Philosophy

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 our selves 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.

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. The secondaries below make reference to different areas of philosophy. Students can find a complete list of which courses count towards which of these areas on the philosophy department website (https://philosophy.fas.harvard.edu/concentration).

We offer four different pathways, all of which will appear as “Philosophy” on the transcript:

  • General Philosophy
  • Value Theory
  • Contemporary Metaphysics and Epistemology
  • History of Philosophy

Each consists of six courses (24 credits): (a) a recommended 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. Tutorial I: PHIL 97.
  2. Three courses covering three of the four areas, as categorized on the philosophy department website:
    1. History of Philosophy.
    2. Moral and Political Philosophy and Aesthetics.
    3. Contemporary Metaphysics and Epistemology, broadly construed.
    4. Logic.
  3. One other course in philosophy. An introductory course in the department (numbered below 91) is preferred, but in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, students may elect to forego taking an introductory course.
  4. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Value Theory

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. This also includes issues in aesthetics.

  1. Tutorial I: PHIL 97.
  2. Three courses in Moral and Political Philosophy and Aesthetics, as categorized on the philosophy department website.
  3. One other course in philosophy. An introductory course in the department in moral and political philosophy or aesthetics (numbered below 91) is preferred, but in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, students may elect to forego taking an introductory course.
  4. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Contemporary Metaphysics and Epistemology

Examination of issues in Metaphysics and Epistemology, broadly construed, so as to also include philosophy of language, science, and mind.

  1. Tutorial I: PHIL 97.
  2. One course in logic.
  3. Two courses in Metaphysics and Epistemology, broadly construed, as categorized on the philosophy department website.
  4. One other course in philosophy. An introductory course in the department in metaphysics and epistemology, broadly construed (numbered below 91) is preferred, but in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, students may elect to forego taking an introductory course.
  5. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

History of Philosophy

A close study of elements of the history of philosophy.

  1. Tutorial I: PHIL 97.
  2. Three courses in the history of Philosophy, as categorized on the philosophy department website.
  3. One other course in philosophy. An introductory course in the department in the history of philosophy (numbered below 91) is preferred, but in consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, students may elect to forego taking an introductory course.
  4. One other philosophy course, or a related course outside the department that has been approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

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 Director of Undergraduate Studies.

ADVISING RESOURCES AND EXPECTATIONS

The Director of Undergraduate Studies, Bernhard Nickel (bnickel@fas.harvard.edu), is available for advice about the program and course selection, along with the Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies, Cheryl Chen (ckchen@fas.harvard.edu). The Undergraduate Coordinator, Nyasha Bovell (nyashabovell@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 Director of Undergraduate Studies.