What it’s like studying Philosophy at NTU

Now that everyone is starting to get their university placement results, I thought it would be good to share my experiences as a Philosophy major at NTU with students who may want to take up some Philosophy modules.

What made me choose Philosophy?

When I applied for university two years ago, philosophy was within my top two choices. I was always interested in humanities, and one of my favourite books — Demian by Hermann Hesse — referenced a lot of different philosophers and theories, such as Nietzsche and, in a way, touched on existentialism. I also felt that it would have allowed me to learn more from different disciplines since many social sciences branched out from philosophy to become their own study.

Furthermore, I could take modules from other majors such as psychology and have them counted as a major prescribed elective instead of an unrestricted elective. Hence, I was quite happy when I was accepted; I felt that I could not only strengthen my knowledge and interest in Philosophy, but also learn more about my topics of interest such as existentialism, perception, and epistemology.

Courses I took in Year 1:

In semester 1, I was pre-allocated ‘Introduction to Philosophy’ and ‘Symbolic Logic,’ but I heard from a friend that ‘Introduction to Chinese Philosophy’ has been added. However, as I am unsure, I will just talk more about the two courses I took.

Introduction to Philosophy:

Introduction to Philosophy is necessary to take to study other philosophy modules, such as Early Modern Philosophy or Philosophy of Science. In Introduction to Philosophy, we explored ideas such as ‘Cartesian Thought’ and Meditations by Descartes, Anselm’s Ontological Argument, and broader ideas such as ‘The Problem of Evil’ and Free-Will. Since my classes were held during Covid times, my professor streamed his lectures on Twitch every week, followed by a face-to-face tutorial.

There was one lecture and one tutorial per week, where the topics explored are based on the reading for the week. Reading materials are uploaded in advance at the beginning of the semester on NTU’s Blackboard portal. So, for those who want to read more in advance, you can definitely do so! In my opinion, the lectures have more in-depth discussions over the topic, where the students were able to ask more questions to the professor, whereas tutorials are based on a more summarised topic with an in-class activity.

As for exams, Introduction to Philosophy does not have any formal exams, but there are mid-term tests. The tests were more of short-answered questions based on the topics, such as explaining what double cruxes are or our understanding on things such as the problem of evil. However, even though we don’t have finals, we need to write a final essay. The topics will be given a few weeks before the deadline, and you will need to write around a 1500-word essay? I can’t really remember, but since it is a 1K module, the word count isn’t that high. I remember for my 2K, 3K and 4K mods, the word count could go up to 3000 or 4000 words. For the essays, you must adhere to the word count with a leeway of +/- 10% of the suggested word count.

Symbolic Logic:

However, Symbolic Logic was quite different. Symbolic Logic is similar to Formal Logic, which I understand is studied by Computer Science Majors. Honestly, I did not enjoy this module very much because it reminded me of math… However, it is compulsory. For Symbolic Logic, there is a 3-hour seminar per week, with no tutorial. Seminars are essentially a mixture of lectures and tutorials, all at one go. There are also weekly readings uploaded on Blackboard, and homework. My professor was Professor Olav, who has since left NTU. I am unsure if the current professor teaching the module will assign homework. But, for us, we had weekly homework, which then we would upload on Blackboard for marking before the seminar.

Since Symbolic Logic is more equation based —

For example:

(Screenshot is taken from an answer sheet from my Symbolic Logic homework)

We had more traditional tests based on what was learnt. However, we did not have an official final examination like other modules have. Our mid-terms and final tests were taken inside the lecture theatre during our seminar. Moreover, since we did not have a formal exam, our grades were based on tests, homework, and class participation.

Introduction to Chinese Philosophy:

I took this module in semester 2, alongside Moral Philosophy and Early Modern Philosophy. Similarly, like Introduction to Philosophy, we had one lecture and one tutorial per week based on the different weekly readings assigned and topics learnt. For Introduction to Chinese Philosophy, we learnt about various Chinese Philosophers and their schools of thought, such as Confucius, Laozi, Mengzi, Xunzi, Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, and Chan Buddhism, to name a few.

For testing, we had three 200-word reflections to submit every two to three weeks, which were based on group discussions centred around topics discussed during tutorials. We also had a group presentation based on the reading for the week, meaning different groups presented every week dbased on the topic. We also had a pop-quiz, a short essay as a mid-term and a final 2000-word essay based on the topic we chose.

Moral Philosophy:

Moral Philosophy was one 3-hour seminar per week, and we studied topics on ethics such as Utilitarianism, Kantianism and Virtue Ethics. Like the rest, there is a weekly reading.

As for how we were graded, we had three pop quizzes spread throughout the semester, alongside a short 800-word objection essay for mid-terms based on the topic provided, and a final 2000-word essay based on the list of questions provided by my professor for the module.

Early Modern Philosophy:

Early Modern Philosophy delved into topics like metaphysics, and we studied Philosophers like David Hume. It was also another module that functioned with one lecture, and one tutorial per week. My tutorial occurred right after the lecture, so whatever was discussed was very fresh in my mind and the professor could be asked more in-depth questions.

For this module, we had two tests formatted with short, answered questions, and a final 2000-word essay based on the topics provided by the professor. Once again, the topics will only be sent around 2 to 3 weeks before the deadline.

My thoughts:

The philosophy modules I took in Year 1 definitely provided me with a good foundation of philosophy across different disciplines. As you progress, you can take more advanced modules such as Advanced Early Modern Philosophy and Advanced Chinese Philosophy, or more niche topic-based modules such as Epistemology or Perception. Moreover, the final essays (in my opinion) get tougher. While the topics were provided for me in all of my year 1 modules, for the modules I took in year 2 (Philosophy of Science and Perception), I had to create my own essay question based on the different topics learnt throughout the week. Creating the question to write about is tougher than writing the essay itself, because so much has already been written that sometimes I felt stumped on what to write about.

Moreover, I feel like the modules they assign in year 1 provide a broad selection of different philosophical topics that allow students to discover what they are more interested in. Hence, for those entering NTU for Philosophy this year, I hope this provided you with some knowledge of what to expect for the upcoming academic year, and for those just interested in Philosophy, I would definitely recommend taking these modules.

Other Resources:

For those interested in expanding their knowledge in Philosophy during the holidays, I recommend looking at Coursera or EdX and trying out some courses related to Philosophy. All NTU students have access to Coursera and EdX accounts, and some courses are even free after being subsidised by NTU, allowing you to obtain a certificate (and maybe even use as an MOOC).

For example, I am very interested in Chinese Philosophy. I took some courses on both Coursera and EdX, which explored Chinese Philosophy more in-depth, and it allowed me to refresh my memory on what I had learnt last year and better my knowledge. An example of a course I finished was EdX’s collaboration with Harvard titled ‘The Path to Happiness: What Chinese Philosophy Teaches us about the Good Life.’

Another resource would be YouTube. A popular choice is Philosophy Tube, as they have videos on different topics which are more summarised, and bite-sized. Hence, it might be easier to digest than reading traditional philosophy books. Moreover, the explanations are very modernised, so it is easier to understand since traditional philosophy can be quite confusing due to the usage of old English or even translations from different languages.

Hopefully this article is able to provide more insight for all of you! Happy studying and see you in school next semester! 😊

Want more insights on how it is to study Philosophy? Check out this article here!

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