Concentration Pathways

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, just about everyone starts from the same position.

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 (really only the logic courses), 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. You can read more about all of these below.

Introductory Level Courses (1-90)

Introductory level courses are not courses that deal with easier problems than upper-level courses. Frankly, there are only two difficulty levels in philosophy, trivial and impossible. The trivial aren't worth your time, so you'll start dealing with the impossible pretty much from day 1. Instead, introductory level courses usually differ from upper-level courses along two dimensions. They tend to focus more on the bigger picture, giving students an overview of a broad swath of philosophical landscape. That way, a student can go on to take the more specialized 100-level courses with an understanding of how the detailed argumentation fits into a broader narrative. Introductory level courses are also designed to help students find their way skills-wise. Philosophy is centrally concerned with reading, critiquing, and constructing arguments. Introductory level course are designed to give students a way into this central practice, with lots of shorter, focused writing assignments and plenty of feedback to help you develop as a writer, reader and thinker.

Tutorials (97, 98)

Tutorials are small-group, seminar style classes with limited enrollment, about 8 students per semester. In most semesters, we offer several sections of each tutorial. Topics for tutorials change every semester. You can learn more about the topics at the course websites: PHIL 97, PHIL 98.

Please pay special attention to the sign-up mechanisms and deadlines listed on the course website. Tutorials are not shopped. Students sign up for tutorials prior to the semester's beginning.

PHIL 97 (Tutorial I) is required for all students who concentrate in philosophy or pursue a secondary in it, but it's open to all students. Because it's small and taught in a seminar style, it provides a great opportunity for students to actively engage with the material, practice having conversations in a classroom setting, and get feedback on their writing. It's a great course to hone your skills and get ready for work at the 100-level. Students who concentrate in philosophy usually take PHIL 97 in the spring of their sophomore year, right after they declare their concentration. Students who pursue a secondary or a joint concentration with philosophy as the allied field take PHIL 97 whenever it fits into their schedule.

PHIL 98 (Tutorial II) is required for all students who concentrate in philosophy, and it's open to all students. PHIL 98 is like PHIL 97 in almost all respects: taught in a small seminar setting with a constantly changing list of topics. It differs from PHIL 97 simply in that we can assume a bit more familiarity with philosophical modes of argument and engagement. In practice, that usually means have slightly longer assignments and harder texts.

100-level Courses

The topics of 100-level courses are usually more focused than introductory-level courses, with whole courses devoted to individual philosophers (e.g., Kant, Plato, Descartes), time periods (Early Modern empiricists), or philosophical topics (epistemology, philosophy of language, Kant's ethics). They are a great way to deepen your knowledge of these areas. They also tend to take for granted more by way of skills. So whereas an introductory-level course might work up to writing a full philosophy paper, that's the kind of work many 100-level courses expect you to be able to do from the beginning. If you're interested in writing an honors thesis in philosophy and a 100-level course in that area is available, it's a great idea to take it before you set out on the thesis-writing journey, though it's not required to have taken a course in that area to write a thesis.

Independent Study (91r)

By prior arrangement, students can pursue an independent study with a faculty member. In practice, this means that interested students contact a faculty member of their choice with a proposal for an independent study. The students should explain why they cannot pursue their intellectual interests by taking regular department courses, and they should have a pretty good idea of what they want to read and the kind of work they'll do in the course of the semester. Having said this, we're always happy to entertain proposals for 91r.

PHIL 99 (Tutorial Senior Year)

Students who want to write a thesis in philosophy enroll in PHIL 99 during their senior year. It gives the student space on their schedule to do the reading and writing required for the senior thesis and to meet with their thesis adviser. More information about senior theses in the philosophy department is available here.

Courses for Concentration Subareas

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