The greatest challenge is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution.

Monday, November 8, 2010



The primary concern of philosophy is to explore ideas that are central to the ways we live and that we commonly use without much reflection, ideas such as truth and justice, the notion of consciousness and good and evil. In the course of our daily lives, we take the ideas of time, language, knowledge and our own identity for granted. Philosophy seeks to push our understanding of these ideas deeper. It is the systematic study of ideas that is fundamental to all the other disciplines taught at the university — the sciences, social sciences, humanities and the arts.
The skills philosophy helps to develop — critical thinking, sound reasoning, enlightened use of one's imagination, and the capacity to analyze complex issues — are invaluable in the study of any subject or the pursuit of any vocation. Philosophy is unavoidable: every thoughtful individual is gripped by philosophical questions and guided by assumptions that the study of philosophy brings explicitly to light and puts into larger perspective.

What Can I Do With A Philosophy Degree?

Our majors have pursued careers in medicine, law, computer science, business management, public relations, sales and many other arenas. Both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have published stories about how employers in a variety of fields are looking for candidates who can solve problems, think and write clearly, organize ideas, question assumptions, sort through a mass of information and identify what’s essential, as well as find — in the midst of heated debate — some common ground. These are all talents that the study of philosophy cultivates and develops.
Learn more on the Hiatt Career Center Web site.

The Department of Philosophy offers students training in philosophy. The skills that philosophy develops — critical thinking, enlightened use of one's imagination and the capacity to analyze and solve complex problems — are essential in the pursuit of any discipline.
The philosophy program is divided into five basic fields:
  • Logic — a study of reasoning; learning to evaluate how well our premises support our conclusions.
  • Ethics — a study of human potential in terms of living a good life and investigating what that might entail.
  • Metaphysics — a study of being in the world; bringing into question the basic criteria for determining what is real.
  • Epistemology — a study of how we know what we know, what can be known and the limits of knowing.
  • History of philosophy — the study of major philosophers, periods and movements in the development of philosophy.
The Department of Philosophy features a distinguished the faculty whose areas of interest cut across a variety of sub-fields such as metaphysics and epistemology, ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of language, logic, philosophy of mind and cognitive science, early modern philosophy, aesthetics, and philosophy of law.
The Department offers both a major and minor in philosophy as well as an Honors track, allowing students who maintain a certain grade point average in the courses they take in philosophy to write a Senior Honors Thesis.
The Department is also starting a one-year Masters Program in Philosophy to enhance students' chances to be accepted into a top-ranked Ph.D. program in Philosophy as well as advance their careers in some other area or discipline.
Announcements of colloquia, public lectures, conferences, and other events and activities in philosophy throughout the Boston area are regularly exchanged among departments, and organizers via an email subscription list created, maintained and run by the Brandeis Philosophy Department, connecting other departments in the area, among them, Harvard, M.I.T, BU, BC, Tufts, Wellesley, and the University of Massachusetts.


Download the Declaration Form (PDF)


The philosophy program is divided into five basic fields: logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology and the history of philosophy.
Logic is the practice of using sound methods to distinguish good from bad reasoning. It helps us assess how well our premises support our conclusions, see what we are committed to accepting when we take a view, and avoid adopting beliefs for which we lack adequate reasons. Logic also helps us find arguments where we might otherwise only see a set of loosely related statements, discover assumptions we did not know we held, and formulate the minimum claims we need to establish if we are to prove our point.
Ethics addresses the meanings of our moral concepts—such as right action, obligation, and justice—and formulates principles to guide moral decisions, whether in private or public life. What are our moral obligations to others? How can moral disagreements be settled rationally? What rights must a just society accord its citizens? What constitutes a valid excuse for wrongdoing?
Metaphysics seeks basic criteria for determining what sorts of things are real. For instance, are there mental, physical, and abstract things (such as numbers), or is there just the physical and the spiritual, or merely matter and energy? Are people physical beings through and through or do they have properties that cannot be reduced to anything physical?
Epistemology concerns the nature and scope of knowledge. What does it mean to know [the truth], and what is the nature of truth? What sorts of things can be known, and can we be justified in our beliefs about what goes beyond the evidence of our senses, such as the inner lives of others or events of the distant past? Is there knowledge beyond the reach of science? What are the limits of self-knowledge?

Curriculum Overview 

The major requires nine courses:
  • At least five semester courses counted toward the major must be taught by faculty of the philosophy department.
  • At least four courses must be upper-level (99 and above), distributed as follows:
    • At least one must be among the following core upper-level courses in moral, social and political philosophy: PHIL 107-112, 114-116.
    • At least two must be among the following upper-level courses in metaphysics and epistemology: PHIL 130-147 and 150. PHIL 99 counts as an upper-level elective, but does not satisfy this distribution requirement.
  • At least one course must be in the history of philosophy (PHIL 161a, 162b, 168a, 170a, 179a, 180b, 181a).
  • At least one course must be in logic (PHIL 6a,106b).
  • A maximum of one semester of 98a and b or 99a and b can be counted toward the major. (PEER 94A does not count.)
The minor requires five courses:
  • At least three semester courses counted toward the minor must be taught by faculty of the philosophy department.
  • At least one course must be upper-level (100 and above).
  • A maximum of one semester of PHIL 98a and b can be counted toward the minor; PEER 94a does not count.

Students must have at least a 3.0 GPA overall and a 3.5 GPA in the philosophy department in order to pursue an honors thesis.
Thesis Prospectus
Each student who is writing a thesis is encouraged to submit a prospectus by the end of the seventh week of the fall semester. The prospectus should provide an outline of the main topic and questions that will be raised in the thesis. A bibliography of proposed readings should be included as part of the prospectus, which should be about five to 10 pages in length.
A student enrolled in the fall semester of PHIL 99 should complete 25 pages of the thesis by the end of the semester. The 25 pages might be an "overview" of the thesis itself or one of its chapters. Each advisor also has a responsibility to determine by the end of the semester whether the student’s work in the fall shows sufficient promise and progress to justify its expansion into a full thesis in the spring.
By the end of January, the advisee along with his or her thesis advisor, should select a second reader who will read the thesis once it is finished.
Thesis Style
The department has no recommended style for a thesis, but the style of the thesis should be consistent. Theses include a cover page, title page, table of contents, chapter headings, bibliography and footnotes. Footnotes may be in the form of end notes or appear at the bottom of the page. Pages should be numbered. Theses are generally printed on bond paper, although this is also optional. If the thesis is on bond paper, it is recommended that it be on bond paper that is acid-free. Theses should be bound. The binding is at the student’s discretion, but GBC spiral binding or wire binding are the most popular.
Cover pages must contain certain information and be in a certain format. The following text should be centered near the bottom of the cover page:
A Senior Thesis Submitted to
the Department of Philosophy of Brandeis University
in Partial Fulfillment of the Bachelor of Arts Degree
An oral, or hour-long conversation with your advisor and second reader, is optional but strongly recommended.
Due Date
The thesis is due on or before the last day of classes of the spring semester. At that time, two typed and bound copies should be submitted to the departmental office.
If and when the thesis is accepted by the department for honors, it may be placed in the permanent collection of the university libraries. However, students must sign a standard release form. (PDF)

Requirements for the Master of Arts in Philosophy

Candidates for the Master of Arts in Philosophy must fulfill the following requirements.


Complete a program consisting of nine courses selected with the approval of a faculty advisor to be assigned to each student upon matriculation. Unless special approval is granted, at least seven of the nine courses must be Brandeis Department of Philosophy offerings.  All M.A. students must take PHIL 200a and PHIL 299a (see below).  Students must receive a grade of “B+” or higher or the equivalent for each course they wish to count towards the nine required courses.

Proseminar Requirement

Complete PHIL 200a, Graduate Proseminar. The Proseminar includes frequent short writing assignments, and the mode of instruction emphasizes discussion rather than lecture. The topics are determined by the instructor but include central texts and topics.

Master’s Paper Requirement

Enroll in PHIL 299a (Master’s Project) and successfully complete a master’s paper of professional quality and length. The paper will be evaluated by two faculty members.

Symbolic Logic Requirement

Demonstrate competence in symbolic logic, specifically, facility in translations between English and propositional and predicate logic and proof techniques (e.g., natural deduction or truth trees).  The director of graduate studies will assess the student’s background and determine if the requirement has been satisfied or if an appropriate logic course at Brandeis needs to be taken.

The Philosophy Department is considering our proposal of an Honors Track, which would allow students interested in pursuing graduate degrees in philosophy to acquire a more in-depth undergraduate philosophy education. As your UDRs, we wanted to contact Philosophy Majors, Minors and those interested in studying philosophy to measure interest in our proposal.

The following is a sample of what the Honors Track might include, pending Department and University approval:

- Require students to take 12 classes in philosophy, allowing students to specialize in Metaphysics & Epistemology, History of Philosophy, Applied Ethics / Moral and Political Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Philosophy of the Mind.

- Allow Honors Track students to complete a Senior Essay (25 to 30 pages long) instead of a Senior Thesis, which could be used as a writing sample for graduate school applications.

- Grant approved undergraduates access to a graduate proseminar (from the Brandeis MA program).

- Host a workshop on applying to philosophy PhD programs, detail what students should know, etc.

Please note that the details (number of courses required, available tracks, thesis v. senior essay etc.) are subject to change, and that Department approval is only a step towards University approval.
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