Since 2002, the third Thursday of every November has been proclaimed “World Philosophy Day” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). According to them (and we really have to agree), “Philosophy… is capable of working towards a better understanding of the world and promoting tolerance and peace.”
So it’s kind of a big deal, Philosophy, as it allows young scholars to develop their critical and independent thinking, and form well-rounded views on human nature and indeed existence itself. While this all may seem quite “out there”, studying Philosophy has a lot of practical use as well. Honing a reflective view of the world and an understanding of human nature can pay dividends in all kinds of careers, from economics to advertising, programming to business, law to politics.
To show some love to UN World Philosophy Day, we’ve taken a look at six popular undergraduate degrees in the field which you should consider studying.
Let’s start at the top. The University of Pittsburgh is widely regarded as one of the three very best schools of Philosophy in the world. The university campus, which has been around since 1787, is centered around the imposing “Cathedral of Learning”, making it an impressive place to go to school everyday. But it’s the quality of learning that sets it apart even more so than the architecture. It’s among the top universities for research in the US, and the philosophy department is celebrated, and indeed oft-cited, for its own global influence in the field.
According to news outlet The Guardian, the University of Bristol ranks at number 11 in the UK for its Philosophy BA (Bachelor of Arts). Another beautiful old campus building which dates back to 1876 makes a perfect setting for studying the works of the great thinkers of our time. We like the breakdown of this course too -- first year is all about building a foundation in the subject, studying the likes of metaphysics, epistemology, and moral and political philosophy. But as the course unfolds over three years, you’ll gain much more freedom, and at times total freedom, in what you study and write about, all under the guidance of Bristol University’s expert professors.
It would be remiss of us to write about the best places to study Philosophy without mentioning the world famous University of Oxford. It’s the oldest functioning university in the English speaking world, with evidence that teaching here began in 1096. According to most ranking systems, it’s in the top 5 places to study Philosophy in the world, and the very best in the UK. With this prestige comes a host of guest lectures every year, with the most important living philosophers making periodical appearances at the university. But it’s not just the “celebrity” appearances that appeal -- the philosophy programme at Oxford is incredibly rich and deep, covering everything from early philosophy, religion, ethics, philosophy of physics, and a whole wide range of other topics.
We go back Stateside for this one, to the much more modern University of Massachusetts. A part of the appeal with studying here is that the campus is located right on the seaside, but the degree choice itself has a few key differences from the norm which set it apart. To be exact, it’s a major in Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy. According to UMASS, it’s for students who have a specific concern with questions of value as they apply to individuals, society, and public policy. So in short, it’s a bit more “real world” than the average Philosophy degree -- pertaining to potential careers in local government, the law or social service. If that’s not up your alley though, UMASS also offers a “standard”major in straight Philosophy.
Ranked number 4 in the UK by The Guardian, Durham University is quickly gaining recognition as one of the very best universities in the country, while its Philosophy department is ranked in the top 100 worldwide by QS World University Rankings. It’s yet another beautiful old campus, this time in a cathedral city in the northeast of England. The Philosophy BA at Durham University is pretty wide ranging and unique in the way it focuses on both Anglo-American and Continental Philosophy, each of which has its own approaches and issues. Like most courses on the subject, first year students focus on the fundamentals of Philosophy, in preparation for a much deeper dive in the next two years.
We started near the top of the tree of prestige, so we’ll end at the very top. NYU’s Philosophy department is widely considered to be the very best of its kind in the English speaking world. In 2017-18, the esteemed Philosophical Gourmet Report counted it at number one in both the US and the world, while QS also ranked it at number one in 2020. In fact, they gave it full marks for research, innovation, facilities and specialist criteria. To put it more plainly, Philosophy majors at NYU are pretty special. The course itself is rich with interesting content, with a strong focus on the history of philosophy, logic, morals and politics, language and even the philosophy of mathematics and the mind. Like every Philosophy degree, it sounds as incredibly interesting as it does complex -- and that, in our opinion, makes for a top class university experience!
Sean is a writer, copywriter & editor from Ireland.