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 with a strong grade point average. 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), plus a required Dissertation Workshop. 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.
  • Registration for the Dissertation Workshop (GRS PH 990) each semester beginning in the fourth year and ending either at the end of the sixth year or upon successful defense of dissertation, whichever comes first. PH 990 does not count toward the 16 required graduate courses.
  • 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 noncredit 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 Research

a. By the end of the third year at the latest, students should have finished their distribution requirements and secured the agreement of a faculty member to supervise their prospectus. The faculty member may also end up supervising the dissertation but that need not be the case. By the end of the third year at the latest, students must also produce a document detailing specific research goals, including a timeline, for producing “qualifying research.” Student and advisor should produce this document together and have it approved by the DGS. The plan can be revised with the approval of the advisor and student. The plan can include a Directed Study for credit to facilitate the research goals. This “qualifying research” could take one or more of the following forms: a draft of the prospectus, a literature review, a draft of a dissertation chapter, or some other document or documents that student and advisor mutually agree upon.

b. By the end of the first semester of the fourth year at the latest, the student will have produced said “qualifying research,” to the satisfaction of the advisor. Confirmation of the advisor’s approval should be submitted by the advisor to the DGS.

c. By August 31 of the summer after the fourth year at the latest, the dissertation prospectus should be officially defended and the paperwork submitted to GRS. If the prospectus is not defended by August 31 of the summer after the fourth year, the student does not receive the fifth-year dissertation fellowship and instead receives a teaching fellowship.

d. Every semester after the distribution requirements are completed, the student will write a progress report, which will be reviewed by the advisor and, if approved, will be submitted by the advisor to the DGS.

In sum, there are three deadlines the student must meet. The first is securing an advisor and creating a timeline for the completion of specific research goals; the second is producing satisfactory “qualifying research;” and the third is the prospectus defense. The dates stated above are all “outside” deadlines. It is strongly suggested that students complete these goals before the deadlines.

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.