Physics and Philosophy

I’d always been a curious student and a Physics and Philosophy degree seemed like the ideal opportunity for me to ask the biggest questions about the nature of reality. As someone who gets bored easily, the breadth of the course really kept me on my toes. My favourite part of the degree was definitely the philosophy of physics modules that really tie everything together. You’re guided through the subject by experts in the field, touching on all kinds of fascinating topics including spacetime geometries, the EPR paradox, and the conventionality of simultaneity.

I absolutely loved dorking out with my coursemates and getting carried away in heated philosophical debates with friends who share the same passions. But I’d have to say the highlight of my academic experience was ending my degree with an exam essay on the possibilities of time travel!

Rhiya, Oriel, student from 2012

In my opinion, every year of this course is more enjoyable than the previous one, largely due to the increasing flexibility. In the first year, you have no choice at all, but by the fourth year, there is plenty, with all the possible Physics and Philosophy options available to us, so that we can tailor the course to our personal tastes. Since I’m now finding myself veering towards a career in Physics, I was relieved to discover that studying Physics and Philosophy, rather than just Physics, hasn’t disadvantaged me at all when applying for Physics placements. However, as all the Philosophy degrees at Oxford are Joint Honours, Physics and Philosophy obviously won’t be a disadvantage if you’d rather pursue Philosophy further. Fortunately, for the undecided amongst us, sticking with both is also entirely possible!

Claudia, Trinity, student from 2010

Initially, Physics and Philosophy may seem like a strange combination, but you’ll soon discover how these two subjects complement one another when you explore the philosophical implications and foundations of our scientific theories. With such a range of topics to cover and so many different skills needed to tackle them (everything from algebraic knowledge to essay-writing flair), you’re unlikely to ever be bored. During your first year, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re studying for a Triple Honours Degree in Physics, Philosophy, and Maths because most of the “Physics” you’ll learn will actually be Maths (as will some of the Philosophy, in the guise of Logic). Finally, another perks of this degree is that you can learn important physical theories without having to spend hours upon end shut away in underground labs doing practicals, like the single-honours Physicists you’ll share lectures with.

What helped inspire your love of the subject?

Reading Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" literally kept me up at night with its talk of light clocks and hidden dimensions. For an introduction to philosophy I'd recommend Peter Millican's podcasts and for a taste of some philosophy of physics dip into David Albert's "Quantum Mechanics and Experience" (don’t be put off by the mathematical notation).

Rhiya, Oriel, student from 2012

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 Physics, MathPhil or CompPhil (or even consider applying for those courses!).