Undergraduate study - 2020 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2019/2020

MA Honours in Philosophy and Psychology

To give you an idea of what to expect from this programme, we publish the latest available information. This information is created when new programmes are established and is only updated periodically as programmes are formally reviewed. It is therefore only accurate on the date of last revision.
Awarding institution: The University of Edinburgh
Teaching institution: The University of Edinburgh
Programme accredited by: The British Psychological Society
Final award: MA (Hons)
Programme title: Philosophy and Psychology
UCAS code: VC58
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Philosophy and Psychology
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
Date of production/revision: June 2014

External summary

Philosophy has been at the core of Western intellectual life for at least 2,500 years and is central to our understanding of the world and of our place in and interaction with it. Philosophy provides the tools whereby the presuppositions of all areas of intellectual and practical activity may be systematically and critically examined. While there are different approaches that philosophers have taken, characteristic of Philosophy is the emphasis on the use of argument, critical enquiry, rigour in reasoning, and clarity of expression, including the making of pertinent distinctions.

As the historic home of David Hume and Adam Smith, the city of Edinburgh is a fitting place to study philosophy. The University, too, has a strong historic connection to the subject, counting Adam Ferguson and Sir William Hamilton among its former students. Edinburgh has one of the UK’s largest Philosophy departments and the Philosophy Society attracts high-profile speakers. An advantage of the four- year course at Edinburgh is that it is structured in such a way that students cover the basics of Western Philosophy and have the opportunity and time to specialize in the areas of most interest.

Psychology at Edinburgh has close links not only with the other disciplines within the School of Philosophy, Psychology & Language Sciences, but also with a wide variety of other Schools such as Biological Sciences, Education, Health, Informatics, and Social & Political Studies. There are opportunities for students to work as Volunteer Research Assistants on the University’s research projects.

Educational aims of programme

  • a thorough knowledge of the ideas and arguments employed by the main philosophers of past and present, studied through their texts, and an understanding of the main areas of Philosophy and an appreciation of the significance of these in world culture
  • a knowledge of specific areas of philosophy or philosophers in yet greater depth, for example, mathematical logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of mathematics, philosophy of psychology, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, Wittgenstein, aesthetics, philosophy of law, applied ethics
  • how philosophical problems may be generated by conceptual or foundational issues in other areas of inquiry
  • the skills required not only to understand philosophical debates but also to take part in such debates constructively and intelligently
  • knowledge and understanding of psychological theories, concepts, research paradigms and research findings, and the ability to make links to the relevant historical background
  • research skills, including statistical and other data analysis skills, which will equip you to contribute to psychological knowledge
  • an awareness of applications and implications of psychological theories and research
  • the ability to think critically and creatively about theoretical, empirical and applied issues and their inter-relationships
  • an appreciation of the diverse, wide-ranging nature of psychology and an ability to make links between different areas of the discipline
  • an understanding of how psychology relates to other disciplines
  • active-learning skills and transferable skills (e.g. study skills, information retrieval skills, information technology skills, communication skills, group work skills)
  • the programme is designed in such a way that transferable skills are acquired in tandem with intellectual and practical skills. This process is enhanced by the fact that psychology allows students from an early stage in their career to offer original explanations of psychological phenomena.


Programme outcomes: Knowledge and understanding

On completion of the programme, students will have acquired a good knowledge and understanding of:

  • the problems, theories, and arguments of the main areas of philosophy, specifically: metaphysics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science and moral philosophy. Joint Honours students will have studied most of these areas in less depth and some in considerable depth. The achievement of increasing depth is intimately related to student progression.
  • the views and arguments of some of most important philosophers of the past, including: Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Mill
  • the works of historical philosophers not simply as self-contained bodies of doctrine but as attempts to solve real philosophical problems. In the pre-honours years this is achieved by studying historical philosophers in the context of problem-oriented courses
  • cognitive psychology (which investigates the mental processes involved in thinking, reasoning, memory, language and perception);
  • individual differences in personality, intelligence and mental abilities;
  • biological and comparative  psychology (how the brain works and how the study of  animal behaviour can inform us about human behaviour);
  • social psychology (how behaviour is influenced by other people or by the social context)
  • developmental psychology (how abilities, behaviour and characteristics change with age)
  • methodology and statistics (how to conduct psychological investigations and analyse the findings

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in research and enquiry

Throughout the course of the programme, students acquire key research abilities, including the ability to:

  • analyse a text and reconstruct its arguments, to find its premises, and the inferences drawn from them
  • be able to distinguish between validity and soundness, and to assess arguments for both
  • distinguish relevant from irrelevant considerations in argument
  • look for counter-examples to general claims and use examples appropriately in support of general claims
  • construct clearly organized arguments
  • analyse problems, compare and evaluate different views and formulate independent and well argued hypotheses
  • plan, undertake, and (in a scholarly and literate fashion) report on a piece of self-initiated research
  • develop a critical understanding of psychological theories and their relationship to scientific evidence.
  • critically and constructively appraise psychological findings.
  • understand the historical underpinnings of contemporary research paradigms.
  • present and evaluate evidence in appraising contemporary theory.
  • integrate and relate diverse findings and concepts from different areas of psychology
  • formulate and test hypotheses with appropriate research strategies.
  • appraise research in relation to ethical and professional guidelines.
  • use a variety of practical research-related resources such as laboratory equipment, and computer software such as statistical analysis packages and bibliographic databases
  • carry out studies which employ a diverse range of data-collection techniques such as observation, experiment, psychometric testing, questionnaires, interviews and field studies.
  • analyse data using both quantitative and qualitative techniques.
  • use practical and theoretical knowledge to both design and undertake a piece of original research and write this up as a research dissertation
  • assess critically the presuppositions and methods of familiar ways of thinking within and outwith philosophy and psychology.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal and intellectual autonomy

  • analytical thinking skills—the abilities to understand difficult pieces of text, to reconstruct arguments and views, to assimilate and explain difficult ideas
  • critical thinking skills—the abilities to draw conclusions from positions or bodies of data, to question arguments and (wherever appropriate) to show their flaws, to generate alternative ideas and new solutions to problems
  • independent thinking skills—the abilities to approach a problem with an open mind and to address problems with an original approach, and the confidence to rely on one’s own intellectual capacities
  • independent working skills—the ability to motivate oneself, to plan one’s own work, and to set one’s own goals and deadlines
  • development of teamwork skills in small-group practical teaching
  • development of oral and visual presentation skills in project presentations as well as presentations linked to lecture courses

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

  • written communication skills — students should be able to construct a lengthy, coherent piece of prose that constitutes a well-structured argument or investigation. Students should be able to communicate effectively and concisely via written material such as essays and written experimental reports.
  • oral communication skills — students should be able to communicate effectively via oral and visual presentation
  • being able to take part in a debate, keeping to the goal of the discussion, maintaining the thread of argument, to be able to argue their point forcefully and to disagree with others while showing respect for their opinions and without causing or taking offence.

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in personal effectiveness

  • the confidence to rely on one’s own intellectual capacities
  • the ability to motivate oneself, to plan one’s own work, and to set one’s own goals and deadlines
  • the ability to work autonomously
  • time and priority management skills
  • construct clearly organized arguments
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas
  • engage in effective teamwork.
  • develop problem-solving and general reasoning skills.
  • develop skills in making critical and constructive judgements.
  • develop independent learning skills such as time management, forward planning, and the ability to reflect on one’s own learning strategies.
  • present and evaluate research findings

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

  • computing skills — the ability to use computers for word-processing, information storage and for retrieving information from the world wide web
  • use of libraries—the ability to use libraries for the recovery of information, and related research skills, including the ability to discriminate between different sources of information, suggested readings, and so on
  • correct use of the internet for research
  • numeracy skills.
  • comprehend and use data effectively

Programme structure and features

Full details of the degree programme and structure can be seen at <http://www.drps.ed.ac.uk>

Courses are taught through a combination of lectures and tutorials.  Optional courses in Years 3 and 4 are taught through seminars.

Progression Requirements – Students are normally expected to have gained 120 credits at the end of each year.

Alternative Exit Points – students who do not progress into Honours may graduate after three years of full-time study, or a longer prescribed period of part-time study, with a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science.

Teaching and learning methods and strategies

Years 1 and 2

Philosophy courses in Years 1 and 2 are taught by a combination of lectures and tutorials. Typically, for each course, a student attends three one-hour lectures and one one-hour tutorial per week. Lectures introduce and explain ideas relevant to the course, and tutorials provide an opportunity for students to discuss and clarify these ideas in a small group setting.

Psychology courses in Years 1 and 2 include three lectures a week, presented by a team of psychologists who each give a block of lectures on their particular field of expertise (Differential, Developmental, Social and so on). In Psychology 1, students also attend regular tutorials in which key studies (read prior to the tutorial) are discussed, and participation in departmental research provides first-hand insight into the research process. In Psychology 2, students have five 3-hour practical and tutorial sessions per semester. These are structured around learning a statistical package and learning to design, carry out, analyse and write up two psychology experiments. There are also lectures in research methods and statistics.

Students also take courses outside Philosophy and Psychology in subject areas of their choosing. The teaching methods of these courses are determined by the relevant subject area.

Years 3 and 4

Philosophy courses in Years 3 and 4 are taught primarily by weekly two-hour seminars. The seminar format puts strong emphasis on group discussion and student participation. Often seminars are based on pre-assigned readings which students are expected to read in preparation for the seminar. For some courses, students may give a short presentation to the class on an assigned topic.

In the third year of Psychology, there is a separate series of semester long weekly lectures on each of the six core areas of Psychology (Differential, Biological, Developmental, Social, Memory & Perception, and Thinking & Language), lectures and practical sessions in advanced statistics and qualitative and quantitative methodology.

In Year 4, students are required to satisfy a dissertation requirement in either Philosophy or Psychology. This provides an opportunity for students to undertake extended, independent research, under the supervision of an appropriate member of staff.


The main university library houses extensive holdings in both philosophy and psychology, including online access to journal articles and a growing number of online books. A second smaller library, shared between Philosophy and Psychology, houses materials for use by staff, graduates and Honours students and offers further study space. There is excellent IT provision and, in Psychology, laboratory facilities, a suite of research cubicles and tutorial rooms to support practical classes, as well as open areas to meet and work with peers.

In the semester two Innovative Learning Week, normal teaching is suspended in order to provide the space for staff and students to explore new learning activities. Some examples of activities held in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences were ‘The Original Psychic Challenge’, a Psychology Alumni event to give students the opportunity to meet recent graduates and talk about careers, Psychology at the movies, ‘Good googling’, a collaborative project between Philosophy, Art and Social Anthropology to interpret the beauty in an art object, How to ‘sell’ your Philosophy degree, and a philosophical walking tour of Edinburgh.

Teaching and learning workload

You will learn through a mixture of scheduled teaching and independent study. Some programmes also offer work placements.

At Edinburgh we use a range of teaching and learning methods including lectures, tutorials, practical laboratory sessions, technical workshops and studio critiques.

The typical workload for a student on this programme is outlined in the table below, however the actual time you spend on each type of activity will depend on what courses you choose to study.

The typical workload for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearTime in scheduled teaching (%)Time in independant study (%)Time on placement (%)
Year 122780
Year 225750
Year 318820
Year 48920

Assessment methods and strategies

Philosophy courses in Years 1 and 2 are assessed by a combination of essays and exams. In most cases, a course will have one 1500-word mid-term essay, worth 25% of the overall mark for the course, and one end-of-term exam, worth 75%. In Years 3 and 4, there is greater variation in assessment methods between courses. The most commonly used methods are essays and exams, but different courses may combine these in different ways. Other assessment methods used in some cases include take-home exams and class presentations.

Psychology 1 is assessed through a combination of 2 course work essays, 2 Multiple Choice Question exams and participation (in research and tutorials). Detailed oral and written feedback and guidance on writing essays is given in tutorials. The assessment for Psychology 2 includes 2 exams in which students are required to write essays based on the course material and answer statistics questions, and 2 experimental reports. Psychology 3 assessment includes statistical assignments, a qualitative analysis assignment, a brain quiz and 3exams covering the chosen topic areas and two methodology courses. Psychology 4 options are assessed in a variety of ways, as seemed appropriate for the course: by exam, essay, research proposal, presentation, or some combination of these.

As stated above, students taking this degree also take courses outside Philosophy and Psychology, especially in Years 1 and 2. These are assessed by methods determined by the relevant subject areas.

Assessment method balance

You will be assessed through a variety of methods. These might include written or practical exams or coursework such as essays, projects, group work or presentations.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme are outlined below, however the balance between written exams, practical exams and coursework will vary depending on what courses you choose to study.

The typical assessment methods for a student on this programme for each year of study
Start yearAssessment by written exams (%)Assessment by practical exams (%)Assessment by coursework (%)
Year 154046
Year 2651025
Year 317083
Year 417083

Career opportunities

The Philosophy courses studied throughout this degree provide students with analytical skills and the ability to think clearly, which are vital transferable skills for the workplace. The research, statistical, IT and report-writing skills developed through the Psychology courses are valued by employers in various sectors. Previous graduates have gone on to work in education, commerce, journalism, finance, law, computing, healthcare and social services, human resources, management, business and finance, media, and advertising. Some graduates also choose to continue with their studies and pursue a research or teaching career. Students wishing to pursue a career as a psychologist (e.g. as a Clinical or Educational Psychologist) must obtain a minimum lower second class Honours degree in Philosophy and Psychology, have taken Honours level courses in five core areas of Psychology, and have completed the Year 4 dissertation in Psychology.

Other items

  • all students are assigned a Director of Studies on admission to the degree programme, who oversees the course of the student’s degree programme, offers advice on academic matters (including degree-progression) and should be the student’s first port of call for course-related worries or concerns.
  • student opinion is actively sought through participation in Staff-Student Liaison Committees, through the election of class- and tutorial-representatives, and by the wide circulation and review of detailed student questionnaires each semester.  In addition, Philosophy student representatives are invited to attend, and to contribute to, selected Philosophy subject-area meetings.
  • students are encouraged to take the opportunity to study abroad in their third year. Consultation with staff before leaving helps to advise students on the most appropriate courses to take while away.
  • students in the programme have access to the Psychology’s excellent computing and lab facilities
  • the main university library houses extensive holdings in Philosophy, including online access to journal articles and a growing number of online books.  A second smaller library, shared with Psychology, houses Philosophy materials for use by staff, graduates and Honours students and offers further study space.