Majors & Programs



The word “philosophy” derives from root words that mean "love of wisdom." Philosophy deals with central questions of human life:

  • What is truth?
  • How should I live?
  • How should I treat others?
  • Is there a God?
  • What counts as human knowledge?
  • How is the mind related to the body?
  • What is a just society?

Issues such as these are basic to the ways in which we think about ourselves and our world. The search for answers to these questions is the search for wisdom.

Why Study Philosophy?

The study of Philosophy is essential to a well-rounded liberal arts education.

Courses in philosophy focus on the writings of great thinkers, past and present, who have searched for wisdom about human beings and their world.

  • Philosophers have shaped many of the central ideas on which Western civilization is based.
  • The methods of philosophy involve careful reading, clear writing, cogent reasoning, and appreciation of a wide range of perspectives — skills that are useful in other university courses and most walks of life.
  • Many modern fields of study, such as psychology, originated in philosophy, and the study of philosophy enhances understanding of the fundamentals of these and many other fields.

What Can You Do with a Philosophy Major?

A philosophy major is an excellent preparation for a wide variety of careers. Philosophy majors do exceptionally well on tests such as the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT that applicants take to gain admission into post-graduate and professional programs of study. The following careers are especially recommended:

  • Philosophy professor at the post-secondary level
  • Lawyer or legal scholar
  • Physician

In addition to these fields, our philosophy majors in recent years have gone into fields such as:

  • Art
  • Business Management
  • Clergy
  • Communications
  • Computer Science
  • Journalism
  • Psychology
  • Public Relations
  • Social Work

Teaching Philosophy

If you want to teach philosophy, these degrees are required:

  • For teaching at four-year colleges and universities, a Ph.D. is required.
  • For teaching at two-year colleges, an M.A. is sometimes sufficient.
  • For teaching at private and some public high schools, a B.A. is sometimes sufficient.

Philosophy Professors at Washington University

Our primary goal is to provide you with an outstanding educational experience for a productive and creative intellectual life.

The philosophy faculty here are dedicated teachers as well as active researchers.

  • All teach undergraduate courses on a regular basis.
  • All receive high praise from students in their course evaluations.

Leading Professionals

You will learn from philosophy professionals who are nationally, and often internationally, recognized as leading authors and researchers in their fields. Among them, they have published hundreds of journal articles and scores of books. Our faculty cover numerous specializations within philosophy that include the following areas:

  • Ancient Philosophy
  • Early Modern Philosophy
  • Kant and 19th-Century Philosophy
  • Ethics
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Epistemology (Theories of the Nature of Knowledge)
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Science
  • 20th-Century Analytic Philosophy
  • Aesthetics and Philosophy of the Arts

The Philosophy Major

Philosophy majors complete at least 27 units of course work in philosophy. At least 6 units must be at the senior level and at least 15 additional units must be at the junior level or above.

Each major’s individual program of study will be designed in consultation with the major advisor and may be quite flexible. To ensure a well-balanced major in philosophy, the department requires at least one course from each of the categories below:

  • Analytic/Contemporary Core Area: This includes Logic, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Language, and Philosophy of Science.
  • History of Philosophy
  • Value Theory: This includes Ethics, Political Philosophy, Philosophy of the Arts, and Philosophy of Law.
  • All majors are required to complete a capstone experience in philosophy, either an honors thesis (see below), or the Philosophy Capstone Course (Phil 3991).
  • Majors who are planning to do graduate work in philosophy should attain at least reading proficiency in German, Greek, Latin, or French.

Special Tracks Through the Major

Students who plan to apply either to graduate programs in philosophy or to law schools are encouraged to take extra coursework in philosophy in order to be especially competitive when submitting applications for post-graduate study. These optional "special tracks" include specific courses that are tailored to the requirements of the relevant post-graduate program of study. The department currently offers the following three special tracks:

  • Philosophy Research Focus (36 units): This 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. Courses include Symbolic Logic, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Classical Ethical Theories, and at least two history of philosophy courses.
  • Law and Policy Track (27 units): This 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. Courses include Logic, Social and Political Philosophy, and Philosophy of Law.
  • Philosophy of Science Track (27 units): This 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. Courses include Symbolic Logic, Philosophy of Science, Advanced Philosophy of Science I and II, and Conceptual Foundations of Modern Science.

The Philosophy Minor

To earn a minor in philosophy, students are required to complete 18 units in philosophy, at least 12 units at the 300 level or above. These 12 units must include at least one Core Course in each of the three designated areas listed above under "The Philosophy Major."

Senior Honors in Philosophy

Working for senior honors, by writing an honors thesis, is a particularly distinguished way to complete the Bachelor of Arts degree. It is also advantageous for those who plan to go on to graduate or professional school:

  • By writing an honors thesis, you develop your skills to the point of organizing and completing a written work of up to 75 pages.
  • Your honors project provides you with the opportunity to integrate what you have learned in philosophy, and the completed thesis is a solid statement of your status as a trained philosopher.

Honors Eligibility

To be eligible to work for Latin honors in philosophy (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, or cum laude), you must have at least a 3.5 average in all college courses and a 3.5 average in philosophy courses through the end of your junior year. Your application to do a senior honors thesis will be made at the end of your junior year.

Titles of Some Recent Honors Theses:

  • Philosophical, Psychological, and Anthropological Themes in the Doctor-Patient Relationship
  • Neo-Stoic Ethics
  • Do Mental States Have Representational Content?
  • Defining and Dealing with Terrorism
  • How Early 20th Century Movements Have Changed the Conception of What is Art
  • Paul Feyerabend on the Position of Science in Society
  • A Critique of Retributivist Theories of Punishment
  • The Right to Privacy
  • Epicureans on the Fear of Death

Study Abroad

Students can pursue the philosophy major while studying abroad. The department particularly recommends Utrecht University, University College London, and the University of Sussex. Information about study abroad and about specific overseas programs is available from the departmental website and the study abroad adviser.

Philosophy of Science Minor

This interdisciplinary minor program offers you the opportunity to explore scientific ideas and issues in a larger perspective. By drawing on a range of sources from different departments, you examine different sciences in relation to one another study issues not necessarily part of the traditional science curriculum.

This minor requires you to complete 18 units, 9 of which must be at the junior level, and 6 at the senior level. Nine units must be selected from a core of courses offered by different departments in Arts & Sciences.

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