Major & Minor Requirements

Philosophy Majors

Major Requirements

Philosophy Major checklist (pdf)

The following requirements apply to all philosophy majors, except where noted. In addition to our regular major, we offer three specialized "tracks": a Philosophy Research track, a Law and Policy track, and a Philosophy of Science track.

Majors are declared online via WebSTAC.

Unit requirements

Philosophy majors are required to complete at least 27 total units (e.g. 9 three-unit courses). All 27 units must have a grade of C- or above. Of these 27 units:

  • 21 units (e.g. 7 three-unit courses) must be at the 300-level or above.
  • 6 units (e.g. 2 three-unit courses) must be at the 400-level or above, of which only 3 units (e.g. 1 three-unit course) may be from an independent study course.

Course requirements

In addition to the unit requirements, majors must complete:

  • Three core courses, one in each of the three core areas 

  • Either a Writing Intensive philosophy course or a fourth core course
  • A Capstone Experience, i.e. either Philosophy 3991 or an Honors Thesis

See relevant sections below for more details about these additional requirements.

General policies
The following policies apply to all philosophy students (majors and minors):

  • Courses that count towards the major or minor may not be taken pass/fail.
  • Majors and minors should enroll in courses using the L30 (Philosophy) course number.
  • Courses offered by departments other than philosophy do not count towards the major or minor, absent approval from the undergraduate director. (In the course listings, these are courses whose "Course Type" is "Ident," as opposed to those courses whose course type is "Home"; only the latter automatically count towards the philosophy major or minor.)
  • Summer courses do not count towards the major or minor, absent approval from the undergraduate director.
  • The College of Arts and Sciences places restrictions on "double counting" courses toward more than one major or minor program; refer to the current Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Bulletin for more information.

Students who spend one semester in a study abroad program may receive up to 6 units towards the major or 3 units toward the minor for philosophy courses taken in an approved philosophy program, and students who spend a full year in a study abroad program may receive up to 9 units towards the major or 6 units toward the minor. Refer to the Study Abroad page for more details.

Core Courses

Contemporary/Analytic

  • 301G Symbolic Logic
  • 306G Philosophy of Language
  • 3113 Theory of Knowledge
  • 315 Philosophy of Mind
  • 321G Philosophy of Science
  • 3481 Introduction to Metaphysics
  • 361 Philosophy of Emotions

History

  • 347C Ancient Philosophy
  • 349C Descartes to Hume
  • 357C Kant & 19th Century Philosophy
  • 358 Conceptual Foundations of Modern Science

Value Theory

  • 331F Classical Ethical Theories
  • 339F Philosophy of the Arts
  • 340F Social and Political Philosophy
  • 345F Issues in Applied Ethics
  • 346 Philosophy of Law
  • 361 Philosophy of Emotions

Explore our Course Listings for more details.

Writing Intensive Course

Writing Intensive Course

All students in Arts & Sciences are required to take a Writing Intensive course. Majors are encouraged to fulfill their Writing Intensive requirement by taking Philosophy 390 (which is offered every Fall semester) or a regular philosophy offering that is specially designated as “Writing Intensive.” These courses are typically taken in the junior year and are limited to 15 students. A philosophy major who does not take a philosophy writing intensive seminar must take a fourth core course, in any of the three core areas.

Philosophy 390: Philosophical Writing

This seminar is the "Writing Intensive" course in Philosophy. It will have a different topic of central philosophical importance each semester. Significant attention will also be devoted to conceiving, researching, writing, revising, critiquing, and presenting philosophical essays. This seminar is also designed to be a small, specialized seminar for philosophy majors (and others with a strong interest in philosophy). This course will have a cap of 15 students, and a requirement that students write and then revise at least three papers. Typically taken in the junior year. Priority will be given to philosophy majors and minors who have not yet completed their Writing Intensive requirement.

Capstone Experience

Capstone Experience

All Philosophy majors are required to complete a Capstone Experience, either by taking Philosophy 3991 (which is offered every Spring semester) or by writing an Honors Thesis. (Students who write an Honors Thesis enroll in Philosophy 499.) To qualify for doing an honors thesis, students must have, at the end of the junior year, at least a 3.65 GPA in the major, a 3.65 GPA in advanced philosophy courses, and a 3.65 overall GPA. Alternatively, majors sign up for Phil 3991 (a three-credit course).

Philosophy 3991: Philosophy Capstone Course

This course will focus either on classic writings from the past century or on contemporary writings that address a major philosophical concern, such as "The Meaning of Life" or "The Concept of Self". In either case, the course will draw together a variety of philosophical specializations. Must be taken by all philosophy majors who are not writing an honors project. Prerequisite: Senior standing, major in philosophy; preference given to those majors not pursuing Honors.

Major Tracks

Philosophy Research Track

The Philosophy Research Track is especially recommended for students who plan to pursue graduate studies and an advanced degree in philosophy - a must for anyone interested in a career as a university or college philosophy teacher. It will give the student a broad background in philosophy, which is a competitive advantage when applying to graduate programs in the field.

The requirements for the Philosophy Research track are the same as the regular major requirements (see above), with the following exceptions:

  • Philosophy Research majors must take 36 total units (e.g. 12 three-unit courses).
  • All 36 units must have a grade of C- or above.
  • 30 of those units (e.g. 10 three-unit courses) must be at the 300-level or above.
  • 6 of those units (e.g. 2 three-unit courses) must be at the 400-level or above, of which only 3 units (e.g. 1 three-unit course) may be from an independent study course.
  • Philosophy Research majors must take Philosophy 100 (Logic and Critical Analysis) and one additional 100-level course, preferably Philosophy 120 (Problems in Philosophy) or 125 (Great Philosophers).
  • To fulfill their Contemporary/Analytic core requirement, Philosophy Research majors must take Philosophy 301 (Symbolic Logic); one of either Philosophy 3113 (Theory of Knowledge) or Philosophy 3481 (Introduction to Metaphysics); and one of either Philosophy 306 (Philosophy of Language), Philosophy 315 (Philosophy of Mind) or Philosophy 321 (Philosophy of Science).
  • To fullfill their History core requirement, Philosophy Research majors must take two core courses in History (or a 400-level course in the history of philosophy may be substituted for a second 300-level course).
  • To fullfill their Value Theory core requirement, Philosophy Research majors must take Philosophy 331 (Classical Ethical Theories) and one of Philosophy 4315 (Normative Ethical Theory) or Philosophy 4310 (Metaethics).

Philosophy Research major checklist (pdf)

Law and Policy Track

The Law and Policy track is especially recommended for students who intend to pursue a career in law or public policy. The track involves taking certain specific courses for the major, and possibly a few extra courses, that will provide the student with additional preparation and a competitive edge when applying to law school, post-graduate programs in public policy, and related jobs.

The requirements for the Law and Policy track are the same as the regular major requirements, with the following exceptions:

  • Law and Policy majors must take Philosophy 100 (Logic and Critical Analysis) or 301 (Symbolic Logic). As well, a 100-level course other than Philosophy 100 and a 200-level course is strongly recommended.
  • To fulfill their Value Theory core requirement, Law and Policy majors must take Philosophy 340 (Social and Political Philosophy) and Philosophy 346 (Philosophy of Law). As well, an additional core course in Value Theory is strongly recommended.

 Law and Policy major checklist (pdf) 

Philosophy of Science Track

The Philosophy of Science track is available only as a second major in combination with work in one or more of the sciences. It is intended for those students with a scientific background who have an interest in pursuing philosophical issues relating to the natural and physical sciences.

The requirements for the Philosophy of Science track are the same as the regular major requirements, with the following exceptions:

  • To complete their Contemporary/Analytic core requirement, Philosophy of Science majors must complete Philosophy 301 (Symbolic Logic), Philosophy 321G (Philosophy of Science), and Philosophy 4210 (Topics in Advanced Philosophy of Science).
  • To complete their History core requirement, Philosophy of Science majors must complete either Philosophy 347C (Ancient Philosophy), Philosophy 349C (Descartes to Hume), or Philosophy 358 (Conceptual Foundations of Modern Science).
  • Philosophy of Science majors are not required to complete a core course in Value Theory.
  • Philosophy of Science majors must take 12 units (e.g. 4 three-unit courses) from the list of "advanced courses" below.

Advanced courses for the Philosophy of Science track:

*No more than 6 units can be taken in any given subject area.
**We strongly encourage students to take 3 units in philosophy of the special sciences: Philosophy of Biological Science, Neuroscience, Psychology, or Medicine.

General Philosophy
390 Philosophical Writing (only offered in the fall)
426 Theories and Concepts

Logic and Method
405 Philosophical Logic
4051 Philosophy of Logic

Epistemology and Metaphysics
3113 Theory of Knowledge
3481 Intro to Metaphysics
4141 Advanced Epistemology
4142 Advanced Metaphysics
4332 Cognition and Computation

Life and Science
3001 Philosophy of Medicine**
4212 Philosophy of Neuroscience**
423 Philosophy of Biological Science**

Mind and Science
315 Philosophy of Mind
418 Current Controversies in Cognitive Science
419 Philosophy of Psychology**
4212 Philosophy of Neuroscience**
495 PNP Seminar

 Philosophy of Science major checklist (pdf) 

Philosophy Minor

Minor Requirements

The following requirements apply to all philosophy minors, except where noted. Minors are declared online via WebSTAC.

Unit requirements

Philosophy minors are required to complete at least 18 total units (e.g. 6 three-unit courses), all with a C- or above. 12 of these units (e.g. 4 three-unit courses) must be at the 300-level or above.

Course requirements

Minors must complete three core courses, on in each of the three core areas.

General policies

The following policies apply to all philosophy students (majors and minors):

  • Courses that count towards the major or minor may not be taken pass/fail.
  • Majors and minors should enroll in courses using the L30 (philosophy) course number.
  • Courses offered by departments other than philosophy do not count towards the major or minor, absent approval form the undergraduate director. (In the corse listings, these are courses whose "Course Type" is "Ident," as opposed to those courses whose course type is "Home"; only the latter automatically count towards the philosophy major or minor.)
  • Summer courses do not count towards the major of minor, absent approval from the undergraduate director.
  • The College of Arts and Sciences places restrictions on "double counting" courses towards more than one major or minor program; refer to the current Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Bulletin for more information.
  • Students who spend one semester in a study abroad program may receive up to 6 units towards the major or 3 units toward the minor for philosophy courses taken in an approved philosophy program, and students who spend a full year in a study abroad program may receive up to 9 units towards the major or 6 units toward the minor. To count study-abroad credit towards the major or minor, students must have their courses approved in advance by their philosophy advisor, and submit written work and course documentation after the fact.

Normally philosophy minors will be expected to satisfy their core distribution requirements for the minor with courses taken at Washington University. However, when submitting their written work for the courses taken abroad, students may apply for three units of credit (one course) toward their distribution requirements, subject to approval by the department.

Philosophy Minor checklist (pdf)

Honors

The Honors Thesis in Philosophy

The Honors Thesis is a distinguished way to complete the B.A. degree. It also provides excellent preparation for those who plan to go on to graduate or professional schools. The completed thesis is a solid statement of your status as a trained philosopher. Note, also, that at Washington University the only way to earn Latin Honors in Arts & Sciences is by successfully completing an Honors Thesis.

Typically, an Honors Thesis will consist of several chapters totaling 40-60 pages. Alternatively, in consultation with your thesis advisor, you may elect to write an article-length essay that aims at the standards of professional philosophy journals. This second option can be particularly useful for those applying to graduate school in philosophy, since it can serve as the required writing sample. Whatever form it takes, your thesis is expected to undergo multiple revisions.

The Final Product

On the basis of the completed written thesis, the oral thesis defense, and your overall grade point average, the thesis committee will determine: (a) your grade for Phil 499 for the spring semester; (b) whether you will receive Latin Honors in Philosophy; (c) the level of Latin Honors you will receive (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude); and (d) a grade for both the written thesis and the oral defense.

Awarding of Honors

Upon certification by the department that the Honors program has been satisfactorily completed, the student may be awarded the A.B. cum laudemagna cum laude, or summa cum laude according to the following proportions: the top 15 percent in overall grade point average of Latin honors candidates who complete the necessary requirements of their major departments or programs in the College of Arts & Sciences will graduate summa cum laude; the next 35 percent magna cum laude; the next 50 percent cum laude.

Eligibility & Application

To be eligible to write an Honors Thesis, you must have the agreement of a faculty member to serve as a thesis advisor. This agreement will depend on his or her assessment of the viability of your project, your preparation to carry out the project, and his or her availability during the semesters in question. In addition, you must have, at the end of the junior year, at least a 3.65 GPA in Philosophy, a 3.65 GPA in advanced philosophy courses (300-level and above), and a 3.65 overall GPA. It is strongly recommended that you complete three of the required core courses and one 400-level course by the end of your junior year.

You must submit an application for Honors by the last day of classes of the junior year. A one-paragraph description of the project is required at this point. This description should be prepared in consultation with your thesis advisor.

Note that if you will be studying abroad during your junior year, it is imperative to plan ahead carefully. If possible, you should secure the agreement of a thesis advisor prior to your departure.

Honors Thesis Application 

Honors Thesis Timetable

FALL SEMESTER, JUNIOR YEAR

Students interested in pursuing Honors should begin preparation in the Fall semester of their junior year, especially by taking advanced courses in their special areas of interest, taught by prospective faculty advisors.

SPRING SEMESTER, JUNIOR YEAR

The department surveys the majors to determine who is considering writing an Honors Thesis and with which faculty members.  This helps the department match students eligible for Honors with a suitable faculty advisor. Students should begin to formulate a thesis topic, in consultation with their prospective faculty advisor. Students who are abroad should be in regular contact with the faculty member with whom they wish to work.

Last day of classes, Spring semester: Students intending to pursue Honors must submit to the department an application for Honors, including a brief summary of the thesis topic and an indication of the agreement of the faculty advisor. Students should register for L30 499 for the following fall semester (please see the department secretary for the section number of your faculty advisor).

End of May: On the basis of spring semester grades and faculty assessments, initial approval of applications for Honors will be sent to students and thesis advisors.

FALL SEMESTER, SENIOR YEAR

September 15th: Two hard copies of the thesis prospectus are due to your thesis advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The thesis prospectus should be approximately 500 words in length and should include a description of the thesis topic and how it will be approached.

By September 30th: The Director of Undergraduate Studies assigns thesis committee members.

Late November-early December: Students will submit a detailed written report about their progress to their faculty adviser. Reports should be approximately 500 words.

Late-December: The faculty thesis advisor, in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, will reach a verdict about the viability of the honors project by the end of finals of Fall semester, at which time the student will be approved to continue with the Honors thesis or be advised to enroll in the Capstone course for the Spring semester. Students continuing with honors should re-enroll for L30 499 for Spring semester. If the thesis is discontinued, the Fall semester section of L30 499 will be converted to L30 500 (the number for ordinary independent studies). The faculty advisor will then assign a grade for Phil 500.

SPRING SEMESTER, SENIOR YEAR

February 15th: A full penultimate draft of the Honors Thesis, including all chapters, is due to the thesis committee. The committee is encouraged to return the material to the student as soon as possible with final comments. The thesis defense should be scheduled at this time.

March 15th: Final versions of the Honors Thesis are due to members of the thesis committee.

End of March: The oral thesis defense takes place, lasting approximately one hour. At the conclusion, the candidate leaves the room, and the thesis committee determines a grade for both the written and oral component of the thesis. The student is then informed of the result, and the relevant form is completed and submitted to the department office.

April 15th: Students must submit an electronic copy of the corrected, final thesis to the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Philosophy Administrative Assistant.

May 1st: The faculty advisor will submit a written report about the quality of the written thesis and the oral exam to the Director of Undergraduate Studies. This report should include a grade for both the written and oral component as well as note the level of Latin honors.

Philosophy Prizes

Stenner Essay Competition

Each fall semester the Department sponsors the Helen Stenner Memorial Essay Prize Competition, the winner of which receives a monetary prize. The competition is open to all undergraduate majors in the Department and is separate from the Stenner competition for graduate students. A notice advertising each year's prize competition is posted several months prior to the deadline for submission of papers.

Nishi Luthra Prize

Drs. Chaman and Adarsh Luthra established the Nishi Luthra Prize in Philosophy in memory of their daughter, Nishi, who was an undergraduate major in philosophy. This prize is awarded to an outstanding graduating philosophy major, determined by the department.