Welcome to the Philosophy Concentration!
Most of the students who choose to pursue a concentration in philosophy did not have any background in philosophy when they entered Harvard. And those students who have had encounters with philosophy tend to find that academic philosophy at the college level is quite different from what has come before. In other words, you're not at any disadvantage if you're coming to philosophy completely fresh.
To prepare students to succeed in the concentration, our introductory courses (numbered between 1 and 90) are designed to introduce students both to the topic of the course and the skills of writing philosophy papers and reading philosophical texts. We also offer writing support through our Department Writing Fellow. Because philosophical writing is so distinctive, students do not need to complete an Expos class before taking our classes. We will teach you philosophical writing in our classes. There is no requirement that you take an introductory course.
The philosophy concentration is non-linear. There is no set sequence of courses that students need, or even should, follow as they make their way through the concentration. Very few of our courses have explicit pre-requisites, so students can take courses in whatever order makes sense to them, given their intellectual goals and interests.
Very broadly speaking, the undergraduate curriculum falls into three parts. We offer introductory level courses, numbered between 1 and 90; tutorials, numbered 97 and 98; and more advanced courses for undergraduates and beginning graduate students, numbered 101-199. There are also two special courses, PHIL 91r and PHIL 99.
The department offers several options for those interested in philosophy: a primary concentration in Philosophy (including Honors eligibility); the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Track; and Joint Concentrations between philosophy and other disciplines.
If you're considering a joint concentration with philosophy, we strongly encourage you to talk to us about it early. Generally, we advise students that their intellectual interests need not be mirrored precisely by their choice of concentration or other aspects of the institution of the College. In practice, that means that students need not think of requiring "permission" to do interdisciplinary work by pursuing a joint concentration. By its nature, philosophy is interdisciplinary, and students interested in philosophical topics are encouraged to take classes in other disciplines that enrich their experience. We recognize this interdisciplinarity through the mechanism of so-called "related courses" in the different concentration tracks: courses from outside the philosophy department that a student can petition to count towards the philosophy concentration. We also value this interdisciplinarity in our students' theses. Students who draw on intellectual resources from outside philosophy as part of writing their honors thesis face no disadvantage in how their theses are evaluated.
Below you will find a detailed description of the requirements for each of our concentration offerings. As you'll see, all of the concentration pathways include distribution requirements within subareas of philosophy. Our courses fall into five such subareas. Here's a brief description of each, together with the abbreviation we use in our listing of which courses fit into which subareas. As you'll see, some courses fall into more than one category.
- Logic ("Logic"): courses in logic.
- Contemporary Metaphysics and Epistemology ("M&E"): courses in contemporary metaphysics and epistemology, broadly construed, so as to include philosophy of language, science, and mind.
- Moral and Political Philosophy and Aesthetics ("M&P"): courses in ethics, moral and political philosophy, and aesthetics.
- Ancient and Medieval Philosophy ("Ancient"): courses covering texts from the Ancient and Medieval periods, covering any topic.
- Early Modern Philosophy ("Early Modern"): courses covering texts beginning in the Early Modern Period (roughly Descartes) and going all the way to the end of the 19th Century, on any topic.
- History Non-Honors: a few of our courses cover a very broad range of history, so that they don't cover either of the two previous eras in so much depth that they satisfy these requirements. However, they can be used to satisfy the history requirement for the non-honors track, since that is agnostic between the Ancient/Medieval and Early Modern eras.
If you have any questions about our concentration pathways or courses, please come to see any of us in the Office of Undergraduate Studies (link to Google Calendar).
As you'll see, our different concentration tracks include distribution requirements within philosophy. A list of which subareas of philosophy each of the courses we offer satisfies is available below, as well.
Students interested in pursuing a secondary in Philosophy are advised to consult the requirements in the Harvard College Handbook for Students.