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Philosophy is a systematic critical inquiry into profound, fascinating and challenging questions such as: What is it to be human? Do we have free will? What do we mean when we say something is right or wrong?

These abstract questions arise out of our everyday experiences, and philosophical tools such as critical and systematic thinking, careful analysis, and construction of arguments provide the means of addressing such questions. The practice of philosophy deepens and clarifies our understanding of these questions, as well as our ability to formulate possible responses.

The emphasis of the Diploma Programme philosophy course is on “doing philosophy”, that is, on actively engaging students in philosophical activity. The course is focused on stimulating students’ intellectual curiosity and encouraging them to examine both their own perspectives and those of others. Students are challenged to develop their own philosophical voice and to grow into independent thinkers, in addition to engaging with some of the world’s most interesting and influential thinkers. The course also develops highly transferable skills such as the ability to formulate arguments clearly, to make reasoned judgments and to evaluate highly complex and multifaceted issues.

All students study a core theme entitled “Being Human".  This theme provides an opportunity to explore the fundamental question of what it is to be human. This exploration takes place through a discussion of key concepts such as identity, freedom, and human nature, and through a consideration of questions such as what sets humans apart from other species, where the boundaries of being human lie, and whether animals or machines could be considered persons. Students also develop their skills through the study of other philosophical themes and the close reading of a philosophical text. They also learn to apply their philosophical knowledge and skills to real-life situations and to explore how non-philosophical material can be treated in a philosophical way. HL students also engage in a deeper exploration of the nature of philosophy itself.

Philosophy Syllabus Outline

Core theme
The core theme “Being human” is compulsory for all students.

Optional themes
SL students are required to study one theme from the following list.
HL students are required to study two themes from the following list.
1. Aesthetics
2. Epistemology
3. Ethics
4. Philosophy and contemporary society
5. Philosophy of religion
6. Philosophy of science
7. Political philosophy

Prescribed text
Students are required to study one text from the “IB list of prescribed philosophical texts”, which includes texts from authors as diverse as Plato, Lao Tzu, and Martha Nussbaum.

HL extension: Exploring philosophical activity

HL students are required to undertake a deeper exploration of the nature, function, meaning and methodology of philosophy.

Internal assessment
SL and HL students are required to produce a philosophical analysis of a non-philosophical stimulus such as a poem, film scene, or painting.


Learn more about philosophy in a DP workshop for teachers

Philosophy subject brief

Subject briefs are short two-page documents providing an outline of the course. Read the standard level (SL) and/or higher level (HL) subject brief below. 


Philosophy SL (PDF, 41 KB) pdf

Philosophy HL (PDF, 40 KB) pdf

Philosophy – First teaching in Aug/Sept 2023 – SL & HL pdf

Latest curriculum updates

This subject is reviewed by the IB regularly to ensure the latest educational research is applied. Please keep up to date with the latest subject updates for Philosophy.