Physics & Philosophy
This course combines the most rigorous and fundamental subjects in the sciences and the arts. Physics is concerned with unravelling the complexities of the universe from the smallest to the largest scale. Philosophy deals with foundational questions of the most general kind: what there is, what we know and how we came to know it, and how we ought to act and structure our lives. Central to both subjects is the development and application of clear and precise thinking to foundational problems, the questioning of received wisdom and the critical articulation of ideas which aim for an understanding of how things are, in the broadest possible terms.
Physics and Philosophy are historically intertwined and each continues to contribute to developments in the other. Philosophy played a crucial role in the two revolutions of 20th-century physics – namely, relativity and quantum mechanics – and continues to contribute both to foundational research in theoretical physics and to the articulation and critique of scientific method. Conversely, discoveries in physics provide profound implications for philosophical inquiry, such as the nature of space and time and the behaviour of matter at the quantum realm. Students on this course can expect to investigate not only central developments in both subjects, but also this interplay.
Oxford has one of the largest physics departments in the UK, with over 100 academics leading research that spans the breadth of physics. This expertise ensures the curriculum is updated in the light of developments in research. The Philosophy Faculty is the largest in the UK, with more than 70 full-time members; it admits around 450 undergraduates annually to read the various degrees involving Philosophy.
The Oxford research group in Philosophy of Physics is the largest in the world, with interests ranging from classical space-time theories and foundations of classical statistical mechanics, to quantum mechanics, quantum field theory and quantum gravity.
Philosophy of Physics runs through the first three years of the course. In the first year students delve into 18th-century investigations into matter and motion; in Years 2 and 3 they investigate the philosophical foundations of relativity and quantum mechanics. The fourth-year MPhysPhil options bring you to the threshold of current research. In this year students may specialise in either Physics or Philosophy, or continue with a combination, including advanced study in the Philosophy of Physics. Alternatively, students may complete the course in three years, leaving with a BA.