Philosophy

 

Philosophy studies many of humanity’s fundamental questions. Some of these questions arise when we reflect on the most basic and most widely shared elements of human experience:

  • what kind of life should we live?
  • what kind of society should we want?
  • what makes one system of belief better than another? Its being more rational?
  • what are the limits of human knowledge?  

Whether in the street, court, classroom, or lab, we often assume implicit answers to these questions. Some of those answers, and even the questions themselves, are the product of a centuries-old philosophical tradition that has shaped and reshaped our society and culture. Philosophy seeks to reflect on these questions and answers in a systematic, explicit, and rigorous way—by studying the tradition, relying on careful argumentation, and drawing from outside fields as diverse as economics, literature, religion, law, mathematics, the physical sciences, and psychology. Those fields raise philosophical questions of their own:

  • does neuroscience show us that we lack free will?
  • how should we interpret quantum mechanics?
  • what is the source of political rights? what are the limits and obligations of the state?
  • when and why is punishment justified? how should a constitution be interpreted?
  • what is beauty? are there “objective” standards for works of art?

Philosophical questions are everywhere. If you find yourself drawn to them, studying philosophy in college is likely the best opportunity in your life to address them.

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.

The secondary field in Philosophy is designed to offer students both a general introduction to philosophical skills and a more focused exploration of some particular domain of philosophy. We offer six different pathways, all of which will appear as "Philosophy" on the transcript:

Each consists of six courses (24 credits): (a) an introductory level course, (b) a tutorial, and (c) four additional courses, one of which can be a related course outside the department. In all cases, the structure is designed to ensure that students have a basic introduction to the subject matter and methodology of philosophy; an intensive discussion-based tutorial in which they have close contact with the instructor and work intensively on their writing; and a selection of upper level courses that develop the student's skills in the area of their interest.

REQUIREMENTS: 6 courses (24 credits)

General Philosophy

A selection of courses from across the discipline.

  1. One introductory course: These courses have numbers under 100.
  2. Tutorial I: Philosophy 97.
  3. Three courses covering three of the following four areas:
    1. History of Philosophy.
    2. Moral and Political Philosophy.
    3. Metaphysics and Epistemology.
    4. Logic.
  4. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Head Tutor.

Classics of Western Philosophy

An introduction to some of the classic thinkers and texts of Western thought.

  1. One introductory course: These courses have numbers under 100. Philosophy 8 is preferred.
  2. Tutorial I: Philosophy 97.
  3. One course in ancient philosophy.
  4. One course in modern philosophy.
  5. One additional course in the history of philosophy.
  6. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Head Tutor.

Philosophy of Science

The study of general principles that underlie scientific reasoning and justification.

  1. One introductory course: These courses have numbers under 100. Philosophy 3 or Philosophy 22 is preferred.
  2. Tutorial I: Philosophy 97.
  3. Philosophy 149z: Philosophy of Science.
  4. Two other courses in philosophy of science.
  5. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Head Tutor.

Moral and Political Philosophy

Examination of historical and contemporary theories about the basis and content of such moral and political concepts as the good, obligation, justice, equality, rights, and freedom.

  1. One introductory course: These courses have numbers under 100. An Ethical Reasoning course cross-listed in Philosophy is preferred.
  2. Tutorial I: Philosophy 97.
  3. Three courses in moral and political philosophy.
  4. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Head Tutor.

Philosophy of Mind and Psychology

The philosophy of mind, perception, and psychology.

  1. One introductory course: These courses have numbers under 100. Philosophy 3, 8, or 22 is preferred.
  2. Tutorial I: Philosophy 97.
  3. Philosophy 156: Philosophy of Mind.
  4. Two other courses in the philosophy of mind or philosophy psychology.
  5. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Head Tutor.

Special Topic in Philosophy

This option invites students to construct proposals of their own for a secondary field in Philosophy, drawing on their own interests and the courses available. This option must be constructed in consultation with the Head Tutor, but would require at least the following courses:

  1. One Introductory Course. These courses have numbers under 100.
  2. Tutorial I.
  3. Three courses chosen from among the department's offerings, along with a proposal for combining these courses into an integrated secondary field.
  4. One other course in the department or a related course outside the department.

OTHER INFORMATION

All courses must be taken for a letter grade and students must earn a C or higher for the course to count toward the secondary field. No more than two courses may be introductory level (numbered below 97). Typically, all courses but one will be taken in the Philosophy Department. Approval for “related” courses must be obtained from the head tutor.

ADVISING RESOURCES AND EXPECTATIONS

The Head Tutor, Bernhard Nickel (bnickel@fas.harvard.edu), is available for advice about the program and course selection, along with the Associate Head Tutor, Cheryl Chen (ckchen@fas.harvard.edu). The Undergraduate Coordinator, Emily Ware (eware@fas.harvard.edu), is also available for information about the program. All students interested in a secondary field are expected to register their interest with the department early on, and have an initial advising conversation with the Head Tutor.