PhD in Philosophy

The PhD in Philosophy prepares students for a position pursuing research and teaching philosophy. All applicants should have completed the equivalent of an undergraduate major in philosophy, typically with an average of B or higher. Students with minors in philosophy are also encouraged to apply. Part-time applications for the PhD are strongly discouraged.

Learning Outcomes

Students completing our PhD program are expected to:

  • Acquire the conceptual ability, and the speaking and writing skills, needed for intensive examination of questions concerning what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful.
  • Gain significant knowledge of the canonical works of both Antiquity and Modernity, as well as the basic issues and texts of contemporary philosophy.
  • Learn to develop strong arguments that can be defended in a professional forum.
  • Upon graduation, have made an original contribution to the field.
  • Learn how to cope with the demands of the profession while retaining the enthusiasm for the study of philosophy that animated them at the outset of their careers.
  • Display curiosity about, and interest and engagement in, the world in which they live.

Course Requirements

PhD candidates must take a minimum of 16 graduate-accredited semester courses (64 credits). Course requirements are as follows:

  • At least 12 (48 credits) must be in philosophy, including at least four at the 800 or 900 level. Coursework must also coincide with a specific distribution of courses; please see Philosophy Department Regulae for details.
  • Logic Proficiency: The candidate must demonstrate competence in logic by passing a designated logic course with a B+ or higher, or by passing a logic examination administered by the department.

No more than three directed studies may be taken toward course requirements.

Language Requirement

All students pursuing a PhD in Philosophy are required to demonstrate graduate-level reading proficiency in French, German, Greek, or Latin by the end of the third year of graduate study. If the student’s native language is French or German, the requirement may be waived at the discretion of the director of graduate studies (DGS). Any language other than English may fulfill the requirement if (a) it is needed for dissertation work and (b) approval is granted by the DGS. Language proficiency can be demonstrated through either a language examination, by achieving a B+ or higher in an approved intermediate course (normally a translation course) administered by another department and approved by the DGS, successful completion of a non-credit graduate-level foreign language reading course offered by Boston University, or the equivalent of two years of undergraduate study of the language at Boston University. Language courses offered at the graduate level will be given graduate credit. Two such courses may count toward the coursework requirement of 16 courses.

Students must possess a good reading knowledge of any language that is important for their dissertation work. A dissertation proposal will not be approved until the relevant mastery has been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the dissertation director. The director will have the discretion of accepting a B+ or higher in a relevant language course as evidence of competence; or adequate performance on a translation examination; or any reasonable means of determining competence.

Qualifying Papers

To remain in good standing, PhD students must submit their qualifying papers for the first time by the end of their third year (i.e., August 31). These papers must be substantial pieces of philosophical work, demonstrating a strong knowledge of the relevant topic and a good deal of original thought. The papers may (but need not) be derived from papers originally written for course credit. It should not be assumed that a paper that receives an “A” in a course will be of sufficient quality. The papers must be “self-standing” works. In other words, each must be intelligible to philosophers other than those who may have participated in a seminar on the topic of the paper. The papers must be on topics in substantially different areas of philosophy; for example, it is not acceptable to submit two metaphysics papers, or two papers on ancient figures, or two papers in ethics. The DGS will determine what qualifies as a “substantially different” area of philosophy. Papers should not be longer than 9,000 words.

Papers will receive one of two grades: “Pass” or “Not-pass.” If a paper does not pass, the committee will offer one of two directives: either to revise the paper based on comments contained within the report, or to submit an entirely new paper.

If students receive a Not-pass, they will have until January 15 of their fourth year to resubmit their qualifying papers. Students will have only two opportunities to submit each paper.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Get more details and a copy of the department’s guidelines from our department site.

Students admitted into the doctoral program may also obtain the MA by satisfying the requirements indicated for the terminal MA. Students who are candidates for the MA are required to submit a thesis similar to the one required for the terminal MA. The MA thesis for the PhD student need not be orally defended.