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Philosophy, Politics and Economics (Ppe)

Applied in: Winter 2013

University Offers: Oxford

Philosophy, politics & economics each provide a compelling opportunity to analyse and discuss the systems that govern our daily lives, from free will to the power of maths in modelling human behaviour. I realised my interest in PPE when trying to answer the question: Is it self-contradictory for something that is unjust to be justified? I wondered if an answer to this question could be found in the attempt to legitimise an unjust government.

After reading Rousseau's discussion of democracy and after considering Plato's Guardian theory, I won a school prize with an extended essay entitled 'On the tyranny of the Majority', inspired de Tocqueville's claim. De Tocqueville highlights the fact that a simple majority does not have the right to make political decisions simply by virtue of their being a majority. They are, in this sense, tyrannical. I addressed whether the democratic theorist can satisfactorily counter de Tocqueville's challenge by arguing that democracy, by its nature, legitimises a government. I concluded that they could not. In my research, I was struck by how our conception of rights can be misleading in assessing the strengths of democratic theory. This is something that I am looking forward to studying further, especially having read passages of Kant's The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, which could be viewed as the beginning of the discussion of human rights.

Since then I have furthered my interest in PPE by reading around my A-level subjects. For example, having been intrigued by a brief reference to Jean-Jacques Rousseau when studying Kant's ethics, I read On the Social Contract. I found that both their discussions of the role of the 'will' were very similar and that the 'Categorical Imperative' bore a striking resemblance to the basis of Rousseau's vision for society. I concluded by asking whether Kant would have produced such a striking normative system at all without Rousseau's work, an extended essay on this topic won a school essay competition. Having read Quine's Two Dogmas of Empiricism, I was surprised by his argument that the self-referential nature of language means that the divide between analytic & synthetic statements is dogmatic. The notion of language being self-referential had occurred to me in considering Searl's Chinese room thought experiment. The only difference between the Chinese speaker & the computer is that the computer lacks the rules to associate one character to another in the context of the rules that it knows. 'Understanding' is rooted in linguistic rules and not in the human mind uniquely.

I am interested by the use of maths in economics and I have enjoyed passages from von Neumann and Morgenstern's Theory of Games & Economic Behaviour. Although I thought that their opening remarks concerning the power of mathematic models in economics were very convincing, I also found the underlying assumptions of game theory to be a useful insight into how the failure of models contributed to not foreseeing the 2008 crash. In addition, when writing for a school magazine, I developed an argument from Michael Sandel's 2009 Reith Lecture on The Moral Limits of Markets in opposing Liberty's 'Snoopers Charter Campaign'. I chose to write on this subject because I enjoyed the distinction he drew between the roles market and non-market norms in criticising the practice of carbon trading, but also because I thought that the negative reaction to his argument by economists, though valid, had missed the point he was trying to make. In my spare time I have enjoyed being involved in running my school's political society.

I have also furthered an interest in international politics & relations by being involved in international Scouting, representing the UK in Sweden, Denmark & Finland in 2011 and Switzerland 2013, which has allowed me to take part in international MUN style conferences and similar events. I hope to be selected to represent the UK at a similar event in Japan in 2015.

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