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Books to read if you’re a Philosophy student

About to start Philosophy at Exeter? Or are you a Philosophy student looking for something different? Philosophy lecturers from the department have given us their suggestions for a number of titles that inspired their interest in Philosophy:

Dr Edward Skidelsky: The Great Philosophers by Bryan Magee

“A chatty introduction to the history of Western philosophy, based on a series of television interviews conducted by Magee in the 1980s. Very clear and readable”.

Professor Michael Hauskeller: The Philosopher’s Dog by Raimond Gaita 

“A great read on the nature of the mind, about what it means to be a human and an animal, and how we can understand each other”.

Dr Staffan Müller-Wille: Discovering Plato by Alexandre Koyré 

“He not only explains Plato’s philosophy very well, but at the same time raises the question of what philosophy actually is about”.

Dr Joel Krueger: Zen Action, Zen Person by Thomas P. Kasulis 

“This book awakened my interest in Zen Buddhism – and non-western philosophy more generally – and serves as an important reminder that profound philosophical resources exist outside the standard Western canon”.

 Professor David Inglis: No Exit, and Three Other Plays by Jean-Paul Sartre

“Jean-Paul Sartre wrote plays andnovels to introduce readers to his philosophy ofexistentialism, which in turn drew upon earlier major philosophers. These plays are an enjoyable introduction to central themes in French and German philosophy, and are absorbing to read in their own right, as they contain intense dramatic situations”.


Gemma Joyce

Philosophy: The student experience

GemmaJoyce picture

Philosophy finalist Gemma Joyce shares her experiences of studying at Exeter.

Studying Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Exeter has been great fun and has massively complemented my choice of a career in journalism.

At the end of my second year I became editor of Exeter’s award winning student paper, Exeposé – something I’d definitely recommend getting involved in. If you’re interested in the media, Exeter has a wide range of student publications from academic journals to music magazines. We also have radio and television production societies, but the opportunities aren’t just limited to Exeter – my experience at Exeposé proved hugely helpful in my applications for work experience elsewhere and I successfully got placements at The Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post while studying – something the department was very supportive of.

My degree’s flexible hours helped fit my time around the demands of running the paper and doing regular essays and exams really helped to hone my writing skills. Moving forward, I’m going to do a Masters in Newspaper Journalism at City University London, the best course available for trainee journalists in the country – something I couldn’t do without my degree from Exeter.

Gemma Joyce, BA Philosophy and Sociology, Year 3

An introduction to the Philosophy Society

Dan Mason, President of the Philosophy Society, offers you an introduction to what you can expect in the coming year.

The Philosophy Society is unique because of the nature of the subject. Since philosophy provides the foundation (obviously or not) to all human intellectual endeavor, the Society is uniquely placed to offer speakers on a wide variety of topics and to collaborate with a wide variety of other societies and groups. It is an incredibly tight-knit group, and a very friendly and welcoming one.

As a fresher I went to nearly all the Philosophy Society events and became friends with the committee and the regular attendees. The Exmouth beach event at the end of Freshers’ Week was very enjoyable, and helped me to get to know the other members better.

I found that I had such a wonderful time with people, and such a passion to see the Society succeed that I wanted to be in a position where I could try to make that happen, so I decided to run for President, and was elected this year.

In the coming year I want to see the Society grow, to see more people coming to our events and socials and also see more people contributing to our THINK! journal. The Society will definitely involve a wide variety of speakers and social events alongside more intellectual debate and work amongst those that feel confident enough to do so.

Above all, expect a warm and friendly atmosphere where your opinion is counted, even if it isn’t agreed with, which let’s be honest is why philosophy exists.

You can find the Philosophy Society on Facebook here and Twitter here.


Gemma Joyce


What SPA students think of studying at Exeter

We asked students what it’s like study to study Sociology, Philosophy or Anthropology at Exeter. Here’s what they said!

Dan Mason, BA Philosophy, Year 1:

“Studying Philosophy at Exeter is a fulfilling experience: the subject has a lot of freedom and it rewards hard work and determined effort. The department contains world class staff ready to support us students.”

James Beeson, BA Politics, Philosophy and Economics, Year 2:

“Studying Philosophy at Exeter has been a challenging but rewarding experience. I have really enjoyed the wide variety of modules on offer, and found the topics to be stimulating. The seminars are always well prepared and led, making for an enlightening experience.”

Katharina Becker, BA Philosophy and Sociology, Year 3

“What makes studying Philosophy at Exeter so great is the lecturers; they’re all simply fantastic people. Also studying Philosophy at university is probably the last time you can concern yourself with things most people find trivial such as what human nature is and what matters most to us existentially.”


Gemma Joyce, Jason Chang and Ciarán Daly

5 important tips for SPA graduates

Graduation isn’t all about goodbyes – there are plenty of ways to stay connected to the University! Check out these tips to find out how you can continue to benefit from services offered at Exeter:

1. You have access to My Career Zone for 3 more years!

This means you’ll be able to access their resources and search for internships and jobs even while you’re not in Exeter. All of the details on careers services you can access once you graduate are available here.

2. Exeter alumni continue to get special access to library resources!

While you might not miss spending hours puzzling over what floor the Communist Manifesto is on or getting annoyed at someone for eating crisps in the silent study rooms the library can continue to offer you learning opportunities after you graduate. Exeter alumni have free access to online resources like JSTOR and becoming a member means you can still take out books from the library and use inter-library loans!

3. Join the Exeter Alumni groups on social media

Don’t forget to join the Exeter alumni group on LinkedIn – it’s a great way to stay connected and there could be potential for a career boost if you’re lucky! There’s also a Facebook and Twitter page to stay up to date with.

4. Make the most of Graduation Week

Sadly this could be the last time you and all of your course friends are all together. Since most SPA graduations will take place early on in the week you’ll have plenty of time to party and take photos – enjoy!

5. Be proud!

Congratulations, you’ve done it! You’re now joining an enormous and diverse group of incredible Exeter alumni. Just don’t forget where it all began and remember that there are all kinds of opportunities the University can offer its graduates after they leave.


Gemma Joyce

Gallery – Philosophy students enjoy Hay-on-Wye Festivals

Last week nine students from the Philosophy Society travelled to the quaint town of Hay-on-Wye to attend the Hay Books Festival and the HowTheLightGetsIn Philosophy Festival where they camped by the riverside and attended a variety of intellectual talks and live music performances.

While the weather wasn’t great it didn’t dampen the students’ spirits and they described HowTheLightGetsIn as ‘carnival-like’ and ‘fun’, hosting performances and talks from Frank Turner, Alex Salmond and David Mitchell.

Dan Mason, current president of the Philosophy Society thoroughly enjoyed the trip: “We experienced the buzz of exotic foods, surprisingly entertaining fireworks and an overly enthusiastic, and we reckoned drunk, fortune teller. All in all it was a great experience and a lovely end to what has been for me an amazing year. As president I certainly hope to do it again next year, with continued Guild support.”

Outgoing president Holly Day was equally impressed: “This Philosophy Society trip to Hay-on-Wye has been a fantastic experience – not only have the various talks we’ve attended been intellectually stimulating and provoked heated debate, but it has been a great opportunity to get to know the other members of the society better. It has been a great end to the year for the Philosophy Society, as the range of talks attended by our members is incredible.”

Here are some photos taken by students who attended (Click for higher resolution!)


Interview: SPA Subject Chair Theo Stone

Photo credit: Edwin Yeung

Theo Stone is Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Subject Chair. We chat to him about his plans for the coming year.

Introduce yourself!

I’m 18 and slowly completing my first year of Philosophy. Among my various extra-curricular activities, I currently serve as one of the Online Features Editor for Exeposé and I can also play a few instruments to a questionable level of quality, which I currently do in the Symphony and the Concert Band.

Could you tell us a bit about your role as Subject Chair and what it entails?

My role as Subject Chair means that I oversee the departmental Student Staff Liaison Committee in order to ensure that the academic representatives are able to successfully do their jobs. This means that I am required to chair the meetings that are held by the aforementioned SSLC, assist on any movements on any relevant issues, and oversee campaigns that have been instigated by the committee.

What do you enjoy about your role?

The main area of enjoyment arises from the fact that it means that I can help to make a difference within the confines of the SPA department, as well as the fact that I can play a part in ensuring that the department maintains its exceptionally high standards.

What are your main aims for this year as Subject Chair?

One of my primary aims is to get rid of some of the ‘Committee Apathy’ that seems to permeate large swathes of the student population. Part of my plan to combat this involves bringing the SPA SSLC onto Social Media. We now have a Twitter feed, and there’s a Facebook page/group in the works. Alongside this, I’d like to ensure that we see a greater turnout with the National Student Survey, seeing as how turnout numbers within this particular department haven’t exactly been favourable in recent years when compared to numbers in other departments.

Another aim is to ensure that the SPA SSLC is able to reach its full potential over the next academic year. This year we’ve seen Politics lead the charge in a number of areas. Pavel Kondov and his team have done an amazing job for this year and they’ve had a phenomenal amount of success with registration for the General Election, the Bulgarian Elections, and the ‘Basics of British Politics’ project. It’d be great to see SPA reaching the same giddy heights next year. If an opportunity arises for us to make a difference, I’m going to go ahead and grab it by the horns and not let go.

How do you balance your role alongside your academic work and other activities?

More tea than I’m willing to admit.

You can follow the SPA SSLC on Twitter here!


Gemma Joyce


6 things to do in Exeter when you’re done for the year

The end of exams can be a confusing time. Is it really over? What to do?! Now you’ve come to the end of a busy year treat yourself by enjoying Exeter at its sunny finest.

1. Check out all the restaurants and cafés you’ve been meaning to all year

After spending the last three weeks in the library it can come as a surprise to remember that life exists outside of the campus bubble. Forget the meal deals and the curly fries and head to the city centre to check out what culinary delights are on offer.

2. Go crazy at the Quay

If the sun is out take your friends down to the Quay to chill by the river. If you’ve got cash to splash hire out a canoe and drift down to the Double Locks for a pint – just try not to fall in.

3. Shop shop shop! 

Exams don’t leave much time to update your wardrobe for the summer and many students, through some Student Finance miracle, tend to receive more money for this term. If you’ve got lots left over then make the most out of Exeter’s brilliant range of shops.

4. Make the most of the library

Once you’ve taken all those horribly heavy revision books back don’t forget that the library isn’t just about academic reading. Make the most of having thousands of books at your fingertips and discover something new to read now you don’t have to trawl through your compulsory reading. The library also has an extensive DVD selection, so you can host a movie night free of charge!

5. Visit all of Exeter’s landmarks

You’ve probably seen the Cathedral but have you ventured up Parliament Street, the narrowest street in England? Or visited the famous underground passages? There’s plenty to see and do that may have escaped you so far – why not have a look?

6. Go exploring!

There are plenty of places to visit in the South West that don’t take long on the train. Exmouth beach, the Donkey Sanctuary and Totnes Castle aren’t far away and can make a great day trip for your and your friends.


Gemma Joyce

SPA blog among shortlisted entries for CSSIS Student Engagement Awards!

The Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology Undergraduate News blog has been shortlisted for the Student Led Project of the Year prize in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies Student Engagement Awards.

Over 50 projects have been nominated for the various awards on offer which include SSLC of the Year, Outstanding Commitment to Representation, Legacy Award, Inspiring Rep, Outstanding Undergraduate Chair and Outstanding Postgraduate Chair.

The winners of the CSSIS Student Engagement Awards will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 1st of June. The event will begin at 5 o’clock and include a project showcase where leaders of the blog project will be available to discuss its progress.

The full shortlist is available here.


Gemma Joyce

Interview: Staffan Müller-Wille

Photo Mai 2013

1. Please could you introduce yourself and your areas of research?

I am Staffan Müller-Wille, Associate Professor in the Department for Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, and Professor at the University of Lübeck. In my research I look at how scientists in the past processed information to come up with theories of the natural world. For this, I specialize in two areas, the history of natural history – botany, zoology, mineralogy – in the eighteenth century, and the history of heredity and genetics from Darwin to roughly the 1950s, when molecular biology began to change what it meant to do biology.

2. What sparked your interest in the life sciences and how did you get into the field?

My first postgraduate degree was an MSc in Geology at the Free University of Berlin. Specializing in palaeontology, the study of fossils, I became intrigued by what biologists call the species problem: How do we distinguish kinds of plants and animals, and are these distinctions “cutting nature at its joints”, or of our own making. I soon realized that the debates that raged around this problem in my own discipline did not provide satisfying answers to the problem, and began auditing history and philosophy of science classes. (I like to tell that, back then, you could study as long as you wanted, and whatever you wished, at German universities.) I was then lucky enough to be offered a PhD-scholarship to do science studies at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, and from then on, I had become a humanities scholar, who did not look at science “from within”, but treated it like other cultural phenomena like literature or the arts.

3. Could you explain briefly what Egenis is and your work within it?

Egenis is a research centre that was originally funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of a whole network of such centres from 2002 to 2013 that examined the social and economic implications of recent developments in the life sciences, very much against the background of the rapid advances that were made in the life sciences due to the development of genomic technologies, that is, technologies that allow to sequence and study whole genomes rather than isolated genes. Questions surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms in agriculture, embryonic stem cells, or tests for heritable diseases, were hotly debated in the public, and the ESRC wanted to prepare the ground for informed discussion through basic research on the disciplines involved. In 2013, funding ran out, but we decided to carry on, keeping the acronym Egenis (which had become a kind of trademark internationally), but calling ourselves Centre for the Study of the Life Sciences to widen our remit (instead of ESRC Research Centre for Genomics in Society, hence the acronym). Our research now spans the sociology of medicine and health care, historical, sociological and philosophical studies of data-intensive science, as well as ontological questions raised by the most recent developments in systems biology and microbiology. I am one of the co-directors of the Centre, and along with my colleagues Sabina Leonelli and John Dupré, I simply try to keep the Centre going by organising research seminars and events, networking with research groups elsewhere, and fundraising.

4. What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on the history and philosophy of modern systematics, the discipline in biology that studies biodiversity. I am particularly interested in two questions: How did the many conventions emerge that govern the naming and classifying of organisms since the late eighteenth century, and how did they change our perception of living nature? A particular interest of mine in this context is the conceptualization of evolutionary relations among plant and animal species, relations like parasitism or mimicry, which seem to be “evil” and “deceptive”, but do drive evolution.

5. Tell us a bit about your work as Editor-In-Chief of History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

As editor of an international and interdisciplinary journal like History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences one bears a lot of responsibility, not only for the journal itself, but also for how the field develops. This means two things need to be kept in a balance. On the one hand, you need to secure quality standards by choosing specilist reviewers for each manuscript that is submitted for publication to provide feedback, but also by editing the manuscripts yourself. This is a very time consuming task which unfortunately is not valued very much by institutions. On the other hand, one needs to be very careful not to introduce a bias. Especially contributions from early-career scholars, or scholars from non-English speaking countries are sometimes not so polished but bring in a new perspective that the discipline finds difficult to accommodate. In such cases, the editor sometimes needs to apply his judgement, and pass a manuscript that reviewers, and perhaps the editor themselves, were very sceptical of.

6. What advice would you give to students looking to get into research like yours?

The standard advice that a lot of colleagues give, and that I can only repeat, is develop and follow your own interests! Research has a lot to do with the passion of wanting to know something despite all obstacles. Without that passion, one can perhaps do good routine research, but will never be able to fuel one’s own original research programme. This is why academics don’t like to talk about money, or claim to be “objective” and “disinterested”. You’re not into it for reward, but for the higher goal of “truth” (whatever that is). It is a little bit like being an artist: serious artists don’t want to please their publics, but pursue their own, often obscure aesthetic goals.

7. What modules are you teaching next year?

I will be teaching Philosophy of Nature, a second year module I have been teaching for six years now. I have grown a bit tired of teaching this module, not because of its content – it’s about how, in the past and in the present, philosophers have reflected on nature, how we know it, and what values we attach to it – but because you do grow tired as a lecturer repeating yourself from year to year. So I plan to revamp this course over the summer. The other two undergraduate modules I teach are: “The Human Condition: Classic Readings in Anthropology”, where students are asked to read and reflect on some classic books in anthropology, including, for example, Darwin on the descent of man, and Engels on the bourgeois family; and philosophy dissertations, were I help students define their dissertation topic and find supervisors, hold lectures on how to write a dissertation, and supervise students myself. I also teach a postgraduate module on “Cultures of the Life Sciences”, an introduction to history and philosophy of the life sciences.

You can find out more about Staffan on his staff page here.


Gemma Joyce