Undergraduate study - 2021 entry

Degree Programme Specification 2020/2021

MA Honours in Philosophy and English Language

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: N/A
Final award: MA (Hons)
Programme title: Philosophy and English Language
UCAS code: VQM3
Relevant QAA subject benchmarking group(s): Philosophy, English
Postholder with overall responsibility for QA: Head of School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences
Date of production/revision: April2011

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.

Students who combine philosophy with English language will gain a foundational understanding of both subjects.  The English language part of the programme offers a comprehensively broad and challengingly deep training in the academic study of the English language. It aims to develop serious academic interest in and specialist knowledge of all well-understood aspects of the English language both historically and currently, and at all relevant levels of structure and analysis. In so doing, it offers opportunities to develop intellectual and methodological capacities in rigorous, exact and strongly-theorised analysis. English language is a subject which is both historical and descriptive, and both text-focused and theoretical. In these several respects, the subject can be seen as encompassing and reflecting the traditions of both philology and linguistic theory. The University of Edinburgh’s linguistics and phonetics equipment, for use experimentally and in fieldwork, is among the best in the world.  Students can also study Scots language which has its own rich linguistic and literary tradition

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
  • interpretation and judgment when presented with primary textual data
  • understanding of the formal, analytic and symbolic procedures appropriate to the linguistic analysis of English
  • an awareness of variation and variety in English both in time and space, and in society at large
  • the relevance of linguistic theoretical concepts and methods to the study of English
  • professionally exploitable knowledge and an understanding of, and interest in, their native language historically and currently
  • transferable skills of use in virtually every area of employment, including everything requisite for fostering independent critical thinking, self-directed research and sustained analytical activity.

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
  • all aspects of the linguistic history and structure of English the phonological description of the basic reference accents of present-day English
  • the fundamental syntactic and morphological structures of present-day standard British English
  • textual and stylistic variety in present-day written English
  • sociolinguistic variation in urban forms of present-day English and Scots
  • the main periods of historical development in English
  • literary and social connections of linguistic material from the Modern English period

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

Throughout the course of the programme, students acquire key philosophical 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
  • use examples appropriately in support of general claims
  • construct clearly organized arguments
  • make careful distinctions
  • be sensitive to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas
  • to assess critically the presuppositions and methods of familiar ways of thinking within and outwith philosophy and English language
  • relating data to theory, and critically assessing the validity of theoretical claims in the scholarly literature
  • recognise and solve problems analytically
  • understand and apply phonemic, phonetic, and syntactic representations of linguistic form
  • understand the value of precise and rigorous analytical statements, and of applying, evaluating, and manipulating symbolic representations
  • recognise the problematic and difficult character of truth, explanation, and ‘facts’
  • investigate the process of interpretation and reconstruction

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
  • assimilate and apply concepts of linguistic analysis
  • develop an informed appreciation of popular notions concerning English and its standards
  • assimilate a body of fact and lore concerning English likely to be relevant to the teaching of English at all levels and in all settings

Programme outcomes: Graduate attributes - Skills and abilities in communication

Students should acquire skills that can be used in a wide variety of intellectual contexts and forms of employment. These include:

  • written communication skills — students should be able to construct a lengthy, coherent piece of prose that constitutes a well-structured argument or investigation
  • oral communication skills — students should be able to explain their ideas to others in a discussion
  • 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
  • ability to apply philosophical skills and techniques to issues arising out with philosophy and English language
  • the ability to work autonomously
  • time and priority management skills
  • construct clearly organized arguments
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas

Programme outcomes: Technical/practical skills

Students should acquire skills that can be used in a wide variety of intellectual contexts and forms of employment. These include:

  • 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

Programme structure and features

Full details of the degree programme, structure and courses 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.

Details of Philosophy courses can be found at http://www.philosophy.ed.ac.uk/phil_students/undergraduate/index.php

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

English Language courses ...

Students may also take courses outside Philosophy and English Language 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.

English Language courses ...

In Year 4, students are required to satisfy a dissertation requirement in either Philosophy or English Language. 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 english language, 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.

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 123770
Year 224760
Year 315850
Year 415850

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.

English Language courses ...

As stated above, students taking this degree may also take courses outside Philosophy and English Language, 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 156044
Year 249051
Year 324076
Year 439358

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 English Language courses may prepare students for work in adult literacy, or for teaching English as a foreign language. Previous graduates have gone on to work in education, commerce, journalism, finance, law, computing, diplomacy, translation, and marketing. Some graduates also choose to continue with their studies and pursue an academic career.

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 meeting
  • the subject areas participates in programmes which can permit a student to study abroad as part of the four-year degree programme through its Erasmus partners; the University has further exchange schemes  in which our students can participate
  • both subjects have very active student societies