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About the Major

Department/Program Description.

Doing philosophy means reasoning about questions that are of basic importance to the human experience–questions like: What is a good life? What is reality? How can we know anything? What should we believe? How should our societies be organized? Philosophers critically analyze ideas and practices that often are assumed without reflection. Philosophers at Wesleyan approach our subjects with tools from a range of traditions of inquiry, and we offer a wide variety of perspectives on the deep and perplexing questions that are central to the study of philosophy.

General Education.

Many philosophy courses carry General Education designations. Depending on the topic, these may carry HA or SBS designations (or in the case of formal logic, NSM).

Courses for Non-Majors.

Courses numbered below 250 are designed to be appropriate as first courses in philosophy.  In addition, many of our courses numbered 250 and above are of interest to majors in related departments.  (For example, students majoring in neuroscience or psychology often take PHIL286 Philosophy of Mind.)

Major Description.

We divide our courses into three levels (introductory, intermediate, and advanced) and three broad subject areas (historical, value, and mind and reality). Introductory classes are suitable for all students, including prospective majors. Intermediate classes tend to have prerequisites or in other ways may be unsuitable for first-year students. Advanced classes are typically aimed at majors in philosophy and other relevant disciplines. Historical courses focus primarily on classical philosophical texts, whether within a period, across periods or traditions, or by a single philosopher. Courses in the value area primarily address ethical, political, aesthetic, cultural, or religious practices and norms. Mind and reality courses look at issues related to language, mind, reasoning, knowledge, and the nature of reality. The three subject areas are by no means mutually exclusive. Often, courses will fall into more than one area but are intended to facilitate the department's desire that serious students of philosophy be exposed to a range of issues and approaches.

Introductory courses. Introductory courses are numbered from 101 to 249; courses numbered 201 and above count toward major requirements. Most of our introductory courses are intended both for students interested in philosophy as part of their general education and for prospective majors. Unless noted otherwise in an individual course's description, all introductory courses fulfill the department's informal reasoning requirement. No more than four introductory courses (from 201-249) can count toward the major for a given student.

Introductory historical courses are numbered between 201 and 210. These courses introduce the texts and traditions of reasoning from major periods in the history of philosophy.

  • PHIL201 Philosophical Classics I: Ancient Western Philosophy introduces students to fundamental philosophical questions about self and knowledge, truth, and justice.
  • PHIL202 Philosophical Classics II: Early Modern Philosophy from Descartes Through Kant is an introduction to major themes of early modern European philosophy: knowledge, freedom, and the nature of the self and of physical reality.
  • PHIL205 Classical Chinese Philosophy introduces students to the major texts and themes of early Confucianism, Daoism, and their philosophical rivals.

Introductory value courses are numbered between 211 and 229. These courses introduce students to reasoning about values in a variety of realms.

  • PHIL212 Introduction to Ethics is an introduction to Western ethical thinking that draws on classic and contemporary readings to explore major traditions of ethical theorizing as well as topics of current social relevance.
  • PHIL215 Humans, Animals, and Nature explores the scope, strength, and nature of moral and political obligations to nonhumans and to other humans.
  • PHIL217 Moral Psychology: Care of the Soul examines the intersections of ethical theory, theoretical psychology, and forms of therapy.

Introductory mind and reality courses are numbered between 230 and 249. These courses introduce students to issues related to language, mind, and formal reasoning.

  • PHIL231 Reason and Paradox is an introduction to philosophical issues of mind, language, and reality by the study of conceptual paradoxes and the clarification and evaluation of reasoning.

Introductory courses that do not count for major courses are numbered between 101 and 199. In addition to the courses listed above, all of which count toward the major, the department periodically will offer introductory courses that do not fulfill any major requirements, and, thus, are intended solely for general education.

  • PHIL232 is a general introduction to philosophy but is writing intensive, limited to 20 students, and open only to first-year students.

Intermediate classes. Intermediate classes are numbered between 250 and 299 and fall into all three of the subject areas. Often, these courses are not appropriate for first-year students; some have explicit prerequisites. Intermediate-level classes tend to introduce students to a particular area of philosophy or to the discipline's historical development at a higher level and in more depth than will introductory classes.

  • Intermediate historical courses are numbered between 250 and 265.
  • Intermediate value courses are numbered between 266 and 285.
  • Intermediate mind and reality courses are numbered between 286 and 299.

Advanced classes. Advanced classes, those numbered 300 and above, are typically organized as seminars. In many cases, students participate with a professor in exploring an area of particular relevance to that professor's research program. Other advanced classes will focus on a particular figure in the history of philosophy or on a topic of contemporary importance.

  • Advanced historical courses are numbered between 301 and 330.
  • Advanced value courses are numbered between 331 and 360.
  • Advanced mind and reality courses are numbered between 361 and 399.
Admission to the Major.

Prospective majors should pay particular attention to the prerequisites for intermediate and advanced courses when planning their schedules. Among other courses, PHIL201, 202, 205, and 231 are required for a variety of subsequent courses.

Major Requirements.

Majors in philosophy must take at least 10 courses in philosophy. Of these 10, at least eight must be offered by the Philosophy Department; as many as two may be given in other departments or programs (e.g., College of Letters, Religion) that are relevant to the student's program of studies in philosophy and are approved as such by the philosophy faculty.

In addition, students must satisfy the following:

  • Philosophical reasoning requirement. All introductory courses, except where explicitly noted, fulfill this requirement; completion of any such course with a grade of B- or above fulfills the requirement.
  • History of philosophy requirement. All students must complete two courses from among the introductory historical courses (201, 202, and 205).
  • Value requirement. All students must complete at least one introductory or intermediate value course.
  • Mind and reality requirement. All students must complete at least one introductory or intermediate mind and reality course.
  • Advanced course requirement. All students must complete at least two advanced courses, in any area, during their junior or senior years.
  • No more than two credits taken abroad and no more than two credits outside the department. The combined total of these credits may not exceed three.

Because philosophy ranges over subjects in other disciplines, such as economics, government, mathematics, physics, psychology, and religion, students considering philosophy as a major field are strongly advised to choose a balanced combination of solid liberal arts courses conforming to Wesleyan expectations for generalization.

Honors.

To qualify for departmental honors in philosophy, a student must achieve an honors level of performance in courses in the department, must declare the intention to work for departmental honors at the beginning of the senior year, must register for senior thesis tutorials in each semester of the senior year, and must write a thesis at an honors level. Theses must be submitted in accordance with Honors College procedures and will be judged by a committee made up of members of the department.

Language Requirement.

Knowledge of foreign languages is particularly useful for the study of philosophy, and it is strongly recommended that students achieve reading fluency in at least one foreign language.

Prizes.

The Philosophy Department annually awards the Wise Prize for the best paper written in philosophy in the current year.  This prize is usually awarded to a senior thesis written in philosophy, but is not restricted to philosophy theses.

Transfer Credit.

Students who entered Wesleyan as first_year students may count up to two courses taken outside Wesleyan toward the 10 required to fulfill the major. These should be pre-approved by the student’s advisor. Under special circumstances, such as a full year spent studying philosophy at a British university, it is possible to count more external credits toward the major. Students transferring into Wesleyan should review their academic histories with their Department advisor as soon as possible after arriving to determine what philosophy courses taken at previously attended schools will be counted toward the major.

Additional Information.

Philosophy colloquia. Every year the department arranges a series of public presentations of papers by visiting philosophers, and, occasionally, Wesleyan faculty or students.

Majors committee and philosophy club. The department encourages its majors and other interested students to participate actively in the life of the department by attending departmental talks and social events for majors. Students are also encouraged to organize student-led events and discussions organized by the Majors Committee and Philosophy Club.