What is the nature of reality? What can we know? Who are we and what is our place in the cosmos? Does anything really matter? Do we have free will? Does God exist? Is there life after death? No other subject can excite the teenage mind so much.
“Studying Philosophy at St Paul’s was one of the most intellectually exciting experiences I’ve ever had; my teachers’ immense knowledge, intellectual rigour and willingness to discuss philosophy in and out of the classroom was both challenging and very stimulating, as well as really enjoyable.”
Our unique Moral Philosophy course:
Pupils in the Fourth and Fifth Form study Moral Philosophy. Our Moral Philosophy course is designed to equip all pupils with sufficient conceptual tools to make autonomous, responsible and informed ethical decisions about complex contemporary issues, to give them the skills to use these tools well and to give them the opportunities to habituate them. Overall, it is designed to establish an outstanding level of ethical literacy amongst our pupil body.
We aspire to help our pupils to develop their moral character. Moral Philosophy is the space we specifically set aside for this by giving pupils room to learn about, question and discuss moral matters and how to live purposeful, responsible lives.
Those opting for this course study three components:
- Fundamental issues in moral philosophy, such as environmental ethics, human rights, multiculturalism, the criminalisation of abortion, social inequality, etc.
- The beliefs and teachings of the major strands of Christian and Buddhist thought
- An in-depth and intellectually rigorous study of the earliest extant Gospel – the Gospel According to St Mark
Philosophy studying the ideas, theories and texts that have shaped the last two millennia of Western thought – Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, Russell, Anscombe and many others – Philosophy A Level enables students to think rigorously about the biggest and most fundamental questions concerning the nature of reality, the good life and human understanding.
The course consists of four themes:
- Moral Philosophy: How ought we to live? Is anything intrinsically good?
- Epistemology: What is knowledge? What can we know for sure? Can we be sure we are not in the matrix or a simulation? Do colours exist?
- Metaphysics of Mind: What is consciousness? How does the brain produce it? How do I know that other people have minds?
- Metaphysics of God: Does God exist? If so, what is God? Doesn’t the existence of evil prove that there is no God?
To study Philosophy A Level, it is not necessary to have taken our GCSE Religious Studies course.
Religious Studies A Level enables students to think deeply about matters of religion. Students who study this course will come out well placed to contribute to our modern socio-political context in which the understanding of religion is essential.
The course consists of three themes:
- Religion and Ethics: focussed particularly on environmental issues and questions about social equality
- New Testament: an in-depth study of historicity and interpretations of perhaps the most important books of Western civilisation: the four canonical Gospels
- Buddhism: an in-depth study of the beliefs, values and practices of the major Buddhist traditions of the East
Reflecting the keen interest that our pupils take in philosophy and theology, there are many school societies connected to the department. Our flagship Isaiah Berlin Society (named after the eponymous Old Pauline) meets every fortnight to hear the world’s top academic philosophers presenting their research. A Joint Theology Society runs according to the same format. There is also a weekly Junior Philosophy Society, a Joint Philosophy Society and a Joint Feminist Society (with the girls’ school), which give pupils a forum to present and discuss their own work. Finally, there is a Philosophy Reading Group which meets to discuss key texts in the history of philosophy and current research. In addition, there is the school’s Blumenau Philosophy Prize Essay competition, as well as several external essay prizes that pupils are encouraged to compete for. We also regularly take pupils to public lectures and conferences in London.
Pupils have recently had significant work published. In 2020, Kiki Ajayi published a paper in the journal Dialexicon. In 2018, Quentin Mareuse published a paper in Philosophy Now, the UK’s biggest selling philosophy periodical, and Zac Michaelis and Adam Rachman delivered a paper on weakness of will to university professors at the 2017 Joint Session of the Mind and Aristotelian Societies – one of the world’s most important annual philosophy conferences.
The department is actively involved in organising the schools’ programme at the world’s largest philosophy and music annual festival: How The Light Gets In. We run a weekend trip in May to this wonderful festival in Hay-on-Wye.
The department actively promotes peer teaching, both via a programme of Moral Philosophy lessons on misogyny and homophobia delivered by Eighth Formers, and by arranging Philosophy4Children training for pupils who then deliver lessons in local primary schools as part of St Paul’s’ Partnerships programme.