What is Philosophy? A popular subject to study at university, you may be wondering this question to see if you want to dive a little deeper. I graduated from Cardiff University in 2020 with a degree in philosophy. In this post I’m going to walk you through what exactly philosophy is, different types of philosophy, and what it’s like studying this subject at different levels.
What Does Philosophy Mean?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, philosophy is “the use of reason in understanding such things such as the nature of the real world and existence, the use and limits of knowledge, and the principles of moral judgement.”
As a subject, philosophy is the study of different philosophers and their works – this can range from theories on society, thoughts on deities, to ways in which we can make decisions, to what constitutes morality. Philosophy also often incorporates ethics, this delves into different moral concepts of what is good and bad, including medical ethics, ethics on prisoners, and so much more.
What are the Different Types of Philosophy?
Philosophy comes in many different forms, and for the most part they can be split into four groups:
- Metaphysics – relates to the real world, and the reality of things. Think The Truman Show or The Matrix (these are 2 films I studied in relation to these concepts at school).
- Epistemology – is about where truth originates from and how humans come to know what they know.
- Axiology – is a term that covers both ethics and aesthetics. Ethics refers to what is right and wrong, and how we decide upon these matters. Whilst aesthetics is the study of the beautiful.
- Logic – is how we organise thinking. In this area of philosophy you learn how to structure a strong argument.
What it Means to Study Philosophy
When studying philosophy you learn and delve into the thoughts and concepts of both historic and modern philosophers. From the likes of Plato, Kant, and Descartes, to philosophers working on contemporary concepts such as AI, you’ll have the opportunity to learn it all.
My personal interests lie in Ethics, in this area of philosophy we learnt about the morality of medical and legal concepts.
Studying Philosophy at GCSE and A Level
At the school I attended we were lucky enough to have Religious Studies teachers who were themselves very passionate about Philosophy and Ethics. This meant that at GCSE we studied the Philosophy and Ethics syllabus for RS. In this we learnt about arguments for and against God, as well as delving into concepts such as organ donation. I really enjoyed learning Philosophy at GCSE and believe it definitely set me up well for studying at A Level and University.
For A Level, I again studied Philosophy and Ethics, we learnt about very similar topics to GCSE but in further depth. We also learnt about philosophical concepts such as hedonism, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics. If you enjoy discovering the different ways in which people can approach moral situations, then I would highly recommend taking this A Level.
Studying Philosophy at University
For those who study Philosophy at A Level, you may find the beginning of university level Philosophy quite repetitive. However, these founding principles are essential for your understanding going forward so re-learning them and sitting through these lectures is important! Once everyone has the same level of knowledge, you’ll begin to discover more complex philosophical concepts.
Personally, in first year at Cardiff University I took the three compulsory modules (as a joint honours student this was the maximum I could take): Critical Thinking, Mind, Thought, & Reality, and Moral and Political Philosophy. I thoroughly enjoyed my first year at uni studying Philosophy and would highly recommend taking modules similar to these.
In second and third year all of my modules were ones I could pick myself. I took French Existentialism, Philosophy of Communication, and Ancient Philosophy. Whilst in third year, I took a semester abroad in Los Angeles and took 2 of my modules at Loyola Marymount University: Ethics and Modern Philosophy. If you are a student at LMU, I’d very much recommend both of these classes. The professors that taught these Philosophy modules were very knowledgeable and inspiring with their teaching. Once back in Cardiff I took Animal Minds, which looked at the way in which animals communicate and the philosophy behind this.
As you can tell, Philosophy has a very broad range of topics within it. At university, for the most part, you’ll be able to choose our modules and focus on those that you have a real interest in. The more you learn, the more you’ll develop a passion for certain areas!
Studying Philosophy by Yourself
You don’t need to have access to education to be able to learn Philosophy. There are many books, YouTube videos, and resources online that can help you in your discovery to learn about this wonderful subject. An extremely in-depth resource that has lots of information about most philosophical areas is The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There is a large table of contents, but I suggest you Google around the areas of Philosophy you may be interested in before deciding where to start!
I can’t wait to hear what your favourite parts of Philosophy are and what modules you’ve studied at school and university in the comments below!
About Katie May:
I am a digital marketer who graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in English Literature and Philosophy. I’m passionate about beauty, travel, and literature. On my blog you’ll find articles on whether Glossier is worth it, the best places to visit in Cardiff, and the best places to visit in LA. I hope you enjoy your time here!