Philosophy and Modern Languages

I chose Philosophy and French because it combines my favourite modern language with analytical, critical, and creative thinking. Philosophy is a unique discipline in that it doesn't concern any particular subject matter. Rather, it tackles the general problems at the foundations of other subjects. This makes philosophy the ideal candidate for a joint honours degree, and I've found French to be a perfect complement. Philosophy has enriched my reading of French literature, and French has given me concrete examples to test and support my ideas in papers like "Aesthetics" and "The Philosophy of Logic and Language".

Sophie, Worcester, student from 2010

The Philosophy and Modern Languages course is expansive. It explores language, literature, and ideas that strike the ideal balance between breadth and depth. In the first year of Philosophy, you'll grapple with formal Logic, demystify J.S. Mill's Utilitarianism, and take on life's biggest questions: “What is knowledge?”, “Do I have free will?” or “Can I know I'm not dreaming?” In Modern Languages, you'll develop your linguistic skills and explore key literary works in your chosen language. From second-year onwards, in Philosophy, you decide what you study; the choice includes everything from Aesthetics to Wittgenstein. In your Modern Language, you can shape your literary studies around the periods and authors that appeal to you, as well as take up linguistics or advanced translation. You'll spend third year in a country where your chosen language is spoken, doing almost whatever you like – as long as you're practising the language.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Miriam

I recommend taking the free Edinburgh Uni 'Introduction to Philosophy' course on Coursera, especially if you haven't had the chance to study philosophy. There are lots of other cool courses on there too, to help you get a taste for different subjects.

Duolingo is nice for keeping language level in check and revising in a more relaxed way!

Miriam, Somerville, 2nd year
Dannie Green

Languages Online is an amazing website for grammar practice - I used it for French, but there are other languages available too. This is great help for MLAT prep but also just for expanding your understanding of grammar.

For Philosophy, I found it most helpful to go to the library to borrow books - you can get general overview philosophy books, but once you've read a few of these it's best to read books actually written by philosophers. Stephen Law's books are especially accessible - I read "The Philosophy Files" whilst applying, and it was great fun to read but also informative. My copy came from my college library (which is pretty small), so hopefully it will be available at your library too!

Dannie, St John's, 2nd year

Tell us about your interview?

Miriam

In the philosophy interview, I was asked to explain and break down Meno's paradox (as formulated by Socrates), never having encountered it before. (You can find it explained on the internet.) I deduced the fallacy in the argument just from going through it using examples and definitions with the tutor.

I was also asked to explain how I felt that my veganism influenced how I thought about morality and ethics. Then, how to possibly quantify the relationship of gendered articles and gender specific words with sexism in any given culture. These were all questions that stemmed directly from my personal statement. We didn't speak much about the reading I had put down, she just noted that I had read a lot!

In Spanish, I was asked to critique a piece of poetry in English - none of the candidates guessed right as to what it's meaning was, but my exploration of it was sufficient enough I suppose! We also had some basic translation and discussion. Having lived in Spain during a gap year, I was very comfortable and would definitely recommend traveling, watching Spanish-language films and talking to people in Spanish as many other candidates seemed really thrown off by that aspect of the interview!

Miriam, Somerville, 2nd year

Applicants that might be offered a place are invited for interview in December. See Philosophy and Modern Languages interviews for more information.

Find out more

Course length: 4 years (with a year abroad)
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 Modern Languages or PPL (or even consider applying for those courses!).