Beginning your study of Philosophy is tough. Chances are, you’ve never studied anything like this before. So, where do you begin? How do you understand the principles of Philosophy and how to study it?
The study of Philosophy is very different from other subjects such as Math’s and History where you need to learn the principles and then apply them. With Philosophy, you have to engage with what you read, and compose arguments. It takes a lot of time and careful thought to study Philosophy. Reading tons of books isn’t the best approach to study. What is important is that you understand the arguments, which have been put forward by other scholars and begin to form an opinion and an argument for yourself. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, and therefore exams are not marked like a Math’s exam is. The examiner wants to see that you have thought about what you are studying and that you can put forward an argument.
The word ‘Philosophy’ means love of wisdom, and during your studies you will explore what it is to have wisdom. The study of Philosophy involves questioning your existence and your every day experiences. ‘Does God exist,’ ‘Do we have freedom,’ ‘Is the world really as we see it?’ These are the kinds of questions you will ask yourself, you will begin to learn about different theories and different Philosophers. The great thing about studying Philosophy is that you can disagree with the textbooks and argue with your teachers and still get a good grade!
So, when you begin your studies, the first thing to do is have a look at what types of thing you will be studying. Philosophy is not limited to a set number of textbooks and exams, and you need to know where to begin.
The most basic division of the study of Philosophy is ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Ethics.’ Philosophy includes theories of Philosophers on how the world works, where everything began, the existence of God… the list goes on. Ethics, on the other hand, is the study of moral principles. How do we know how we should behave? What’s right and what’s wrong? A level and first year undergraduate Philosophy courses often separate the study of Philosophy and Ethics, which makes study more manageable.
If you type the word ‘Philosophy’ in to Amazon, millions of books appear. But, as a starting point and to get you through your exams, you need the basics. Reading Philosophical works is tough, even for someone who has a degree in Philosophy. As a starting point, you don’t want to read anything too lengthy or word-y, you just need an overview.
For A-Level Philosophy, these books have an over-view and some more in depth writing on Philosophy and on Ethics. These books have all of the basic knowledge you need to succeed in your exam.
OCR: Philosophy of Religion for AS and A2. OCR: Religious Ethics for AS and A2. These are fantastic books, they are an excellent beginning to studying Philosophy and give you all you need to know to pass your exams. The writing is clear and concise and everything is explained in an easy-to-handle way.
AQA: Philosophy for AS and Philosophy for A2
If you are beginning an Undergraduate degree, you need an over-view. When you get to uni, many people may have studied A-level Philosophy, however your course will begin on the basis that no one has studied it before.
If you want a summary of the basics before you start, these are the best ones out there:
Philosophy Basics: A Jargon-Free Guide for Beginners
Philosophy: The Basics
Even ‘Philosophy for Dummies’ is a good book to start off with!
We hope that you will find your study of philosophy as exciting and enjoyable as we do. The great thing about Philosophy is that you never feel like you need to ‘study.’ Philosophy is at its best when theories and arguments can be discussed and thought about in a group, and this is the best way of approaching a course. Try and get a group together out of lessons or lectures to bounce ideas of one another. This way, your argument progresses and you get to hear different points of view and look at things from different perspectives.