1996 - PPE Finals
I studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford.
I had changed from Zoology at the last minute. The course code, Y616 was already on my university application UCCA form, but though I was fascinated in the environment, and drawn to conservation and social issues, I realised I needed to understand the human systems which had an impact on all of these.
A chance comment by my uncle, a few days before sending in my application, led me to look up PPE.
I was intrigued by philosophy in particular. I had never really heard about this, except for a disasterous class with 'Bod' (our hated RE teacher) a few years earlier, which threw us all right off the trolley problem.
I had a reputation as a daydreamer, but had never imagined other people thought about the things I did.
(Makes me both Founder and Head OxyMoron of the lesser-known discipline of Ignorant Solipsism.)
So, five years later after submitting a new application, I answered these questions for my Final Exams.
I particularly like the one about whether we can empathise with trees...
- "The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action." (HUME). Discuss.
- "I can have no control over the past, nor over the laws of nature. But the past, given the laws, determines my actions. So I have no control over my actions." Evaluate this argument.
- Could a life devoid of happiness be a good one?
Metaphysics and the Theory of Knowledge
- Do I know that the earth goes round the sun if and only if my belief that it does is true and is formed by a process that yields mostly true beliefs?
- Is a surface's being red just a matter of its looking red to most human's in normal light?
- How much of my brain does some future self need to have in order to be me?
History of Philosophy from Descartes to Kant
- "The pain and sickness [are] Ideas that are effects of the Manna ... the Sweetness and the Whiteness, effects of the same Manna" (LOCKE).
In what way does Locke think that these are similar? Is he right to think so?
- Does Hume explain the how we get the idea of necessary connexion? Should he have been trying to do so?
- "We have no reason to draw any inference concerning any object beyond those of which we have had experience" (HUME).
What should our attitude be to this claim?
Philosophy of Mind
- How does the relationship of the mind to the brain compare with the relationship of water to its chemical composition?
- Can we go beyond folk psychology?
- Could there be something it is like to be a tree?
Rowland's answer, glancing at my paper as we left the Exam Halls from different exams
- "Yes, obviously: It's a bit like being a bush."
- Why has 'judicial review' become such a prominent characteristic of so many democracies?
- Are the great cleavages of modern politics increasingly along lines other than those of social class?
- How central is the difference between electoral systems based on proportionality versus first-past-the-post to the total process of politics?
Theory of Politics
- 'A defensible egalitarianism should be concerned, not to promote the value of equality, but to remedy the consequences of inequality.'
Do you agree?
- Is it a fatal weakness of normative political theory that it ignores the historical embeddedness of the self?
- Is our 'duty to the earth' really an obligation to future generations?
- "Floating exchange rates allow greater independence of monetary and fiscal policy"
"The main problem with floating exchange rates is that the exchange rate changes when domestic interest rates change."
- Would you expect the effects on private investment of sales of public sector assets (such as British Telecom) to be any different from those of sales of an equal amount of government debt?
- Can any single theory of consumption behaviour account for all the major movements of the personal savings to income ratio of the UK in the last 30 years (Chart A refers).
- Why might it be advantageous for Scotland to be part of a currency union with the rest of the UK but not for the UK to be part of the proposed European Monetary Union?
- Does the theory of the 'second best' give workable rules for setting public sector prices when some private sector markets are not perfectly competitive?
- Under what conditions is it worthwhile for an employee to indicate willingness to work hard? (75 percent)
How would he or she do so? (25 percent)
- "It is inevitable that United Kingdom RPI - X style regulation would evolve to the US system in which prices are linked to an allowable rate on assets."
Do you agree?
Studying PPE was very abstract, and also detached from real social issues.
It gave me useful tools, but often gave me more questions than answers.
Instead of following the usual path into the City, Civil Service or politics
I ricocheted around my own career trajectory, seeking more understanding.
It had not been an easy ride, even before my father killed himself in my second year.
I had chosen Magdalen to be by the river, and did not exactly fit in there!
Summer visits to the Balkans to be with refugees were helpful.
I repeated a year, eventually managing to finish.
I'm glad I managed to.