• harvard mit 2017 conference poster
  • whitehead lecture 2017 announcement
  • 2017 prize announcement

Department News

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Q&A with Senior Thesis Writer: Jonathan Slifkin

March 20, 2017

What is the subject of your thesis?

I am writing my thesis on a topic in the history of legal philosophy. To put it as briefly as possible, I am offering a new interpretation of the debate between two of the most influential legal philosophers of the 20th century (H. L. A. Hart and John Finnis) by tracing it to its heretofore unrecognized roots in the philosophy of social science.

Doctoral students receive Bok Center Distinction in Teaching Awards

Doctoral students receive Bok Center Distinction in Teaching Awards

March 13, 2017

Six doctoral students in the Department of Philosophy were recently honored by Harvard's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning for their excellence in teaching during the fall of 2016. Each semester, the Bok Center presents Certificates of Distinction and Excellence to teaching fellows, teaching assistants, and course assistants who have received an overall rating of 4.50 or higher on the university's Q evaluations. The six students recognized this past fall are as follows:

Olivia Bailey (PHIL 97)
Javier Caride (PHIL 97)
Jen Nguyen (PHIL 120)

2017 prize announcement

Submissions open for Bechtel and Bowen prizes

March 9, 2017

The Department of Philosophy at Harvard University welcomes submissions for the Bechtel and Bowen prize competition for 2017.

This year, both the Bechtel prize and the Bowen prize will be awarded to one undergraduate and one graduate student. Please see the attached submission guidelines.

The deadline for submissions is Wednesday April 26th at 5 PM.


photo of J. L. Austin

Library discovers lectures by J. L. Austin

March 3, 2017

Two recordings of a lecture and Q&A session given by the philosopher J. L. Austin to a Swedish audience in October of 1959 were recently discovered to be among the uncatalogued holdings of the Robbins Library of Philosophy. The recordings had apparently once been stored in a filing cabinet drawer but had somehow dropped out through a gap at the back. It was only upon removing the drawer that the recordings—along with a collection paper clips, envelopes, and other debris—were discovered.

emerson hall entrance

We are the home of James, Whitehead, Quine, and Rawls, but we aren't stuck in the past.

We are the home of Gertrude Stein, W. E. B. DuBois, and T. S. Eliot because we aren't simply a training ground for future philosophers.

Today we are home to a distinguished faculty of nearly forty women and men, working in a variety of areas, crossing disciplinary boundaries, and ranging from early career academics to esteemed emeriti/ae.  We are home to more than 100 intellectually curious and talented undergraduate and graduate students.  And, every year, we are home to visiting scholars from around the world.

We are also the home of ideas, of diverse and sometimes divergent views on the nature of mind, on what our ethical and political responsibilities are, and even on what it means to do philosophy.

We are home to all of these things and more because diversity and inclusivity matter to us.

Where is your home?  Whether you are interested in taking an elective, declaring a concentration, or pursuing doctoral study, we invite you to consider making your home with us.

student thinking

Philosophy is a lifelong apprenticeship in thinking, so the not-so-simple answer is that we teach "thinking."

Since "thinking" is a broad field indeed, it should come as no surprise that philosophers think about virtually everything.  This includes thinking about very large questions on topics widely shared by human beings across time and space:

What kind of life should we live?
What kind of society should we want?
What makes one system of belief better than another?
What are the limits of human knowledge?

As well as thinking about questions that arise in particular fields, such as law, economics, mathematics, the physical sciences, psychology, art, and religion.

Philosophers seek to think about these questions in a systematic, explicit, and rigorous way, not simply to arrive at answers but to understand better just what is being asked in the first place.

students discussing

Given philosophy's special focus on thinking, it might seem obvious why philosophy matters.

Because the ability to think rigorously, analytically, synthetically, and creatively is a useful ability in any field, studying philosophy is actually one of the most marketable degrees you can pursue.

But philosophy matters for more than just securing a career.

Because it increases our understanding of ourselves, philosophy helps make us more thoughtful, engaged members of our various societies while also broadening our understanding of the various ways of being and thinking that humans have and, historically, have had available to them.

Philosophy matters, then, because it places us in a conversation, one begun more than two millennia ago and continuing into the present, a conversation involving people of varying cultures and in which we are as subject to their questions as they are to ours.