UCL or Kings for PhilosophyWatch
Which university is better for Philosophy should I choose to apply to read Philosophy at university from September 2021. I know UCL is considered marginally better than Kings as a whole for reputation, however I have been informed that Kings is better for Philosophy. If I do study Philosophy I may wish to return in a few years to study a Masters in Philosophy and I wish to continue at the same institution where I studied my undergrad degree. Has anyone read Philosophy at either of these institutions? For background I am more interested in classical Philosophy and Philosophy of Religion. I have no interest in Political Philosophy but I know that introduction to Political Philosophy is a compulsory module in first year at both UCL and Kings. I am OK with studying it to achieve a balanced Philosophical education however I don’t want to specialise in Political Philosophy as I find it dull and I don’t like Politics at all.
What's your opinion on "theoretical philosophy" such as epistemology, metaphysics, logic, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, etc? They are typically heavy components of all British philosophy degrees, including Kings and UCL, but are less likely to be studied before uni than the sort of stuff you mention.
Some comparisons between the courses at each:*
- The 'methodology' module. Kings has a module called "Methodology" to match UCL's "Philosophical Study Skills". UCL's is essentially a weekly tutorial of 4 with a PhD student studying some text of the tutor's interest with the aim of developing your philosophical and essay writing skills. Kings' module is completely different: it introduces key philosophical concepts which are useful to all philosophical reading & analysis e.g. set theory, modality, reference, probability, decision theory and game theory.
- Kings involves more "theoretical philosophy" than UCL. Where UCL just has "knowledge and reality" (i.e. epistemology and metaphysics) as one module, Kings has both "Metaphysics I" and "Epistemology I" as two modules. Kings seems to study a broader range of topics and study it in more depth.
- UCL is slightly more logic intensive. It has two compulsory logic modules to Kings' one. All these modules are assessed and taught the same way. They both use the logic textbook I used to study logic (my professor wrote it hehe) - it's reasonably mathematical. The content is pretty similar, in spite of UCL having two modules - the second module is also based on the same logic manual, however it does begin to extend beyond this. I imagine UCL is thus more logic intensive and requires deeper knowledge and better ability because it dedicates more two terms rather than one to logic.
Those are the main differences in 1st year; otherwise their 1st years are broadly similar.
- Ancient Philosophy. Called "History of Philosophy I" on the UCL main website and "Greek Philosophy" at Kings. Kings includes study of the Presocratics (its speciality) and Socrates, which UCL does not. UCL involves a lot more Plato (6 weeks compared to 2 at Kings).
- Early Modern Philosophy. Note that what Kings calls "modern philosophy" is equivalent to what the UCL main website calls "History of Philosophy II"/what the UCL philosophy website calls "Early Modern Philosophy". Both focus on studying Descartes and Hume's key ideas in epistemology and metaphysics and on textual study.
- Political Philosophy. Pretty similar at both. Kings probably has a slightly broader syllabus; but UCL requires more depth of knowledge (or so it seems).
- Ethics. What UCL calls "Introduction to Moral Philosophy". UCL's syllabus looks a little eclectic and exciting here! It has a slight historical bent to it, focusing on Kant and Hume. Kings' syllabus looks a little more in line with my expectation and is a pretty strong spec - it's a lot broader.
- Slightly different assessment format. At Kings, the essay subjects (i.e. not logic, not "methodology" - there are 6) require 1 essay (1500 words) during study + 1 exam, as well as 3 hours of contact per module per week. This is uniform for 6 modules. At UCL, there is less uniformity - but they tend towards a little bit more work but it seems to rely a lot more on coursework.
Obviously I won't comment on all the options, just the choice:
- All optional modules for both.
- UCL more optional: both require you to take 6 modules from 3 groups, but Kings requires 2 from each group where UCL only requires 1 from each group
- Historical Philosophy: Kings focuses more on Ancient and Early Modern Philosophy, with modules on Plato; Aristotle; Locke and Berkeley; Spinoza and Leibniz. UCL offers a more varied selection: Kant and Aristotle as well as offerings from sociology/politics in the form of Nietzsche, Hegel, Marx.
- Theoretical Philosophy: Kings offers a pretty typical smattering of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, intermediate logic, and philosophy of physics. UCL offers epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, phil of language, philosophy of science (incl of medicine), logic as well as an interesting quasi-historical paper on recent developments in philosophy of language. KCL doesn't offer philosophy of science until 3rd year.
- Practical Philosophy: seemingly, UCL's speciality, with options in: aesthetics, law, democracy, political philosophy, game theory, 2 different modules in practical ethics, and ethics. KCL offers a more historical approach with options in: history of ethics, ethics, history of political philosophy, and applied ethics & politics. UCL definitely wins on variety; KCL wins on historicity.
- Further modules: KCL requires you to do 2 more modules from a very wide variety of options including gender & philosophy, Indian philosophy, medieval philosophy, continental philosophy and even female thinkers in antiquity & the middle ages (which i've unfortunately seen nowhere else) etc. - the variety is impressive. It's unclear whether UCL offers this level of variety.
- Study abroad: KCL offers the opportunity to study for a full year abroad. I can't see anywhere telling me that this is also true of UCL.
- Again, all optional modules.
- KCL requires 8 modules from a very very wide range similar to above including Philosophy of Religion. KCL's options are perhaps more historically minded, as well as focus on marginalised philosophies (e.g. Indian, gender)
- UCL requires 8 modules from a wide range (not as wide though) including Philosophy of Religion. It has more of a focus on links to other subjects (politics, economics, sociology, art) and practical philosophy from the looks of things.
- Both offer options to do dissertations or research projects
- Both offer the opportunity to take modules from other departments: KCL offers up to 2 from KCL/University of London (including UCL, lol); UCL offers up to 4 from other UCL departments
I think KCL's more traditional historical focus suits you more, from the sounds of things.
Frankly, the degrees are so similar you'd think one of them copied the other. I can't know this for sure, but the impression I get is that KCL's teaching is better - they have a better department, specialise in philosophy and seem to provide better and more teaching. Also, they seem to have a wider variety of and more specialist modules, and to have better opportunities. Strangely, then, UCL's standards seem higher - it seems to require more in depth knowledge and a bit more submitted work. But all of this is very slight - they're more similar than different!
*Disclaimer: UCL haven't uploaded their Philosophy BA 2021 spec so I used the 2020 one. I've based the comparison on the degree outlines on their website as well as looking at individual module descriptions, past syllabi and reading lists.