Philosophy Ph.D. Program

Approved by Graduate Council and Graduate Division, Nov. 10, 2008. These requirements apply prospectively beginning with those admitted for Fall 2009. Students who entered the program under the old requirements may choose either to continue under that regime or to adopt the requirements below.

The Ph.D. program is designed to provide students with a broad knowledge of the field of philosophy, while giving them opportunities to work intensively on the issues that interest them the most. During the first stage of their graduate education, students meet the Department's course distribution requirements and prepare to take the qualifying examination. This examination assesses the student's strengths in areas chosen by the student in consultation with supervising faculty. After passing the exam, students advance to candidacy and begin writing the Ph.D. thesis. A detailed explanation of the requirements for the Ph.D. in Philosophy follows.

Before Advancing to Candidacy

During the first stage of the program, students are expected to acquire a broad background in philosophy and develop their philosophical abilities by fulfilling the following requirements:

First Year Seminar

A one-semester seminar for first-year graduate students only, conducted by two faculty members, on some central area of philosophy.

Logic Requirement

The Logic Requirement has two components:

  1. Completion of Philosophy 12A or its equivalent, with a grade of B+ or better.
  2. Completion of 140A or 140B with a grade of B+ or better. Courses with a comparable formal component including, in most cases, courses in the 140 series may satisfy this requirement, with the approval of the Graduate Advisor.

Both parts of the requirement may be fulfilled by successful completion of equivalent logic courses before arriving at Berkeley. Whether taken at Berkeley or elsewhere, courses taken in fulfillment of the logic requirement do not count towards the eight-course distribution requirement.

Course Distribution Requirement

Before taking the Qualifying Exam the student must complete eight courses at the 100- or 200-level completed with a grade of A- or higher. At least four of the eight courses must be graduate seminars. The eight courses must satisfy the following distribution requirements:

Two of the eight courses must be in the history of philosophy: one in ancient philosophy and one in modern philosophy. The courses may be on any individual philosopher or group of philosophers drawn from the following lists:

Four of the eight courses must be in the following areas, with at least one course from each area:

A seventh course may be any Philosophy course in the 100 or 200 series except for 100, 195-199, 200, 250, 251 and 299.

An eighth course may be either any Philosophy course as specified above or a course from another Department which has been approved by the Graduate Advisor.

In exceptional cases, students may, at the discretion of the Graduate Advisor, meet one distribution requirement by presenting work done as a graduate student elsewhere: typically a graduate thesis or work done in a graduate-level course. Meeting a distribution requirement in this way will not count as meeting any part of the four-seminar requirement.

Language Requirement

Revised requirement approved April 4, 2022 by Graduate Council, for all graduate students who have not already passed the foreign language requirement.

Before taking the Qualifying Examination, the candidate must pass a departmental examination in a foreign language requiring the translation of 300 words in 90 minutes with the use of a dictionary. The language can be any foreign language containing a significant philosophical literature, provided that a faculty member qualified to administer the examination is available. An examination in an approved language may be waived upon approval of the Graduate Division if native ability in the language can be demonstrated through secondary school or university transcripts. A course sequence of four semesters (or six quarters), whether taken at UC or elsewhere, will be accepted in lieu of the language examination if the sequence was completed within four years of admission to Berkeley and the student earned an average grade of C or better.

The Qualifying Examination

Students should aim to take the qualifying examination by the end of the fifth enrolled semester and they must take it by the end of the sixth enrolled semester.

In order to take the examination the student must have fulfilled the department's course requirements and must have passed the language requirement.

The qualifying examination is administered by a committee of three faculty members from the department and one faculty member of another department. The members of this committee are nominated to the Graduate Division by the Graduate Advisor in consultation with the candidate.

Soon after assembling an examination committee, the candidate should, in consultation with this committee, write a 300-word description and compile a list of readings for each of three proposed topics for examination. Each topic should be centered on a major philosophical problem or question. Together the topics should reflect a balance of breadth and depth, and the Graduate Advisor must approve that they meet these criteria.

A week before the qualifying examination, the candidate should submit an overview essay of 1500-3000 words for each topic, which expands on the initial description. The essay should aim to lay out the central problem or question, to explain its importance, and to evaluate critically the attempts to resolve or answer it, with an eye to forming a view within, or about, the debate.

The qualifying examination itself will be a three-hour oral exam administered by the committee. The candidate's essays are meant to serve as a springboard for discussion in the exam. The purpose of the examination is to test the student's general mastery of philosophy. Students are expected to draw on the information, skills and understanding acquired in their graduate study and to demonstrate sufficient breadth and depth of philosophical comprehension and ability to provide a basis for proceeding toward a Ph.D.

If a student fails the qualifying examination, the examining committee may or may not recommend that a second examination be administered by the same committee. The second examination must be administered no sooner than three months and no later than six months following the first attempt. Failure on the second attempt will result in the student being automatically dismissed from the graduate program. (See Section F2.7 of the Guide to Graduate Policy.)

Students should advance to candidacy as soon as possible and they must do so no later than a year after passing the qualifying examination or the end of their sixth semester in the program, whichever comes first, to maintain satisfactory progress in the program. (An exception to the above policy will be made for those students who, having failed the qualifying exam in their sixth semester, may be granted the possibility to take it a second time in their seventh semester. In the case of a successful retake, the student must advance to candidacy by the end of the seventh semester.)

Before advancement to candidacy the student must constitute a dissertation committee consisting of two faculty members from the department and an outside faculty member from another department.

Prospectus Stage

In the semester after passing the qualifying examination the student must take two individual study courses of 4 units each with the two inside members of his or her dissertation committee for the purpose of preparing a dissertation prospectus.

The dissertation prospectus should be submitted both to the inside members of the committee and to the Graduate Advisor by the end of that semester. It should consist of about fifteen pages and outline plans for the dissertation. Alternatively, the prospectus may consist of parts of a possible chapter of the dissertation together with a short sketch of the dissertation project.

Following submission of the prospectus, the candidate will meet with the inside members of the committee for an informal discussion of the candidate's proposed research.

The Doctoral Completion Fellowship

The Doctoral Completion Fellowship (DCF) is a one-year fellowship available to graduate students who have advanced to candidacy and meet several additional conditions. Students are advised to review the eligibility requirements for the DCF.

Additional Requirements


Each student for the Ph.D. degree is expected to serve as a graduate student instructor for at least two semesters.

Dissertation seminar

Students in the first two years after declaring candidacy must register for the dissertation seminar (Philosophy 295) for at least one semester each year, during which they must present a piece of work in progress, and are expected to attend the seminar all year. (The seminar meets every other week.) All students working on dissertations are encouraged to attend the seminar.

Annual Meetings

At the end of each academic year, there will be a meeting of the student and both co-chairs of his or her dissertation committee to discuss the student’s progress over the year and his or her plans for the following year.