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Haverford College
Department of Sociology

Learning Goals

The Department of Philosophy helps students, whether or not they are majors in the discipline, to develop the reflective, analytical, and critical skills that are required for thoughtful engagement with problems and issues that arise in all aspects of life. Students are introduced to seminal ideas that have changed, or have the potential to change, our most fundamental understanding of who we are and how we should live our lives. And because the study of philosophy is essentially reflexive, students are encouraged also to reflect on and if need be to problematize not only the methods of philosophy but also its history, goals, and achievements.

In studying the discipline of philosophy, students:

  • Learn to recognize and articulate philosophical problems, whether those that arise within philosophy or those to be found in other academic disciplines and outside the academy;
  • Become skilled at thinking, reading, writing, and speaking thoughtfully, critically, and well about philosophical problems through learning to recognize, assess, and formulate cogent and compelling pieces of philosophical reasoning both in writing and verbally;
  • Achieve literacy in a wide range of philosophical works and develop thoughtful views about their interrelations;
  • Develop attitudes and habits of reflection, appreciation for the complexities of significant questions in all aspects of their lives, and the courage to address those complexities.

In all philosophy courses, through classroom work and sequences of written assignments, students learn to:

  • Read philosophical texts from across the discipline thoughtfully, creatively, and critically;
  • Engage in philosophical discussion of texts, both listening well to contributions of others and making constructive and knowledgeable contributions of their own;
  • Recognize and formulate interesting, manageable essay topics;
  • Write philosophical essays that develop a cogent line of reasoning about some significant philosophical issue;
  • Tap their own philosophical imaginations in fruitful and creative ways;
  • Present their work to their peers in ways that engage and teach.

In their senior year, philosophy majors a) research and write original senior theses, b) give presentations of their thesis work–in–progress, c) meet and engage distinguished visiting philosophy scholars in public fora and small seminars.

The Senior Thesis Project

The senior thesis in Philosophy is an opportunity for senior majors to pursue a substantive independent research project in their own philosophical area of interest. It is a full-year project with two major components:

  1. In the fall, students are required to write and submit a twenty-­‐page paper that formulates in some detail their particular research question. This first paper is to provide a thoughtful and knowledgeable introduction to the literature on the topic in which important views and arguments are outlined and tentative responses to those positions offered by the student. In the spring, students further develop and hone their thesis argument, pursue deeper critical analyses of relevant primary and secondary readings, and refine the structure and prose of their thesis. A draft is submitted in March, and the final thirty-­‐page thesis is completed at the end of April.
  2. Throughout the year students give presentations of their work-­‐in-­‐progress, one at the end of the fall semester, one after submitting their thesis draft in March, and one final, public presentation during exam week in May.

In writing a senior thesis over the course of the academic year, students will learn to:

  • formulate a major research question and explain its interest and significance
  • find relevant literature on their topic and critically assess its contribution
  • develop a cogent and extended argument in defense of their position
  • recognize and evaluate plausible critical responses to their views
  • write a clear, persuasive, and interesting article-­‐length essay developing and defending their philosophical thesis.

In presenting their thesis work and responding to other presentations, students will learn to:

  • deliver a clear, dynamic, and engaging summary of their claims and arguments
  • partake in focused and extemporaneous discussion of their work
  • respond maturely and thoughtfully to feedback
  • articulate constructive and reasoned criticisms of ideas under discussion
  • develop considered questions on presentations in the philosophical subfields of other majors