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Computer Science and Philosophy


Why study Computer Science and Philosophy together?

Artificial intelligence (AI), logic, robotics, modelling and understanding complex physical and social phenomena, these are fascinating areas where computer science and philosophy meet. 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 as they push forward into novel domains, while philosophers need to understand a world increasingly shaped by technology in which a whole new range of enquiry has opened up, from the philosophy and ethics of AI to the place of computers and robots within society.

Some of the greatest thinkers of the past – including Aristotle, Hobbes, Leibniz and Turing – dreamed of automating reasoning and what this might achieve; the computer has now made it a reality, providing a wonderful tool for extending our speculation and understanding.

The study of philosophy develops analytical, critical and logical rigour, and the ability to understand points of view and to think through the consequences of novel ideas. It stretches the mind by considering a wide range of thought 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. Designing and using them effectively presents immense challenges. Facing these challenges is the aim of computer science as a practical discipline.

Both subjects are intellectually exciting and creative. The degree combines analytical and technical knowledge with discursive, writing and research skills, and the chance to study within two internationally acclaimed academic departments

Do you want to know more about What is Philosophy? You can find out more in the video below from one of our current students:

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 (MCompPhil) after four years. All students apply for the four-year course, and then decide at the start of third year whether they wish to continue to fourth year. In order to proceed into the fourth year (part C), students will need to achieve a 2:1 or higher classification at the end of their third year.

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
Core Philosophy
Three Computer Science examinations*, two Philosophy examinations
Second year Computing second year core courses and options
Philosophy second year options
At least four Computer Science examinations
Third year Computing Third Year Options
Philosophy Third Year Options
Between seven and nine examinations, incluidng at least two in Computer Science* and at least three in Philosophy
Fourth year
Computing Fourth Year Options
Philosophy Fourth Year Options
CS Project or Philosophy thesis
Computer Science: one examination (or take-home exercise) per course*; Philosophy: for each course a three-hour written examination and 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 practical 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.