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Section 3: Skills and Abilities

As you work for your degree in Philosophy and Literature, it may help you to reflect from time to time on some of the skills and abilities you are developing. By the time you graduate you should both have a sound knowledge of philosophy’s traditions and of significant works in the main literary genres, and the skills to make use of this knowledge creatively, critically and rigorously. More specifically, there are a number of interconnected capacities we would expect a Phil/Lit graduate to have developed, arising in varying ways from different aspects of your studies and – especially – from their interrelations; they include:


The ability to analyse critically a position, and to judge what is central and what is peripheral; ability to analyse an argument into its premises, steps, conclusion; ability to recognise criteria for assessment and to test theses and interpretations against the evidence; ability to assess the merits of rival arguments; ability to push an argument back to its first principles and forward to its further consequences; ability to impose a logical order on material; ability to distinguish between logical and rhetorical force; ability to discriminate and relate the differing elements of a text in terms relevant to its genre.


The ability to make imaginative connections, including those necessary to understand unfamiliar situations, cultures and texts; ability to see the relevance of an idea or hypothesis for the development of a different idea or hypothesis; ability to apply breadth of resources in pushing an argument, theory, or interpretation forward, including the ability to make cogently defended judgments about what constitute relevant resources.

Independence of mind

The ability to extend an argument in novel directions; ability to think creatively and interpret sensitively, taking account of contemporary scholarship, theories and assumptions without being dominated by them; capacity to study and research independently, locating, marshalling and evaluating material from a wide range of sources (including on-line sources); ability to enter imaginatively into alien perspectives (historical, cultural and/or textual) and use them to assess contemporary perceptions and orthodoxies; capacity and preparedness to follow the argument wherever it leads, and if this proves uncomfortable to review one’s assumptions.


The ability to communicate complex ideas in accessible, cogent and concise prose; capacity to deploy appropriately a sophisticated understanding of the way English has been and can be used; ability to seek out and use relevant bibliographical material; ability to present material at the level and with the detail appropriate to the purposes of the delivery; ability to communicate complex ideas in oral presentation and discussion; ability to engage articulately in group discussion and shared projects; ability to defend ideas in discussion with cogent argumentation and to judge when to revise them in the light of pertinent criticism; ability to engage the interest of others in your arguments.

You will find yourself developing other skills, abilities and capacities over the next three years too.

‘Transferable skills’ to develop in which employers are particularly interested include the following: independent study and research skills; analytical and critical skills; writing skills; oral presentation skills; group-work skills; and of course IT skills. Computer skills, including the ability to gauge the quality of different internet sources and use them responsibly, are an essential factor in almost any job offered by graduate employers.

You might find it worth asking yourself at the end of your first and second years how these skills and abilities have been developing, and taking appropriate action in the following year. How you apply them, at University and beyond, will be up to you.