Posted by: Alexandre Borovik | September 5, 2010

Philosophy is not a Mickey Mouse degree

In response to my previous post, someone brought my attention that BA in Combined studies in my own School of Mathematics also includes a number of seemingly bizarre combinations:

This honours programme leads to the degree of BA, although the Mathematics component can make up about two thirds of the overall course. Other subjects will usually be selected from the following areas:

  • Historical studies
  • Philosophy
  • Languages
  • Literary studies and Drama
  • Linguistics and related subjects
  • Classical Civilisation and Art History
  • Religious Studies and Comparative Religion
  • Built and Natural Environments
  • Jewish Studies
  • Film Studies

All these (with a possible exception of Built and Natural Environments and Film Studies which may have a different justification, and I do not want to argue against or for them) belong to a range of degree courses that I myself on many occasions proposed for paring with Mathematics: they are essay-based disciplines with strong emphasis on working with original sources and reading very hard texts. A combination of Mathematics with Philosophy produces a provably numerate and literate graduate who has good job prospects and, which is even more important, who had a chance to develop the intellectual and emotional core of his or her  personality.

I understand that it was great Sir Christopher Zeeman who, when he founded Mathematics Institute at Warwick, pioneered combined courses like Mathematics with Art History.


  1. Actually Chris Zeeman did more than that. He defined any other subject than Pure Maths, taught by the University, as Applied Maths.

    Thus it was common for maths students to study languages, something that later on became particularly useful when reading research papers.

    He was influenced by the US system where it is unusual to specialise in one subject and allowed students (subject to timetabling) to pursue any other subject they were interested in.

    Personally I wasn’t that adventurous and wasn’t keen on essay writing so choose subjects like Mathematical Economics (tauht by the Economics department) and Symbolic Logic (taught by the Philosphy department). Many of my friends chose to study French.

  2. Hello Alexander,

    For earlier ages, here is a book I came accross recently

    Math and Nonfiction for Grades 3-5.

    It (or Math and Fiction) could be the title of one of your new book’s chapters.

  3. This looks to be a wonderful honours programme – I see nothing bizarre about the grouping of those topics. I think working through those topics would truly show the aesthetic beauty of mathematics.

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