The Perse School

Philosophy and theology

Rigorous thinking, critical examination and cohesive argument

Our aim

Philosophy is an intellectually challenging subject which is well established at The Perse and in which students achieve consistently excellent results. It suits those interested in big ideas who enjoy writing evaluative essays. The subject provides an academically rigorous overview of philosophical and theological enquiry, as well as high-level explorations of epistemology and the philosophy of the mind.

We give students an introduction to the Western philosophical tradition through the key concepts, ideas, texts and arguments which have played a large role in shaping our intellectual heritage. We encourage students to form their own judgements, express them coherently, and contribute to the process of debate.

Philosophy develops the skills of rigorous thinking, analysis of complex ideas, and critical examination and evaluation of evidence and arguments, along with the ability to construct, develop and maintain a clear and coherent argument. Above all, students learn to philosophise – to apply a process to a problem.

Learning journey - Lower Sixth

In the Lower Sixth we introduce students to some of the key areas of philosophy and theology, and to key ethical approaches.  They begin to develop their ability to apply their reason and critically assess the views put forward by key philosophers and theologians.

They cover:

  • Foundational debates in philosophy
  • Foundational debates in epistemology
  • Ethics
  • The nature of belief
  • Conscience, free will and determinism

They also begin to explore the philosophy of mind: attempts to solve the mind-body problem, the problem of other minds, the problem of personal identity, and the problem of consciousness. This topic area continues into the Upper Sixth.

Learning journey - Upper Sixth

In the Upper Sixth, in addition to continuing to study the philosophy of mind, we introduce students to debates surrounding the problem of knowledge: what is knowledge; what (if anything) can be said to be known for sure; how can it be known?

They cover:

  • Scepticism
  • The relationship between knowledge, belief and justification
  • Knowledge of the external world: theories of perception


Providing stretch

There is not a day which goes by without a story in the news which can be interpreted through the eyes of a student of philosophy. We encourage our students to keep abreast of current affairs with an ethical, philosophical, or religious dimension.

We encourage students to read widely. Suggested texts include Richard Double’s Beginning Philosophy, William Reaper’s A Beginner’s Guide to Ideas and Nigel Warburton’s The Art Question. There are many good journals and newspapers at students’ disposal, including Dialogue magazine, Philosophy Now and The Philosopher’s Magazine. 

Both Lower and Upper Sixth students have the opportunity to attend study conferences in London and Cambridge to consolidate their knowledge and stretch their understanding. There are also opportunities for students to opt into smaller trips in and around the area on topics as diverse as Science Fiction and Religion, An Evening with Rabbi Lionel Blue and The Forgiveness Project Annual Lecture.

Beyond the classroom

The student-led Think society meets weekly for philosophical debate. Philosophy students also enjoy our F.R. Leavis society seminars, designed to encourage interdisciplinary thought across the arts and humanities.

Our Medical Ethics discussion forum ‘METHICS’ is led by students, with the support of teacher Mrs Killick. The group meets regularly to consider issues that transcend medical and ethical boundaries, unpacking the issue and the range of possible responses.

The lunchtime lectures in our 42 society programme often raise interesting philosophical and ethics questions, and students have heard from Dr Rowan Williams (on the topic of religion and creativity), Professor Philip Graham (on assisted dying), and Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger (on the moral choices facing society).

Philosophy at university

With the backing of Cambridge University, the Pre-U qualification provides students with a thorough preparation them for undergraduate study, whether of philosophy and/or theology, or of related degree courses in humanities.

Every year Perse students proceed to university courses in philosophy, or combining philosophy with other subjects, and the Sixth Form is developing a reputation for sending outstanding candidates to such courses at the most sought-after universities. We provide 1:1 support for those considering a university degree in the subject, helping students with their applications and discussing wider themes and reading.

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