The Philosophy Department at Amherst College promotes the following:

  • familiarity with the central figures and texts in the history of philosophy, both ancient and modern;
  • familiarity with, and thoughtful reflection upon, contemporary philosophical topics and practices;
  • the ability to read, analyze, and articulate arguments in primary philosophical texts and in classroom discussion, and to provide a fair and balanced evaluation of them;
  • the ability to communicate clearly, precisely, and cogently in speech and writing;
  • the ability to offer original arguments in support of philosophical positions; and
  • the ability to anticipate and even welcome objections to one’s views, and to respond to these objections reasonably, imaginatively, and respectfully.

Students who complete the philosophy major will reach a high level of mastery in all these areas. In addition, they:

  • will acquire a broad understanding of the work of major figures in the history of philosophy from ancient Greece to the twentieth century;
  • will develop a deeper and more detailed understanding of a major historical figure or movement;
  • will become conversant with essential questions and ideas in the core areas of philosophy such as: ethics, aesthetics, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language;
  • will engage intensively with cutting-edge philosophical investigations; and
  • will learn basic formal logic and how to apply logical techniques in philosophy and elsewhere.
Schopenhauer
Schopenhauer

The central topics of philosophy include the nature of reality (metaphysics); the ways we represent reality to ourselves and to others (philosophy of mind and philosophy of language); the nature and analysis of inference and reasoning (logic); knowledge and the ways we acquire it (epistemology and philosophy of science); and value and morality (aesthetics, ethics, and political philosophy). Students who major in philosophy at Amherst are encouraged to study broadly in all of these areas of philosophy.

Students new to philosophy should feel comfortable enrolling in any of the entry-level courses numbered in the 100s and 200s. Courses in the 300s are somewhat more advanced, typically assuming a previous course in philosophy; and those numbered 360 through 369 concentrate on philosophical movements or figures. Courses in the 400s are seminars and have restricted enrollments, a two-course prerequisite, and are more narrowly focused. No course may be used to satisfy more than one requirement.

All students are encouraged to participate in the activities of the Philosophy Club.

Major Requirements

To satisfy the comprehensive requirement for the major, students must pass nine courses, exclusive of PHIL 498 and 499. Among these nine courses, majors are required to take:

(1) two courses in the History of Philosophy: Philosophy 217 Ancient Greek Philosophy, 218 Early Modern Philosophy, or 359 Kant and the 19th Century;

(2) one course on a Major Figure or Movement (for example, 359 Kant and the 19th Century, Philosophy 360 Language, Method & Nonsense: Origins of Analytic Philosophy, or 363 Continental Philosophy: Nietzsche's Critique of Morality);

(3) one course in Logic (for example, Philosophy 213 Logic);

(4) one course in Moral Philosophy (for example, Philosophy 310 Ethics);

(5) one course in Theoretical Philosophy (for example, Philosophy 332 Metaphysics, 335 Theory of Knowledge, 341 Freedom & Responsibility, or 360 Language, Method & Nonsense: Origins of Analytic Philosophy);

(6) one Seminar (for example, Philosophy 410 Seminar: Epistemic Agency, or 450-479);

(7) two electives.

No course can count toward more than one requirement.  If a student wishes to replace one of these seven required courses by another taken in a different Five-College department, he or she should petition the Amherst Department by sending a letter to its Chair. (Any course taken in a Five-College philosophy department can count as one of the two electives of the Amherst philosophy major; there is no need to petition the Department.) A maximum of three courses counting toward the satisfaction of the major requirements can be taken outside of the Amherst Department (unless an exception is granted by petition to the Department).

Departmental Honors Program

Candidates for Honors in Philosophy must complete the Major Program and the Senior Honors sequence, PHIL 498 and 499. Admission to PHIL 499 will be contingent on the ability to write an acceptable honors thesis as demonstrated, in part, by performances in PHIL 498 and by a research paper on the thesis topic (due in mid-January). The due date for the thesis usually falls in the third week of April.

Candidates for Honors in Philosophy must complete the Major Program and the Senior Honors sequence, Philosophy 498 and 499.  In order to be admitted to Philosophy 498, seniors must submit a  research prospectus in the first week of the semester.  On the basis of this prospectus, the Department will determine whether students possess sufficient philosophical background, abilities, and motivation to succeed in the program and whether any member of the faculty has sufficient expertise in the area of research to give good advice.  Admission to Philosophy 499 will be contingent on the ability to write an acceptable honors thesis as demonstrated, in part, by performance in Philosophy 498 and by a research paper on the thesis topic (due in mid-January). The due date for the thesis falls in the third week of April.