Philosophy Ph.D. Program

Pre-2009 Graduate Program Requirements. The requirements below apply by default to students who were admitted prior to Fall 2009. The current requirements are available here.

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 exam. This exam 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
Completion of Philosophy 12A: Introduction to Logic or its equivalent, with a grade of B+ or better. This requirement may be fulfilled in one of three ways: successful completion of an equivalent logic course taken before arriving at Berkeley, successful completion of Phil 12A or an equivalent course at UC Berkeley, or by passing a logic exam administered by the Department.

Course Distribution Requirement
Before passing the Qualifying Exam the student must pass eight courses at the 100-or 200-level completed with a grade of A- or better. At least four of the eight courses must be graduate seminars. Otherwise, in order to insure breadth in their graduate studies in philosophy students must take courses fulfilling the following distribution requirements:

Two of the eight courses must be history courses, one in ancient philosophy and one in modern philosophy. The courses may be on individual philosophers or on groups of philosophers from the following list:

Four courses must be taken in the following areas, with at least one from each:

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: either 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
Before taking the Qualifying Exam students must fulfill part or all of the language requirement. See below for a description of the requirement.

The Qualifying Examination
Students choose two fields from two different areas—either two major fields, or one major field and one minor field. Two topics are chosen from a major field, and one topic is chosen from the other field. The three topics are the main topics of the examination. With the help of three supervising faculty members, the student will write a brief description of the topics on which the student has chosen to be examined, as well as a list of readings. The supervising faculty will be especially concerned with the balance of breadth and depth in approving the student's proposal.

The examination is a three-hour oral examination conducted by four faculty members, one of whom is from outside the Philosophy Department. Its purpose is to test students' general mastery of the field of philosophy. Students are expected to draw on the information, skills and understanding acquired during their first two years of graduate study and to demonstrate sufficient breadth and depth of philosophical comprehension and ability to proceed to the Ph.D. The examination may be taken only after the student has passed one language examination and completed all the course requirements. Students should aim to take the examination by the end of the fourth semester, and they must pass it by the end of the sixth semester.

Major Fields

Minor Fields

Area I  

Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of Language

Philosophy of Social Science
Philosophy of History
Philosophy of Mathematics

Area II



Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Action
Philosophy of Religion

Area III



Political Philosophy
Social Philosophy
Legal Philosophy

Area IV


History of Ancient Philosophy
History of Modern Philosophy

There is no exhaustive list of minor fields in this Area, but some examples are: Pre-Socratic Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, Kant, The Empiricists, Nineteenth-Century, Pre-1945 Anglo-American Philosophy.

After Advancing to Candidacy: the Dissertation

Students who have completed the requirments discussed above, including passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam, may advance to candidacy and begin writing their doctoral dissertation. Dissertation work is done under the supervision of a committee of two faculty members from the Department of Philosophy and one faculty member from another department.

Additional Requirements

Language Requirement
Following university policy the Department of Philosophy requires its graduate students be proficient in one or two (depending on the method of fulfillment) foreign languages, typically French or German. The language requirement may be fulfilled in one of three ways:

(a) The student passes departmental examinations in each of two foreign languages, one of which is either French or German; an examination in a second language other than French or German may be approved by the Graduate Advisors if it contains significant philosophical literature related to the student's work. These examinations involve translating (into English) a passage of about 300 words in one and one-half hours with a dictionary. One of these examinations must be passed before taking the Qualifying Examination. The second must be passed within 18 months of advancement to candidacy.

(b) Before taking the Qualifying Examination, the student passes a departmental examination in either French or German in which a passage of about 1000 words is translated into English in three hours without a dictionary.

(c) The student passes an examination in French or German of the sort described in paragraph (a) before the Qualifying Examination, and after the Qualifying Examination passes an examination in the same language, of the sort described in paragraph (b).

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