Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Ph.D. Requirements

I. Course and Distribution Requirements

Candidates for the Ph.D. in Philosophy are required to take thirteen graduate courses. These thirteen courses must be completed by the end of the term in which the Preliminary Examination is taken. Ten of the courses must be scheduled courses offered or cross-listed by the Philosophy Department. The remaining three may include independent studies, courses in other departments, and courses at other institutions participating in the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium (with the approval of the Graduate Chair). In addition to these thirteen courses, all students must complete four semesters of Phil 998, Teaching Practicum (which carries 1/2 course unit credit). Further, all students must register for the Dissertation Workshop (Phil 700) during the year in which the Preliminary Examination is taken, for one course unit of credit. Students wishing to take more than thirteen regular courses (e.g., so as to take additional courses in other departments, take additional philosophy courses) may do so with the approval of the Graduate Chair, and within the limits of their fellowship packages.

The scheduled courses in the Philosophy Department must be chosen so as to satisfy the following additional requirements:

  1. Logic Requirement: Students must demonstrate competence in formal logic. This can be accomplished only by passing the departmental logic examination administered upon entrance to the program (ordinarily the day preceding the commencement of classes in the Fall Semester) or by completing 505, 506, or any more advanced logic course approved by the Graduate Chair. This requirement must be completed during the first year of residence.
  2. Distribution Requirement: Among the twelve courses there must be included:
    • Three courses in the history of philosophy, one treating one or more of the major figures in ancient philosophy and one treating one or more of the major figures of early modern philosophy through Kant (including but not limited to Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant). The third history course may touch on any historical period.
    • Two courses in value theory (e.g., moral philosophy, political philosophy, aesthetics), at least one of which must be in contemporary value theory;
    • Two courses in contemporary analytic epistemology and metaphysics, including philosophy of science, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language.

A student may not use one course to satisfy two different distribution requirements. Students must confirm which courses satisfy which distribution requirements with the Graduate Chair. The distribution requirements must be satisfied by the end of the student's fourth term of residence. Any petition for extension of this deadline must be submitted before the end of the fourth term.

Petitions for any other variations in the course and distribution requirements can be considered only after the completion of the first year of residence.

No course with a grade lower than B- will be counted toward the thirteen course requirement. A 3.0 gpa is the minimum required, and usually will not be sufficient for advancement toward a degree.

A total of twenty graduate course units (c.u.s) is required for the doctoral degree. The requirement of thirteen courses, plus four semesters of 998, plus Phil 700 accounts for eighteen course units. The additional two course units may be used for additional course work, or taken as Independent Studies (999) during the Third Year. By rule of the Graduate Council, a minimum of twelve of the twenty required course units must be completed at the University of Pennsylvania. PPE 475 (PPE Undergraduate Capstone Seminar) does not count as a graduate course unless it is cross-listed as a PHIL course.

A student who transfers into the Ph.D. program must take at least eight regularly scheduled graduate courses in the Philosophy Department. No decision either as to how much credit to grant a student for work elsewhere or as to what distribution requirements such work satisfies will be made until the student has been in residence for two terms and has completed PHIL 600 (if offered) and five (or six) other courses. Transfer credits that result in course load reduction and hence the expected duration of a student's program will be accompanied by corresponding reduction in the student's units of funding.  

II. Advising and Records

In their first six semesters of residence, students must consult with the Graduate Chair concerning course selection each term. Permission of the Graduate Chair is required to enroll in 699. Students are encouraged also to consult faculty in their prospective fields concerning the body of course work needed to prepare them for specialized study. Only the Graduate Chair may approve final course selection and certify fulfillment of the distribution requirement. Further, only the Graduate Chair may interpret deadlines for the satisfaction of subsequent requirements, extending into the dissertation stage. Individual faculty members, including the student's supervisor, cannot excuse students from deadlines for completing work that are established by the Graduate Group and conveyed by the Graduate Chair.

The Graduate Coordinator in Philosophy maintains graduate records and keeps copies of forms and documents. Inquire at the office of the Graduate Coordinator concerning routine matters of record keeping, or to obtain needed forms.

III. The First Year

Students must enroll in 600 (Proseminar) for each of their first two terms of residence (if offered both semesters). In addition, students must take two other scheduled courses in Philosophy the first term, and a total of four courses the second term. First-year students may not enroll in 699. First-year students may not receive Incompletes and so will receive grades for each course in which they are enrolled on the basis of the work done for the course during the term. The logic requirement must be satisfied during a student's first year of residence.

IV. Additional Course Work and Incompletes

After the first year of residence, the minimum credit load for full-time students is three courses per term. In the fifth and sixth semesters, students ordinarily enroll in one course and in one unit of independent study (999) in preparation for the Preliminary Examination. The required fifteen graded courses must be completed by the end of the third year, as must the four units of 998, Teaching Practicum. Third year students are also required to enroll in Philosophy 700, Dissertation Workshop, when offered.

A student who has not completed all the assigned work for a course and wishes to receive a grade of "Incomplete" must request such a grade from the instructor. It is within the discretion of the instructor to grant or refuse such a request. In order to be eligible for funding in a given academic year, a student must have completed all "Incompletes" from previous semesters by August 15. Individual instructors are unable to offer extensions on this rule of the Graduate Group, and in cases in which an instructor allows an extension for the purposes of his or her course, this fact has no bearing on the Graduate Group's or Graduate Division's Incompletes Rules.

Students are reminded of the Graduate Division rule that no Incompletes from the Fall Semester may be carried past August 1, and no Incompletes from the Spring Semester may be carried past December 1, on pain of loss of fellowship funding. Note that for Spring courses, the Department's rule is more stringent than the Graduate Division Rule, and it will be enforced. For Fall courses, the Graduate Division's rule is more stringent. (Neither rule abrogates the other.) Incompletes become permanent after one year and cannot be counted toward graduation.

Graduate students who are not serving as teaching fellows are expected to complete all their course work on time. In order to be in good standing at the annual review of graduate student progress, which for pre-dissertation students takes place at the end of the Spring Semester (typically before all work for that semester's courses is complete) it is necessary (but not sufficient) that: (a) a student who is receiving a non-service fellowship have no Incompletes from the first semester, and be up to date with second semester work (including finishing courses whose due dates fall before the time of the review); (b) a second-year Ph.D. student who is a TF have no more than one Incomplete from the first semester; (c) a third-year Ph.D. student who is a TF have no Incompletes from the first semester. It is in each student's interest to be able to devote the summer after the second year to preparation of and initial reading in the Prelim reading list, and to devote the entire third year to current course work, preparation for the Prelim, and composition of the Dissertation Proposal, so as to be able to commence dissertation work immediately following the third year.

V. Reviews and Qualifications Evaluation

All students are reviewed annually. The Graduate Chair may initiate a special review of the work and status of any graduate student. As a result of a departmental review, a student may be put on probationary status for one or two semesters, or advised or required to leave the doctoral program.

An especially thorough evaluation of each student's capacity to complete the doctoral program is made during the fourth semester of residence. It will serve as the Qualifications Evaluation described in the Graduate Council Rules and Regulations, which students must pass to continue beyond the fourth semester. Each student will be provided with a written report of the department's assessment of his or her work and talent on the basis of the fourth-semester evaluation.

Students are reminded that deadlines for completion of work as specified in the Graduate Chair's annual review letter (including mid-year reviews) have the force of a rule. Individual instructors, including the student's supervisor, cannot excuse the student from such deadlines.

VI. Teaching Requirement and Supervision of Student Teaching

All doctoral students must complete at least four semesters of teaching. This requirement will be met by serving as a Teaching Fellow and signing up for 1/2 c.u. of 998, Teaching Practicum, during each semester in the second and third years of study (for students in the regular Ph.D. program). Dual degree students will sign up the first and second years in which they teach, whenever these may be. The 1/2 c.u. is supervised by the teacher of the course for which the student is a TF, or another assigned supervisor (for stand-alone courses). (Instructors of Phil 998 may give letter grades or an "S" grade, at their discretion.) In addition, all students preparing for an academic career are advised to teach an independent course more than once. Only students who are making good academic progress will be eligible to teach in the Summer Session or in CGS during the academic year.

In preparation for teaching, all TFs who are teaching for the first time at Penn are required to attend a teaching workshop conducted by the College of Arts and Sciences, usually held late in August. All TFs in their first and second years of teaching are required to attend the departmental Teaching Roundtable, usually held on the last day of the College workshop.

Instructors of courses in which TFs grade or teach recitation sections will supervise the grading of student work, advising the TFs about commenting on papers as well as on grading standards. The instructor will meet with the TFs on a weekly or biweekly basis to discuss matters pertaining to both pedagogy and course content, and will visit each student's section early in the semester (by the fifth week), with follow up visits as necessary. The instructor will review the results of this visitation with the TF, offering advice as needed. The Graduate Chair will oversee fulfillment of this requirement.

Each graduate student teaching an independent course will be assigned a faculty supervisor for that course (one faculty member may be assigned to all students teaching Freshman seminar-style courses that semester, or all Phil 009s). The faculty supervisor will have the following duties: discuss and approve the design of the course and syllabus with the student; discuss appropriateness of assignments; visit one or more classes, and give appropriate advice on the conduct of the classes; review final grades; and submit a written comment on the student's teaching effectiveness for the student's file. The department Chair supervises this program. The Graduate Chair will have the task of informing graduate students teaching independent courses for the first time about graduate students still in residence who have previously taught the course concerned.

Students should expect to receive their teaching evaluation forms and summaries of student comments in a timely manner. For the Fall Semester, they should receive this material by the middle of the Spring Semester. For the Spring Semester, they should receive it prior to the end of the summer. The Department Chair oversees compilation of teaching evaluation materials. Students who do not receive their evaluation forms and summaries in a timely manner should notify the Department Chair.

VII. Philosophical Community

Graduate training extends beyond courses, exams, and dissertation work. Students should begin to participate in the broader philosophical community. The colloquium series exposes students to the range of current work in philosophy, and students are expected to attend colloquia. Other local activities include participating in departmental workshops, joining reading groups, and attending Philadelphia area events.

More generally, students should join the APA, keep up with relevant journals (several of which offer special rates to student subscribers), and consider submitting papers to conferences and journals. Students should keep in mind that not all conferences are of equal value as credentials or as venues for presenting work. In general, refereed, special-topic conferences are to be recommended. Before accepting an invitation to participate in a conference, students should seek advice from their advisor. Similarly, not all journals are equally valued as venues for publication, and students should seek advice before submitting a paper for publication.

The GDAS and the Department provide limited travel subventions for giving papers at conferences (for the SAS form, inquire to the office of the Graduate Coordinator in Philosophy; for Departmental funds, inquire to the Graduate Chair). Students who are teaching or taking courses should, in general, not expect approval of applications to fund travel that requires them to miss their own courses or their recitation sections.

More advanced students are expected to mentor younger students. To this end, and in order to promote full participation in the philosophical community of the Department, Ph.D. students are required to remain in residence in the program from the time they begin the program until they complete their degrees. (Students may petition the Department for exceptions.)

VIII. Research Skills Requirement

Philosophical research often involves skills beyond those regularly taught in philosophy courses. Such skills include advanced knowledge of foreign languages and literatures, history, logic, statistics, mathematics, computers science, experimental design, social science, and natural science. As part of the Preliminary Examination, committees may require students to demonstrate a high level of competence in one of these areas as a condition for doctoral candidacy. Students are expected to consult with the Graduate Chair and their potential committee members about what skills are necessary for their intended fields of study no later than the beginning of their second year.

All students conducting research with human subjects are required to obtain training and certification for human subjects protection.

IX. The Preliminary Examination

During the third year of residence, students in the Ph.D. program must pass a Preliminary Examination in the field of their prospective dissertation. The Preliminary Examination consists of a chapter-length paper on the dissertation topic and a 10-page dissertation prospectus, and an oral defense on the written materials.

The primary purpose of this examination is to demonstrate the student's readiness to write a dissertation in his/her chosen field as part of the overall evaluation of a student's philosophical ability and competence as a condition for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. Students prepare for the exam in both the Fall and Spring Semesters, and will be enrolled in two units of Phil 999. For this work, a supervisor will be assigned by the Graduate Chair in consultation with the student and with faculty members during the fourth-semester review. Two additional members of the Preliminary Examination committee will be named no later than the start of the Fall Semester.

In consultation with their prospective examining Committee, students ought to have a preliminary reading list prepared by the end of their second year so as to begin preparing for the Exam in the Summer of Year 2. The examining Committee will be formally appointed in the Fall term in year 3, and the final reading list and a two page statement of the dissertation topic are to be submitted to the committee and Graduate Chair by October 1 of that semester.

During the course of work in the Fall Semester, student and supervisor should discuss the prospective dissertation topic. Students should present their initial ideas for a dissertation topic at the Dissertation Workshop, usually in November or December. Using this presentation as a basis, each third-year student must submit to the Graduate Chair a five-page dissertation proposal by the beginning of the first week of classes in January.

The chapter-length paper (8,000 to 10,000 words) on the dissertation topic and the 10-page prospectus are due at noon on the first Monday after Spring Break, and the scheduled oral defense is to take place later the same week. No extension on the submission of the written work may be granted. For students in the J.D.-Ph.D. program, the written work is due on the last day of classes and an oral defense is to take place soon after.

After evaluating the student's performance on both the written and oral portions of the Preliminary Examination, the examining committee will recommend for or against admission to candidacy at a meeting of the Graduate Group. The Graduate Group will determine whether the student's performance in all prior work in the program as well as on the examination has demonstrated sufficient ability and potential in philosophy as well as knowledge in the chosen field to justify admission to candidacy; completion of all required course work with an average grade of B or better as well as a satisfactory performance on the Preliminary Examination are necessary but not sufficient conditions for such admission. On the basis of its evaluation, the Graduate Group may vote to admit the student to Ph.D. candidacy, require re-examination and/or further course work, or remove the student from the Ph.D. program. No student who has not completed the thirteen required course units will be admitted to candidacy; and no student who has not been admitted to candidacy prior to the commencement of the fourth year of residence will be in good standing. The Graduate Group will inform the student in writing of the results of these deliberations. 

X. Dissertation Proposal and Supervisor

After successful completion of the Preliminary Examination, students will prepare a ten-page description of their proposed dissertation project, including a tentative schedule of work for the summer and fall. This must be submitted to the prospective Dissertation Supervisor by the end of classes in the Spring Semester. It should include a concrete statement of the problems to be addressed by the dissertation and some description of the relevant philosophical literature. The Dissertation Supervisor, who must be a member of the Standing Faculty in the Graduate Group in Philosophy, will be assigned at a meeting shortly thereafter, when the student is admitted to candidacy. Student and supervisor should meet and agree on work to be completed by the beginning of the Fall Semester.

Students work closely with the supervisor, who serves as their academic advisor and primary academic mentor. At the same time, each student's progress remains subject to review by the Graduate Group, and each student must meet requirements for good progress and degree completion as determined by the Graduate Group, Graduate Division, and Graduate Council.

Students are free to change supervisors at any time with the consent of the Graduate Chair; but even in such cases the schedule of progress described below must still be satisfied.

In a case in which a student's proposed dissertation topic does not lie in the area tested in the student's Preliminary Examination, an additional Preliminary Examination shall not ordinarily be scheduled; however, the Dissertation Supervisor must be satisfied of the student's knowledge of the area of the proposed dissertation. But the Graduate Group will retain the right to impose an additional Preliminary Examination, especially (though not necessarily nor necessarily only) in cases in which exceptional delay has intervened between the original examination and the proposed presentation of the dissertation--for instance, if a student is being re-admitted to the graduate program after an absence. Students in this position should be sure to consult with the Graduate Chair before requesting the official appointment of a Dissertation Supervisor.

XI. Dissertation Committee, Progress, and Fellowship

Early in the Fall Semester following the completion of the Preliminary Examination, students and their supervisors should review progress and agree upon a schedule for further work, taking into account Graduate Group deadlines for making good progress. By a deadline well prior to the department's review meeting in early December, students must submit a draft of at least one chapter (or the equivalent) of their dissertations to their supervisor and to prospective dissertation committee members. At the time they submit this writing, students must arrange a meeting with the supervisor and prospective committee to discuss the written work in light of the ten-page dissertation proposal and their evolving plans for the dissertation. This meeting must take place prior to the review meeting in December. At that meeting, the Graduate Chair will impanel a Dissertation Committee consisting of the supervisor and at least two other members, at least one of whom must also be a member of the Graduate Group. At this meeting, the Graduate Group will determine the eligibility of students for teaching during the following summer. Students who are not making good progress will not be assigned teaching.

By a deadline well in advance of the department's review meeting in April or early May, students must submit to their committee a second substantial piece of work (another chapter or equivalent). The same requirement obtains for each semester of the fifth year. Students who receive summer support may be expected or required to submit additional chapter equivalent pieces of writing on a schedule that will be individually determined.

Satisfaction of these requirements is necessary in order to maintain good standing in the doctoral program. If students have not completed all requirements for the Ph.D. (including deposit of the dissertation) within four years from the semester in which they pass the Preliminary Examination, they must submit to their full dissertation committee (i.e. the supervisor and two readers) a copy of all written work they have completed on the dissertation. The committee members will evaluate this material and report to the whole Graduate Group, recommending that one of the following actions be taken: (a) the student is required to retake the Preliminary Examination (if the committee believes there is a question about the continued currency of the student's research, or if the committee believes the written work provides insufficient evidence of progress toward completion of an adequate doctoral dissertation); (b) other conditions are imposed on the student's dissertation research, such as the committee believes will ensure the currency and timely completion of the student's work toward the Ph.D.; (c) the student is dismissed from the program for failure to make adequate progress toward the Ph.D. For students in joint programs (such as the M.D.-Ph.D. or J.D.-Ph.D.) who do not take the Preliminary Examination in the third year of full-time study after matriculation into the doctoral program, this review shall take place if students have not completed all requirements within three years after the semester in which they pass the Preliminary Examination.

Students who wish to be nominated for an SAS Dissertation Research Fellowship, or for any non-teaching research or dissertation fellowship funded or supported by the Department, must be in good standing and must submit to the Graduate Chair, by the beginning of classes in the Spring Semester, a five-page thesis proposal in the format required for nomination for an SAS Dissertation Research Fellowship or an SAS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

XII. Dissertation Workshop

All dissertation students must attend the Dissertation Workshop (or other forum designated by the Department) weekly and make at least one presentation per year of dissertation work in progress. This requirement continues until the student graduates.

The Dissertation Workshop may also provide a venue for discussing issues pertaining to professionalization, conference submissions, and publication. It is the usual venue for presenting practice job talks.

XIII. Preliminary Dissertation Examination and Final Dissertation Defense

When a student has achieved a substantial, continuous draft of the dissertation it shall be subject to a Preliminary Dissertation Examination by the entire committee. The Dissertation Supervisor shall determine when a student's dissertation work has reached this stage, and will notify the other committee members and the Graduate Chair. The Graduate Chair will then appoint a Departmental Representative, who will chair the examination. During the examination, the committee will discuss needed revisions or changes with the student, and each member will provide written advice regarding such revisions or changes. It is recommended that this examination have occurred in the spring or early fall prior to the student's seeking academic employment.

When the student has completed a draft of the entire thesis, it must be submitted to the dissertation committee for evaluation. When the committee receives a draft to be considered for Final Examination and Defense, it may take up to four weeks to certify to the Graduate Chair that the thesis is ready for defense (or not). Upon receipt of this certification, the Graduate Chair will appoint an additional member of the Graduate Group as the Departmental Representative at the examination (who need not be the same as the representative at the preliminary dissertation examination) and will schedule the examination. At this time the student must deposit a copy of the draft to be examined in the department lounge. At least two weeks must elapse between the appointment of the departmental representative and deposit of the draft and the occurrence of the examination. No final thesis examinations will be scheduled between the end of the Academic Year and the start of the Fall Semester.

The final oral examination, which constitutes the "dissertation examination" specified by the Graduate Council, will be chaired by the Departmental Representative. It will consist of a presentation of the contents of the dissertation, followed by an oral examination. Any member of the Graduate Group may participate in the examination, but only members of the dissertation committee and the departmental representative may vote to accept or reject the dissertation. Except when the committee is voting, the examination will be open to the public.

A majority vote of the examination committee determines whether the student passes the examination. (The result of this vote is recorded on form 150.) The dissertation itself may be accepted unconditionally or accepted subject to revision; failure may be unconditional or revision and reexamination of the dissertation may be permitted. The Dissertation Supervisor (or other member agreed upon by the examination committee) will inform the Graduate Group Chair when the Graduate Division may be notified that the dissertation is accepted, or not (forms 152 and 153). Each student is responsible for depositing the dissertation with the Graduate Division, in accordance with the requirements of the Graduate Council.

Each graduate student must apply to the Graduate Division for graduation with the Ph.D. degree at the start of the semester in which the final examination and dissertation deposit are anticipated. Students are reminded that the Graduate Division requires continuous registration through the semester of graduation.

XIV. Seeking Employment

During the course of their studies, students should be cognizant of their aspirations beyond graduation. In addition to engaging the wider philosophical community as described above, they should consider the competencies they wish to present to prospective employers, including their areas of specialization and areas of competence. They should seek to build a body of course work, prelim work, research, and teaching experience to support their claims to these competencies.

The department will normally appoint placement officers to advise students in their search for an academic position. After consulting with their supervisors, students should inform the placement officers of their intention to enter the academic job market by the end of the Spring Semester prior to their anticipated search. These officers usually will arrange mock interviews, and they may coordinate practice job talks. Students should seek advice from their supervisor and committee in preparing a dossier paper. Students should also assemble a teaching dossier.

Letters of recommendation are a key component in the employment process. Over the course of their doctoral studies, students should seek to form intellectual relationships with several faculty members. Letter writers for a job candidate will typically be drawn from, but are not limited to, the student's Prelim and Dissertation Committees. It is not unusual to have four, five, or even more letters in a placement file.

XV. Summary of the Doctoral Program


First Year: 600 (two semesters, if offered), 6 (or 5) more regular courses in philosophy, including logic unless competency demonstrated by examination.

Second Year: 2 courses each semester (plus 999 each semester for total of 3 credit units per semester). Distribution requirements in epistemology and metaphysics, value theory, and history completed by end of fourth term. Teaching. Fourth-semester review.

Third Year: 1 course plus 1 or 2 999s first and second semesters. Preparation for and attempt at Preliminary Examination, second semester; submission of SAS Dissertation Proposal and Ten-Page Dissertation Proposal; appointment of Dissertation Supervisor. Fulfillment of language requirement. Enrollment and attendance in Dissertation Workshop. Teaching.

Fourth Year: Dissertation work. Submission of one chapter-length piece of writing each semester. Appointment of Dissertation Committee. Participation in and presentation to Dissertation Workshop.

Fifth Year: Participation in and presentation to Dissertation Workshop. Submission of one chapter-length piece of writing each semester.Completion of Dissertation work.

Total Credit Requirements:

  • 505, 506, or passing logic exam
  • Two semesters of 600 if available
  • Two courses in value theory
  • Two courses in contemporary metaphysics and epistemology
  • Three courses in history (at least one Plato/Aristotle, one early modern)
  • Additional courses for a total of 13 units
  • Four semesters of 998 (1/2 c.u. each)
  • One unit (beyond the 15) of Phil 700
  • To reach the twenty required for the doctorate, 999s may be taken.