Philosophy, Politics & Economics

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Philosophy, Politics & Economics

Directors of Studies:
Dr Nicholas Waghorn (Philosophy) (PPE Co-ordinator)
Mr Alexander Barker (Politics)
Dr George Bitsakakis (Economics)

PPE brings together some of the most important approaches to understanding society, history and the world around us, developing skills useful for a whole range of future careers and activities.


Studying Philosophy, you will develop analytical rigour and the ability to criticise and reason logically and be able to apply these skills to questions concerning how we acquire knowledge or how we make ethical judgements. Philosophical questions can be found at the root of most academic disciplines, from the sciences (‘How do we choose between two theories when the data does not determine between them?’) to the arts (‘Must art be moral?’), and can cover the most fundamental and abstract issues (‘What is it for something to be considered “real”?’) to those of great practical importance (‘What is the most ethical way to allocate healthcare resources?’).

The study of Politics provides a thorough understanding of the impact of political institutions on modern societies. It helps you to evaluate the choices that political systems must regularly make, to explain the processes that maintain or change those systems, and to examine the concepts and values used in political analysis. Politics at Oxford also encompasses the study of sociology, exploring the influence on politics of socio-economic divisions such as gender, race, and class, and international relations, analysing the interactions between states on the global stage. The course offers a great depth in options, with second- and third-year students able to study in detail the politics of a region such as Europe, the Middle East, or Sub-Saharan Africa, or the thought of such complex political philosophers as Plato, Hobbes, and Marx.

Economics is the study of the determinants of individual behaviour (for consumers, producers and firms) as well as the analysis of aggregate conduct, as this refers to entities such as national or supranational governments. Problems addressed encompass: decision making under perfect or bounded rationality for all economic agents including policy makers, the international allocation of resources, the nature and causes of wealth, growth and business cycles, the promotion of distributive justice and welfare. An appreciation of economic theory and the general workings of the economy has become increasingly necessary to make sense of governmental policy-making, the conduct of businesses, financial crises and the enormous changes in economic systems occurring currently throughout the world.


PPE at Oxford


All three branches of PPE at Oxford have an international reputation, supported by more than 200 teachers and scholars of the highest calibre. You will also be able to attend lectures given by the many distinguished visitors to Oxford each year.


PPE at Oxford is a very flexible course which allows you to study all three branches, or to specialise in two of them after the first year.


Although a higher background in Mathematics is not formally required for admission, PPE applicants should have sufficient interest in, and aptitude for, mathematics to cope with the mathematical elements of the course. Mathematics is a particular advantage for the Economics component of the course, as well as for the first year Logic course in philosophy and for understanding theories and data in politics.


Last year around 90% of the applicants who were offered places for PPE had studied Maths to at least AS-Level, or equivalent. You may like to consider taking Maths to AS-level, or an equivalent qualification such as IB Standard Level, even if you do not pursue it further. It is useful to have learnt the basics of differentiation and integration (calculus) along with some elementary probability analysis before starting your university course in PPE.



PPE at St Benet’s Hall


St Benet’s Hall is endowed with a very dynamic PPE team with a proven academic “track record”. The Hall admits up to three (3) undergraduates in PPE a year (in recent years, even four students have been admitted, reflecting the exceptional calibre of our applicants). The nature of the academic programme is identical throughout Oxford, although St Benet’s Hall students have been positive about the amount of individual attention they receive as members of a relatively small cohort. PPE-ists are also taught alongside those reading for other degrees, such as History and Politics, and Philosophy and Theology.


Many St Benet’s Hall PPE-ists get involved in University-wide clubs and societies to develop their academic interests. Recent graduates have gone on to work in the Civil Service, the private sector or to pursue further study.


Teaching is partly delivered in the Hall, but as in all colleges, especially in the 2nd and 3rd year, a range of tutors are called upon from outside to deliver the wide variety of optional papers available.


Philosophy at St Benet’s Hall


A student undertaking a philosophy course at St Benet’s will find himself with considerable facilities. The Hall maintains a substantial and up-to-date philosophy library, covering both the history of the discipline and all modern topics, and the main philosophy library for the University is less than five minutes’ walk away. Between PPE, Classics and Philosophy and Theology students, students studying philosophy at St Benet’s will be a part of a large and vibrant intellectual community, with discussions begun in tutorials spilling over into the JCR and mealtimes! The Hall is extremely well provided for in terms of academics, with three research fellows in philosophy and a college lecturer, who research a wide variety of philosophical topics such as the work of Wittgenstein, philosophy of religion, metaphysics and applied ethics. The number of philosophy academics means that students can be taught by Hall tutors for the vast majority of core papers; for less commonly taken optional papers the standard practice is to send students out to tutors at other Colleges who have expertise in the relevant field.


Dr Nicholas Waghorn is the Director of Studies in Philosophy and the PPE Co-ordinator. His research focuses on certain concepts in fundamental ontology, such as ‘nothing’, and issues concerning the value and meaning of life, in both Continental and analytic philosophy. He is currently engaged in work on a book based on this research, tentatively titled Nothingness and the Meaning of Life. His teaching covers General Philosophy (Preliminary Examinations core paper), Knowledge and Reality (Final Examinations core paper), Philosophy of Mind and Philosophy of Religion, amongst others (see course outline below). In the past he has taught for Lincoln College and Regent’s Park College, and examined MSt and MPhil theses in Philosophical Theology for the University.


Politics at St Benet’s Hall


Politics is a popular option at St Benet’s. The library boasts many new additions to the Politics section, and while we teach several papers in-house we have good relationships with expert scholars across the university, who can offer students cutting edge teaching in specialist papers.


Mr Alexander Barker is Director of Studies in Politics. His research explores the possibility of grounding the duties of justice we owe each other in our participation in a scheme of cooperation. He teaches the Prelims course Introduction to Politics: Theorizing the Democratic State, and the Finals courses Theory of Politics, History of Political Thought: Plato to Rousseau, and History of Political Thought: Bentham to Weber. He also teaches for St Catherine’s College and Corpus Christi College.


Economics at St Benet’s Hall


Economics is a popular option too at St Benet’s. Our library carries most econ textbooks needed and has been recently updated so that it meets a high standard. Moreover, students can access the Bodleian, the Social Science Library and the Said Business School Library to trace publications in economics.


Dr George Bitsakakis is the Director of Studies in Economics. He is a mathematical economist with research interests in endogenous growth theory, stochastic general equilibrium models, optimal taxation, innovation and IPR, asset pricing, public goods, dynamical systems and perturbation theory, the history of economic thought and finally the philosophy & epistemology of economics. He has just completed an Advanced Linear Algebra book and a monograph on Asset Pricing of European Call Options, while he is half way through with [a] a History of Econ Thought book entitled Value, Distribution and Money: from Antiquity to the Classical School and [b] a Public Economics textbook and quite a few scientific articles. He has taught extensively at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, USA), the University of Athens (Greece), the LSE and the University of Oxford. Out of his 22 years of teaching and research experience he has spent the last 11 serving as a Fellow & Tutor in Economics, first at Brasenose College and then at Pembroke College (Oxford). In that capacity he has lectured for the Economics Department and acted as the advisor to econ post-graduates. He teaches regularly at the undergraduate and post-graduate level Micro- & Macro-economics and a variety of option papers including Public Economics, Economics of Industry, Mathematical Methods, Micro-economic Theory, Quantitative Economics etc. He acts as the convener of two Advanced Papers for the Economic & Social History (ESH) MSc & MPhil degrees: (a) History of Economic Thought and (b) Philosophy & Methodology of Economics. Finally, he also teaches for Lady Margaret Hall and St John’s College.


There is always something to do and see in Oxford: aside from the tourist attractions, the university boasts various societies and clubs which cater for everyone’s tastes and preferences, and the city offers a similarly varied night life, with restaurants, cinemas and night clubs galore. Because of the size of St Benet’s, you’ll likely make a small number of very close friends rather than a large number of not-so-close friends. This said, the Hall encourages its students to take full advantage of the wider university – something a larger college, because of its size, fails to do. Benet’s itself is also distinguished in the university for its friendly and welcoming atmosphere, especially noticeable in its tradition of welcoming guests to formal meals three times a week. Aside from the social, my degree, PPE, is also well catered for at Benet’s. I have found that it really opens one's mind to the world and changes the way you think about life and the world around you. Chris Lake – recent PPE Finalist


Course Structure


1st year

2nd and 3rd years



All three branches of PPE are studied equally.



  • General philosophy

  • Moral philosophy

  • Elementary logic



  • Theorising the democratic state

  • Analysis of democratic institutions in the

UK, France, Germany and the USA



  • Introductory Microeconomics: the functioning of the free enterprise market economy

  • Introductory Macroeconomics: national output, employment, exchange rates, monetary & fiscal policy

  • Introductory Mathematical Methods: infinitesimal calculus and optimisation techniques with applications

Students choose to continue with all three branches or, concentrate on any two, taking compulsory courses in the chosen branches along with optional courses.


Compulsory Core Courses:



Either Early Modern Philosophy, or Plato’s Republic; or Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics; or Knowledge & Reality; Ethics


Politics (any two): Comparative Government; British Politics and Government since 1900; Theory of Politics; International Relations; Political Sociology


Economics: Core Micro- & Core Macro-economics; Quantitative Economics


Optional Courses:

More than 50 choices across areas, including: Post-Kantian Philosophy; Later Wittgenstein; Politics in Sub-Saharan Africa; Political thought: Plato to Rousseau; Public Economics, Industrial Organisation, International Economics; Money & Banking, Economics of Developing Countries etc.



First University preliminary examinations:
Three (3) written exam papers.



Final University examinations:
Eight (8) written papers, one of which can be replaced by a thesis in any of the three areas.


Student Profile