University of Southern California

Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences


Graduate Degrees

The objective of the graduate program in philosophy is to equip suitably prepared and talented students to function effectively as teachers, thinkers and writers on philosophical topics in the Western tradition. The program provides for a wide range of studies within philosophy, but emphasizes the history of philosophy, both classical and modern, along with the traditional core disciplines: ethics, epistemology, metaphysics and logic.

Because philosophy is as much a special manner of intellectual activity as it is a special subject matter, the graduate student is expected not only to master major works in the historical and contemporary literature of philosophical thought, but also to develop the ability to engage in the ongoing process of philosophical research and dialogue.

Admission Requirements

An applicant for admission normally has an undergraduate major in philosophy, but programs may be arranged for promising students who do not. At least three letters of recommendation from the student’s undergraduate teachers should be sent to the chair of graduate admissions of the School of Philosophy. All applicants are required to take the verbal and quantitative General Tests of the Graduate Record Examinations.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are awarded under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Master of Arts in Philosophy

The department does not accept applicants for a Master of Arts degree in philosophy. The M.A. degree is intended only as a transitional degree in the process of completing requirements for the Ph.D. in philosophy.

A student may obtain an M.A. in philosophy by fulfilling the following requirements: a minimum of 36 units in the USC philosophy school, at least 24 of which must be at the 500 level. Requirements include: PHIL 500, PHIL 503 and a 500-level course in each of the following three areas: metaphysics and epistemology, ethics and other value theory, and history of philosophy. Of the remaining four required (4-unit) courses, only four units of PHIL 590 are applicable to the degree. A publishable research paper is also required.

Progressive Degree Program in Philosophy and Law

The progressive degree program permits exceptional undergraduate students with a major or minor in philosophy to receive both an undergraduate degree and the Master of Arts in Philosophy and Law within five years. A minimum GPA of 3.5, two letters of recommendation and outstanding performance in philosophy courses are required for admission to this program. For other requirements of the progressive degree program, see here.

Master of Arts in Philosophy and Law

A total of 36 units are required for the degree, including at least 24 units in philosophy. Twelve of these must come from completing the specialization and breadth requirements. The former requires students to take a 4-unit, 500-level course in philosophy on a topic spanning philosophy and law. The latter requires students to take PHIL 500 or PHIL 503, plus another 4-unit, 500-level course in philosophy on a topic that does not span philosophy and law, including but not limited to topics in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, ethics, aesthetics and history of philosophy. Students must also demonstrate a basic proficiency in symbolic logic, typically by passing, at a sufficiently high level, one of a specified range of 4-unit courses in logic offered by the School of Philosophy. The law requirement for this degree consists of two courses in the USC Gould School of Law. The first must be either LAW 503 Contracts or LAW 509 Torts I. The second must be either LAW 504 Criminal Law or LAW 508 Constitutional Law. Students who elect to take LAW 504 would normally also take 1 unit of PHIL 590 as an accompaniment. Degree candidates must also write a master’s thesis on some subject in legal philosophy. At least one of the thesis advisers must have an appointment in the School of Philosophy.

Juris Doctor/Master of Arts, Philosophy

Students must complete 24 units in the USC School of Philosophy and 69 units in the USC Gould School of Law.

First Year: Required law school curriculum.

Second and Third Years: The School of Philosophy prefers that students take at least one philosophy course each semester. During the four semesters, students must take at least 16 units at the 500-level, including PHIL 450 Intermediate Symbolic Logic or PHIL 510 Philosophical Logic and PHIL 500, and PHIL 503, one 400- or 500-level course in ethics or social/political philosophy or aesthetics or philosophy of law; one 400- or 500-level course in metaphysics or epistemology or philosophy of language or philosophy of science or philosophy of mind; one 400- or 500-level course in the history of ancient or early modern philosophy; passage of the second year review that shall include a research paper based on a completed seminar paper and completion of a publishable research paper. Students must also complete 36 additional law units.

Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy

Application deadline: January 1

Course Requirements

The minimum number of course credits required for the Ph.D. is 60 units. No more than 8 of these units may be from 590 courses and no more than 8 of these units may be from 400-level courses in the School of Philosophy. PHIL 450 does not count toward this maximum of 8 units of 400-level courses in the School of Philosophy. No more than eight of these units may be earned in 794 Doctoral Dissertation. Each student must pass PHIL 450 with a grade of B or better and must pass both PHIL 500 and PHIL 503 with a grade of B+ or better. PHIL 450 and both PHIL 500 and PHIL 503 must be satisfactorily completed by the end of the second year.

The student may take up to two courses in a field of study related to philosophy. The Ph.D. dissertation may be written in any area of philosophy for which adequate supervision is available from within the university. Ph.D. students are also required to show evidence of practical or editorial training, or their equivalent.

Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirement

A foreign language examination, specified by the school, in French, German, Latin or classical Greek is required. The faculty may approve a replacement of the language requirement by a research tool requirement, consisting of an approved course or examination in a subject essential to the student’s research program. The course or examination must be passed before the qualifying examination is attempted.

There are three levels of evaluation in the Ph.D. program prior to the dissertation:

Distribution Requirement

There is a distribution requirement of six courses at the 500 level in the School of Philosophy, two each representing breadth within each of the following three areas: (1) metaphysics and epistemology (broadly construed, including philosophical logic; philosophy of science; philosophy of math, mind, and language), (2) value theory (broadly construed, including aesthetics, political philosophy, and the philosophy of law), and (3) pre-1879 history of philosophy. PHIL 500, PHIL 503 and PHIL 590 courses cannot count toward this requirement. Up to two 400-level courses may count by petition toward this requirement, provided that the departmental standards for graduate-level course work are met. For courses straddling two areas (for example, history of ancient philosophy and metaphysics; history of modern philosophy and ethics), instructors will indicate on the syllabus which requirement the course will satisfy. Courses dealing with subject matter within more than one of the areas listed may be used to satisfy any of the areas encompassed by the course although no single course may be used to satisfy two requirements at once. The two courses within each distribution area must represent breadth, as determined in advance by the graduate adviser and in accordance with departmental guidelines. All distribution requirements must be completed by the end of the fifth semester.

Screening Procedure

Students in the Ph.D. program must pass a screening procedure before undertaking their 25th unit (seventh course) of graduate credit. This will be based on a review of the student’s work to date, and will take into account not only information acquired but also those intellectual qualities and capacities that are essential for good work in philosophy: the capacity to think and write on philosophical issues with clarity, consistency and thoroughness; the ability to understand in detail what is involved in the meaning and justification of philosophical claims or positions; the ability to recognize and to draw out fine conceptual distinctions and to perceive their logical relationships; and strong intellectual curiosity and independence of thought.

Student Reviews

Graduate student progress is reviewed on a regular basis each term. In addition, apart from the screening procedure, there are more formal reviews conducted at the end of the 4th and 6th semesters of study, as described below.

In the fourth semester of study, normally the spring of the second year, each student shall submit two papers, approximately 8,000 words each, in different fields of philosophy (ordinarily two substantially revised papers previously submitted in seminars). The choice of papers should be made in consultation with the Graduate Adviser. The second year evaluation will be made on the basis of faculty review of the submitted papers and consideration of the student’s total record.

For the review following the sixth semester of study, students are to select one from a list of pre-designated areas in philosophy and master the material on a pre-assigned reading list of important works in that area. At the beginning of the sixth semester, each student will take a written examination, designed by the faculty of the School of Philosophy, on the materials covered in the relevant reading list followed by an oral examination exploringtheir knowledge of the field. This examination must be passed by the end of the sixth semester. The examining committee for each student will consist of faculty conversant with the field and appointed by the school.

Qualifying Examination

This examination consists of a written prospectus of the proposed dissertation and an in-depth oral examination on the form and subject matter of the proposed dissertation. All faculty members may inspect the prospectus and be present at the oral, but evaluation of the qualifying examination is the responsibility of the student’s qualifying exam committee. The examination is not passed if two or more members of the qualifying exam committee find it unsatisfactory.

The qualifying examination is not offered in the summer. Those who intend to take this examination must meet all the conditions specified in the section on general requirements for the Ph.D. Students are expected to pass the qualifying exam by the end of the seventh semester. Students who have not passed the qualifying exam by the end of the seventh semester will be subject to faculty review, and may not be allowed to continue in the program.

Doctoral Dissertation

When the student passes the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee (see Graduate Advisement), replacing the qualifying exam committee, is appointed by the director of the school in consultation with the student and the philosophy faculty. Normally, the qualifying exam committee simply becomes the dissertation committee. This committee and the candidate will then agree upon how the dissertation is to be developed and written. The dissertation must be an original contribution to some well-defined area in philosophy, and must give evidence of the student’s ability to do respectable, large-scale research, thinking, and writing in the field. The school requires the defense oral when the research and writing of the dissertation is substantially complete. Attendance at this oral examination is open to all members of the university faculty, but the examination is conducted and evaluated by the candidate’s dissertation committee. The faculty normally works with the dissertations only in the fall and spring semesters, and the student should plan accordingly.

Graduate Advisement

In addition to the departmental graduate adviser, who has the formal role in graduate advising, each student will be matched with a personal adviser, who will share responsibility with the graduate adviser for monitoring a student’s progress semester by semester. The graduate adviser is available to counsel any graduate student on all aspects of the graduate program. A student’s personal adviser will consult informally with the student semester by semester on how to interpret his or her grades and especially the written reports provided by the instructor for each course in which the student is enrolled, discuss informally the student’s selection of courses each semester, and generally keep track of the student’s progress in the program. At the appropriate time, the student will consult his or her adviser concerning the appointment of a faculty committee for guidance and supervision. An official qualifying exam committee will be appointed at the time the student passes the screening examination; for the rules governing its establishment and makeup, see General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in the Graduate School section. The qualifying exam committee will meet with the student soon after its appointment, and at least once each academic year thereafter.