Critical thinking for a complex world.
There is no limit to the issues to which philosophers apply their reason: from knowledge (Are scientific claims certain?), to language (What is meaning?), from ethical and social problems (How should we run the country?), to metaphysical issues (Is the future less real than the past?
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Why study Philosophy?
The skills and knowledge you gain from studying philosophy will make you a better student in other subjects; they will also be invaluable in a wide variety of occupations because philosophy focuses less on what you believe and more on the quality of your reasons for believing it.
By examining the reasons we have for the claims we make, philosophy develops your powers of argument, analysis, and critical reasoning. It will help you to express yourself more clearly and give you the abilities required to address complex and difficult problems.
Philosophy provides a tool kit to critically engage with difficult and important questions. It seems that some actions are right and others are wrong but it is difficult to explain if this is because one produces better outcomes or the other respects humanity. It seems that some scientific claims are almost certainly true, but a crucial element of the success of science is its willingness to revise its claims in light of new evidence. It seems that there is little more to our brains than complex neural networks but how do these networks generate intense feelings?
Discussing these abstract problems develops the philosophical tools necessary to deal with practical problems, such as whether an unpopular theory should be accepted, or to what extent we can appeal to common sense when arguing about a radical claim. In grappling with these issues philosophers seek to build a well-grounded picture of the world and of human life. The key skill for a philosopher is the ability to construct and dissect arguments, so a central part of all philosophy is training in clear and effective reasoning. The core philosophical disciplines focus on the nature of reasoning, knowledge and existence. But philosophical issues arise in many disciplines and professions (including law, medicine, business and science, among others).
Philosophy at Otago
The Philosophy Programme at Otago University has an outstanding reputation for research, in a country known internationally for its strength in philosophy. In the 2012 New Zealand Performance Based Research Fund Quality Evaluation, we were the highest scoring philosophy department in the country, and the second highest department in any discipline. Our research strengths include metaphysics, epistemology, ethical theory, philosophy of science, philosophical logic, early modern philosophy, philosophy of language and mind.
The Programme has a friendly and open atmosphere in which staff and postgraduate students regularly socialise. We are an active community – we have a steady stream of visitors from overseas to our weekly seminar programme, so that students have the chance to meet and hear papers by a wide range of leading philosophers. Our undergraduate Philosophy Club meets monthly for pizza and philosophical discussion.
Philosophy can be studied at all levels (BA, BA Hons, MA and, PhD). It may be taken either as a major or a minor in a BA. Some philosophy papers can be taken as science subjects and Critical Thinking (PHIL 105) may be taken as a Humanities, Science or Commerce course.
Many students choose to add philosophy to their skill set by doing a double major or double degree such as BA/ LLB, BA/BSc or BA/BCom.
Philosophy forms part of the interdisciplinary PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) Arts major.
It also may be taken as part of the Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc), which provides the competitive advantage of a double degree in arts and science in a much shorter time frame.
No previous acquaintance with philosophy is needed to take any of our 100-level papers, or many of our 200-level papers.
Some of our students go on to successful careers as professional philosophers, but for most of our students, it’s not about getting a career in philosophy, it’s about getting some philosophy into their careers.
Many surveys of salary by degree only look at salary after a few years of graduation, which can be misleading. A survey of 1.2 million degree holders by PayScale, Inc., cited in the Wall Street Journal, shows that Philosophy majors increase their starting salary by 103.5% after 10 years, an equal best with mathematics among all majors. The overall mid career salary for a philosophy major at the 75th percentile is 127,000 U.S. dollars, 9th among all 50 majors surveyed.
Philosophy gives you a unique mix of analytical and literary skills that are highly sought after by employers whether you are pursuing a career in academia or elsewhere.
A recent destinations survey showed that our graduates live in cities across the world such as Vienna, London, Frankfurt, Vancouver, Berlin, Singapore, New Orleans, and all over New Zealand and Australia. See the placements of some of our recent students.
Philosophers find work in a huge variety of careers, including:
- Dispute resolution
- Documentary film making
- Nature conservation
- Social services
- Software Design
- Systems analysis
Explore your study options further. Refer to enrolment information found on the following qualification pages.
- Bachelor of Arts (BA)
- Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom)
- Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc)
- Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons))
- Diploma for Graduates (DipGrad)
- Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts)
- Master of Arts (Coursework) (MA(Coursework))
- Master of Arts (Thesis) (MA(Thesis))
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in Philosophy
|100-level||Two 100-level PHIL papers||36|
Two 200-level PHIL papers
One further PHIL paper at 200-level or above
One of BITC 301 Bioethics, CLAS 340 Love, Death and the Good Life: Socrates and Plato, POLS 301 Power and Liberty, or POLS 307 Nature, Conflict, and the State, may be substituted for one 300-level PHIL paper
198 further points; must include 54 points at 200-level or above.
Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Arts
Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons)) in Philosophy
Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) in Philosophy
The Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) programme in Philosophy is the same as the programme for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours (BA(Hons)).
Master of Arts (Coursework) (MA(Coursework)) in Philosophy
CLAS 440 may be substituted for one 400-level PHIL paper.
Master of Arts (Thesis) (MA(Thesis)) in Philosophy
Note: Students who have not completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA(Hons)) in Philosophy or a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Subjects (PGDipArts) in Philosophy must complete the required papers for the BA(Hons) in Philosophy prior to undertaking the thesis.
Minor subject requirements
Philosophy as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree
Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree
|100-level||Two 100-level PHIL papers|| |
Two 200-level PHIL papers
One 300-level PHIL paper
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a selection of on-campus papers will be made available via distance and online learning for eligible students.
Find out which papers are available and how to apply on our COVID-19 website
|Paper code||Year||Title||Points||Teaching period|
|PHIL101||2021||Mind and Reality||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL103||2021||Ethical Issues||18 points||Semester 2, Summer School|
|PHIL105||2021||Critical Thinking||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL106||2021||Radical Philosophy||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL222||2021||Introduction to Formal Logic||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL223||2021||Metaphysical Questions||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL225||2021||Philosophy of Science||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL227||2021||Morality and Politics: Hobbes to Hume||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL228||2021||Ethics||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL229||2021||Reason, Belief and the Sacred||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL231||2021||Early Modern Philosophy A: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL232||2021||Early Modern Philosophy B: Locke, Berkeley, Hume||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL233||2021||Philosophy of Mind and Language||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL234||2021||Are there moral facts?||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL235||2021||Environmental Philosophy||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL236||2021||An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL239||2021||Bertrand Russell: Ethics, Logic, Pacifism and Truth||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL240||2021||Epistemology: The Theory of Knowledge||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL312||2021||Advanced Formal Logic||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL314||2021||Themes from Hume||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL315||2021||Are There Moral Facts?||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL323||2021||Metaphysical Questions||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL329||2021||Reason, Belief and the Sacred||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL331||2021||Early Modern Philosophy A: Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL332||2021||Early Modern Philosophy B: Locke, Berkeley, Hume||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL333||2021||Philosophy of Mind and Language||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL334||2021||Philosophy of Biology||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL335||2021||Why Be Moral?||18 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL336||2021||An Introduction to the Philosophy of Language (Advanced)||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL338||2021||Ethical Theory||18 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL339||2021||Bertrand Russell: Ethics, Logic, Pacifism and Truth (Advanced)||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL340||2021||Epistemology: The Theory of Knowledge (Advanced)||18 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL401||2021||Advanced History of Philosophy||20 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL405||2021||Philosophy of Biology||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL406||2021||Why Be Moral?||20 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL409||2021||Advanced Metaphysics||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL413||2021||Ethical Theory||20 points||Semester 2|
|PHIL414||2021||Themes From Hume||20 points||Semester 1|
|PHIL415||2021||Meaning and Metaphysics||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL416||2021||Philosophy of Memory||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL451||2021||Special Topic||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL458||2021||Special Topic||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL462||2021||Special Topic: Philosophy of Mathematics||20 points||Not offered in 2021|
|PHIL480||2021||Research Essay||20 points||Semester 1, Semester 2|
|PHIL490||2021||Dissertation||60 points||Full Year, 1st Non standard period|
|PHIL590||2021||Research Dissertation||60 points||1st Non standard period, 2nd Non standard period|