Requirements and Policies

The Master's Degree

While the department offers the degree of Master's of Arts in Philosophy, the department does not admit students who do not intend at the outset to pursue the Ph.D. in Philosophy. There is no separate Master's Degree Program.

The requirements for the degree of Master of Arts are set in part by the Graduate School, and in part by the Department of Philosophy. The department requires the satisfactory completion of at least 33 credit hours of course and seminar work. At least 21 credits must be earned in philosophy courses numbered between 800 and 989. The remaining credits may be earned either via transferring credits from previous graduate-level work (with a maximum of 9 credits) or by taking philosophy courses at the 400-900 level. Note that no more than one course at the 400-600 level and no more than one course at the 700 level can count toward the credit hour requirements for the MA. Typically, students will take 10 seminars at the 800-900 level and one 700 level seminar in order to satisfy this requirement. First year graduate students may not register for philosophy 599, 699, or 990-998.

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The Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

The Ph.D. in philosophy is awarded in recognition of a successfully completed program of advanced studies in philosophy, culminating in a doctoral dissertation which represents a contribution to philosophy.

There are a number of requirements for the Ph.D., some set by the Graduate School and some set by the Department of Philosophy. For the Graduate School requirements see the current Graduate School Academic Policies and procedures. You are advised to pay special attention to the Graduate School's minimum credit and continuous enrollment requirements for the Ph.D. The department's requirements and the general organization of the program are set out here. The department requires the satisfactory completion of at least 51 credit hours of course and seminar work. At least 21 credits must be earned in philosophy courses numbered between 800 and 989. The remaining credits may be earned either via transferring credits from previous graduate-level work or by taking philosophy courses at the 400-900 level. Note that no more than one course at the 400-600 level and no more than two courses at the 700 level can count toward the seminar requirements for the Ph.D. Students Typically, students will take 10 seminars at the 800-900 level, two 700 level seminars, and a the remainder of the credits are earned by taking directed research or thesis prep courses (e.g., PHIL 990). In other words, the course requirements for the Ph.D. involve (a) completing the requirements for the MA, (b) additional coursework to reach a minimum of 51 credit hours, and (c) taking an additional seminar (700-989) at some point between the MA and completing the Ph.D. as part of these 51 credits.

The Ph.D. program falls into two major stages. The first prepares a student for a step called "Admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D." For Admission to Candidacy you must satisfy the conditions below. Upon admission to candidacy, the student begins the final stage of the Ph.D. program, the writing of the doctoral dissertation (or thesis). The degree is awarded only upon a successful final oral examination and acceptance of the dissertation.

Studies during the first stage of the program are devoted to acquiring the philosophical skill and learning needed to do philosophy well, and, in particular, to write a successful doctoral dissertation. The main component of the program work at this stage is the graduate seminars (800-989). You will plan your program of study - of seminars, courses, and other work - with the advice of your major professor, and in consultation with such other graduate faculty as your major professor judges appropriate. The program of study that you work out will be designed for completion, normally, by the end of the sixth or seventh semester of full-time graduate studies. It will be the responsibility of the major professor to oversee the progress of your work. This work will include seminars in the area in which you believe you will write your Ph.D.

Prerequisites for Admission to Candidacy

The philosophy department requires that you meet the following six requirements for Admission to Candidacy: the seminar requirement, the history of philosophy requirement, the logic requirement, the minor field requirement, the first year proseminar requirement and the preliminary examination requirement. These six requirements are described below.

A note on Foreign Languages

There is no foreign language requirement as such for the Ph.D. However, study in certain areas of philosophy cannot be adequately performed without extensive knowledge of one or more foreign languages. For this reason, a student's major professor may require that the student acquire reading knowledge of any foreign language necessary for work in the student's area of specialization.

Students with previous graduate work

After a semester of work in our program, students with previous graduate work may, with the support of their major professor, petition the department to count some or all of their previous work toward meeting various departmental requirements (such as the seminar requirement). No more than 2 courses from a previous program can be applied toward the seminar requirement.

Thesis Committee, Dissertation Prospectus and Feasibility Examination

In order to receive a Ph.D. in philosophy, you must write a dissertation.

By the end of the semester following that in which you complete your preliminary examination, the Chair will appoint a three-member thesis advising committee, one member of which will be your thesis advisor. In appointing your advisor and the committee, the Chair will consult your preferences, which will be respected, unless specific graduate faculty members are unable or unwilling to serve, or in case the graduate faculty members you suggest are not experts in the area of your dissertation. The role of the committee will be to advise you throughout the preparation of your dissertation and to judge whether the thesis is ready to be defended. Your thesis advisor has the primary responsibility for directing and supervising your thesis.

Although you will probably work with a single committee throughout the research and writing of your dissertation, the constitution of your committee may change. Faculty may become unavailable, or your interests and the focus of your dissertation may evolve, so that you want to work with other faculty. Requests to change your thesis advising committee should be made to the Chair, who will consult with your committee. Changes of advisor or committee must be made with the consent of a majority of your committee; changes should be avoided when students are nearing the completion of their dissertations. Any changes in the thesis advising committee that are requested during the semester of the dissertation defense, or the semester before, must be approved by the department.

After a student is admitted to candidacy (that is, after all requirements, including preliminary exams are completed) the student will take a prospectus exam in his or her intended dissertation area. Students must successfully pass this exam (a) within one year after passing their preliminary examination or (b) by the end of their fourth year in the program, whichever is later. The exam will be oral and will be administered by your thesis advising committee. This exam has two purposes: to determine that the dissertation topic is viable and to ensure that you have sufficient command of the field to pursue the topic effectively. The exam will be based on a written submission (the prospectus) but will not be limited to it. The prospectus should represent a clear statement of what you intend to do in your dissertation. It is not a dissertation chapter, but rather a substantive description of the problem you will be addressing and of your approach to that problem, along with a justification of the importance of your thesis. Such justification should demonstrate familiarity with the literature in the field, sufficient to indicate that your proposed work represents an original contribution. The prospectus is intended to demonstrate that you are ready to write a dissertation in a particular field of philosophy, and thus should provide evidence of both the breadth of your familiarity with that field and the depth of your knowledge of the specific topic. As a result of the exam, you will be told (a) to go ahead, or (b) to go ahead after doing something (such as reading more extensively in the relevant literature, or taking certain courses), or (c) to drop the project and take up something else altogether. It will be up to the committee to decide when the requirements stipulated in (b) are satisfied, and to decide whether you should take the exam again. A second prospectus exam will be required for those students told (c). After two exams, the examining committee may (d) fail the candidate.

Thesis and Final Oral Examination

Detailed information concerning the formal requirements for the preparation of the thesis and abstract should be obtained from the Graduate School office. The candidate must pass an oral examination defending the completed thesis. Readers must be given the dissertation at least three weeks before the final day on which a request for a warrant for a defense can be made. Requests for warrants must typically be made in late November for fall defenses or late April for spring defenses. Therefore, the candidate is required to distribute copies of the dissertation to readers on a date in early November for fall defenses or early April for spring defenses. The oral examination will be held only when all the members of your thesis advising committee conclude that it is possible that the dissertation could be successfully defended. The examining committee will consist of at least five faculty members, four from the philosophy department and at least one from another department. The committee is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School upon recommendation made by the department chair after conferring with the student's thesis advisor. Three members of the examining committee will be designated as readers; these will be the individuals who the chair initially assigned to the advising committee. All examining committee members must receive an abstract of the dissertation at least one week before the exam. See the Departmental Graduate Secretary for the necessary paperwork.

Oral examinations will not be held during the summer unless there are exceptional circumstances. If you wish to defend in the summer, you must have the support of your major professor, and petition the Department Chair for an exception.

Reading Seminars

Each seminar meets with a concurrently offered reading seminar (701). Students enrolled in reading seminars attend all the seminar meetings and do the readings, but have a substantially lighter work-load, determined by the professor before the beginning of the semester. Students may take as many 701’s as they like, and indeed, are encouraged to do so, particularly after they have attained dissertator status. Students are required to take at least one seminar (including 701) after advancing to candidacy. However, only one 701 can count toward the 33-credit hour requirement for the MA and only 2 701s may count towards the seminar requirement for the Ph.D., but more than 2 can be applied to the 51-credit hour requirement for the Ph.D.

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Other Departmental Policies, Rules, and Regulations

Courses and Seminars

To ensure all students a fair opportunity for admission to graduate seminars, instructors are asked not to admit any students to these before the scheduled student advising week, though priorities and conditions for admission other than merely "first come, first served" may be established by instructors.

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Independent Reading

You may not register for independent reading or research until after the first year of graduate study, and then only with the approval of the major professor, who will first consult with the instructor concerned.

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Green Sheets

In addition to submitting a formal grade on a graduate student's academic performance in a given course or seminar, an instructor submits a document to the departmental office that is known as "Green Sheet". Green sheets contain information about books and articles read, kinds of papers written and, most importantly, the instructor's general assessment of the performance of the student. Upon request, a student will be given a copy of the green sheet. A student's major professor will prepare a green sheet each semester on the student's progress on the dissertation.

In addition to the official university grades (A, AB, B,...), the department recognizes for internal purposes the grades A+ and A- for graduate seminars. When these extra grades are used, they should be reported on green sheets, and they may be used by departmental fellowships and awards committees to select recipients of fellowships and awards.

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Academic Progress

Students should discuss their performance in seminars with instructors and their overall performance in the program with their advisors. The department does not provide any unified evaluation of student's performance apart from providing Green Sheets and enforcing minimum standards of satisfactory progress and ranking advanced students in the event that there are openings for employment as T.A.s.


Students who have four or more grades of "Incomplete" may not register for further work until these Incompletes have been removed. It is the policy of the philosophy department not to give Incompletes, except when illness or events beyond the student's control prevent the completion of course work.

Final graduate student grades for fall classes must be submitted at least seven days in advance of the spring semester; final graduate student grades for spring classes must be submitted by August 1. Faculty who do wish to allow incompletes in their classes may do so, provided that they submit grades by the previously mentioned deadlines. Faculty must make their policy on incompletes (including submission deadlines if allowing incompletes) clear to students at the beginning of the term.

Criteria for Satisfactory Progress

In addition to the Graduate School requirements for minimum credit and minimal GPA, the philosophy department has criteria for satisfactory progress. A student who is normally enrolled and in residence in the Ph.D. program is making satisfactory progress unless that student:

Consequences of Failing to Meet the Criteria for Satisfactory Progress

Students who are failing to make satisfactory progress will not be eligible for financial support and will not be nominated for any fellowships.

If a student who is not making satisfactory progress (a) has at any one time three or more incompletes that have been on the student's record for one semester or more or (b) has not passed the dissertation prospectus examination by the end of the ninth semester of residency, or (c) has at any time a cumulative GPA of less than 3.3 in philosophy graduate seminars (those numbered 800 and above), then the student will be placed on probation; and if after two semesters there is still a deficiency, the student will be removed from the program.

No student while on probation is eligible for appointment as a TA, PA or RA nor will that student be recommended by the department for a fellowship.

Failure to Register and Leaves of Absence

A leave of absence may be granted for various reasons such as illness, pregnancy, childbirth and early months of child care, and financial difficulties. An application for a leave of absence should be submitted to the Chair in writing. Students who are absent from the program for more than two years will not be guaranteed readmission and will have to compete with others applying for admission. Only students who are making satisfactory progress can expect to be granted leaves of absence for more than one semester.

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Teaching, Research, and Project Assistantships

Teaching Assistantships constitute the major portion of the department's financial support of graduate students.

Philosophy TAs lead discussion sections of around 20 students that are part of our large lecture courses. They assist in Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Social & Political Philosophy, Elementary Logic, Philosophy of the Arts, Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Introductory Ethics, Contemporary Moral Issues, History of Ancient Philosophy, History of Modern Philosophy and others. The number of TAs in any given semester is determined by enrollments and our budget.

Some graduate students may also be employed as Project Assistants or Research Assistants by individual faculty.

A graduate student who is receiving funding in a given term from the Philosophy Department must take at least one philosophy course in that term.

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Colloquium on the Teaching of Philosophy

Each semester the department schedules a graduate colloquium to discuss problems involved in the teaching of philosophy and encourages its graduate students to attend. All TAs in their first semester of teaching are required to attend the colloquium. All Ph.D. students are expected to attend at least four meetings of the colloquium during their residence in Graduate School. Colloquia are conducted by different faculty members and senior graduate students, and are normally held twice each semester.

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Financial Aid

Fellowships and Scholarships

Applications for fellowships and scholarships must be submitted to the departmental office by January 15 for the following academic year.

There are University Fellowships for both beginning and advanced graduate students. Departmental nominees are put into competition with graduate students throughout the university for these fellowships.

International Students may be eligible for the university fellowship competition depending on the current requirements of the Graduate School.

Students already in residence are considered for fellowships principally if not exclusively on the basis of their academic records at Wisconsin.


Graduate students appointed to assist professors in courses by grading examinations, quizzes and papers, but who do not formally instruct students or lead classroom discussions, are called "readers". Readers are paid on an hourly basis, with a maximum number of hours being allotted for a given course, depending on the type and number of assignments and the number of students in the course. Appointments are made only for one semester at a time. Each semester toward the end of registration the department publicly posts or otherwise provides graduate students in residence with a list of courses for which readers might be required. Graduate students who wish to be sure that they are among those considered for these readership appointments should submit applications to the Assistant to the Chair (not to the instructor of the course) by the announced due date. Applications are available from the departmental office.

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Major Professors

The selection of a major professor to serve as a general advisor is of considerable importance. The initial assignment of an advisor is provisional only, and is made for the purpose of providing guidance while getting acquainted with various members of the faculty. You should try to determine as soon as possible the research area in which you are likely to do your doctoral dissertation and the faculty member who is most likely to supervise this work. After the initial assignment of a major professor, all student-advisor arrangements are by mutual agreement. Anyone whose major professor is on leave or scheduled to go on leave should make suitable arrangements to obtain another one. Every graduate student must have a major professor, and the office must be notified of all changes of major professors.

The Role of the Major Professor

Obligations: It is the responsibility of the advisor, at least once a year, upon the advisee's request, to confer with the advisee concerning issues of the following general sort, as seem appropriate to the advisee's situation. Students are advised to seek such a meeting.

Other Roles: Although the following items are not obligations, some major professors also help their advisees by:

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Director of Graduate Studies

The Chair serves as the Director of Graduate Studies, assisted by the Assistant to the Chair. Though not preempting the role of advisors, they can sometimes provide further assistance and direction.

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The Philosophy Department Library

The Julius R. Weinberg Memorial Library is located in Room 5184 White Hall. It contains the bequests of the late Professors Weinberg and McCallum and is available only to graduate students and faculty in the Philosophy Department. The departmental library also contains reference works and philosophical periodicals.

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The W. Donald Oliver Prize Essay Contest

As a result of a gracious gift to the University of Wisconsin Foundation by Anna C. Oliver, in honor of her late husband Professor W. Donald Oliver, the philosophy department makes a substantial annual award to a graduate major in Philosophy who, in the opinion of the department, has written the best essay submitted to the faculty. The department has agreed to help the award recipient prepare the essay for possible publication in an appropriate scholarly journal. The prize award is named for W. Donald Oliver, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in the late 1930s under the supervision of E.B. McGilvary. Professor Oliver spent most of his academic career as a Professor at the University of Missouri. He was the author of Theory of Order published by Antioch Press.

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The Dennis Henry Common Room

The Dennis Henry Common Room, directly across the hall from the departmental office, serves as a lounge and a place for informal discussion.

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Graduate Philosophy Club

The department sponsors a Graduate Philosophy Club, which meets at regular intervals for discussion of philosophical topics as well as occasionally for social functions. All graduate students are urged to participate in the activities of this club. The officers of the club are elected by the graduate students.

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Philosophy Colloquium Series

Each year the department sponsors a series of lectures by members of its own faculty as well as by visiting philosophers. This series is organized by a student-faculty committee, consisting of at least one faculty member (elected by the faculty) and up to three graduate students (selected by a vote of graduate students or appointed by the President of the Graduate Philosophy Club). Lectures and discussion are scheduled on most Friday afternoons during the semester.

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Graduate Student-Faculty Conference Committee

This committee has been established for the purpose of discussing and preparing recommendations for departmental action on any and all matters relating to the graduate program in philosophy. Its three faculty members are elected by the faculty and its three student members are elected by graduate students, one of them being a teaching assistant elected only by teaching assistants. The Chair is elected by the six committee members.

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Office Space and Mail Boxes for Graduate Students

Lecturers, as well as teaching assistants are provided with office space. Graduate students who hold no appointments and Fellows may be assigned offices if available. The department provides mail boxes for all graduate students.


A student who thinks an exception to departmental rules ought to be made can appeal by (1) submitting a letter to the Chair giving reasons why an exception should be made; or (2) having the major professor submit a letter to the Chair giving reasons why an exception should be made. The case shall then be presented to the Departmental Appeals Committee, which has the power to decide it, though decisions of the Appeals Committee will sometimes be ratified by votes at the Departmental Committee. The decision of that committee can be appealed to the entire departmental faculty.

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Lecturer Position Appointments

Upcoming lecturer positions will be publicly announced by a memorandum distributed to graduate students. It will include a brief description of the application procedure.

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Joint Program in Law and Philosophy

There exists a joint program in Law and Philosophy for a student who wishes to earn both a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a J.D. The aim of the program is to facilitate earning both degrees and to reduce the time required. One must apply for admission separately to both the philosophy department and the Law School, and should mention at the time the aim of enrolling in the philosophy/law program. It is entirely up to the student how the work between law and philosophy will be divided. The Law School strongly prefers a student in the first year law program to take law courses full time.

Law school work will satisfy the minor requirement for the Ph.D., but will otherwise not diminish the requirements that must be met for taking the preliminary examination. The Law School allows a student pursuing a doctoral program to count up to 15 credits of work taken in that program towards the law degree. Students will not be guaranteed financial support from the philosophy department during any period in which they are pursuing a law degree full time.

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