MA in Continental Philosophy

What is it?

The MA in Continental Philosophy offers an exciting opportunity to study key philosophers in the European tradition, and to examine fundamental problems, such as the nature of time, the human, knowledge, ethical and political practice, and history.

The MA is conducted entirely by online leaning with no requirement to attend. In a secure online environment, you will find study materials that include notes, videos and podcasts provided by your tutor, reading available online through the university library, and online discussion spaces for you to talk with both your tutor and your fellow students.

The degree can be pursued part-time or full-time. These translate roughly into a weekly time commitment of either 15 or 30 hours, averaged over each semester. The MA is designed and run by staff in philosophy who have national and international reputations for their research and many years of experience in the delivery of online learning.

What will you study?

The MA is designed to open up the full breadth of continental philosophy, from Kant, through Nietzsche and Heidegger, to Bachelard, Foucault and up to the present day. Rather than offering a miscellaneous selection of whatever narrow courses happen to be available in that year, this degree is designed so that all its elements speak to and build on one another, providing a coherent grounding in European thought. It is organised around the following taught modules (a module is what other universities might call a ‘class’ or a ‘course’):

  • Transcendence and the Body   This module examines the roots of Continental Philosophy covering key figures from late 18th and 19th, and 20th Century thought. Primarily, we will examine the shift from theories of transcendence to theories of embodiment. Beginning with Kant we trace how Continental Philosophy transformed notions of subjectivity, will, embodiment, action, being and becoming in the work of Hegel, Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty. (Required books to purchase are the Phenomenology of Spirit (OUP), and the Ansell Pearson & Large collection called Nietzsche Reader (Blackwell) and Phenomenology of Perception (Routledge). All other directly required reading will be supplied, although depending upon their choice of essay topics, students may wish to buy additional texts.)
  • Phenomenology and Ontology    The focus of this module is Heidegger’s classic text Being and Time (you will need to buy either the older Macquarrie and Robinson translation or the second edition of the Stambaugh translation. All other directly required reading will be supplied, although depending upon their choice of essay and dissertation topics, you may wish to buy additional texts for yourselves.)
  • Knowledge and Politics    The module addresses the concepts of critique, power, and subjectivity as developed by Foucault, setting them against the background of work in epistemology and the philosophy of science by figures such as Gaston Bachelard and Georges Canguilhem. It will look at how Foucault’s account of critique in his later writing is connected to these approaches to rationalism and how it has been taken up by other thinkers. (There is no required text to buy, although The Essential Works 1954-84 Volume 1: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth is recommended.)
  • Research Topics in Continental Philosophy    This is a module without a fixed theme — instead, it’s built around the current research activity of one or more of your professors, extending the work you have already done in the other modules.
  • Research Skills    This aims to build on skills you’ve already developed through the course of the MA so that you are well prepared to work on your Dissertation.
  • Dissertation  With the support of a designated member of staff in Philosophy you undertake an independent piece of research on a topic you have chosen yourself (as long as it is connected to the work you’ve done on the MA).

You can choose to replace Knowledge and Politics by Posthumanism and Technology, and/or Research Topics in Continental Philosophy by Information and Communication. See the MA in the Philosophy of Nature, Information and Technology for more details on these modules.

What is it like?

The academic year is divided into three semesters: September to January, February to May, June to August. Most of the teaching is concentrated in the first two of these, but if you’re studying full-time you will work through semester three to complete your Dissertation.

Modules normally last a full semester (roughly 16 weeks), comprising 11 or 12 weeks of guided reading and discussion, plus time to prepare your end of term assessment. If you are studying full-time you will take two taught modules in each of the first two semesters and your Dissertation in semester three. If you’re studying part-time you normally take one module in each semester, but in your second semester you will need to manage two modules (this is necessary in order to comply with a UK government requirement that MA courses last no longer than 24 months).

To graduate you must complete 180 credits. Two of the taught modules are worth 40 credits each and two are worth 20 credits each. The pattern of work is similar for all of these modules but how much you are expected to do each week and for your assessments will depend on the credit weighting of the module.

Because we have students from all over the world, living in many different time zones, and because they often need to manage study alongside a huge variety of work and life commitments, it is impossible to hold weekly live classes. There will be some live sessions, as it’s good for everyone to meet and to see who they’re studying with, but all the core work is asynchronous; that is, while we expect you to follow the scheduled reading and discussions week by week, it’s up to you how you fit the work into your week.

For each module, you will have access to a dedicated space in the online learning platform. This space will contain everything that you need, including a schedule for the work, background information, tutor notes, videos, and podcasts for each week, and a space for online discussion with your tutor and fellow students. In addition, you will have access to the digital resources of the University Library. Each week, you will be to read the reading (you may need to do this more than once), to engage with the materials provided by your tutor, and to take part in the online discussions.

Your professors will take part in the online discussions. Moreover, you can contact your professors by email for additional help or advice. Finally, there will be occasional special events (e.g. a visiting academic giving a paper) which will be available online and for discussion in the forums. These special events are open to doctoral students here in the department too, meaning that several dozen philosophical voices may be in play. There’s also a ‘Teams’ group where discussions can take place beyond the specific topics covered in modules, and where there are announcements about news and events for everyone studying philosophy at Staffordshire. This space can also be used to organise reading groups.

Each module is assessed slightly differently. There are no tests or exams. Your discussion forum contributions, or other as-you-go-along bits of writing (e.g. short reports or virtual presentations), form part of the typical assessment pattern. Then, toward the end of the semester, you will have a piece of written work to submit, normally an academic essay of 3500-5000 words, depending on the credit weighting of the module. The work you do will be marked by the module tutor, who will provide detailed feedback that will highlight what you did well, what could have been improved, and what you can take forward in future work. In addition, all the work for the module will be moderated internally and by our external examiner (an experienced academic working at a different university).

Your final dissertation project is conducted entirely by supervised research. The topic of that dissertation is open, subject to a few obvious conditions — for example, that it has something to do with Continental philosophy, that we can help you with that particular topic, that time and resources are available for the purpose, etc. In brief: that the proposed topic is feasible. You will be in regular contact with the member of staff who is supervising your work, and he or she will give guidance and advice, and comment on drafts of your work.

Who is it for?

Some students will be pursuing this degree just because they are passionately interested in philosophy. Others will see it as a way of moving into philosophy from another social science or humanities subject, or of getting an additional qualification that will help them with their career. Still others will see it as a stepping stone to a doctoral degree (with us — we offer doctoral supervision programme by distance learning — or elsewhere). All of you are welcome! Generally, the aims of the degree are to offer in-depth consideration of key moments within European philosophy, and to support high levels of attainment in academic or professional skills such as:

  • clear, careful and organised writing;
  • perceptive and sensitive reading;
  • critical thinking;
  • problem-solving;
  • research;
  • time-management;
  • guide participants towards the ability to carry out independent, scholarly research in philosophy.

Our students come from all over the world. Some of you are young, fresh out of an undergraduate degree; others are older, mid-career, perhaps with families; others are retired. Again, all are welcome!

In order to be successful, you need a number of qualities: an enthusiasm for continental philosophy; an ability to motivate yourself independently, and also to organise your time and work flexibly; a willingness to get stuck into intellectual issues in greater depth than usual; an open mind to new ideas, though without losing your critical sense; the nerve to post your views on to the discussion forum, regularly, and thereby converse with people who you will come to know, but probably never meet.

How do I apply?

You can apply for the MA on-line using the application form links here. (Important note: If you can’t see your preferred year of entry, this is merely a software error. Apply for the closest match, but then specify in the ‘personal statement’ part of the application your choice of start date.)

  • You can specify either a September (full-time or part-time) or January start (part-time only). If you choose to begin the MA in January, the overall structure of the course is the same, but you take the modules in a different order.
  • Normally, in terms of minimum admissions requirements, we ask for a good first (undergraduate) degree in philosophy, or a cognate subject such as social science or literature. However, many applicants have studied philosophy in other ways, perhaps independently, and we examine each application on its merits. We are looking for ability, open-mindedness, and sustained enthusiasm.
  • Instruction is in English, so for those of you for whom English is not the first language, we will need an internationally recognised English language proficiency score (the most familiar of these is called IELTS; on this test, we need at least a 6.5 overall, and at least 6.5 in each of the reading and writing sub-scores).
  • You will need images of transcripts from previous higher study.
  • You will need a couple of people willing to supply you with a letter of reference (preferably professors/ teachers from your previous study; however, if you have been out of education for a long time, then choose people who can offer an objective appraisal of the qualities listed below; perhaps an employer). The letters of reference should address themselves to things like:
    • your general suitability for postgraduate study and particular online learning study;
    • your experience in the area of philosophy, or cognate subjects;
    • your motivations and enthusiasms;
    • your intellectual abilities, particularly with relative abstract or theoretical issues, and also your written communication skills;
    • and any personal qualities that make you a good candidate (given the nature of online study, ability to motivate oneself, stay organised, and long-term resilience are all virtues!).
  • A personal statement sketching, in a couple of hundred words, the background to your interest in studying philosophy, particularly Continental European thought, and why you feel this course and distance learning would be a good ‘fit’ for you.

All the supporting documentation mentioned above can be uploaded onto the admissions site.

There is no deadline for applying. However, even after you have gathered together all your application materials and submitted, it can take up to a month to process an application. So, for practical purposes, the deadline would be a month prior to your chosen start date. We will attempt to deal as quickly as possible with applications that come in after this date, but there may be a delay.

If you have studied philosophy at a postgraduate level before, either some time ago or recently (and you have become disenchanted with your course), you can transfer your credits to us.

How much does it cost?

Fees are displayed on the application page here. This is the total fee for the whole degree (not an annual fee), and represents excellent value in higher education. You can pay this fee in instalments over the period of your study. There is no charge for making an application. If you are a previous Staffordshire University student, you may qualify for a discount, and there may also be a discount if you pay the full year’s quota of fees early. The fee does not include expenses such as buying course books, or ordering off-prints of papers, but these additional expenses are relatively small (unless of course you love getting books!): perhaps £200 per year.

(Please note that although we maintain a listing with, we are no longer receiving enquiries from them. You will have to contact us directly.)

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If you have any questions about this MA, please contact David Webb at