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PhD in Philosophy

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  • Course description
    The Ph.D. program is designed to provide students with a broad knowledge of the field of philosophy, while giving them opportunities to work intensively on the issues that interest them the most. During the first stage of their graduate education, students meet the Department's course distribution requirements and prepare to take the qualifying exam. This exam assesses the student's strengths in areas chosen by the student in consultation with supervising faculty. After passing the exam, students advance to candidacy and begin writing the Ph.D. thesis. A detailed explanation of the requirements for the Ph.D. in Philosophy follows.


    During the first stage of the program, students are expected to acquire a broad background in philosophy and develop their philosophical abilities by fulfilling the following requirements:

    First Year Seminar
    A one-semester seminar for first-year graduate students only, conducted by two faculty members, on some central area of philosophy.

    Logic Requirement
    The Logic Requirement has two components:
    (A) Completion of Philosophy 12A: Introduction to Logic or its equivalent, with a grade of B+ or better. This requirement may be fulfilled in one of three ways: successful completion of an equivalent logic course taken before arriving at Berkeley, successful completion of Phil 12A or of an equivalent course at UC Berkeley.
    (B) Completion of 140A or 140B with a grade of B+ or better. Courses with a comparable formal component including, in most cases, courses in the 140 series may with the approval of the graduate adviser satisfy this requirement. Fulfillment of this requirement does not qualify as fulfilling the distribution requirements of areas 1-3.

    Course Distribution Requirement
    Before passing the Qualifying Exam the student must pass eight courses at the 100-or 200-level completed with a grade of A- or better. At least four of the eight courses must be graduate seminars. Otherwise, in order to insure breadth in their graduate studies in philosophy students must take courses fulfilling the following distribution requirements:

    Two of the eight courses must be history courses, one in ancient philosophy and one in modern philosophy. The courses may be on individual philosophers or on groups of philosophers from the following list:
    • Ancient: Plato, Aristotle
    • Modern: Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Kant

    Four courses must be taken in the following areas, with at least one from each:
    • Area 1: Philosophical logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, and philosophy of mathematic.
    • Area 2: Metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of action
    • Area 3: Ethics, political, social and legal philosophy, and aesthetics

    A seventh course may be any Philosophy course in the 100 or 200 series except for 100, 195-199, 200, 250, 251 and 299.

    An eighth course may be either any Philosophy course as specified above or a course from another Department which has been approved by the Graduate Advisor.

    In exceptional cases, students may, at the discretion of the Graduate Advisor, meet one distribution requirement by presenting work done as a graduate student elsewhere: either a graduate thesis or work done in a graduate-level course. Meeting a distribution requirement in this way will not count as meeting any part of the four-seminar requirement.

    Language Requirement
    Before taking the Qualifying Examination the candidate must pass a departmental examination in French, German, Greek, or Latin requiring the translation of 600 words in two hours with the use of a dictionary. An examination in another language may be approved by the Graduate Advisor if it contains significant philosophical literature related to the student's dissertation work.

    The Qualifying Examination
    Students should aim to take the qualifying examination by the end of the fourth semester and they must pass it by the end of the sixth semester.

    In order to take the examination the student must have fulfilled the department's course requirements and must have passed the language requirement in at least one language.

    The qualifying examination is administered by a committee of three faculty members from the department and one faculty member of another department. The members of this committee are nominated to the Graduate Division by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the candidate.

    Soon after assembling an examination committee, the candidate should, in consultation with this committee, write a 300-word description and compile a list of readings for each of three proposed topics for examination. Each topic should be centered on a major philosophical problem or question. Together the topics should reflect a balance of breadth and depth, and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve that they meet these criteria.

    Provided the Director of Graduate Studies approves, the student may later revise the topics and reconstitute the committee.

    A week before the qualifying examination, the candidate should submit an overview essay of 1500-3000 words for each topic, which expands on the initial description. The essay should aim to lay out the central problem or question, to explain its importance, and to evaluate critically the attempts to resolve or answer it, with an eye to forming a view within, or about, the debate.

    The qualifying examination itself will be a three-hour oral exam administered by the committee. The candidate's essays are meant to serve as a springboard for discussion in the exam. The purpose of the examination is to test the student's general mastery of philosophy. Students are expected to draw on the information, skills and understanding acquired in their graduate study and to demonstrate sufficient breadth and depth of philosophical comprehension and ability to provide a basis for proceeding toward a Ph. D.

    If a student fails the qualifying examination, the examining committee may or may not recommend that a second examination be administered by the same committee. The second examination must be administered no sooner than three months and no later than one semester following the first attempt. Failure on the second attempt will result in the student being automatically dismissed from the graduate program.

    Students should advance to candidacy as soon as possible and they must do so no later than a year after passing the qualifying examination. (Note: students are eligible for the Graduate Division's full Normative Time Fellowship only if they advance to candidacy within six semesters of entering the graduate program.)

    Before advancement to candidacy the student must constitute a dissertation committee consisting of two faculty members from the department and an outside faculty member from another department.
    Prospectus Stage
    In the semester after passing the qualifying examination the student must take two individual study courses of 4 units each with the two inside members of his dissertation committee for the purpose of preparing a dissertation prospectus.

    The dissertation prospectus is due at the end of that semester. It should consist of ca. fifteen pages and outline plans for the dissertation. The prospectus may alternatively consist of parts of a possible chapter of the dissertation together with a short sketch of the dissertation project.

    To assist the student in the proposed research, the dissertation prospectus is to be presented at an informal discussion with the dissertation committee.
    The doctoral candidacy of a student who fails to submit a satisfactory dissertation prospectus by the end of this semester may be lapsed, which is a probationary status. The decision that a student's candidacy should lapse will be made by the department after consultation with the graduate advisor and the student's dissertation committee. Additional Requirements Teaching
    Each student for the Ph.D. degree is expected to serve as a graduate student instructor for at least two semesters.

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