Majoring with Departmental Honors

In addition to the regular BA and BS degrees in philosophy, the Philosophy Department also offers BA and BS degrees with Departmental Honors. 

The requirements for this degree are exactly the same as those for the BA degree (or BS degree), except that you must in addition:

· achieve at least an overall GPA of 3.3 and a philosophy GPA of 3.7
· successfully complete PHIL 4998 Honors I in Philosophy and PHIL 4999 Honors II in Philosophy in successive semesters (to include the summer semester if desired).

The successful completion of PHIL 4998 and PHIL 4999 requires that you (i) write a satisfactory thesis, typically 3,000—9,000 words in length, under the guidance of a Philosophy Department faculty member, and (ii) pass an oral examination on the thesis before a committee of three members of the Philosophy Department faculty.

If you plan to go to graduate school in philosophy, it is strongly recommended that you take PHIL 4998 in the Spring semester of your third year.  This will permit you to complete the thesis in the Fall semester, in time to submit polished work from the thesis as part of your graduate school application materials in December or January.

Student at Senior Seminar

Guidelines For Honors Theses

What follows is detailed guidance on how to proceed if you wish to do the BA or BS in philosophy with Departmental Honors.

Before registering for Phil 4998 Honors I in Philosophy or Phil 4999 Honors II in Philosophy, you must first obtain the agreement of a Philosophy Department faculty member to serve as your thesis adviser.  Typically, a thesis adviser will be a faculty member with whom you have already taken a course or two.  To ask a faculty member to serve as your thesis adviser, you should first request a meeting to discuss the matter; be ready at the meeting to suggest two or three possible issues for your thesis to address.  These issues may well have arisen in a course that you took with the potential adviser.  Bear in mind that no faculty member is obliged to serve as your thesis adviser.  Issues that fall within the faculty member’s areas of interest are more likely to secure his or her agreement to serve.  You should also be ready to show that you have the commitment, self-discipline, and initiative needed to complete a major piece of independent work.  If you are unsure whom in the department to ask to serve as your adviser, seek advice from any faculty member in the department whom you know.


You should expect to meet with your adviser regularly, for instance, for an hour every week or every two weeks.  You should also expect to do at least as much work each week toward the thesis as you would do in a regular 4000-level course (e.g., 6 to 8 hours of work).  During the first semester, meetings with your adviser will normally be devoted to discussing whatever readings you have been assigned and exploring possible issues for the thesis to address.  Your adviser may require that, prior to each meeting, you email him or her with summaries of the readings and a set of questions about them.  By the end of the first semester, you should have identified a clear issue to address in the thesis and a set of readings to draw on.  Your adviser should help you to identify an interesting issue of appropriate scope and difficulty.  At the end of the first semester, your adviser will award you a grade on the basis of the quality and quantity of your work over the semester.

By the end of the second semester, you must have completed the thesis in plenty of time for your adviser and the other members of the thesis committee to have read it and then to have conducted the oral examination before the end of classes.  So the committee should be given the completed thesis at least two weeks before the date of the oral examination.  During the second semester, you should expect to submit a draft of some portion of the thesis to your adviser every two weeks, with your adviser providing written comments on the draft, and meeting with you for an hour to discuss the comments.  You will be expected to revise your drafts significantly, and to go through more than one round of revisions.

Typically, a thesis is 3,000—9,000 words long.  Some advisers favor the shorter 3,000 word length (which is the standard length for a presentation at the annual meetings of the American Philosophical Association), while others favor a standard journal article length of 6,000—9,000 words.  You should explicitly discuss with your adviser how long he or she expects the thesis to be.

The Oral Examination

The oral examination of your thesis will take place at a meeting convened for the purpose, normally about an hour long, with your adviser and two other Philosophy Department faculty members who have been selected by your adviser in consultation with you.  During the examination you will be asked questions about your thesis and perhaps also about wider issues that the thesis raises.  The aim of the defense is to give you a uniquely valuable educational experience as well as to give your adviser more information about the quality of your thesis.

Your grade for the second semester will be determined by your adviser on the basis of the quality of the completed thesis, your performance in the oral examination, and the quality of your work over the semester.