All Souls Philosophy Exam Questions

A necessary condition of becoming an Examination (or Prize) Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, is taking an exam.

The exam consists of four three-hour essay tests, or “papers.” Two of these are in your chosen specialist subject—Classical Studies, Law, History, English Literature, Economics, Politics, or Philosophy—and the other two are general tests and ask questions on a variety of topics.

What questions have been on the philosophy exams? They change each year. Typically candidates are given around 30 questions for each test, from which they must choose three to answer. The exams cover a variety of philosophical topics, from classic questions to contemporary work. Below are the questions from the two 2022 philosophy exams:


    1. ‘If there is a god, they will look benevolently upon atheists.’ Discuss.
    2. Is disability primarily a social phenomenon?
    3. Is the principle of bivalence incompatible with free action?
    4. ‘Anything that exists is (exactly) one Therefore, to be many is not to exist.’ Discuss.
    5. Can there be vague objects?
    6. Can there be time without change? Change without time?
    7. Is it possible to define truth?
    8. Compare the merits of Aristotelian and Newtonian mechanics.
    9. Should we expect that mathematics is in principle dispensable in natural science?
    10. Can testimony convey the quality of experiences?
    11. Is Plato’s tripartition of the soul still of any philosophical relevance?
    12. Explain and evaluate Epicurus’ theory of perception.
    13. How many things-in-themselves did Kant think there are? Does it matter?
    14. Is envy necessarily bad?
    15. Should there be laws that require the gradual replacement of natural animal meat with lab-grown meat?
    16. Can there be rights without duties? Justify your answer.
    17. How did Leibniz explain the meanings of subject-predicate propositions? Assess the merits of his explanation relative to the Fregean one.
    18. If there are moral facts, are they necessary truths?
    19. Suppose that two knife blades and two knife handles are laid out on a table. In such circumstances, ought we also to accept that there are at least four possible knives?
    20. To what extent does ontology reflect grammar?
    21. To what extent should citizens of democracies be held responsible for the acts of their governments?
    22. Can the freedom of the many outweigh the fear of the few?
    23. Is virtual reality genuine reality?
    24. How does Kant’s categorical imperative differ from the golden rule?
    25. Should we avoid transformative experiences?
    26. When Locke wrote that ‘there is nothing in the apple that resembles its sweetness’, what did he mean? Was he right?
    27. ‘I have to say that I would find it easier to concede matter and extension to the soul than to concede that an immaterial thing could move and be moved by a body …’ (Elisabeth of Bohemia). Is this a valid criticism of Descartes?
    28. In order for an agent to be rational, to what extent must their beliefs cohere through time?
    29. Suppose that by philosophical reflection Alexis comes to believe that global scepticism is a coherent position. How, if at all, might this conclusion affect her life?
    30. Am I the same person now that I was when I was a toddler?
    31. Explain the role of imitation in gender
    32. Compare the operation of negation as applied to declarative sentences and imperatives.
    33. What can be said in favour of a ‘no self’ theory of mind?
    34. What are colours?


    1. Can there be objective moral norms without religion?
    2. What do philosophers mean when they say that race is socially constructed?
    3. Is there such a thing as a free will?
    4. Is nothing something?
    5. ‘There is no higher-order vagueness, strictly so-called’ (Stewart Shapiro). Discuss.
    6. Do we move through time from the past towards the future or does the present move with us from the past to the future?
    7. Can a proposition be true by convention?
    8. Does quantum entanglement undermine our common-sense assumptions about causality?
    9. Are there absolutely undecidable mathematical propositions?
    10. What is the relation between physical time and phenomenological duration?
    11. Is it acceptable for a state to ban certain kinds of instrumental music because it arouses undesirable emotions?
    12. Are emotions (pathê) simply false beliefs?
    13. What does Kant mean by pure reason and what is its role in cognition?
    14. Can friendship be bought?
    15. Do we have a responsibility to leave an inhabitable world for the next generation?
    16. Do adults have a right to be loved?
    17. What was Descartes’ ‘method of doubt’? Could he have equally plausibly advanced a ‘method of credulousness’?
    18. Does belief in moral progress rationally require belief in moral realism?
    19. Can modal logic tell us anything about reality?
    20. ‘When I think about Joe Biden, I think about Biden, not the idea of Biden. Similarly, when I think about Santa Claus, I think about Santa, and not the idea of Santa. So, Santa exists as an object of thought in the same sense Joe Biden does.’ Where, if at all, does this line of reasoning go wrong?
    21. Compare the merits of ideal forms of democracy and meritocracy as means of electing leaders.
    22. Should we make state membership, along with protection by and subjugation to its laws, an optional matter?
    23. Does artificial superintelligence pose a serious threat to the existence of humanity? How significant a concern should this prospect be for public policy?
    24. Can one consent to be coerced to do something at a later time?
    25. Why did Berkeley think that it was impossible to even conceive of an object existing unperceived? Where, if at all, does his reasoning go wrong?
    26. ‘Against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying ‘there are only facts,’ I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations [do]’ (Friedrich Nietzsche). Discuss.
    27. Do the origins of our beliefs or of our concepts matter?
    28. Has Zeno’s paradox of Achilles and the Tortoise been resolved?
    29. Does the originality in a work of art affect its aesthetic value?
    30. Can a cause and its effect occur or exist at the same time?
    31. Can slurs offend even if the speaker neither intends to offend nor believes that their words are slurs? How?
    32. Can there be a specifically feminist metaphysics?
    33. Does Stoic syllogistic make Aristotelian syllogistic obsolete?
    34. What are the limits of the experimental method?

You can find the questions from previous year’s exams here.

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Michael Kremer
Michael Kremer
1 year ago

The first question should read “upon atheists.” Please correct!

1 year ago

In P I, #19
“Suppose that two knife blades and two knife handles are laid out on a In such circumstances, ought we also to accept that there are at least four possible knives?”
I think you something out after “on a” and before “In”.

Garret Merriam
Garret Merriam
1 year ago

Okay, I’m going to be ‘that guy’ and point out that several of these are not questions.

Reply to  Garret Merriam
1 year ago

Exam question XXX “Is one of Grice’s maxim’s violated by G Merriam in his comment? Explain.”

Rosanna Festa
1 year ago

I think these questions of philosophy are typical, but it’s necessary to study the philosophy of the First decade of XXI Century. Above all Philosophy of Science.

Reply to  Rosanna Festa
1 year ago

certainly if you are a philosopher of science, but not clear why others would need to have this as an exam question. Also we should always beware of the prejudice in favor of the now. Philosophy, unlike science, does not progress linearly.

Reply to  Gordon
1 year ago

The science does not progress linearly. The texts of Thomas Khun speak about “paradigme shift” this concept say “that the change in science no is linear”. It is a error to separate humanities of science, emotion of reason, since XVI century, europeans protestants or catholics, make powerfull wars to divide the world, consequently France and England produced two revolutions: politic and industrial. It is not necessary study philosophy or science of XXI century perhaps understand our world is understand the past with other interpretation, because advance or not is common in history no merely a linear line.