Duration: 3 years full time
UCAS code: VW56
Institution code: R72
Philosophy and History of Art and Visual Culture (BA)
This Joint Honours degree combines the study of Philosophy in equal measure with the study of History of Art and Visual Culture.
Our Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy and Department of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures have excellent reputations for research and teaching. Studying here means that you will learn from internationally renowned experts who will share their research and experience so that you gain invaluable skills for your future career.
At Royal Holloway we have a unique approach to Philosophy that looks beyond the narrow confines of the Anglo-American analytic or the European traditions of philosophy to focus on both —their relationship and connections between them. The result has been the creation of a truly interdisciplinary and collaborative course that brings together academic staff from departments across the university. Departmental specialisms include a wide range of philosophical topics such as philosophy of art, philosophy of literature ancient and Hellenistic philosophy, 19th and 20th Century European philosophy and contemporary analytic philosophy and American pragmatism.
If you have a passion for the visual arts, History of Art and Visual Culture will give you the skills to read, interpret and analyse images and artefacts across cultures. The research expertise of staff means you will engage in the key phases in the development of the history of art and visual culture and you will develop a creative and critical mindset, with excellent analytical abilities.
- Learn how to curate an exhibition, write interpretation and conserve artwork
- Develop critical thinking skills and hone your ability to argue convincingly in writing and orally
- Make use of our exceptional collection of Victorian Art housed in the Founder’s Picture Gallery
- Learn how to curate an exhibition, write interpretation and conserve artwork.
- Make use of our exceptional collection of Victorian Art housed in the Founder’s Picture Gallery.
Core ModulesYear 1
The ‘new philosophy’ of the seventeenth century set the modern philosophical agenda by asking fundamental questions concerning knowledge and understanding and the relation between science and other human endeavours, which subsequently became central to the European Enlightenment. This module aims to familiarise you with the origins of empiricist and rationalist/idealist thought, focussing on the work of Descartes and Locke. The module will enable you to develop your close reading skills, and will give you the opportunity to see how arguments are developed across the length of philosophical texts.
Knowledge is often thought to be the highest achievement of rational creatures, the thing that distinguishes us from other animals and is the basis of our ability to predict and control our environment. Beginning with the most Platonic of questions—‘what is knowledge?’—this course introduces you to basic topics in contemporary epistemology. Among the questions it goes on to address are: why is knowledge valuable?; how do we acquire knowledge and how do we pass it on to others?; how do we become better knowers?; is there such a thing as collective knowledge?; do animals have knowledge?; is there such a thing as knowledge at all?
In every aspect of our lives we are inundated by information and misinformation, claims and counter-claims: some people tell us we should believe this; others that we should believe that. Decisions have to be made; possible evidence has to be sifted; reasons have to be given; arguments have to be propounded; risks evaluated. All this requires the ability to reason critically: to distinguish between bad arguments and good ones, supporting evidence from mere distraction. Everybody has the basic ability to do this, but it is not always as developed we need it to be: and in this complex world being able to present your point forcefully and rationally is vitally important. The aim of this module is to help you develop the skills required to get the most out of their degree and beyond.
In this module you will develop an understanding of ancient philosophical ideas and the ways in which philosophical arguments are presented and analysed. You will look at the thought and significance of the principal ancient philosophers, from the Presocratics to Aristotle, and examine sample texts such as Plato's 'Laches' and the treatment of the virtue of courage in Aristotle, 'Nicomachean Ethics' 3.6-9.
In this module you will develop an understanding of the key tenets of film theory and learn to apply these to a selection of important pre- and post-war European and international films. You will look at aspects of film style, genre and national and international contexts.You will consider canonical works from a century of cinema history by filmmakers such as Joseph von Sternberg, Alfred Hitchcock and Pedro Almodovar, and examine significant examples of technique and style.
The purpose of this module is to provide students with an introduction to the early phase of film history. Broadly speaking, the module will be concerned with the period between 1895 and the early 1930s, from the invention of motion pictures to the establishment of sound cinema. During this phase, film-making was largely national but the absence of the spoken word gave film a truly cosmopolitan dimension, with directors, actors and technical personnel moving freely across national boundaries. Nonetheless distinctive national film cultures emerged, with Italy specialising in dramas set in the ancient world, France making ample use of theatre and popular literature, Germany developing the new medium within broader artistic phenomena such as Expressionism, the Soviets pioneering political montage, and, of module, Hollywood, and its studio system, popularising stars and genres across the world.
This module will introduce students to a number of different media encountered in the study of visual culture. By understanding the technical characteristics of a range of art works students will be able to assess the expressive and stylistic possibilities of offered by different media. Students will study a rich variety of visual cultures in Europe and Latin America from the Middle Ages to the present day. Mediaeval illuminated manuscripts, mural decorations in Renaissance Italy, sculpture, photography and fashion and textiles will be among the media that will be the object of our analysis this year.
In this module you will develop an understanding of how the rationalist and empiricist traditions in philosophy influence contemporary thought in the philosophy of mind. You will look at the continuing relevance of the mind-body problem to the question of what it is to be a human being and consider the connections between the analytic and European traditions in philosophy with respect to language, subjectivity, and the phenomenology of experience. You will also examine the importance of consciousness to contemporary debates in philosophy, psychology and cognitive science.
The module is divided into two parts, the first exploring crucial issues of filmmaking, film studies and the ‘transnational’ from the perspective of largely contemporary Latin American cinema, the second focusing on a range of European films from the 1970s to the present. The introductory two weeks of the module will introduce students to these concerns; the final two weeks of the module will bring both parts together and establish some conclusions (for example, what, if anything, constitutes a ‘European’ or ‘Latin American’ or ‘transnational’ film).
- Visual Arts II: Genre and Movements
You will also take one of the following modules:
The module looks at key texts by Immanuel Kant which are the foundation of Modern European Philosophy. These texts raise questions concerning the status of human knowledge and the nature and justification of human action that have concerned philosophers ever since. The module considers Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. The core theme of the module is how philosophy responds to the situation in which it can no longer rely on theological support for its claims about truth and morality. This raises questions about the nature of the human subject that are evident in the conjunction of the massive success of the modern natural sciences with an abiding worry as to whether sceptical objections to establishing true knowledge can be overcome. Kant sees these issues in terms of 'transcendental philosophy' establishing the limits of knowledge by seeing what the necessary conditions of knowledge are.
This module will explore the central developments in modern philosophy occurring between the foundation of modern empiricism and rationalism by Locke and Descartes in the 17th century, and the emergence of Kant’s philosophical system in the late 18th century. The module will look at three of the key figures from the two traditions, exploring the key theories they expound, and the arguments used to support these theories. The figures covered will depend on the research specialisms of the module convenor, but a typical syllabus would involve reading works by Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hume. Looking at these philosophers over a number of weeks will allow you to develop your close reading skills, and to see how the arguments put forward by these philosophers work together to produce a systematic metaphysical worldview.
You will undertake a short ‘reflecting on feedback’ exercise in order to progress into the final year of study.
- All modules are optional
You will complete one dissertation from the following options:
You will demonstrate your skills as an independent learner by embarking upon a substantial piece of written work of between 8,000 and 10,000 words in length. You will be guided by a dissertation supervisor, but will choose your own topic, approach, and philosophical sources.
- Visual Arts Dissertation
There are a number of optional course modules available during your degree studies. The following is a selection of optional course modules that are likely to be available. Please note that although the College will keep changes to a minimum, new modules may be offered or existing modules may be withdrawn, for example, in response to a change in staff. Applicants will be informed if any significant changes need to be made.Year 1
- Visualising Cuba
The visual image has always played an important role in society, as a source of enjoyment and pleasure, and also as a means of communicating values, celebrating beauty, shaping thought and challenging assumptions. This module aims to develop understanding of the ways the visual image functions and the concepts and techniques needed to analyse it.
This module covers various issues in the philosophy of psychiatry. Addressing these issues requires the application of insights from a range of philosophical fields, including philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of medicine, practical ethics, and metaphysics. Studying philosophy of psychiatry can be a great way to think about some difficult, highly theoretical philosophical issues including free will, mental causation, and explanation, all of which find natural application in the field of psychiatry. Philosophy of Psychiatry is also one of the few areas of philosophy that routinely combines both ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’ philosophical perspectives.
- Visual Cultures: Visualising Cuba
This module involves an examination of gender as it is expressed, maintained, or challenged by clothing. It investigates a variety of Anglophone, Francophone, and German-language twentieth-century texts, including novels, fine art, and film, in which clothing and gender are closely linked. The module introduces you to a range of experimental and challenging texts, encouraging critical and comparative thinking about the place of fashion and clothing in culture and society.
There has been a sharp revival of interest in fundamental questions relating to knowledge in recent years. These include the status of testimonial knowledge; the extent to which possession of knowledge requires one or more virtues; the suggestion that knowledge can be a group rather than an individual achievement; the idea that it is unjust to place people in positions where they cannot acquire knowledge that might empower them; the relationship between knowing how to do something and that something is the case; the role of bias, discrimination and presupposition. Building on the first year module on epistemology, this module focusses on one or more of these and investigates them in depth.
This module will introduce ancient Greek ethics, primarily focusing on the ideas of Socrates (as presented in Plato’s early dialogues) and Aristotle. The first part will look at key themes in Socratic-Platonic ethics, examining material from a range of Platonic dialogues, including (but not limited to) the Protagoras, Gorgias, and Euthydemus. It will consider topics such as virtue, knowledge, ignorance, and weakness of will. The second part will focus on Aristotle’s ethics, as presented in his Nicomachean Ethics, and will look at topics such as happiness, character, virtue, pleasure, and the ideal life. Subsequent developments in ancient Greek ethics (i.e. Epicureanism, Stoicism) will be covered in the companion module ‘PY2218/PY3218 Hellenistic Philosophy’, although each module is designed to stand without the other. Where relevant, aspects of ancient ethics from other traditions (Indian, Chinese) may also be incorporated in order to broaden and diversify the curriculum. Although focused on historical texts, the module will be primarily concerned with the philosophical problems that they raise.
We will draw on issues in philosophy of science and ethics to understand and attempt to solve conceptual problems arising in medicine and the biomedical sciences. Among other things, we will consider what a disease is, whether we own our bodies (and body parts), what is involved in informed consent, and what is properly involved in decision-making in medicine.
This module will examine a range of key thinkers and themes in medieval philosophy, from the fourth to the fourteenth century, telling the story of the development and transmission of philosophical ideas along the way. It will begin in late antiquity, showing the ways in which medieval thought was built on the ancient Greek philosophical tradition. It will outline the transmission of Greek thought to the Arabic-speaking world, examine a number of Arabic philosophers, and consider the impact of Arabic thought on medieval philosophy in Paris. It will conclude with Duns Scotus, active in fourteenth century Paris and Oxford. Topics discussed will focus on problems in metaphysics, such as the nature of existence, universals, the mind, and time. The relationship between philosophy and theology (or reason and faith) will be a continuing theme. The primarily metaphysical content will make this module a companion to ‘PY2217/PY3217 Ancient Metaphysics’, although each module is designed to stand without the other. It will examine (in translation) texts originally written in Greek, Arabic, and Latin.
This module aims to introduce you to a number of key fields in value-philosophy: race theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. These discourses have had a lot to say about philosophy and have provided much needed scrutiny of both social structures and philosophy itself. This module will provide an introduction to some of the many ways in which race theory, feminist theory, and queer theory have attempted to combat forms of oppression in domains as diverse as politics, ethics, language, and how we acquire knowledge.
- Text and Image in France: from Cubism to the Present
The module explores the role of fashion and design in Italy in the period 1945-1994. We look at the ways in which design and fashion interacted with major economic, cultural and societal trends. The first part of this module focuses on Italian design in the postwar period, with particular emphasis on the development of furniture, interior, and industrial design. The work of a number of architects/designers such as Gio Ponti, the Castiglioni brothers, Ettore Sottsass and Alessandro Mendini are analysed in detail. The analysis of Italian fashion focuses on the creation of the so-called ‘Italian style’ and on the passage from couture fashion to the ready-to-wear industry of the late 20th century with a particular focus on the work of Emilio Pucci, Gianni Versace and Giorgio Armani.
This module will focus on the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, concentrating on Plato’s theory of Ideas and Aristotle’s response to it. The first part will look at Plato’s theory of Ideas as developed in his middle period dialogues and his own criticisms of it in his later works, drawing on dialogues such as the Republic, Sophist, and Parmenides. The second part will look at Aristotle’s criticisms of Plato and his own theory of hylomorphism, developed in response (in the Metaphysics, Physics, and elsewhere). Central philosophical themes will include the ontological status of ideas, the role of universals, causation, the nature of matter, and problems relating to knowledge. The metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle are foundational for the subsequent history of philosophy, some of which will be explored in the companion module ‘PY2219/PY3219 Medieval Philosophy’, although each module is designed to stand without the other. Although focused on historical texts, the module will be primarily concerned with the philosophical problems that they raise.
- Philosophy and Literature
The aim of this module is to consider the main directions of eighteenth-century and post-Kantian aesthetics, in particular the issues that have arisen about what it means to consider objects—whether art or nature—aesthetically, and an analysis of concepts bound up with this “aesthetic attitude”, such as disinterestedness, beauty and the sublime. Each week will focus on one issue surrounding the question of taste, of judgements of beauty and the sublime and of the aesthetic experience, from Hume, through Kant, to the present day. Particularly attention will be paid to non-artistic aesthetic experiences, such as those of the natural world, and, as much as feasible, attention will also be paid to art and aesthetics produced outside the modern European tradition, such as aesthetics in the Islamic world.
The module will provide the opportunity for you to apply theoretical skills developed in relation to philosophy of art and aesthetics to practical problems in some of the following domains: curating, gallery education, artistic practice, art criticism and the management of cultural institutions. After an initial five weeks of theoretical discussions around historical and contemporary art, you will work closely with the curators of Royal Holloway's art collection to gain familiarity with and apply knowledge and skills to the exhibition of and reflection on situated artworks.
German idealism sets itself the task of satisfying three main aims: systematizing Kant’s philosophy by finding necessary premises for its conclusions; providing a rigorous demonstration of the laws of thought; and ensuring that satisfying these aims satisfies the third aim of proving that reason is not the product of a purposeless, mechanistic world, but is itself an absolutely free purposive activity. This module investigates Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as an attempt to satisfy these aims. We will explore Hegel’s distinctive and influential criticisms of Kant, his development of dialectic as a method of deriving the laws of thought, and his argument that reason is absolutely free. We will pay special attention to his successive, unfolding theses for the essentially self-conscious character of consciousness, the essentially recognitive character of self-consciousness, and the essentially historical character of recognition.
Teaching & assessment
- Personal tutors in Philosophy and Languages, Literatures and Cultures
- 50% modules in Visual Cultures plus 50% modules in Philosophy
- Lectures, seminars, small-group tutorials, workshops, fieldtrips, curating workshops, etc
- Diverse assessment methods from essays and exams to multiple choice questions, cataloguing and exhibition exercises, reports, reflective logs and oral presentations
- Emphasis on continuous feedback both orally and in writing
A Levels: ABB-BBB
- At least five GCSEs at grade A*-C or 9-4 including English and Mathematics.
Where an applicant is taking the EPQ alongside A-levels, the EPQ will be taken into consideration and result in lower A-level grades being required. For students who are from backgrounds or personal circumstances that mean they are generally less likely to go to university, you may be eligible for an alternative lower offer. Follow the link to learn more about our contextual offers.
We accept T-levels for admission to our undergraduate courses, with the following grades regarded as equivalent to our standard A-level requirements:
- AAA* – Distinction (A* on the core and distinction in the occupational specialism)
- AAA – Distinction
- BBB – Merit
- CCC – Pass (C or above on the core)
- DDD – Pass (D or E on the core)
Where a course specifies subject-specific requirements at A-level, T-level applicants are likely to be asked to offer this A-level alongside their T-level studies.
English language requirements
All teaching at Royal Holloway (apart from some language courses) is in English. You will therefore need to have good enough written and spoken English to cope with your studies right from the start.
The scores we require
- IELTS: 6.5 overall. Writing 7.0. No other subscore lower than 5.5.
- Pearson Test of English: 61 overall. Writing 69. No other subscore lower than 51.
- Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE): ISE III.
- Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) grade C.
For more information about country-specific entry requirements for your country please visit here.
Undergraduate preparation programme
For international students who do not meet the direct entry requirements, for this undergraduate degree, the Royal Holloway International Study Centre offers an International Foundation Year programme designed to develop your academic and English language skills.
Upon successful completion, you can progress to this degree at Royal Holloway, University of London.
Your future career
This degree has been developed especially for you if you are interested in working in the cultural industries, including museum and art galleries. However, a Royal Holloway degree can lead into a variety of career paths. It not only promotes academic achievement and employability but will see you learning to approach problems in a rigorous and analytical way, and to develop your abilities to communicate and debate in both speech and writing. You will be equipped with the knowledge, creativity, skills and experiences essential to advance your future career or move onto further study.
Whilst studying here you can get training in interview techniques and producing a good CV, practical experience in an industry you wish to work in, and a network of contacts.
Roles of recent Philosophy graduates include social and political researcher, data scientist, freelance journalist, teacher and senior consultant and our graduates have found work with Accenture, Haymarket Media Group, Ministry of Justice, NHS, Save the Children and Amazon.
Fees, funding & scholarships
Home (UK) students tuition fee per year*: £9,250
EU and international students tuition fee per year**: £20,000
Other essential costs***: There are no single associated costs greater than £50 per item on this course.
How do I pay for it? Find out more about funding options, including loans, scholarships and bursaries. UK students who have already taken out a tuition fee loan for undergraduate study should check their eligibility for additional funding directly with the relevant awards body.
*The tuition fee for UK undergraduates is controlled by Government regulations. For students starting a degree in the academic year 2022/23, the fee is £9,250 for that year, and is provided here as a guide. The fee for UK undergraduates starting in 2023/24 has not yet been confirmed.
**The UK Government has confirmed that EU nationals are no longer eligible to pay the same fees as UK students, nor be eligible for funding from the Student Loans Company. This means you are classified as an international student. At Royal Holloway, we wish to support a transition for those students affected by this change in status. Please see the fees and funding page for more information.
Fees for international students may increase year-on-year in line with the rate of inflation. The policy at Royal Holloway is that any increases in fees will not exceed 5% for continuing students. For further information see fees and funding and our terms and conditions.
***These estimated costs relate to studying this particular degree at Royal Holloway during the 2021/22 academic year, and are included as a guide. Costs, such as accommodation, food, books and other learning materials and printing etc., have not been included.