St John’s College typically admits three undergraduates each year to read Philosophy, making it one of the largest colleges for the subject.

Teaching comes in several forms.

  • Lectures, which are run by the Faculty of Philosophy
  • Discussion groups and classes, which are also run by the Faculty
  • One-on-one supervisions, which are organised by the College's Director of Studies

The College provides generous grants to help with the purchase of books, and the College library has a excellent collection of philosophy books. Many teaching materials are also available online to Cambridge students for free.

Subject Video

Subject Video


A short introduction to the Philosophy Tripos at St John's College, filmed for St John's September Open Days 2020. Featuring our Director of Studies Professor Alexander Bird.


Courses in Philosophy

The first year course, Part IA of the Philosophy Tripos, provides a grounding in some core areas of the subject: Metaphysics, Logic, Ethics & Politics, and some history of philosophy.

The second year course, Part IB, involves some compulsory elements (Logic, Metaphysics and Epistemology) and a choice of two further papers from a range which includes Ethics, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, some areas of the History of Philosophy, and indeed Experimental Psychology (offered from the Natural Sciences tripos).

Part II, typically taken at the end of the third year, allows a completely free choice from eleven papers covering all major areas of Philosophy in the Anglo--American tradition.

Most undergraduates who take Philosophy sit Parts IA, IB and II. However, it is possible to combine Philosophy with another subject, by changing into or out of the Tripos at a suitable stage. For example, some recent undergraduates have decided to take Psychology in third year, after their first two years of Philosophy. Equally, we have had undergraduates switch into Philosophy after taking Economics, HSPS, and Medicine.


Philosophers associated with St John’s

Thomas Hobbes completed his BA at St John’s in 1608.  He was tutor and secretary to several members of the Cavendish family, including William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Newcastle.  William’s wife, Margaret Cavendish, was a noted philosopher of the Restoration era.  William’s aunt, Mary Talbot, was a generous benefactor to St John’s, and her statue can be seen on the gatehouse to Second Court and her portrait hangs in the hall.

Thomas Hobbes and Margaret Cavendish

Entry Details

UCAS Code: V500

Typical Entry Requirements

A Level: A*AA

International Baccalaureate: 40-42 points, with 776 at Higher Level

Essential/Desirable Subjects: None

Submitted Work: None

At-interview Assessment: Applicants who are invited to interview will sit the University’s At-Interview assessment for Philosophy consisting of a 40 minute essay and a 20 minute multiple choice assessment. More information can be found on the University’s webpage for Admissions Assessments and the University's course page

Admissions Interviews

Details regarding the operation of admissions interviews in the 2020-2021 admissions round have yet to be confirmed. 

You might also look at some of the "classics", many of which are available online:

Descartes, Meditations I

Finally, you can find excellent interviews, discussions and podcasts at WiPhiPhilosophy Bites and the History of Philosophy without any gaps.


Director of Studies
Prof Alexander Bird

Subject Fellows
Professor Jane Heal

Research Fellows
Dr Adam Bales

College Research Associate 
Dr Andrew Buskell 

Further Information

Further Information

Further information on the Philosophy Tripos can be found in the Undergraduate Prospectus available from: Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA, by phone (01223) 335090, email or you can visit their website.  You can also book a place on the Philosophy Open Day by phoning or emailing them as above.