Department of Philosophy of the University of Florida
http://www.phil.ufl.edu


The Philosophy Handbook for Majors and Minors

1. The Nature and Uses of Philosophy.

1.1. Philosophy as a subject.

Philosophy is an ancient subject. Important philosophical traditions arose in all of the major civilizations of the ancient world, from China, to India, the Near and Middle East, and the early civilizations of the Mediterranean basin. The philosophical tradition specifically in the West is traced by most scholars back to the first attempts by the ancient Greeks around 600 B.C. to provide a comprehensive account of the origin and nature of the world based on observation and reasoning. From a consideration of the nature and origin of the world, attention soon turned to human beings and their place in nature, and to the relation of people to each other. These two broad concerns, central to all philosophical traditions, still characterize philosophy today.

The word ‘philosophy’ is derived from the combination of the ancient Greek ‘philos’, which means ‘love’, and ‘sophia’, which means ‘wisdom’. In its broadest and original use, ‘philosophy’ means the systematic study of the world and our place in it. This may sound like the project that many people today associate with science, and, indeed, in some places the dividing line between philosophy as a contemporary discipline and science becomes unclear. But they are still quite distinct disciplines, as anyone who has done a bit of both will readily recognize. However, originally there was literally no line at all between the two: science and philosophy began at the same time and sprang from the same source, namely, the desire for a unified account of the whole of the world based on reason. This is reflected in the history of the term ‘philosophy’. Even up to the end of the 19th century, what we now call ‘natural science’ was known as ‘natural philosophy’; the rest of philosophy, traditionally conceived, was divided into ‘moral philosophy’, dealing with human beings and human action, and ‘metaphysical philosophy’, dealing with the ultimate origins and principles of explanation of things. This is also reflected in the title of the highest academic degrees offered at universities, the Ph.D., or Doctor of Philosophy. (The term ‘science’, too, until recently, was used more commonly in a broader sense than today; from the Latin ‘scientia’, the state of having knowledge, it was widely used to mean simply ‘knowledge’ or, more specifically, ‘a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study’.)

The terminological division between science and philosophy, then, has been recent. However, there have always been at least two different kinds of activities pursued in attempts to provide a unified account of the world and our place in it. Both of these activities have been present from the very beginning, though they have not always been clearly identified and distinguished. On the one hand, there are some things we can say about the nature of the world that are (relatively) a priori in character (before experience). What this means is that, by and large, we don’t have to investigate the world very much, if at all, to discover that these things are true. For example, no experimentation is needed to know the truth of fundamental principles of logic, such as the law of the excluded middle–that is, the principle that for any proposition p, either p is the case or it is not the case. Similarly, many people would accept a priori that it is wrong to cause harm needlessly, and that for every right someone has, there is a correlative duty. On the other hand, there are many other things we can know about the world only by observing it and perhaps formulating theories about what we observe to explain it. Such knowledge is called ‘a posteriori’ (after experience). For example, we can know the number of the planets only a posteriori. Likewise, we can know the number and natures of elementary particles, if at all, only a posteriori. This distinction allows us to give a rough characterization of the distinction between philosophy and science, as that is understood today: philosophy, by and large, is concerned with what can be known relatively a priori; science with what can be known only at least in part a posteriori. Science, even in its most abstract theoretical reaches in physics, rests ultimately on observation and experiment. Philosophy, even in its least theoretical aspects, is concerned with what can be known largely through a consideration of how our concepts structure our thinking about the world, and, if the world is a way that we can think about, with the correlative structure of the world itself.

It should be noted that this distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge is itself the subject of philosophical investigation. (It belongs to a field of philosophy known as ‘epistemology’ or ‘the theory of knowledge’.) It should be thought of here only as a rough way of characterizing the distinction between philosophy and other disciplines. There are (at least) two reasons for this. First, there are a variety of theoretical characterizations of the distinction, and many philosophers regard the distinction as better thought of as a matter of degree than a strict dichotomy. Second, while philosophy is characteristically general and is not an experimental subject, it is also not indifferent to empirical knowledge. Many areas of applied philosophy, e.g., rely heavily on empirical knowledge, and even general philosophical systems may have a variety of clearly empirical assumptions at their foundation, assumptions, for example, about human nature and its limitations.

Even apart from these qualifications, the distinction between relatively a priori and relatively a posteriori disciplines is not enough by itself enough to capture what distinguishes philosophy from other intellectual disciplines. For instance, mathematics is also a highly a priori discipline, but is not philosophical in character (though philosophical questions arise in considering the foundations of mathematics, which is also a concern of the field of philosophy known as the philosophy of mathematics). And it would also be a mistake to suppose that a priori questions of the sort which philosophy often seeks to answer are not also sometimes of crucial importance in empirical science. For example, one of the greatest theoretical advances in physics, special relativity, was accomplished by Einstein’s careful analysis of the concept of simultaneity. Philosophy is also distinguished by the kinds of relatively a priori questions it raises. Philosophical questions and problems arise when we investigate various fundamental categories of human activity and thought at the deepest level possible. We can say that philosophical questions are framework questions, in the sense that they are questions that arise about the framework of our thought about one or another fundamental area of human investigation.

Philosophy has also given rise historically to global and comprehensive accounts of the nature of the world and of the relation of human beings to it. Comprehensive philosophical systems are a natural outcome of the desire at once to exhibit the universe as ultimately intelligible and to carry out the investigation at the most general and fundamental level possible. System building on this grand scale was once the central activity of philosophy. In this more skeptical age, it is not as widely pursued as it used to be. But it tends to remain the sole province of philosophy, since other intellectual disciplines define themselves by how they limit their object of study.

These general remarks provide at best a framework for thinking about philosophy. The best way to get a real sense of the nature of philosophy is to consider some examples of the sort of questions that philosophers have attempted to answer. Many of these questions are ordinary and deceptively simple. For example, one question which every person faces is, ‘How ought I to live?’ This has been said to be the most fundamental question of ethics (from the Greek ethos, ‘character’). Since this question is not about the sort of life one does live, or even the sorts of lives most people live, it cannot be answered by describing the way one actually lives or the way others live or have lived. An answer to the question ‘How ought I to live?’ is intended to help one to guide one’s life; what we want in answer to it is a prescription, a model, or a norm or ideal to which we can compare our lives, and on the basis of which we can modify our lives to bring them into accordance with the ideal we hold up to ourselves. For this reason, this is called a ‘normative question’. A full answer to the question ‘How ought I to live?’ will involve a system of normative principles which govern one’s reasoning about what to do in various circumstances. In attempting to answer this question, philosophers have also been led to raise questions about many of the central concepts involved in practical reasoning, such as those of good, right, duty, obligation, virtue, rationality and choice, as well as second-order questions about the objectivity or subjectivity of claims made using these concepts, and whether the truth of such claims is relative to cultures or social systems, as well as questions about the extent to which we are in a position to offer well-grounded answers to normative questions.

Another, connected, traditional question of philosophy is whether our actions can be considered to be free or not. This is traditionally called ‘the problem of freedom of the will’. When a leaf falls from a tree, the time of its fall, the path it takes, and the place it comes to rest, are determined (so far as they are at all) by the laws of nature and the particular conditions present in the leaf’s environment. It does not choose to fall, and if it did, its choice would make no difference to its movements. Let us say someone moves her hand in a gesture of farewell. What distinguishes this movement from the movement of the leaf? What makes the gesture an expression of agency? What, if anything, makes it free? Is it required that she could have refrained from the gesture? If so, how could this requirement be met compatibly with recognizing ourselves as natural objects just as much subject to the reign of natural law as the leaf? And if our actions are not free, can we make sense of our practices of assigning praise and blame?

These questions illustrate some of the most important philosophical questions that arise from reflection on our nature as agents. Similarly fundamental philosophical questions arise in other areas of inquiry, and at the meta-level of theorizing about the nature of rational inquiry itself. Here are a number of examples which illustrate the broad range of philosophical questions. Consider first a subfield in the philosophy of physics, the philosophy of space and time. One of the most difficult questions is one of the most simply stated: What is time? Do points of time exist, or is this merely a convenient way of speaking? Do three-dimensional objects endure through time, or is this an illusion, and are all objects, rather, contrary to common sense, actually four-dimensional objects? Can this latter view be reconciled with our ordinary ways of thinking about ourselves and the things we interact with? Turning to the philosophy of mind, what makes some states and events mental states and events? How is it possible to think about the most distant objects in the universe, or the future or the past, or merely possible things, like a unicorn or a winged horse? How can a physical object, constructed of bone and flesh and sinew, and ultimately out of elementary particles, be conscious? In the philosophy of language: what makes the sounds one utters when one asks a question, or makes a statement, mean something, and mean what they do in particular? What distinguishes language from other sorts of organized social activity; what distinguishes speech from the dance of a bee that directs members of its hive to the location of nectar? In metaphysics: what is the nature of causation? When does one event cause another? What are the fundamental categories into which things fall (what is the correct ontology)? Are there events, as well as objects, are there states of affairs and facts? Are some kinds of things more logically fundamental than others? Aesthetics: what makes a thing beautiful? What makes something a work of art? Why is it important, if it is? Are judgements of artistic value objective? What is the relation between art and emotion? Epistemology: what is knowledge? What are we justified in believing? How do we know things about our own minds, the world around us, the past, the future, and the minds of others? Can there be a rational and objective ground for belief at all? In the philosophy of culture: what is our status as social beings? How are our most fundamental features affected or determined by our social and cultural environments? Is it possible to achieve a culture independent perspective on the nature of our natural and social environments?

It is characteristic of philosophy also, as some of these questions suggest and as noted above, that the nature of philosophy itself, its methodology, and the existence and intelligibility of the special kind of knowledge, a priori knowledge, which traditionally has been seen as the result of philosophical inquiry, are themselves subjects for philosophical inquiry and criticism. Philosophy is a peculiarly self-critical enterprise. While philosophy has traditionally presented its results as timeless truths, there has always been a skeptical strain in philosophy as well, which doubts the pretensions of philosophy to provide us with timeless, absolute truths. Both in ancient times, and since, some philosophers have wondered whether the ideal of philosophy is not simply an empty hope. Recently, some traditional philosophy has come under attack as presenting as timeless truths what were in fact theories and principles which, dressed up in the garb of reason, served merely to perpetuate contemporary social or power structures. However, that philosophy is in this way a self-critical enterprise, far from indicating any fundamental weakness, is in fact one of its strengths, since it is only by such continual reexamination of the most fundamental assumptions we make in inquiry that we can ultimately satisfy ourselves about its legitimacy–if, indeed, this is possible.

From the list of questions above, and from our earlier remarks, it is clear that philosophy is not characterized by its subject matter. Its subject matter is everything. It is rather characterized by the kinds of questions which it raises and attempts to answer. It is concerned with the most general theoretical questions that can be raised about any subject. That is why for any fundamental domain of human inquiry there is a philosophy of that subject. The most general questions are those that have to be settled (largely) prior to empirical investigation, because they are instrumental in fixing the subject matter of empirical investigation and the framework within which it takes place. Furthermore, there seem to be some subject matters the proper method of inquiry into which is necessarily a priori. Normative questions, as we have seen, seem to be of this sort, because of the independence of their answers from how people actually live or behave.

1.2 Areas of philosophy. Top | Prev | Next

The main traditional areas of philosophy are ethics, epistemology, metaphysics, logic, and the history of philosophy. Ethics is the study of practical reasoning and the normative questions which it gives rise to, as we have seen above. Branches of ethics include political and social philosophy as well as applied ethics, which includes bio-ethics, business ethics, and environmental ethics, among others. Epistemology is the study of knowledge and justification, and of the family of concepts which are involved in our assessing claims to knowledge or justified belief. ‘Metaphysics’ (literally ‘after’ + ‘physics’) was originally the title of those books in the collection of Aristotle’s works that came after the Physics. (Note: what you find in a non-academic bookstore under the label ‘metaphysics’ is usually not metaphysics in the academic sense at all.) In its most general use, ‘metaphysics’ covers any inquiry that raises questions about reality that lie behind or beyond those science is capable of answering. In this sense, ‘metaphysics’ and ‘philosophy’, as characterized above, are pretty much synonymous. However, more narrowly, metaphysics is usually taken to comprise mostly questions about ontology (i.e., about what there is, what things exist), and about a set of basic concepts such as those of existence, truth, causation, time, thought, substance, property, and the like. Metaphysics is also the traditional location of comprehensive philosophical systems, such as those of Spinoza, Leibniz, or Hegel. Logic is a branch of epistemology which deals with valid arguments, either inductive or deductive, particularly with respect to the forms of such arguments. It plays an important methodological role in philosophy, since philosophy is in part concerned with how much argument can establish a priori. Since the early 20th Century, the importance of logic in philosophy, especially formal logic, has grown greatly. The benefit of this is that it has facilitated the precise expression of both philosophical problems and of proffered solutions. But this has also had the disadvantage of putting much philosophical research beyond the reach of the general public, contributing to the (mistaken) perception that academic philosophy has lost touch with the big questions of philosophy and is irrelevant to the lives of most people. The history of philosophy, the last major traditional area in our list, bears a special relation to philosophy which the history of most disciplines do not bear to their current practice. It is not merely that studying the work of great philosophers in the past is valuable as history, or as the history of ideas, but that a proper and deep understanding of the history of philosophy is necessary for an adequate appreciation and understanding of contemporary philosophy–and because, in part due to the nature of philosophical inquiry, there is much that the great philosophers of the past still have to offer in our continuing attempts to grapple with some of the great unsolved problems of philosophy.

These traditional areas of philosophy are supplemented by a number of additional areas of intense study in philosophy centered around philosophical questions that arise about one or another fundamental aspect of human activity. A partial list includes the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of action, decision theory, the philosophy of language, philosophical logic, aesthetics, the philosophy of culture, feminism, the philosophy of religion, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of science and its subdisciplines, such as the philosophy of the natural sciences, which includes the philosophy of physics and the philosophy of biology, and the philosophy of the social sciences, which includes the philosophy of history, the philosophy of psychology, and, a recent addition, the philosophy of economics, and the study of the philosophical thought and systems of other cultures–e.g., ancient civilizations such as those of India and China, traditional societies such those of the Amerindians, and contemporary cultural and social systems such as those of Latin America. It should be emphasized that despite the division of philosophy into these different fields, it is almost impossible to undertake the investigation of any philosophical problem or question without having to raise and address questions in other fields of philosophy. Thus, for example, in considering questions that arise in ethics, one is often led to questions in the philosophy of mind, action, and language, all of which raise fundamental questions about our natures as rational agents. In addition to these subject areas, particular historical figures are subjects of intense study, such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Russell, Husserl, Moore, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Sartre, and many other major figures. Likewise, more recent philosophical traditions are often subjects of study in their own right, notably the 20th century traditions in continental and analytic philosophy.

This list of areas of philosophical study is not exhaustive or static. The core disciplines of philosophy are unlikely to shift, but philosophical inquiry is responsive and responsible to the society and culture in which it takes place. For example, new technologies can give rise to new areas of applied philosophy. Bioethics is a relatively recent field of applied ethics which has arisen specifically in response to developments in biotechnology which enable people to manipulate the biological features of organisms to a hitherto unprecedented degree. Similarly, philosophical inquiry has responded to practical social and political problems which have given rise to questions relating to gender, race, international relations, and differing cultural traditions.

1.3 The uses of philosophy. Top | Prev | Next

Philosophy is one of the core liberal arts disciplines. The value and importance of the study of philosophy lies in the first instance in the habits of thought it inculcates, the breadth of vision it encourages, and the perspective it gives us on ourselves, our activities, and our lives among others. Philosophy is by its nature one of the purest of the intellectual disciplines. Its concerns are very abstract. It is not a trade (though teaching philosophy, for which graduate study prepares one, is a trade). Its interest and value lies in its helping us to understand ourselves and our world better and more deeply than we otherwise would, and in permanently altering our approach to our lives and our relations to others through encouraging a lifelong habit of reflection on them. This is rather more of an achievement, perhaps, than anyone could hope that a university education could provide–but the study of philosophy can be the beginning of a process whose continuance can immensely enrich one’s life, and can open to one views that would otherwise be closed or overlooked.

To say that in the first instance the value of the study of philosophy is not practical (in a narrow sense) is not to say that it has no practical value. Philosophy is harder than the evident importance and attractiveness of many of its central questions can lead one to expect. But precisely for that reason its serious study can greatly enhance one’s analytical, critical, and interpretive abilities, as well as one’s ability to express oneself clearly and to formulate and respond to arguments in speech and writing. Philosophy provides one with general problem-solving skills, skills in analyzing concepts, definitions, arguments and problems. It enables one to organize ideas and issues and to extract what is central to an issue from a mass of information. It helps one both to make fine distinctions and to find what is common ground between opposing positions. It also encourages one to synthesize or bring together a range of different views into one more comprehensive and coherent position. Philosophy improves one’s communication skills through improving one’s ability to present ideas in well-constructed, systematic arguments, to differentiate one view from another, to make salient what is relevant and set aside what is of minor importance, and so on. The philosophy major should be able to present carefully thought out arguments, appropriate examples, and clear formulations; such skills lend one’s arguments great persuasive power. Further, the give and take of philosophical discussion, which is a part of any good program of study in philosophy, improves one’s ability to think on one’s feet and to address a wide variety of distinct concerns and questions. It should also aid one in recognizing when and in what respect one’s own views may be incorrect, and what must be revised or discarded and what can be retained. Writing is taught intensively in philosophy courses, with an emphasis on clarity and rigor of argument, the apt use of example and illustration, and sensitivity to the strengths and weaknesses both of views one is examining and of one’s own view. PMore than many other majors, philosophy also encourages students to aim to develop their own views on the questions and problems they study, rather than to absorb uncritically material presented as the current state of a subject. Such independence of mind and persistence in working things out for oneself is a valuable, long-lasting intellectual trait that can serve one very well in a variety of tasks.

Philosophy offers one of the best opportunities in the curriculum for pursuing the goal of improving such skills. These general intellectual skills are applicable to any subject matter, or any sort of problem, practical, or theoretical, one may be faced with. The cultivation of such general intellectual skills is one of the most important goals of a university education. This prepares one not just for particular professions, but to learn new skills and knowledge as needed in later life, both in employment and in the larger arena of political and community life which binds us together with common goals. No one learns everything he or she needs to know at the university (let alone in kindergarten!). Philosophy makes one intellectually agile, prepares one to meet challenges one has not been specifically trained to meet, and prepares one for serious citizenship. Philosophy is, in addition, good training for professional school in journalism, law, medicine, and business, as well as for graduate study in philosophy. As in the case of other liberal arts majors, it provides the kind of well-rounded education and general intellectual skills that are prized in management in both the private and the public sectors of the economy.

2. The Philosophy Department at the University of Florida

2.1 Faculty. Top | Prev | Next

The department, which offers degrees at all levels, from the B.A. to the Ph.D., has faculty who represent a wide range of interests in philosophy, from the history of philosophy–especially ancient and modern–to ethics and meta-ethics, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, epistemology, metaphysics, logic, the philosophy of science, including both philosophy of physics and philosophy of social science, the foundations of analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, and existentialism. You can find here the current list of faculty (including retired emeritus and emerita faculty and any adjunct faculty), together with their main areas of research and teaching, and links to their home pages.

2.2 Department Events. Top | Prev | Next

Departmental Colloquia. The Department aims to schedule regular colloquia–that is, talks given by philosophers invited from other institutions to speak on their work. Such colloquia are open to the UF community, and undergraduate philosophy majors are encouraged to attend. These are typically held on a Monday afternoon at 4:00 PM in the “library” room in the Department (303 Griffin-Floyd Hall); the talk itself is usually about an hour, with the following hour reserved for questions and discussion. Other times and venues are arranged as necessary. At times faculty from the UF Department will present talks of this sort, and on occasion the Department sponsors a philosophical conference with multiple visiting speakers. The graduate students at UF have also in recent years organized an annual philosophy conference, the Southeast Graduate Philosophy Conference. These events (and others) are announced on the front page of the Department’s web site. You can see a list of relatively recent events at the Events Backlist.

Food and Talk. The Department has, since 1996, held an annual event called the “Food and Talk.” This is an event designed to foster community among those at UF interested in philosophy. At the Food and Talk, some free food is provided along with a couple of talks by faculty on a subject of wide philosophical interest. The event is an opportunity to interact with faculty and graduate students outside of the classroom and to discuss topics perhaps unlikely to come up in formal coursework. The event is held early in the Fall semester and traditionally begins at 5:30 PM. There is usually a very large and enthusiastic turnout, and the event can be quite fun. See Food and Talk for some more information and a history of topics.

Essay Contest. Another sort of event aimed at students is the annual contest for the R. M. Hare Undergraduate Essay Prize in Moral Philosophy. The contest is held each Spring and is open to all undergraduate UF students. Winners receive a modest cash prize and have often been asked by the Undergraduate Philosophy Society to present their paper at meetings of that group. For more information, see Hare Essay Competition.

Graduation reception. The Department holds a (modest) reception at the end of each Spring for those philosophy majors who are graduating at that time. Family and friends are invited to accompany the graduating major, and the event is intended to honor those who have completed what is, we know, a demanding undergraduate program. Prize winners are also announced at this event.

Undergraduate Philosophy Society. Finally, students are encouraged to get involved in the Undergraduate Philosophy Society. This student-run group meets on a regular basis and arranges a variety of activities for philosophy majors and other students interested in philosophy, including informal faculty talks, special sessions devoted to practice in argument construction, presentation of student papers, social events, and more. Majors are likely to benefit from the interaction with other students, their insights, and their moral support in navigating the maze of philosophical questions.

2.3 Department Facilities. Top | Prev | Next

The philosophy department at the University of Florida is located on the third floor of Griffin-Floyd hall, one of the original buildings on the campus, which was completely renovated in 1992. Its interior is among the more attractive of buildings on campus, with hardwood floors, extensive use of wood in decoration, and a beautiful three-story central wooden staircase preserved from the original. The central hallway on the third floor features an atrium which floods the hallway with natural light.

The department office is located in 330 Griffin-Floyd Hall, at the north end of the atrium. Next to the department office is the mail room (326) where messages can be left for faculty and graduate students in their mail boxes. Bulletin boards are located both on the landing at the top of the stairs and on the wall in the hallway next to the mail room. You will find posted on these announcements of upcoming events, competitions, awards, calls for papers, information on opportunities to study philosophy abroad, information on graduate study, and the like.

The department maintains a web site which provides information about the department, the undergraduate and graduate programs, current course offerings and descriptions, a list of faculty and graduate students and their e-mail addresses, and other information useful to current and prospective majors and minors. The address is: <http://www.phil.ufl.edu>

The department web site also serves as host to the Florida Philosophical Association, Florida’s main professional philosophy organization since 1955. The FPA holds an annual conference as well as an annual competition for philosophy papers by undergraduates. It should be noted that students from UF have won this competition a number of times. Philosophy majors may also be interested in just attending the conference. Information on that conference, as well as information on several other events and resources in Florida, can be found on the FPA website.

3. The Study of Philosophy at the University of Florida.

3.1 The Major in Philosophy. Top | Prev | Next

(a) Admission to the major

Students who want to major in philosophy are encouraged to apply for admission as soon as they have decided to do so. Classes are often filled very quickly, and majors are given special opportunities to register for the area distribution requirement courses. The method for applying for the major differs depending on your status, as described below.

Undergraduates in semesters 1–5 (using the Universal Tracking method) who want to change their major should go to the CLAS Advising Center to meet with an advisor. The advisor will review your academic record to see if you can start the major and be on track. (For the tracking criteria for philosophy, see the details in the page in the UF Catalog on the Major in Philosophy.)

After reaching the upper division level, students who want to be admitted to the major must fill out a form available at the CLAS Advising Center and seek the approval of the Undergraduate Coordinator. To be approved, students should be in good academic standing, have completed at least two philosophy courses with a grade of B or better, and have a realistic plan for completing the major requirements in a timely fashion. Meeting these conditions is not a guarantee of admission, however; it is at the discretion of the Undergraduate Coordinator whether to support admission, and the CLAS office has the final say.

Students who apply to transfer to UF at the upper division and who want to transfer in as philosophy majors should, if they want to maximize their chances of admission, have already had two courses in philosophy with a grade of B or better. Such transfer decisions are made at the CLAS admissions office, and the Undergraduate Coordinator does not play a role.

(b) Major requirements

The philosophy major requires a minimum of 33 hours of coursework in philosophy. These must include the following courses, which constitute the major’s area distribution requirements:

Area Distribution Requirements
PHH 3100 Ancient Greek Philosophy
PHH 3400 Modern Philosophy
PHI 3130 Symbolic Logic
PHI 3650 Moral Philosophy
Either PHI 3300 or PHI 3500 Theory of Knowledge or Metaphysics

The required subject courses are designed to ensure that students have a good grounding in the history of philosophy, which is essential for an adequate understanding of contemporary philosophy, a core competence in ethics and epistemology or metaphysics, the study of which play a foundational role in the study of many other subjects in philosophy, and, of course, a substantial facility with logic and argumentation, which is central in all of philosophy.

Beyond the area distribution requirements, there are some levels requirements. Of the 33 credit hours required for the major, at least 27 of them must be at the 3000-level or above, and at least 6 credit hours must be at the 4000-level or above, excluding PHI 4905 and PHI 4912. Courses at the 4000-level are intended to be advanced seminars for undergraduates, and registration is restricted to students who have already completed a 3000-level philosophy class (unless they get special instructor permission).

Finally, there are two other restrictions. No more than 15 hours in transfer credit can count toward the degree, and no more than three hours of individual work (PHI 4905 or PHI 3905) can count toward the required minimum.

Notes on earlier catalog years:

Students with a catalog year of 2011 and earlier were required to take PHI 3300: they did not have the option of taking PHI 3500 to satisfy that requirement. The department allows students from those catalog years to use PHI 3500 to satisfy their PHI 3300 requirement. To do so, they must contact the undergraduate coordinator.

Students with a catalog year of 2008 and earlier were originally required to take PHI 3950, Philosophical Writing, as one of the area distribution requirements. Present majors under these catalog years have had that requirement waived, though it should be noted that they still need a total of 33 credits, so that in place of taking PHI 3950, they need to take another 3 hours at the 3000-level.

Students with a catalog year of 2006 and earlier require only three hours (not six) in philosophy at the 4000-level, excluding PHI 4905 and PHI 4912.

Students with a catalog year of 2003/04 and earlier can meet the logic requirement by taking either PHI 2100 or PHI 3130.

Students with a catalog year of 1996/97 are required to take 30 hours of philosophy, the history sequence, and meet the logic requirement. Level distribution requirements are as above.

Students with a catalog year of 1995/96 and earlier are required to take 27 hours of philosophy, the history sequence, meet the logic requirement, and take at least two 4000-level courses. Level distribution requirements are otherwise the same as above.

(c) Double majors

A number of students decide to pursue a double major combining philosophy with some other area. Applications should be picked up at the CLAS Advising Center. An application for a double major needs the support of the Undergraduate Coordinators from both majors. Students who plan to double major need to plan ahead with some care to ensure they can complete the requirements for both majors within a reasonable amount of time, aiming not to go too far over the standard 120 credit hours required for a CLAS Bachelor’s degree. In many cases, this is quite feasible. In the past we have seen students combine philosophy with a variety of other majors, including, for example, economics, English, business administration, history, psychology and political science.

There are three variations on the theme of a double major. If your other major leads to a BA in CLAS, your option is a double major. If your other major leads to something other than a BA, there is the option of a dual degree. Students whose other major is outside CLAS can choose between a dual degree and a second major. With the dual degree option, you have to satisfy CLAS college requirements as well as those of your other college. With the second major option, you do not have to satisfy CLAS college requirements, just those for the philosophy major. This can be a useful option if you are, for instance, an engineering major.

Details of these options and the application process are available at Advising Center’s double-major/dual-degree page. That page also describes the possibility of pursuing three majors.

(d) Honors

To graduate cum laude (with honors), a student must achieve the honors threshold 3.5 upper-division GPA. This honors threshold GPA is calculated based on the grades a student earns after he or she has achieved “3LS” status, that is, beginning the semester after the student earns his or her 60th credit. (“Upper division” in this instance refers to the student’s status (3LS or 4LS) when taking any courses, not to the upper-division courses (3000- or 4000-level) the student has taken.) The honors threshold GPA is conveniently calculated toward the bottom of a student’s degree audit. Students who achieve the honors threshold GPA upon graduation will automatically graduate cum laude.

To graduate magna cum laude or summa cum laude (with high or highest honors), a student must, in addition to achieving the 3.5 honors threshold GPA, complete an honors thesis while taking PHI 4912. Evaluation of the honors thesis determines whether a student graduates magna or summa cum laude.

The honors thesis: The honors project involves independent research under the supervision of a faculty director. The goal is to give you an opportunity to write a large-scale paper and investigate a single philosophical issue in more depth than you may have had an opportunity to do in course work. Doing such a thesis can be a very rewarding experience, although you should understand that it is not a project to be undertaken lightly. The rules below are designed to ensure that you will be sufficiently prepared to succeed in the project.

Overview of the process: The process of undertaking an honors thesis will take nearly two semesters. In the first semester you need to form a reasonably specific plan as to what you will do in the thesis, ensure that you have the relevant background for the topic, and the like; in the second semester, you actually write the thesis, signing up for PHI 4912. In both semesters you need to work with a faculty director who officially sponsors your thesis. When the thesis is completed, you will be subjected to an oral examination and defense of your work.

The proposal: In order to register for PHI 4912, it is mandatory that you submit and have approved a proposal for the thesis by the end of the preceding semester. More precisely, the proposal must be submitted by no later than the last day of classes of the semester preceding that during which you hope to take PHI 4912. The proposal, which you should develop in consultation with a faculty director, is to be submitted to the Undergraduate Coordinator by that date.

The proposal will primarily consist in a description of the project, including a statement of thesis you hope to defend, where that statement must be relatively specific. The following two statements, for example, are not adequate specifications of your thesis:

By contrast, the following two statements display an appropriate scope and specificity:

The statement of the thesis should be accompanied by a discussion (750–1000 words) of the issue in which you explain your preliminary thoughts on the matter, which questions you plan to pursue, what arguments you expect to address, and so on. While it is not required that the completed thesis adhere strictly to what you provide in the proposal, we do insist on a proposal that will give you a substantial starting point in your investigation.

When the proposal is submitted, it must be accompanied by three further things: (i) the explicit approval of the faculty director who agrees to work with you on the project (this may be provided simply by having the faculty member email his or her approval to the Undergraduate Coordinator); (ii) a bibliography of relevant readings, accompanied by a brief statement of which items you’ve already read and which you plan to read in the near future; and (iii) an indication of what courses you have taken or are taking that provide you with relevant knowledge in the field. Ideally, these should include a 4000-level course that is directly relevant to the subject area of your thesis. That 4000-level course might be, but does not have to be, an independent study (PHI 4905) on the thesis topic.

Completion and oral defense: A completed thesis, approved by the faculty director, needs to be handed in to the Undergraduate Coordinator (who distributes it to the undergraduate studies committee) at least two weeks before the last day of classes in the semester you’re writing your thesis. The two week time period is needed in order to allow that committee to review the thesis and to schedule an oral examination. After the oral exam the committee will arrive at a judgment as to whether the thesis merits awarding honors, high honors, or highest honors.

Before your exam, you need to complete the Honors thesis submission form. Please download the form and fill it out (it must be typed, not handwritten). Then bring the form with you to the oral exam. After the exam, take your signed thesis submission form to the CLAS Advising Center in Farrior Hall for submission. This must be done by the last day of classes. Further [information about the honor thesis][] may be found on the UF Advising site.

Finally, you are responsible for the [electronic submission of the thesis][] itself. The submission website will ask you for the title, an abstract, and an electronic copy of your thesis.

3.2 The Minor in Philosophy. Top | Prev | Next

(a) Admission to the minor

As with majors, students are encouraged to apply for the minor early, as minors are (along with majors) given special opportunities for registering for the area distribution requirement courses. Students may not apply for a minor until they have completed 45 credit hours. Applications for the minor are made at the CLAS Advising Center. To apply for the minor, there is no need to see the Undergraduate Coordinator. However, as with applications for admissions to the major at the upper division level, students should ensure that they can fit in the requirements for the minor in a timely fashion.

(b) Minor requirements (2012 catalog year)

The minor in philosophy requires a total of 15 credit hours in philosophy. At least 9 credits must be at the 3000-level or above, and no more than six transfer credits may count towards the minor. There is also a distribution requirement. Students must satisfy at least two of the following four options:

Minor Distribution Requirements
1. PHI 2100 or PHI 3130 (logic option)
2. PHH 3100 or PHH 3400 (history option)
3. PHI 3500 or PHI 3300 (metaphysics and epistemology option)
4. PHI 3650 or PHM 3202 (value theory option)

Note on earlier catalog years:

Students with a catalog year of 2011 or earlier have a different distribution requirement (all the other requirements are the same). This requires that minors complete either (1) a history sequence that is, Ancient Philosophy PHH 3100 and Modern Philosophy PHH 3400, or (2) one course from that history sequence, and a logic course specifically, either PHI 2100 or PHI 3130. However, the department allows students with a catalog year of 2011 or earlier to use the 2012 distribution requirement for the minor, without changing their catalog year. To do so, students must contact the undergraduate coordinator.

3.3 Planning for the Major. Top | Prev | Next

(a) General advice

Philosophy is often a “found major”–that is, a major that students do not have in mind when they first come to college but decide on only after they have arrived and have had some exposure to philosophy. As a result, planning out how one is going to complete the requirements usually doesn’t start until one has already completed a number of semesters. In this section we provide some general advice on that planning.

Philosophy courses are not in general sequential, where one must take one course prior to taking another in order to do well with the latter. It is not, for instance, necessary to take Introduction to Philosophy (PHI 2010) to take other philosophy courses, and the only formal requirement is that one must complete a 3000-level course prior to taking any 4000-level course. Still, some guidelines are in order. It is a good idea to take the area distribution requirement courses earlier rather than later, as they are intended to provide the grounding for much else you will study. In particular, it is advisable to take the required course in symbolic logic (PHI3130) earlier, as it provides critical argumentative and reasoning skills that will be quite useful in other classes. It might also be a good idea to take the two required history courses (Ancient Greek Philosophy PHH3100 and Modern Philosophy PHH3400) earlier, as these will acquaint you with a great deal of influential work and ideas that are frequently alluded to and used in other classes. Ideally, you should plan things so that you can take your two or more 4000-level courses towards the later part of your college career, so you can get the most out of them.

Much depends on the schedule of courses that can actually be offered from semester to semester, however. The Department’s policy is (so far as possible) to offer each of the area distribution requirements every Fall and every Spring, with the exception of PHI 3130, which is only offered once a year during the Spring. (Be sure to take this into consideration when planning when to complete that requirement.) The number and variety of courses offered will depend on several factors, not all of which are predictable, so it is a good idea to fulfill requirements earlier.

During the summer, a limited number of philosophy classes are offered. Some courses at the 2000-level are normally offered, and there may be just a few (1-3) elective courses at the 3000-level. (Area distribution courses are almost never offered during the summer.)

(b) Sample programs

The UF catalog includes, for each major, a recommended schedule to follow for four years that would enable students to complete the major’s requirements in that time. Below are some sample schedules of that sort. Keep in mind that these are only illustrations. There are many different configurations of courses that could be used to meet the requirements in a timely fashion. Each example assumes a student entering in the Fall term and taking a 15 hour load each semester. Summer semesters are left out, but it may be sensible in certain cases to take a lighter load during the Fall or Spring and make up for it over the summer.

Here, then, is one way a philosophy major might plan to complete the degree:

Sample Four Year Program
Semester 1 Credits
Composition (GE-C, WR) 3
Mathematics (GE-M) 3
Foreign Language 5
Electives 3
14
Semester 2
Composition (GE-C, WR) 3
Social and Behavioral Sciences (GE-S) 3
Foreign language 5
A 2000-level philosophy class 3
14
Semester 3
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
Mathematics (GE-M) 3
Social and Behavioral Sciences (GE-S) 3
Physical Science (GE-P) 3
Electives 4
16
Semester 4
Philosophy area requirement 3
Philosophy area requirement 3
Biological Science (GE-B) 3
Science Laboratory (GE-P or GE-B) 1
Social and Behavioral Sciences (GE-S) 3
Electives 3
16
Semester 5
Philosophy area requirement 3
Philosophy area requirement 3
Biological Science (GE-B) 3
Physical Science (GE-P) 3
Electives 3
15
Semester 6
Philosophy area requirement 3
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
Electives 9
15
Semester 7
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 9
15
Semester 8
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 9
15

It should be noted that the above example of a 4-year program includes 3 more credit hours in philosophy than needed. After all, there is no need to stick to the minimum, and as the above illustrates, it’s quite feasible to do more.

For students who wish to pursue a senior honors thesis, it may be useful to have an illustration of how that goal may be achieved as well. A student might follow the above plan for his or her first two years and spend the remaining two years as follows:

Sample Final Two Years for Honors Thesis Preparation
Semester 5 Credits
Philosophy area requirement 3
Philosophy area requirement 3
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
Biological Science (GE-B) 3
Physical Science (GE-P) 3
15
Semester 6
Philosophy area requirement 3
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
Electives 9
15
Semester 7
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 9
15
Semester 8
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
PHI 4912 (thesis) 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 9
15

(c) Planning for transfer students

If you are a student planning to transfer to UF and earn a philosophy degree, it is recommended that you complete at least two philosophy classes with a grade of B or better in order to have a competitive application. The general planning advice given above applies to you as well, though you will have less time at UF to complete the requirements. Below is a sample program that illustrates how a transfer student may complete those requirements in two years.

The sample schedule assumes that the student has, prior to matriculation at UF, both completed two philosophy courses at the 2000-level and completed all the basic distribution requirements for CLAS except for the foreign language requirement and the advanced elective requirement (that is, the requirement of 18 credit hours of 3000-level electives outside of one’s major). Transfer students should be sure to check their audit to see what remaining CLAS requirements they might need yet to satisfy.

Sample Program for Junior Transfer
Semester 5 Credits
Philosophy area requirement 3
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
Foreign Language 5
Elective 3
14
Semester 6
Philosophy area requirement 3
Philosophy area requirement 3
Foreign Language 5
Elective 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 3
17
Semester 7
Philosophy area requirement 3
Philosophy area requirement 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 9
15
Semester 8
A 3000-level philosophy elective 3
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
A 4000-level philosophy elective 3
Electives (3000 level or above, not in major) 6
15


3.4 Post-Graduation Planning. Top | Prev

(a) General issues and resources

Students should begin post-graduate planning well before graduation. To assist you in this task, the Undergraduate Committee in collaboration with Becky Ross of the Career Resources Center has prepared the Philosophy Major’s Career Handbook. Majors should review this helpful material. As a first step toward rational career planning, the department recommends scheduling an appointment at the Career Resource Center, who is the Center’s CLAS liaison.

A degree in philosophy can be used as an entry into many business and management positions, both in the public and private sectors, as well as for professional schools (e.g., law, journalism, business, education). But students can do many things to enhance their chances of finding a job, and a job to their liking, or admission to an appropriate professional program, by planning ahead. Planning ahead can make the transition from graduation to a job or further professional or graduate training much easier than it would otherwise be. For example, careful planning of course work in areas outside one’s major can enhance one’s ability to find a desirable position after graduation, or to gain admission to an appropriate professional school or graduate program. It may be advisable to pursue a double major, or an appropriate minor, to provide one with an advantage on the job market. There are also many internships available which students can apply to through the Career Resource Center which can provide both valuable work experience and a special relationship with a particular employer, which may enable one to find a job with that employer after graduation. In general, businesses look for applicants who have drive, enthusiasm, and initiative, and who are quick learners and open-minded. Many businesses also expect applicants to have some experience in working with computers, and look for people who work well in groups and have good organizational skills. Increasingly, businesses also look for people who are respectful of other cultures. A carefully designed schedule of courses, both in and outside of the philosophy major, can provide a good record to show that one has these qualities.

For more information on career planning, check out the Career Resource Center–where you will find information on career planning workshops, expos and fairs, on-campus interviewing, and career planning classes. In particular, you may want to look into the “4:05 Career Seminar Series,” a workshop designed for students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. A presentation targeted specifically at philosophy majors is available.

(b) Graduate school

Students who intend to pursue graduate studies in philosophy need to be aware that competition for the best programs is very strenuous. Some measures you can take to improve your chances are, first, to maintain a high GPA (3.5 or higher), especially in your philosophy courses, and to take more than the required minimum of 4000-level seminars. The following classes (in addition to those already required for the major) might be especially helpful by way of preparation for graduate school:

A competitive application for graduate work in philosophy will of course require a good GPA, a respectable score on the Graduate Record Examination, and a solid background in philosophy at the undergraduate level. The successful completion of a senior honors thesis would also be an advantage. There are two other factors that are quite important: the letters of recommendation and the writing sample. Having letters from faculty who have worked with you enough to be able to say something about your talents could make the difference between your application being noticed and being lost in a large pile of others, and an impressive short paper could well make the difference between acceptance and rejection. If you are serious about graduate study, you should be sure to talk with either the Undergraduate Coordinator or the Graduate Coordinator about the process, its challenges, and the strategies that may be appropriate.

(c) Other professional programs

Law school. The study of philosophy is excellent preparation for various professional programs, especially, but not only, law school. It is well established that philosophy majors score very well on the LSAT as well as the GRE. Students who are pre-law or studying for law-related professions may want to consider seriously the following classes:

Students considering pursuing law school after an undergraduate degree may wish to visit the American Bar Association web page on preparing for law school.

Medical school. A number of philosophy majors go on to medical school. It should be noticed that it’s quite possible to earn a philosophy degree while taking those science courses that are prerequisites for medical school; you may choose to double major in philosophy and, say, biochemistry, but it is possible to complete those prerequisites without such a second major. If you are pre-med or studying for medicine-related professions you may want to consider taking some of these classes:

Students considering health related professions may wish to visit the Association of American Medical Colleges web page.

Journalism. Students with a philosophy background may also be well suited for a professional degree in journalism. If you pursue this option, you should give serious consideration to:

© University of Florida, 1997-2012, vers. 12.9 Prepared by the undergraduate committee of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Florida.