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Graduate Program Requirements

The department offers programs leading to the M.A. and Ph.D. It is the intention of the graduate program to enable the student to obtain an understanding of diverse traditions and to develop as a philosopher in his or her own right. To this end, the department offers courses and seminars in the history of philosophy and in traditional and contemporary philosophical issues, from a variety of perspectives.

Course Work

Over the first two years, students will normally take at least 3 courses per quarter of which at least two are philosophy seminars (numbered 200-285). The balance may be made up from additional graduate courses in philosophy, up to two independent studies in philosophy, upper-division courses in philosophy (those numbered 100-199), approved upper-division or graduate courses in related departments, and, if the student is a teaching assistant, Philosophy 500 (Apprentice Teaching). In any case, before advancing to candidacy, students must have completed fourteen graduate seminars, twelve of which are graduate philosophy seminars. These philosophy seminars must each be completed with a grade of B+ or better.

After consultation with the graduate advisor, each entering student shall be assigned a faculty advisor. Students are encouraged to meet with their faculty advisor periodically to plan their course of study during their first two years and must meet once a year in the spring to review progress in the program.


In fall quarter of their first year of residence, graduate students will take a proseminar designed to introduce them to philosophical methods and improve their skills at writing and analysis. Enrollment in the proseminar is limited to first-year students. The proseminar may be team-taught. The topics to be covered will address some central area or areas of philosophy and will vary from year to year. The proseminar is a regular four-unit seminar.

Core Courses

In the following areas, the Department shall offer "core" or advanced introductory seminars: philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, the history of philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and political philosophy. The Department shall offer at least three of these courses in each academic year. Students must take two of these core courses by the end of their second year of residence. Courses taken to satisfy this requirement may be applied toward the distribution requirement.

Core courses are not necessarily distinguished by the numbers under which they are offered, but by their content. A core course provides a point of entry into a field that is suitable for graduate students with no prior work in this area of philosophy as well as students with some background knowledge. A core course may be a general survey of a field, or alternatively may take up some central, relatively non-specialized topic. (Though core courses are intended to provide students with an entry point in to particular philosophical topics, students are welcome to supplement the graduate core courses with upper-division undergraduate philosophy courses (those numbered 100-199), which are often organized as surveys.) A core course may offer students the option of writing shorter papers rather than one long seminar paper; in some cases a final examination may be offered. The decision whether to count a course as core will be made by the instructor in consultation with the graduate advisor.

Distribution Requirements

Before advancing to candidacy students must have completed, with a grade of B+ or better, nine graduate seminars in philosophy (in addition to the proseminar) distributed across the subfields of philosophy listed below. Students must take three seminars in the history of philosophy (including one in ancient philosophy and one in modern philosophy), two seminars in two other areas, and at least one seminar in every area.

  1. history of philosophy
  2. philosophy of science
  3. philosophy of mind and philosophy of language
  4. ethics and political philosophy
  5. metaphysics and epistemology

Courses used to satisfy a requirement in one category cannot be used to satisfy a requirement in another category. The determination as to what category or categories a particular seminar taught in a given quarter may count toward is normally made by the seminar instructor.

Logic Requirement

In their first year of residence, all graduate students must demonstrate proficiency in basic formal logic (the predicate calculus, up to and including functions, relations, and identity) either by passing an examination in this material (normally offered each fall and often in spring) or by taking Philosophy 120 (Symbolic Logic) during their first year of study and achieving a grade of B+ or better. By the end of their second year of residence, all students must pass an advanced logic course or formal methods course (Philosophy 122, 123, 125, or another logic or formal methods class approved by Director of Graduate Studies) with a grade of B+ or higher.

Third-Year Qualifying Paper Requirement

By the end of the spring quarter of their third year in the program, each student must submit for approval a substantial research essay of about 7,500–9,000 words to their third-year committee. The third-year committee will assess the merits of the essay and determine whether it meets the required standards of quality and sophistication. Approved essays will demonstrate that, in the eyes of the committee, the student has acquired the skills necessary to produce a substantial, original, valuable, and polished piece of philosophical scholarship. It is intended that the student will complete this requirement during their third year of residence in close consultation with all members of the third-year committee. (A formal petition must be made for any extension beyond the third year.) The student must satisfy this requirement before advancing to candidacy.

Note: Faculty are not expected to supervise or approve the completion of third-year essays over the summer.  Students should thus ensure that this requirement is completed by the end of spring quarter of their third year.

Research Skills Requirement

Before advancing to candidacy, students will normally be required to demonstrate competence in a skill outside philosophy but relevant to his or her dissertation research.

Which skill is appropriate will be decided by the student in consultation with his or her first or second year advisors and the graduate advisor. Examples of ways in which students may satisfy the skills requirement include demonstrating competence in a foreign language relevant to their research (e.g. Classical Greek, Latin, French, or German, for students working in the history of philosophy); passing with a grade of B+ or better three upper-division undergraduate or graduate-level courses in biology, physics, mathematics, or linguistics (for students working in the philosophy of biology, physics, mathematics or language); passing with a grade of B+ or better three upper-division undergraduate or graduate-level courses in political science, economics or sociology (for students working in political philosophy or ethics).

Specific decisions about the satisfaction of this requirement will be made on a case-by-case basis by the graduate advisor and the student's advisors, and will be made on grounds of the intellectual relevance of the proposed research skill and the needs of the student.

Independent Study Courses

Philosophy 290 (Directed Independent Study) is appropriate for a graduate student still in the process of fulfilling course requirements for the degree. However, this course will not normally be approved for students in the first year of the program, and will not normally count toward the satisfaction of distribution requirements.

Philosophy 295 (Research Topics) is an appropriate course for a student in the process of working towards a dissertation prospectus.

Philosophy 299 (Thesis Research) is appropriate for a student working on his or her dissertation.

Teaching Requirements

Participation in undergraduate teaching is one of the requirements for a Ph.D. in philosophy. Students are required to serve as a teaching assistant or associate-in for (at a minimum) the equivalent of one-quarter time (10 hours/week) for three academic quarters. The duties of a teaching assistant normally entail grading papers and examinations, conducting discussion sections, and related activities, including attendance at lectures in the course for which he or she is assisting. The duties of an associate-in normally entail the running of an undergraduate course --- designing the course, delivering lectures, consultation with students, grading of papers and examinations, and related activities.

Dissertation Prospectus and Oral Candidacy Exam

Sometime after completing the distribution requirements, the student must submit a dissertation prospectus to his or her doctoral committee. The committee will then orally examine the student on the intended subject and plan of research. The examination will seek to establish that the thesis proposed is a satisfactory subject of research and that the student has the preparation and the abilities necessary to complete that research. This oral qualifying exam must be passed before the end of the fourth year of study (twelfth quarter of residence). Students who are passed and have met the other requirements will be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Doctoral Dissertation

Under the supervision of a doctoral committee, each candidate will write a dissertation demonstrating a capacity to engage in original and independent research. The candidate will defend the thesis in an oral examination by the doctoral committee.

Academic Advising

First and Second Year Academic Advising

After consultation with the graduate advisor, each entering student will be assigned a faculty advisor. Students are encouraged to meet with their faculty advisors once a quarter during their first two years to plan their course of study and review their progress in the program. Students may change their faculty advisor after one has been assigned. Advising duties will shift to the third year committee in the student's third year of study, and then to the dissertation committee once the student begins the dissertation.

Third Year Academic Advising

At the end of the student's second year of study, the Department will appoint a three-member faculty committee for that student. The composition of the committee will reflect the student's preferences and the area of philosophy in which the student is inclined to do dissertation work. One of the members of the committee will be designated as the committee chair, and will serve as the student's main advisor. The committee will meet, at a minimum, once in the spring of the student's second year of study, once in the fall of the student's third year, and once in the spring of the student's third year. The responsibilities of the committee include advising the student in developing a sound dissertation project, the acquisition of professional skills (possibly through the departmental professional skills workshop), and advancing to candidacy in a timely manner. The members of this third-year committee may but need not be members of the student's dissertation committee.

Professional Skills Workshop

The department will offer each year a non-credit workshop on professional skills. Topics covered may include publication strategies, the mechanics of the job market, and how to write a cv. This workshop is open to any student in the department, and all students are encouraged to attend at least once before going on the job market.

Academic Advising after Candidacy

After advancing to candidacy, the student will select a dissertation committee that will advise him or her throughout the writing of the dissertation, supply feedback on the material of the dissertation, and conduct the oral dissertation defense. The standard committee consists of five faculty members. Three of these faculty members will be from the Department of Philosophy, and one of these (who must be tenured) will be designated as the principal director of the student’s dissertation. In addition to the three philosophy faculty, the dissertation committee must include at least two faculty from outside the Department of Philosophy, at least one of whom must be a tenured UC San Diego faculty member.

Note: Committee requirements have changed, and now require only four members.  Updated requirements can be found here:

Ph.D. Time Limit Policies

Students must be advanced to candidacy by the end of four years. The department's normative time to graduation is six years. Total university support cannot exceed seven years. Total registered time at UC San Diego cannot exceed eight years.

Masters Degree Program

The UC San Diego Philosophy Department does not admit students with the intention of completing their studies at the Masters level. Nonetheless, Ph.D. students in the department sometimes elect to receive the Masters degree in the course of their academic progress.

To qualify for a Masters degree in philosophy, a student must pass eight of the distribution requirement seminars as described above. No more than four seminars from any one of the five areas may count toward the master's degree. The student must also complete a master's research paper under the direction of a faculty member or his or her choice, and have it approved by two members of the department faculty.