Philosophy

Dr. Cheryl Chen, Director of Undergraduate Studies 
 
Philosophy studies many of humanity’s fundamental questions: how should we live, what kind of society should we strive towards, what are the limits of human knowledge? What is truth? Justice? Beauty? These questions are central to our lives, because in much of what we do, we at least implicitly assume answers to them. 
 
Philosophy seeks to reflect on these questions and answer them in a systematic, explicit, and rigorous way—relying on careful argumentation, and drawing from outside fields as diverse as economics, literature, religion, law, mathematics, the physical sciences, and psychology. And while most of the tradition of philosophy is Western, we seek to connect with non-Western traditions like Islam and Buddhism, as well. 
 
Philosophy doesn’t just operate at this most abstract of planes. We often investigate more specific issues in our classes. 
  • What is race, and what does justice require when it comes to race? 
  • What is gender? 
  • What are the ethical issues raised by technology in society? 
  • When and why is punishment justified? 
  • How should we interpret quantum mechanics? 
  • How does language play into the constitution of ourselves and our society? 
  • In what sense are various kinds of facts, like natural and social facts, objective? 
  • Is the mind best thought of as a computer? 
  • What are the ethical challenges of climate change? 
Philosophical questions are everywhere. If you find yourself drawn to them, studying philosophy in college is likely the best opportunity in your life to deeply engage with them. In fact, many concentrators find their way into philosophy from other disciplines, where they encounter interdisciplinary or foundational questions that can only be addressed through philosophical reflection. And given the small size of the department, concentrators have the rare opportunity to closely engage with dedicated faculty at the top of their fields. 
 
Whether they take just a course or two or end up concentrating, students find studying philosophy to be among the most rewarding intellectual experiences of their college careers. The department offers a rich array of classes to choose from, and students develop their own responses to the philosophical problems that attract them in conjunction with their study of philosophical writing. The department’s introductory courses help students to develop their reading, writing, and reasoning skills while acquainting them with broad surveys of major areas and historical periods. The department’s more advanced courses focus on more specific topics and allow students to explore their interests in the context of the broad foundation they acquired in the introductory courses. 
Harvard philosophy concentrators have gone on to pursue diverse and fulfilling careers in law, finance and consulting, business, internet start-ups, medicine, journalism, the arts, non-profit work, education, and academia. The skills that philosophy teaches students will always be in high demand: the ability to think and write clearly, the ability to bring to light unnoticed presuppositions, to explain complex ideas clearly, to tease out connections and implications, to see things in a broader context, to challenge orthodoxy. In short, philosophy gives you skills that you can apply to any line of work. 
 
OPTIONS 
  • Philosophy 
  • Mind, Brain, and Behavior Track 
  • Joint Concentrations with Philosophy 
REQUIREMENTS 
Basic Requirements: 12 courses (48 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. One course in each of the following four areas, taken by the end of the first term of senior year and passed with a grade of C– or better: 
      1. Logic. 
      2. Contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language. 
      3. Ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics. 
      4. History of ancient, medieval, or modern pre-20th-century philosophy. 
    2. Tutorials: Two courses. See item 2 below. 
    3. Six additional courses in philosophy, up to three of which may be in approved related subjects. Related courses are approved individually by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, in many cases depending on the interests and overall program of the student. They count for concentration credit only if they are needed to reach the minimum number of concentration courses required. 
  2. Tutorials
    1. Tutorial I: Philosophy 97, group tutorials at the introductory level on different philosophical topics, required. Letter-graded. A one-semester course typically taken in the spring of the sophomore year. 
    2. Tutorial II: Philosophy 98, group tutorials at the advanced level on different philosophical topics, required. Letter-graded. A one-semester course typically taken fall or spring of the junior year. 
  3. Thesis: None. 
  4. General Examination: None. 
  5. Other information
    1. Philosophy courses may include courses listed under Philosophy in the course search in  courses.my.harvard.edu
    2. Pass/Fail: All courses counted for the concentration must be letter-graded. 
    3. No more than four courses numbered lower than 91 may be counted for the concentration. 
Requirements for Honors Eligibility (Thesis): 13 courses (52 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. One course in each of the following five areas, taken by the end of the first term of senior year and passed with a grade of C– or better: 
      1. Logic. 
      2. Contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language. 
      3. Ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics. 
      4. History of ancient or medieval philosophy. 
      5. History of modern pre-20th-century philosophy. 
    2. Tutorials: Four courses. See item 2 below. 
    3. Four additional courses in philosophy, up to two of which may be in approved related subjects. Related courses are approved individually by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, in many cases depending on the interests and overall program of the student. They count for concentration credit only if they are needed to reach the minimum number of concentration courses required. 
  2. Tutorials
    1. Same as  Basic Requirements
    2. Same as  Basic Requirements
    3. Senior Tutorial: Philosophy 99, individual supervision of senior thesis. Permission of the Director of Undergraduate Studies is required for enrollment. Graded Sat/Unsat. Honors candidates ordinarily enroll in both fall and spring terms. Enrolled students who fail to submit a thesis when due must, to receive a grade above Unsat for the course, submit a substantial paper no later than the beginning of the spring term Reading Period. 
  3. Thesis:  Required of all senior honors candidates. Due at the Tutorial Office on the Friday after spring recess. No more than 20,000 words (approximately 65 pages). Oral examination on the thesis, by two readers, during the first week of spring Reading Period. 
  4. General Examination:  None. 
  5. Other information: Same as  Basic Requirements
Requirements for Honors Eligibility (Non-Thesis): 14 courses (56 credits) 
Students who earn honors through this track are only eligible to graduate with honors, not with high or highest honors. 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. One course in each of the following five areas, taken by the end of the first term of senior year and passed with a grade of C– or better: 
      1. Logic. 
      2. Contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language. 
      3. Ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics. 
      4. History of ancient or medieval philosophy. 
      5. History of modern pre-20th-century philosophy. 
    2. Tutorials: Two courses. See item 2 below. 
    3. Seven additional courses in philosophy, up to three of which may be in approved related subjects. Related courses are approved individually by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, in many cases depending on the interests and overall program of the student. They count for concentration credit only if they are needed to reach the minimum number of concentration courses required. 
  2. Tutorials
    1. Same as  Basic Requirements
    2. Same as  Basic Requirements
  3. Thesis:  None. 
  4. General Examination:  None. 
  5. Other information: 
    1. Same as Basic Requirements
    2. Same as Basic Requirements
    3. Same as Basic Requirements
    4. Students must have an honors GPA of 3.7 or above. A student’s honors GPA is computed as follows. All and only the courses that count towards concentration GPA count towards the honors GPA. Courses are weighted according to year in which they are taken. 
      1. Courses in the first year are weighted normally. 
      2. Courses in the second year are weighted with a multiplier of 1.2. 
      3. Courses in the third year are weighted with a multiplier of 1.4. 
      4. Courses in the fourth year are weighted with a multiplier of 1.5. 
Mind, Brain, and Behavior Track 
15 courses (60 credits)
 
Students interested in studying philosophical questions that arise in connection with the sciences of mind, brain, and behavior may pursue a program of study affiliated with the University-wide  Mind/Brain/Behavior (MBB) Initiative, which allows them to participate in a variety of related activities. MBB track programs must be approved on an individual basis by the Philosophy MBB adviser. Further information can be obtained from the Undergraduate Coordinator. 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. Three basic MBB courses: 
      1. Science of Living Systems 20 or Psychology 1. 
      2. Molecular and Cellular Biology 80. 
      3. Junior year seminar in Mind, Brain, and Behavior. 
    2. Philosophy 156. 
    3. One course in logic. 
    4. Three further courses in contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, or philosophy of language. 
    5. Two courses covering two of the following three areas: history of ancient philosophy, history of modern philosophy, ethics. 
    6. Two further MBB-listed courses from outside the Philosophy department, to be selected in consultation with the MBB adviser. 
  2. Tutorials
    1. Tutorial I: Same as  Basic Requirements. 
    2. Senior Tutorial: Same as  Requirements for Honors Eligibility
  3. General Examination:  None. 
  4. Other information: Same as  Basic Requirements
Joint Concentrations: Philosophy as Primary Concentration 
8 courses in Philosophy (36 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. One course in four of the five areas (see item 1a of Requirements for Honors Eligibility). 
    2. Four additional courses in philosophy; tutorials count toward this requirement. 
    3. At least four courses in the other field. Many departments require more; consult the Head Tutor of other field. 
  2. Tutorial: Tutorial I, Philosophy 97 (usually taken in the sophomore year). Normally a tutorial is also required in the other field. 
  3. Thesis: Required as for honors eligibility in Philosophy but must relate to both fields. Oral examination by two readers, one from each department. 
  4. General Examination:  None required in Philosophy. 
  5. Other information:  
    1. No more than three courses numbered lower than 91 may be counted for the concentration. 
    2. Other requirements are the same as Basic Requirements
Another Field as Primary Concentration 
6 courses in Philosophy (24 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. One course in three of the five areas (see item 1a of Requirements for Honors Eligibility). The introductory course (item 1a) also counts toward this requirement. 
    2. Three additional courses in philosophy; tutorial counts toward this requirement. 
  2. Tutorial: Tutorial I, (Philosophy 97), usually taken in the junior year. 
  3. Thesis:  Required. Must relate to both fields. Directed in the primary field; one reader from Philosophy. 
  4. General Examination:  None required in Philosophy. 
  5. Other information: 
    1. No more than two courses numbered lower than 91 may be counted for the concentration. 
    2. Other requirements are the same as Basic Requirements
ADVISING 
Advising is done by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Cheryl Chen, and the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies. Their office hours are posted on the philosophy department’s website. 
For up-to-date information on advising in Philosophy, please see the  Advising Programs Office website
 
RESOURCES 
The Department of Philosophy is housed in Emerson Hall, which contains the department and tutorial offices, the offices of faculty members and teaching fellows, and the Robbins Library of Philosophy. 
 
HOW TO FIND OUT MORE 
Further information may be obtained from Ms. Nyasha Bovell, Undergraduate Coordinator, in the tutorial office, Room 308 Emerson Hall;  nyashabovell@fas.harvard.edu
 
ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December
Concentrators
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019
Philosophy
48
61
53
58
45
41
45
52
51
58
58
58
Philosophy + another field
1
4
7
7
7
5
4
6
11
15
13
16
Another field + Philosophy
8
9
9
6
9
9
10
15
17
28
38
43