewpoint by reasoned argument, and a desire to delve deeper into the way we think about things. You do not need to have previously studied either subject.

Selection criteria

Candidates may wish to refer to the selection criteria for Computer Science and Philosophy.

Suggested reading

Introductory reading for prospective applicants on both Computer Science and Philosophy can be found on the Computer Science departmental website.

You may also like to look at our GeomLab website which will introduce you to some of the most important ideas in computer programming in an interactive, visual way through a guided activity.

There are many introductions to philosophy: 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.

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Greg, 1st year

'The course is very structured in the first year...but in fact that’s quite a good thing because it means you can get a broad picture of what’s going on - you might find you enjoy things you didn’t expect to.'

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