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Philosophy is an exciting option for those students who are keen to explore fundamental questions about the nature of reality and the meaning of human existence. The IB course places an emphasis on ‘doing’ philosophy, which means that as well as developing an understanding of the ideas and arguments of key thinkers, such as Aristotle, Hume and Kant, students are actively encouraged to engage with the ‘big’ questions for themselves. Students learn how to engage with and critically assess philosophical viewpoints, constructing their own well-justified lines of argument.

Unlike other sixth form philosophy courses, the IB course has questions about what it means to be human at its heart. The core theme, studied in the first year, deals with issues such as what the mind is, whether humans have free will and whether any non-human animals or, in the future, robots could be considered ‘persons’. In the ethics strand of the course, students consider different theories about what makes actions right and wrong, as well as how to deal with real-life moral issues, such as abortion and the distribution of wealth. Higher Level students also study the philosophy of religion, exploring arguments for and against the existence of God, issues raised by the nature of God, and questions about the nature of religious language. 

In the second year of the course, students study Nietzsche’s ‘Genealogy of Morals’. This provocative and important work challenges the reader to think about the foundations on which traditional ethical systems are built. Through their study of the Genealogy, students learn how to approach a work of this stature, utilising ideas covered in the other parts of the course to respond to Nietzsche from their own perspective. Higher Level students also prepare for an unseen paper, which presents them with a text relating to the nature of philosophical activity. Students are asked to compare and contrast the view presented in the text with their own view and experience of doing philosophy in the IB course.

Course content

You can study Philosophy at Higher Level (HL) or at Standard Level (SL). At HL, you will study the core theme plus two additional themes, the prescribed text, the ‘exploring philosophy’ activity and the internal assessment. At SL, you will study the core theme plus one additional theme, the prescribed text and the internal assessment.

  • Core theme: Being Human - This theme explores the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Key concepts such as identity, human nature, personhood, freedom, the self and the other, and mind and body are studied. Questions such as ‘What does it mean to be human?’ and ‘Is there such a thing as the self?’ are discussed.

  • Additional theme: Ethics - This theme looks at the nature of moral judgement, exploring ethical theories and how we make ethical judgements. It asks whether moral principles are universal or relative? It considers meta-ethics, that is, the origins and nature of moral values and how we use ethical language. It will also ask you to apply the principles and theories you have studied to issues such as bio-medical and environmental ethics.

  • Additional theme: Philosophy of Religion - This theme examines philosophical questions about the nature and existence of God, religious language and its problems, as well as religious experience and behaviour. It will ask you to consider questions such as can we prove the existence of a higher being through reasoning or experience, is spirituality possible without religion and could religion be seen as a purely social phenomenon?


Internal Assessment

You will need to choose a nonphilosophical material such as a piece of music, a scene from a film, a newspaper article or an extract from a book and analyse it in a philosophical way.

Exploring Philosophy Activity (HL)

This is an opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of philosophy as an activity by looking at the nature, meaning and methodology of philosophy. You will be required to compare and contrast an unseen philosophical text with your own experiences of doing philosophy.


At Standard Level (SL), this will be by two written papers, one on the core and additional theme (1hr 45 mins) and one on the prescribed philosophical text (1 hr) plus the Internal Assessment. 

At Higher Level (HL), this will be by three written papers, one on the core and two additional themes (2hrs 30mins), one on the prescribed philosophical text (1 hr) and one on the exploring philosophy activity (1 hr 15 mins) plus the Internal Assessment.


Do students need to have studied RS or Philosophy before in order to study the course? 
Some students who take IB Philosophy have studied RS at GCSE, but this is by no means essential. Some of our most successful students have had very little or no background in the subject.  


What do Philosophy students go on to study at university? 

Many students develop a real passion for the subject in the sixth form and decide to continue with it at university whether this is by doing a straight Philosophy course or by combining it with another subject.

Popular pathways for other Philosophy students include Law, Liberal Arts and Medicine. However, the analytical and evaluative skills engendered by the subject - being able to think and write clearly and critically, constructing logical and well-justified arguments - are highly valued in a wide range of academic contexts.

"One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star."

friedrich nietzsche