Philosophy Major and Minor

Philosophy majors and minors at Haverford are part of an active community of faculty and students committed to exploring the ideas on which we base our understanding of reason, value, and our very existence.

Majors and minors develop a familiarity with key concepts, figures, and texts in philosophy and a facility with a range of critical and analytical skills—those particular to the discipline, as well as those that apply to all facets of liberal arts and to issues that arise in every area of our lives.

Curriculum & Courses

Our faculty reflects the rich diversity of the discipline’s methods, approaches, and subject matter. Their strong commitment to engaging our students—through exceptional research opportunities as well as by creating an open and collaborative environment for the investigation and exchange of ideas—is a hallmark of the department.

We offer a range of classes—from those that cover the history of philosophy to those that explore subfields such as ethics, philosophy of the mind, aesthetics, and philosophy of logic and language. Each of our classes fosters in our students the ability to read philosophical texts critically, to engage in productive discussions as listeners and contributors, and to communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively.

Majors begin with an introductory level course of their choice (one is required), then move on to 200- and 300-level courses (eight are required). Of the eight, one must cover the history of European philosophy prior to Kant and three must cover a series of specific topics (including value theory, metaphysics and epistemology, and logic/philosophy of language.) In addition, at least four of the eight required courses must fall under a coherent theme or subject. In their final year, majors participate in Senior Seminar and produce a Senior Thesis.

Minors also begin with an introductory level course of their choice (one is required), then move on to 200- and 300-level courses (five are required). Of the five, one must cover value theory, one must address metaphysics and epistemology, and one must include philosophical texts written before the 20th century.

The program is enriched by an array of extra- and co-curricular programs that bring faculty, students, as well as leading academics from around the world together to examine philosophical issues. For students, these are extraordinary opportunities to take part in the broader philosophy community.

  • Major Requirements

    • One philosophy course at the 100 level, or Bryn Mawr PHIL B101 or PHIL B102, or the equivalent elsewhere.
    • Five philosophy courses at the 200 level, at least four of which must be completed by the end of the junior year, and three philosophy courses at the 300 level.
    • The Senior Seminar (PHIL H399A and PHIL H399B).

    The eight courses at the 200 and 300 level must furthermore satisfy the following requirements:

    • Historical: One course must be from among those that deal with the history of European philosophy prior to Kant.
    • Topical breadth:
      • One course must be from among those that deal with value theory, including ethics, aesthetics, social and political philosophy, and legal philosophy.
      • One course must be from among those that deal with metaphysics and epistemology, including ontology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of psychology, and philosophy of action.
      • One course must be from among those that deal with logic, the philosophy of literature, and/or the philosophy of language.
    • Systematic coherence: Four of these courses, two at the 200 level and two at the 300 level, must exhibit some systematic coherence in theme or subject satisfactory to the major advisor and department.
    • Courses at Haverford: Senior Seminar works best when students and faculty already know each other well through previous courses.  For this reason, at least three of each major's 200-level courses and two of the 300-level courses must be taken in the Haverford Philosophy Department. The department considers exceptions to this rule following a written petition by the student explaining why the exception is warranted. To become effective starting with the class of '22.

    Students who elect to major in philosophy but are unable to comply with normal requirements because of special circumstances should consult the chairperson regarding waivers or substitutions.

    Majors are also encouraged to be discussion leaders in their senior year.

    Senior Project

    The capstone of the philosophy major is the Senior Seminar. This two course seminar (PHIL H399A and PHIL H399B) comprises

    1. a year-long research project culminating in a senior thesis,
    2. student presentations and discussion of the students’ works-in-progress in preparation for the final, formal presentation of the thesis at the end of the spring term, and
    3. seminars with visiting speakers throughout the senior year.

    The senior thesis (thirty pages) is on a topic of the student’s choice. It is written under the supervision of a first reader who meets with the student on a regular basis throughout the year, usually weekly. A second reader also reads and comments on the student’s written work and may also meet regularly with the student. In the fall, students write a twenty-page research paper introducing the literature on the topic and the issues it involves. In the spring, students build on this base, developing an analysis of the issues and an argument in defense of the conclusions drawn. A draft of the thesis is submitted in March; the final version is due the end of April.

    After a very short initial presentation in the fall to introduce their research topics, students give three substantial presentations of their work: at the end of the fall semester, in March, and in May. Each presentation is followed by a question period.

    In preparation for the fall Altherr Symposium, featuring a speaker of the students’ choice, students and faculty read works by the Altherr speaker, and students prepare discussion questions both for the Symposium lecture and for the seminar with the speaker. Seniors also attend all other invited speaker events, of which there are four or five over the course of the year, and they have a short seminar with each speaker to further discuss the presented work.

    Senior Project Learning Goals

    In the process of researching and writing the senior thesis, students should acquire and demonstrate:

    • the ability to articulate a philosophically rich but also manageable research question.
    • the ability to locate and to learn from relevant work on the topic by other philosophers.
    • the ability to assess critically and fairly other positions and views, and to develop arguments in support of those assessments.
    • the ability to explain in a compelling way the philosophical interest of the research topic and to develop a sustained and cogent philosophical argument for the conclusions reached.

    In the course of repeated presentations and discussions, students should acquire and demonstrate:

    • the capacity to develop and enact thoughtful and effective presentations.
    • the ability to respond constructively to presentations on a very wide range of philosophical topics, even those with which one is unfamiliar.
    • the ability to respond productively to questions about and criticisms of one’s work.

    Senior Project Assessment

    A student’s faculty advisors collectively assess the thesis project (written and oral components) on the following criteria:

    • Conceptualization of Research Question and Historical Argument: Students acknowledge and explore the full implications of an innovative thesis question.
    • Familiarity with and Understanding of Primary Texts: Students engage primary sources to answer their research question and display a creative approach to existing sources or bring new and illuminating sources to bear on their research question.
    • Engagement with Secondary Literature: Students demonstrate mastery of scholarly literature that pertains to their thesis topic by synthesis of and contribution to the scholarly conversation.
    • Methodological and Theoretical Approach: Students ground their theses in current knowledge about their historical period, demonstrating a thorough understanding of relevant methodological and theoretical issues.
    • Quality of Argument: Students construct a well-reasoned, well-structured, and clearly expressed argument.
    • Clarity of Writing: Writing is consistently engaging, clear, well organized, and enjoyable to read.
    • Oral Presentation: At the end of the semester, students demonstrate comprehensive understanding of their topic in an articulate and engaging presentation and are able to provide innovative and thoughtful answers to questions. Students demonstrate capacity to connect thesis project to prior coursework in history and related disciplines.

    Requirements for Honors

    The award of honors in philosophy will be based upon distinguished work in philosophy courses, active and constructive participation in the senior seminar, and the writing and presentation of the senior essay. High honors requires in addition exceptional and original work in the senior essay.

  • Minor Requirements

    • One philosophy course at the 100 level, or Bryn Mawr PHIL B101 or PHIL B102, or the equivalent elsewhere.
    • Three philosophy courses at the 200 level.
    • Two philosophy courses at the 300 level.

    Among the 200- and 300-level courses: one must be in value theory (broadly conceived to include ethics, social and political philosophy, aesthetics, and legal philosophy), one must be in metaphysics and epistemology (including ontology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of action), and one must be concerned with philosophical texts written before the twentieth century. This third requirement can be satisfied concurrently with either of the other two (e.g., by taking a course in ancient ethics, or in Descartes’ metaphysics), or can be satisfied separately from the other two.

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