Philosophy Website


Chair, Professor ALAN WHITE


To engage in philosophy is to ask a variety of questions about the world and our place in it. What can we know? What should we do? What may we hope? What makes human beings human? These questions, in various forms, and others like them are not inventions of philosophers; on the contrary, they occur to most people simply as they live their lives. Many of us ask them as children, but later either ignore them, or accept answers we can live with. Philosophers, however, seek to keep such questions open, and to address them through reasoned discussion and argument, instead of accepting answers to them based on opinion or prejudice.

The program in philosophy is designed to aid students in thinking about these issues, by acquainting them with influential work in the field, past and present, and by training them to grapple with these issues themselves. The program emphasizes training in clear, critical thinking and in effective writing. Philosophy courses center around class discussions and the writing of interpretive and critical essays.


Philosophy is a discipline with a long and intricate history, a history that remains an integral part of the discipline. In this way, it differs dramatically from the natural sciences: for example, although no contemporary physicists or biologists embrace Aristotle's physics or biology, among philosophers there continue to be champions of Aristotle's metaphysics and of his ethics. Because of the richness and continuing importance of the history of philosophy, the program is designed to give majors a historical background that will acquaint them with a wide variety of approaches in philosophical issues, and will provide them with a basis for evaluating and contributing to contemporary debates.

A total of nine courses is required for the major in Philosophy. Students should begin with Philosophy 101 and 102, in either order; both are required for the major. These courses provide introductions to historical figures and themes that continue to be influential in many contemporary discussions in the two major areas of philosophical inquiry, i.e., practical inquiry into issues of ethics and politics, and theoretical inquiry into issues of knowledge, belief, understanding, and reality. Following 101 and 102, students should take 201 and 202 again in either order; neither is required for the major, but both are prerequisites for many upper-level courses and both are strongly recommended for students who think they may be interested in pursuing graduate study in philosophy. The final required course is the Senior Seminar, Philosophy 401.

Following your completion of 201 and 202, you will have the background you need in order to decide which four additional courses will, along with the Senior Seminar, best complete your major. Members of the department will gladly advise you, but you will have discovered which areas, topics, and figures are most important to you. Non-majors are invited to ask the chair for advice on course selection.

Students considering graduate study in philosophy are strongly urged to develop reading competence in German, French, or Greek before graduation.


The degree with honors in Philosophy is awarded to the student who has demonstrated outstanding achievement in a program of study that extends beyond the requirements of the major. The extension beyond major requirements may take the form either of independent work culminating in a senior essay or thesis (the independent-study route) or of additional course work (the directed-study route). Candidates must have GPAs of 3.6 or higher in their courses in philosophy, both at the time of applying for candidacy and at the end of senior year. Juniors interested in pursuing honors should so inform the Department Chair no later than mid-April.

The independent-study route to honors requires the completion and defense of either a senior essay produced in the fall semester plus winter study period (maximum 40 pages) or a year-long senior thesis (maximum 75 pages). Plans for either essay or thesis (including a brief proposal and bibliography, worked out in consultation with an advisor) must be submitted to the department in April of the junior year. A recommendation for graduation with honors will be made on the basis of the thoroughness, independence, and originality of the student's work.

The directed-study route to honors required the completion of two courses in philosophy in addition to the nine required for the major. Candidates taking this route must also submit to the department revised copies of two term papers (10 pages or longer) written for philosophy courses they have taken; each student will be assigned an adviser to help guide the process of revision. A recommendation for graduation with honors will be made on the basis of the scope of the student's course work, the quality of the student's participation in Philosophy 401, and the thoroughness, independence, and originality reflected in the submitted papers.