Maths and Philosophy

Rosemary Walmsley

At school, I knew I loved maths, but I’d also always enjoyed reading, writing, and arguing. Whilst thinking and reading about maths, I came across philosophical questions - like “Why can I be so certain of mathematical truths?” - which prompted me to look into philosophy more, although I’d never done it at school. That was when I decided I wanted to study Maths and Philosophy. It’s a really varied course – I love that I can spend a few hours plugging away at a problem sheet then move over to doing some reading for an essay. The Oxford course allows you to learn about each in their own right, but I think that what makes it stand out is that you study the crossover too - one of the highlights of the first year was a course on "Foundations of Arithmetic," a book by the mathematician/philosopher Frege which gets stuck into questions like “What are numbers?”

Rosemary, Worcester, 3rd year
Tom Barringer

I like logic. It's where the two sides of the course meet, and there’s an argument that it’s the very purest form of truth, which is cool.

Tom, St Hugh's, 4th year

The course is really well put together, and the beauty lies in the overlap of the two subjects. Some courses complement each other really well, such as the Philosophy of Maths course and the Set Theory course, as both deal with the foundations of Maths, looking from both the philosophical and mathematical definitions for things.

Ben, Keble, student from 2012

The Maths and Philosophy course has a pretty even split between both disciplines. Then, in the third and fourth year of study, students have the option to focus more on one or the other. On the Maths side, the focus is placed on the study of purer topics. Here, you'll study modules such as Analysis, and look at the properties of functions and sequences, and Linear Algebra, and consider the properties of matrices, vectors, etc. On the Philosophy side, there's a focus on topics like Logic, where you'll explore proof- and problem-based mathematical language, but still have the opportunity to prepare essays on topics like Epistemology. There is some flexibility in the course, as all the options open to straight Maths, and Philosophy and Humanities students are technically open to Maths and Philosophy students, but you might need to catch up on some things if you wanted to do, say, an Ethics or Statistics paper.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Tom Barringer

I read Bertrand Russell’s "Problems of Philosophy," which was very interesting, especially when he chews out scientists for assuming the Inductive Principle with no reason. Also, I thought Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy was quite fun as well, as long as you skip any ponderous non-Descartes introduction in the version you get.

Tom, St Hugh's, 4th year
Rosemary Walmsley

I read a couple of general introductions to philosophy to get a feel for it - I enjoyed “Think” (Simon Blackburn) and “The Problems of Philosophy” (Bertrand Russell). For maths, I think the best thing was finding interesting and fun (i.e. non-A level) problems to do… I found nrich.maths.org useful (it has stuff for everyone from infant school to pre-university so look for the right bit!)

Rosemary, Worcester, 3rd year

Find out more

Course length: 3 or 4 years (you choose)
Students per year: 15

Make sure you read the official prospectus entry for the course which contains entry requirements, full course structure, additional interesting resources and full details of the application process.

If you're going to apply, you'll want to check which Oxford colleges offer this course.

You might also find it helpful to hear from students studying Maths, CompPhil or PhysPhil (or even consider applying for those courses!).