Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) at Oxford

Sal is a first-year PPE undergraduate at Somerville College, Oxford. He comes from an Academy school in the North-West region of the UK. Eager to help increase accessibility to Oxbridge, Sal takes part in a lot of access and outreach initiatives at the University.

1. What is your course and where do you study it?

I am a PPE student at Somerville College, Oxford!

2. What does your course entail?

As a PPE fresher, you do not really get much choice in what to do in your first year. You study three compulsory modules in each of the subjects. While this is true, within these modules your College tutors will have a choice on which topics to study, as there is usually a plethora.
For Philosophy, you will study these three modules:
1. General Philosophy (At Somerville, the topics we studied were Knowledge, Scepticism, Mind & Body, Free Will and Personal Identity. There are more, however!)
2. Moral Philosophy (‘Utilitarianism’ is the set text)
3. Logic (though this is an eight-week course, it is split into Intermediate Logic and Advanced Logic. The former lasts four weeks and the latter lasts the remaining four weeks. Depending on your College, you may have a choice to study Advanced Logic, or your College may make study it. At Somerville, I had the choice whether I wanted to or not)

For Politics:
1. Practice of Politics (there are around 13 topics for this – you will study six to eight depending on your College and tutor. The topics range from democracy to populism to power)
2. Theory of Politics (you will usually have two to three set texts and commentary on those texts)
3. Political Analysis (you learn basics in R, which is a programme language used for statistical computing. This is taught in labs)

And for Economics:
1. Microeconomics
2. Macroeconomics
3. Quantitative Economics/Probability and Statistics
In your Preliminary examination, you will be sitting one paper for each subject. Each paper is three hours long and tests your knowledge in all the modules (except for political analysis, which is assessed based on an essay you write over several weeks).

3. What is your favourite part of the course?

Logic and Probability & Statistics! Before I arrived in Oxford, I was convinced I would not enjoy Philosophy and would just be keen to drop it. However, I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated, specifically Logic.

Though it has deeper, more important motivations concerned with arguments and the foundation of mathematics, Logic is just letters and numbers to me. Nothing is quite as exciting as being able to produce proofs or formalise a complicated argument and get it right! It is a bit difficult to get in the swing of it initially, but once you start it, it becomes enjoyable. General Philosophy and Moral Philosophy are also enjoyable, but Logic just triumphs in this sense.

I also equally enjoy Probability and Statistics. The course takes you from the basics and works you up to interesting concepts like time-series and causal inference. It is very maths-heavy, however, so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

4. What would you improve about the course?

I personally would try to modernise or incorporate more relevant reading into Politics and General Philosophy. There was one specific topic in Politics that I can think of (but not exclusive to) where most of the readings were over 50 years old and used examples that are outdated and no longer relevant. I would also try to decrease the amount of reading, but I think that is one thing you just eventually get used to!

5. What do you plan to do after you graduate?

I have not really thought that far ahead. I am just trying to enjoy University.