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Pembroke College, St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1DW 

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Humanities and social sciences

and Philosophy and world religions

These questions are for pupils wishing to apply for the Humanities and World Religions or the Philosophy and World Religions course. For information on how to apply for our other courses, click here

Write a two-page response to ONE of the following questions and email it to felix.slade@pmb.ox.ac.uk. Make sure you have also completed an application form on this page

Question 1

Josiah Wedgewood (1730 – 1795), Design for an Anti-Slavery Medallion

What does this tell us about attitudes to human rights in the eighteenth century?

Question 2


I am an academic plant geneticists, who has worked at [a renowned academic institution] for the last five years. I’ve pretty much decided I want to leave academia but remain in science. The obvious direction to then go into is biotech and I think I could be a good fit for it. There are many options for me in biotech and I’ve applied for many jobs. The company that has been the most responsive to me is Monsanto.

I’m sure Monsanto would be a great employer for the reasons I would like to work in biotech (stability, good pay/benefits and collaboration). However it is seen by most as perhaps the most “evil” company. I’m confident I would lose a lot of friends if I did work for them. Also, I doubt I would dare tell strangers that I worked for them.

I’m not decided on how I feel about the company myself. I think they have done some messed-up things in the past but so have most large corporations. I’m more pro-GMO than most but also have my reservations. I understand the need for a company to patent seeds. I doubt I would be doing evil work for them and would not do it if I knew I was.



How should an economist and a philosopher each respond to this?

Question 3

In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there. ... There must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers, who formed [the watch] for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use. ... Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

— William Paley, Natural Theology (1802)

Is this a good argument for the existence of God?

Question 4

Do maps lie?

Question 5

What should be deduced from the fact that the hamsa (Arabic: خمسة‎ khamsah; Hebrew: חַמְסָהis) is such a widely used religious symbol?

Question 6

You see a runaway trolley moving toward five tied-up (or otherwise incapacitated) people lying on the main track. You are standing next to a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be redirected onto a side track, and the five people on the main track will be saved. However, there is a single person lying on the side track. You have two options:

  1. Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill the five people on the main track.

  2. Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person.

Which is the more ethical option? Or, more simply:

What is the right thing to do?