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Philosophy is a really exciting subject for students keen to explore the ‘big’ questions about what it means to be human, how we should live our lives and the fundamental nature of reality. The course emphasises ‘doing’ philosophy, which means that as well as learning about the ideas and arguments of important thinkers, such as Aristotle, Hume and Kant, students develop the skills to think and write clearly and critically about philosophical issues for themselves, reaching a deeper understanding of the questions posed and how to articulate and defend their own responses to them.

Unlike other sixth form philosophy courses, the IB course has questions about what it means to be human at its heart. These questions, which concern issues such as whether humans have free will, what it means to be a ‘person’ and whether human nature is fundamentally self-interested, inform discussions in other areas of the course; for example, in ethics, where practical questions about how wealth should be distributed, and more theoretical ones about what is meant by words like ‘good’ are studied.

In the second year of the course, students study Nietzsche’s ‘Genealogy of Morals’. This is a stimulating, provocative and important work of philosophy in which Nietzsche calls for a re-examination of the foundations on which traditional ethical and political systems have been built. Through their study of the Genealogy, students learn how to get to grips with a work of this stature, and how to make use of ideas covered in other parts of the course in order to respond to Nietzsche from their own perspective.

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

Group 3: Individuals and Societies