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Although you may appreciate the intersection and harmony between the two subjects, it may be difficult to actually picture what studying the two alongside each other is like.  We have here for you a breakdown of the first year Oxford course and its content, and a more general overview, to give you a feeling for how the course operates, and how the two disciplines interact.

What will I cover in Physics?

In your first year, the physics courses you cover are split into three exam papers:

  •  Mechanics and Special Relativity
  •  Differential Equations and Matrix Algebra
  •  Calculus and Waves

These are directly taken from the physics syllabus, and you study all the content and sit these exams alongside all the pure physicists. For more details about the physics included in these courses, you can take a look at our guide to the Oxford Physics course, and you could also check out our guide to the daily life of a single-honours Physics student.

What will I cover in Philosophy?

Alongside this, you also study philosophy, in preparation for two exam papers. One of these papers can be broken down into two courses:

  • Elements of Deductive Logic
  • General Philosophy

You’ll study the same philosophy modules as those covered by Maths and Philosophy students, which we’ve talked about in detail here.

In addition, you’ll study: 

  • Introductory Philosophy of Physics

In this module you analyse and read about the Leibniz-Clarke correspondence. This leads you to ask and discuss questions such as “is all motion relative?”, and consider whether this is the case, or whether there is an absolute frame of reference.

The Leibniz-Clarke correspondence was a famous scientific and philosophical debate held in a series of letters between Leibniz and Clarke. The exchange began when Leibniz wrote that Newtonian physics was detrimental to natural theology, an abhorrent view for avid Newton supporter Clarke.

The letters explore the dissonance that may arise between theology and physics. The main area of interest is the dispute between the absolute theory of space favoured by Clarke, and the relational manner in which Leibniz undermines and counteracts this.

What’s the split between Physics and Philosophy?

As the course progresses, it becomes more flexible. The advantage of doing a joint honours course is that you get to choose the best bits from both courses! For the first three years of the course, there will be a roughly 50/50 split between Physics and Philosophy, and there will be flexibility as to which modules you choose within the two subjects. There will, of course, be some compulsory options. For example, for physics you must study:

  • Thermal Physics
  • Electromagnetism
  • Quantum Physics

You will then have options, including: 

  • Symmetry and relativity
  • General relativity
  • Classical Mechanics.

Similarly, in Philosophy the compulsory modules include: 

  • Philosophy of Physics
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics

You will then have options including: 

  • Feminism and Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Mathematics
  • Early Modern Philosophy
  • Knowledge and Reality.

What happens in fourth year?

If you are continuing to the integrated masters programme, your fourth year will involve completing three research projects. You will be able to split the balance in any way you like; you could even do entirely physics or entirely philosophy. 

Conclusion

Although the course is weighted 50/50 to begin with, you can later specialise and focus more on either Physics or Philosophy. As with many joint honours courses, the special and exciting thing about Physics and Philosophy is the sheer breadth of possibilities. You can go from studying the cutting edge of modern physics to analysing philosophy from the 1600s, and it all fits together into a coherent degree!

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