Philosophy at Haverford aims as far as possible to reflect the richness, diversity, and reflexivity of philosophical inquiry. Grounded throughout in the history of philosophy, many courses focus on particular subfields, on value theory, for instance, or the philosophy of mind, ancient philosophy, or the philosophy of logic and language. A student of philosophy at Haverford might study views regarding the ultimate nature of reality or pursue questions about the nature of a good human life, might grapple with theoretical problems of social meaning or with puzzles that arise on reflection about language.
The Department of Philosophy helps students in all disciplines to develop the reflective, analytical, and critical skills required for thoughtful engagement with problems and issues in all aspects of life. Courses introduce students to seminal ideas that have changed, or have the potential to change, the most fundamental understanding of who we are and how we should live. Because the study of philosophy is essentially reflexive, we also encourage students to contemplate and challenge the methods of philosophy as well as its history, goals, and achievements.
The philosophy curriculum additionally provides courses in global philosophy that seek to cultivate global literacy for all students in the liberal arts across diverse majors. Courses in global philosophy explore fundamental issues in philosophy in global context across and between diverse worldviews and philosophical traditions. These courses augment philosophical literacy, rationality, and critical thinking between diverse worlds, seeking to appreciate diversity while at the same time cultivating integral intelligence and capacities to make significant connections between diverse worldviews and disciplinary orientations. Such skills in global literacy and interdisciplinary dialogue are vital for all liberal arts students and for the literacy of global citizenship. The courses in global philosophy include the following: Global Ethics PHIL H103, Global Wisdom PHIL H104, Hindu Thought in a Global Context PHIL H241, Buddhist Thought in a Global Context PHIL H242, Philosophy of Global Logic PHIL H252, Metaphysics: Global Ontology PHIL H254, Topics in Asian Philosophy: Global Zen PHIL H342, and Topics in Philosophy of Language: Metaphor and Meaning in a Global Context PHIL H352. Courses in global philosophy are not included in and do not count toward the major or minor.
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 and critically about philosophical problems, through learning to recognize, assess, and formulate cogent and compelling pieces of philosophical reasoning both written and verbal.
- achieve literacy in a wide range of philosophical works and develop thoughtful views about their interrelations.
- develop attitudes and habits of reflection, as well as appreciation for the complexities of significant questions in all aspects of their lives and the courage to address those complexities.
Haverford’s Institutional Learning Goals are available on the President’s website, at http://hav.to/learninggoals.
Unless otherwise indicated, one philosophy course at the 100 level is a prerequisite for all other courses in philosophy. Courses at the 300 level require, in addition, a 200-level course plus junior standing, or consent of the instructor. Some advanced philosophy courses may require a reading knowledge of a foreign language as a prerequisite for admission.
- 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.
Anyone interested in being a discussion leader for an introductory course should contact the professor teaching the course, ideally during preregistration.
The capstone of the philosophy major is the Senior Seminar. This two course seminar (PHIL H399A and PHIL H399B) comprises
- a year-long research project culminating in a senior thesis,
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
Travel grants of up to $100 each will be available to be awarded to philosophy majors (juniors and seniors) for travel to scholarly conferences. Students presenting papers at undergraduate conferences will be given priority, and no student will be eligible for more than one grant in a given academic year.
Careers and Graduate Work
Because the study of philosophy strengthens both the skill of analytical thinking characteristic of scientific investigation and the interpretive reasoning skills of the humanist, in addition to producing strong verbal and writing skills, advanced undergraduate training in philosophy is excellent preparation for a wide range of career paths. It is also at the core of a liberal education—regardless of one’s primary intellectual interests. Some Haverford philosophy majors go on to graduate school in philosophy. Most pursue careers in other areas such as medicine, law, education, writing, public service, architecture, and business.
Senior Thesis Archive
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.