Thesis

 

In addition to the regular concentration, the philosophy program also offers an honors track. The course requirements for the honors track are slightly different from the non-honors track, but the most important difference between the two is the thesis project.

The thesis project is an intensive one that lasts for most of the student's senior year, with preparation for the project often beginning the summer before the senior year.

Thesis Project Overview

A philosophy honors thesis is a sustained piece of philosophical argumentation of no more than 20,000 words. The topic of the thesis can be anything the student is interested in. To give a sense of the possibilities, here are some thesis titles with brief descriptions from the past.

  • Enchantment and Inquiry: the Epistemic Achievements of Fiction
  • Causation, Culpability, and Liability to Harm
  • From the Ground Up: a Contractualist Theory of Moral Inquiry
  • Where the Epistemic Rubber Meets the Ethical Road: A Normative Critique of Determinism
  • In Search of Not-Self
  • Can One Derive "Ought" from "Is"?
  • "IT WAS HIS WIFE": the Moral Relevance of Projects, Relationships, and Loving Attention

As a student who is interested in writing a thesis, you don't need to have a thesis project in mind when you set out. Especially in philosophy, a huge part of the process is finding a topic that is interesting to you and the right size for a thesis.

Very roughly, students tend to fall somewhere along the following continuum in how they approach the thesis topic, with excellent results regardless of their approach. Some students begin with a very tightly focused interest in an argument, claim, or philosopher's position. The work of thesis is then to follow out the many connections that exist between this entry point and many other questions, problems, and puzzles. This is a bottom-up approach to the thesis. Other students come in with more of a top-down approach. They have a grand, overarching idea that is much too big to be properly addressed in a thesis. These break down the elaboration of the idea or argument into different parts and focus their thesis on one of these parts.

Almost all students use some existing literature in order to ground their discussion. That can take the form of writing a more historical thesis on one philosopher, or an aspect of one philosopher's views. It can take the form of writing about a current debate. This engagement helps orient and frame the discussion of the thesis and brings out what is new and interesting in it. So a thesis is definitely not limited to a survey of the literature. Rather, engagement with the literature serves as a jumping off point that allows the student to develop their own ideas, arguments, and positions.

Steps to Completing the Thesis

A student who wants to write a thesis has to submit a thesis proposal. This should be a three to five page outline of a specific problem area or topic, with some indication of how one intends to proceed and a description of the background that one will be able to bring to bear. We do not expect prospectus to match the completed thesis. Think of it instead as a starting point, which will be refined, and perhaps even significantly altered, over the course of the year.

It is a good idea, but not a requirement, that a student have taken courses in the area they want to write their thesis. It is also a good idea to seek out some of the professors in this area to get feedback on the thesis idea and some suggestions about background material to read over the summer before their senior year to get oriented in this area.

On the basis of this prospectus, the Head Tutor will decide whether to approve the project and allow enrollment in PHIL 99. The student will then be assigned a faculty advisor. All theses in philosophy, or theses in joint concentrations primarily in philosophy, are advised by members of the faculty.

Student and thesis adviser meet on a regular basis throughout the year to work towards completing the thesis. There are several intermediate deadlines to submit material. These deadlines serve to ensure that the student stays on track. More information about these details are available on the PHIL 99 website.

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