Undergraduate study - 2022 entry
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Degree Programme Specification 2021/2022

MA Honours in Philosophy and English Literature

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 Literature
UCAS code: VQ53
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: April 2011

External summary

Students who combine Philosophy with English Literature will gain a foundational understanding of both subjects. 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.

The Literature programme aims to develop the critical, analytic, linguistic and creative skills of students by engaging with a broad range of texts and a variety of approaches to reading. By enhancing the literary and critical faculties of individual students, the programme prepares them to contribute to a society in which an understanding of texts of all kinds is crucially important.

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.
  • the recognition and understanding of the significance of literary form, both specific (e.g. comedy, tragedy) and general (e.g. conceptions of narrative, poetic structure).
  • develop an understanding of the distinctiveness of English literature and its relationship to a broader anglophone traditions.
  • the ability to recognise and evaluate the social, historical and intellectual contexts by which English literary texts are shaped.
  • an understanding of the history of literary development in English Literature from the fourteenth century to the present, by ensuring that all students study a range of texts from the following periods: renaissance; romantic; modern; medieval; eighteenth-century; Victorian; contemporary (post-1945).
  • theoretical debates about literature in order that students can reflect critically on the processes of reading.
  • an understanding of the developments at the forefront of the subject and to participate in research led study. develop the independent critical, analytic and communicative skills which will fit students for a wide range of employment, further training and life-long learning.
  • 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.
  • the cultural contexts of all major periods of anglophone literature from the late middle ages to the present, and a detailed knowledge of a specific topic or set of texts within each period.
  • the ways in which language is used in literary texts and deployed in critical discourse.
  • a wide variety of literary genres, and a critical understanding of their formal structures.
  • the significance of issues such as class, nation and gender in the production and understanding of literary texts.
  • the significance of historical and cultural contexts to our understanding of literary works.


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.
  • be sensitive to ambiguity and multiplicity of meanings.
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas.
  • assess critically the presuppositions and methods of familiar ways of thinking within and outwith Philosophy and English Literature.
  • recognise aesthetic value and other forms of historical and cultural value.
  • an awareness of how language is used to convey meaning, and a sense of how meaning is language-dependent.
  • understand the rhetoric of their intellectual discipline, its forms and its history.
  • identify what is significant/important in a large body of material, to locate salient points in individual texts and in large bodies of texts.
  • prioritise and to make different kinds of critical discriminations.
  • examine self-reflexively the intellectual practices that they are using.
  • articulate sustained critical arguments about literature, both orally and in writing.
  • plan, undertake, and (in a scholarly and literate fashion) report on a piece of self-initiated research.

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.
  • deployment of methods of literary and critical analysis.
  • sophisticated awareness of the linguistic strategies of different forms of writing.
  • recognition of the appropriate cultural contexts for the understanding of texts.


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 subject area.
  • the ability to work autonomously.
  • time and priority management skills.
  • construct clearly organized arguments.
  • understand and appreciate the significance of new ideas.
  • plan, undertake, and (in a scholarly and literate fashion) report on a piece of self-initiated research.

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 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.

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

Details of the English Literature courses can be found at:http://www.englit.ed.ac.uk/undergraduate/

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. English Literature courses are also taught by a combination of lectures and tutorials. 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.

Students may also take courses outside Philosophy and English Literature 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 Literature courses are taught by combination of lectures, seminars, workshops and tutorials.

In Year 4, students are required to satisfy a dissertation requirement in either Philosophy or English Literature. 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 literature, including online access to journal articles and a growing number of online books. A second smaller library, shared between Philosophy and Psychology, houses philosophy materials for use by staff, graduates and Honours students and offers further study space.

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 Literature courses are assessed by a combination of written examinations, coursework essays and tutorial assessment in Years 1 and 2. In years 3 and 4 assessment is by written examination and coursework essays, and also a Dissertation in Year 4

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

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. English Literature prepares students for work in publishing, teaching, arts administration or a media-related career like PR, media production or advertising. Previous graduates have gone on to work in education, commerce, journalism, finance, law, and computing. Some graduates also choose to continue with their studies and pursue a research or teaching 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. 
  • 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
  • the English Literature department hosts several creative writing magazines and sponsor at least one dramatic production each session, produced and performed by students, plus there is a Writer in Residence is at hand for consultation. The department also runs the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes in fiction and biography, which are among Britain’s most respected literary awards