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The graduate program in philosophy is designed to equip promising students for careers as philosophers and teachers of philosophy. To that end, the program provides broad general training, an opportunity for specialized research in the major areas of philosophic inquiry, and experience in undergraduate teaching. Students pursue an individual plan of study appropriate to their background, interests, and aims.
In the Standard Program, the first four semesters of graduate study are typically devoted to formal course work and independent research; by the end of the fifth semester, the student takes the general examination; having passed generals and demonstrated a capacity for doing scholarly work, the student proceeds to write a doctoral dissertation. The requirements for the three Special Programs—the Logic and the Philosophy of Science Track, the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Philosophy, and the Interdepartmental Program in Political Philosophy—are all variations on the requirements for the Standard Program.
Although there is no admission with advanced standing, regardless of previous work in philosophy, students with a strong undergraduate background, or those who have done graduate work at other institutions, may be able to satisfy the standard pre-generals requirements more quickly and hence take the general examination in two years or less.
Sample of written work no more than 10,000 words.
Permission to take the general examination is granted after review of the student’s record by the department. It is normally necessary (the grounds for exception are explained below) and always sufficient that students satisfy the department that they have an adequate basic knowledge of each of the following fields: (1) history of philosophy, both ancient and modern; (2) metaphysics and epistemology; (3) ethics; and (4) logic. Before taking the general examination, students must complete seven units of work distributed as follows: at least two in the history of philosophy, at least two in metaphysics and epistemology, at least two in ethics, and at least one in logic. In addition, before taking the general exam, students must complete two further philosophy units, plus the language requirement or an alternative to it (see the Language(s) section, below). For the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Philosophy, four additional units must be completed, consisting of sight reading tests and reading list exams in Greek and Latin. Completion of a unit can be accomplished by seminar or course work, examination, or submission of independent work, as prearranged with a faculty member. Two of the required units must contain an oral component. Up to three units may be satisfied by the submission of papers written before the student’s arrival at Princeton, but neither of the first two units, and only one of the first five, may be satisfied in this way. At least one of the first three units must be for new substantive work in philosophy.
Students who wish to do especially intensive work in one area of philosophy through extra work either in the Department of Philosophy or in related areas in other departments may be granted variances permitting them to do less than the norm in some other areas of philosophy, if this is required to allow them to pursue their special interests. Such variances will require approval of the department. There are, in addition, three specific alternative tracks that lead to the Ph.D. degree in philosophy, all of which provide special opportunities for combining the study of philosophy with other disciplines: the philosophy of science track, and the interdepartmental programs in classical philosophy and in political philosophy. For information about special programs, refer to the special programs page on our website.
Please refer to and navigate within our general website for detailed information on the department’s various units and programs.
Every student must either demonstrate a reading knowledge of French or German, or else satisfy an alternative requirement before taking the general examination. (Those in the Interdepartmental Program in Classical Philosophy cannot take the alternative.) Reading knowledge is demonstrated by passing an examination on the translation of philosophical prose administered by two members of the Department of Philosophy.
A student electing to satisfy the alternative requirement must either (1) complete a 10th distribution unit in any area of philosophy (see above) or (2) complete a unit of advanced work in another department, in accordance with a plan previously approved by the Graduate Committee of the philosophy department. (This may not be work also used to satisfy any other requirement.)
In many areas of philosophy, including but not limited to the history of philosophy and recent European philosophy, satisfactory scholarship is not possible without a good reading knowledge of certain foreign languages. The languages most often needed are French, German, Greek, and Latin. A student having none of these languages will therefore be significantly limited in choosing areas of research, and in the choice of a dissertation topic. If a student's dissertation is devoted to any considerable extent to an author, the student must be able to read the author's works in their original language.
The general examination consists of an oral examination of approximately one hour, preceded a few days earlier by a written examination, given over the course of 48 hours, in the field within which the candidate proposes to write a dissertation. The examinations are administered by a committee of the faculty, the composition of which ensures that the student is questioned from a variety of points of view. The subject of the examinations is broadly construed. The candidate is not expected to defend a thesis plan in detail, but instead is asked to present and defend some ideas in the area of the planned dissertation. Advancement to continued candidacy for the Ph.D. is based on an assessment of a student’s performance on the general examination in light of the student’s level of achievement in gaining the required units. All graduate students must give an undergraduate lecture at Princeton, observed by a philosophy department faculty member, prior to taking the general exam. Further details can be found on our website.
The Master of Arts degree (M.A.) in Philosophy – an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy – is earned by obtaining, at a specific level of achievement, the units required before taking the general exam. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.
All graduate students in philosophy, including those receiving outside fellowships, engage in some classroom teaching under the guidance of a faculty member: leading discussion groups, setting and marking examinations and tests, and criticizing written papers. This work normally amounts to three hours of classroom teaching plus attendant preparation, or the equivalent, for three terms, and in no case totals less than six hours. Assignments are made with regard for the student’s aptitudes and interests. First-year students normally are not assigned teaching responsibilities.
As a requirement for the degree of Ph.D., students must do three in-seminar presentations in three different seminars they attend, not including the first-year seminar or the dissertation seminar.
The department conducts a colloquium, principally for members of the faculty and graduate students, at which professors from Princeton and other universities present papers for discussion. In addition, graduate students working on their dissertations present portions of their work in progress at a series of talks scheduled throughout the year.
The dissertation is written under the guidance of one or two members of the department (the primary and secondary advisers). While working on the dissertation, students may consult not only their advisers but also other members of the faculty. The dissertation is normally limited to 100,000 words (about 400 standard pages); a length of 30,000 to 50,000 words is recommended.
The dissertation must be accepted by the department, having first been read and recommended for acceptance by two readers, neither of whom may be the student's primary adviser. After the dissertation has been accepted, the student takes a final public oral examination in which he or she must demonstrate a capacity for scholarly research in the area of the dissertation.
After passing the final examination, the student is awarded the Ph.D. degree in philosophy by the University.
Michael A. Smith
John P. Burgess
Adam Newman Elga
Elizabeth Harman, University Center for Human Values
Thomas P. Kelly
Benjamin C. A. Morison
Alexander Nehamas, also Council of the Humanities, Comparative Literature
Gideon A. Rosen
Michael A. Smith
Boris C. Kment
Johann D. Frick, also University Center for Human Values
Grace E. Helton, also Council of the Humanties
Charles R. Beitz, Politics
Robert P. George, Politics
Sanjeev R. Kulkarni, Electrical Engineering
Melissa S. Lane, Politics
Alan W. Patten, Politics
Philip N. Pettit, Politics, University Center for Human Values
Peter Singer, University Center for Human Values
Jeffrey L. Stout, Religion
Courses listed below are graduate-level courses that have been approved by the program’s faculty as well as the Curriculum Subcommittee of the Faculty Committee on the Graduate School as permanent course offerings. Permanent courses may be offered by the department or program on an ongoing basis, depending on curricular needs, scheduling requirements, and student interest. Not listed below are undergraduate courses and one-time-only graduate courses, which may be found for a specific term through the Registrar’s website. Also not listed are graduate-level independent reading and research courses, which may be approved by the Graduate School for individual students.