Skip to main content

Computer Science and Philosophy

Contents


Why study Computer Science and Philosophy together?

Artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, virtual reality: fascinating areas where Computer Science and Philosophy meet. But there are also 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 them within a world increasingly shaped by computer technology, in which a whole new range of enquiry has opened up, from the philosophy of AI, artificial life and computation, to the ethics of privacy and intellectual property, to the epistemology of computer models (e.g. of global warming).

Some of the greatest thinkers of the past - including Aristotle, Hobbes, Leibniz, Frege and Turing - dreamed of automating reasoning and what this might achieve; the computer has now made it a reality for those with the necessary skills, 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 opens and 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 by humans; designing and using them effectively presents immense challenges. Facing these challenges is the aim of Computer Science as a practical discipline.

Computer Science and Philosophy at undergraduate degree level is a well-established blend offered by universities across the globe.

What does the course cover?

This is a three or four year course, leading either to a BA degree after three years, or a Masters degree after four years. Students decide in the summer before their third year whether they are going to stay for one or two more years.

The Department of Computer Science is currently reviewing its second and third year course structure. We expect these changes to be in place from 2017/18. The pages on this website reflect the expected changes to the course. For information on the current course structure, please see this page.

The programme is largely modelled on the Computer Science half of the "Mathematics and Computer Science" programme and the Philosophy half of the "Mathematics and Philosophy" programme. The first year of the degree covers core material in both subjects, including a bridging course studying Alan 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 provides you with the opportunity to study advanced topics and to undertake a more in-depth research project.

Click on the text to find out more about each part of the course:


First year Core Computing
(50%)
Core Philosophy
(50%)
Five examinations*
Second year Computing Second Year Options
(50%)
Philosophy Second Year Options
(50%)
Group
project
Two examinations*
Third year Computing Third Year Options
(25-75%)
Philosophy Third Year Options
(25-75%)
Between nine and eleven examinations*
Fourth year
(optional)
Computing Fourth Year Options
(0-100%)
Philosophy Fourth Year Options
(0-100%)
Optional CS Project or Philosophy thesis
(33%)
CS: written paper or take-home exam plus practicals. Philosophy: 3-hour written paper & 5,000 word essay

(The percentages shown reflect the amount of time students will typically spend on each part of the course.)

*Students will also be required to submit Computer Science pracitcal work.

What skills will I learn?

Graduates of this degree will have highly marketable skills. Computer Science teaches you how to program computers, and how to design processes that are effective and efficient. Philosophy teaches you how to analyse complex concepts and the interconnections between them and - crucially - how to express this analysis, elegantly and precisely, in written form. You will be able to program, to reason logically and formally, to analyse complex issues both technical and discursive, and to write clear and coherent prose. You will have the intellectual equipment needed for technical leadership and high-level positions in today's highly complex world.

Is it the right course for me?

Both Computer Science and Philosophy are intellectually exciting and creative right from the start: in Computer Science, through the design of computer programs, and in Philosophy, through the working out of arguments and systems of thought.

Students who enjoy logical puzzles (such as thinking through paradoxes, or code-breaking) or playing analytical games like chess are likely to enjoy both Computer Science and Philosophy.

So, if you are a student with broad interests and mathematical aptitude, who prefers intellectual exploration and discovery to learning of established theory, this combination might be just what you're looking for.

Why Oxford?

Oxford is easily the top place to study Philosophy outside the USA, ranked second in the world (only just behind New York University) by the influential Philosophical Gourmet report.

Oxford consistently scores amongst the very best Computer Science departments in the world, for both teaching and research. In 2014, Oxford was recognised as the second best Computer Science institution in Europe, in the Academic Ranking of World Universities (sometimes know as the Shanghai Rankings). (More information about our reputation can be found in the FAQ section.)

Oxford has long pioneered innovative cross-disciplinary degrees in Philosophy, including the very famous Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) programme, then in more recent years combinations with Mathematics, Physics, Psychology, Modern Languages, and Theology. Everyone studying undergraduate Philosophy at Oxford is on an interdisciplinary programme.

Oxford Computer Science graduates also have excellent career prospects. A 2014 survey of Oxford Computer Science graduates by The Sunday Times league table of graduate saleries, showed that showed that the average annual salary of Computer Science graduates who finished their studies in the 2013/14 academic year was £43,895. (The average across the whole University was £26,773). We have seen our graduates become software professionals, computer programmers, enter the finance sector, and embark on academic/research careers.