Stanford's Ph.D. program is among the world's best. Our graduate students receive their training in a lively community of philosophers engaged in a wide range of philosophical projects. Our Ph.D. program trains students in traditional core areas of philosophy and provides them with opportunities to explore many subfields such as the philosophy of literature, nineteenth-century German philosophy, and medieval philosophy.
Among other areas, we are exceptionally strong in Kant studies, the philosophy of action, ancient philosophy, logic, and the philosophy of science. We attract some of the best students from around the world and we turn them into accomplished philosophers ready to compete for the best jobs in a very tight job market.
From the 2020-2021 edition of Explore Degrees:
Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy
Prospective graduate students should see the Office of Graduate Admissions web site for information and application materials.
The University's basic requirements for the Ph.D. degree including candidacy, residence, dissertation, and examination are discussed in the "Graduate Degrees" section of this bulletin.
University candidacy requirements, published in the "Candidacy" section of this bulletin, apply to all Ph.D. students. Admission to a doctoral degree program is preliminary to, and distinct from, admission to candidacy. Admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree is a judgment by the faculty in the department or school of the student's potential to successfully complete the requirements of the degree program. Students are expected to complete department qualifying procedures and apply for candidacy at the beginning of the seventh academic quarter, normally the Autumn Quarter of the student's third year.
Admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree is granted by the major department following a student's successful completion of qualifying procedures as determined by the department. Departmental policy determines procedures for subsequent attempts to become advanced to candidacy in the event that the student does not successfully complete the procedures. Failure to advance to candidacy results in the dismissal of the student from the doctoral program; see the "Guidelines for Dismissal of Graduate Students for Academic Reasons" section of this bulletin.
The requirements detailed here are department requirements. These requirements are meant to balance structure and flexibility in allowing students, in consultation with their advisors, to take a path through the program that gives them a rigorous and broad philosophical education, with room to focus on areas of particular interest, and with an eye to completing the degree with an excellent dissertation and a solid preparation for a career in academic philosophy.
Normally, all courses used to satisfy the distribution requirements for the Philosophy Ph.D. are Stanford courses taken as part of a student's graduate program. In special circumstances, a student may petition to use a very small number of graduate-level courses taken at other institutions to satisfy a distribution requirement. To be approved for this purpose, the student’s work in such a graduate-level course would need to involve an appropriate subject matter and would need to be judged by the department to be at the level of an 'A' in a corresponding graduate-level course at Stanford.
Courses used to satisfy any course requirement in Philosophy (except Teaching Methods and the summer Dissertation Development Seminar) must be passed with a letter grade of 'B-' or better (no satisfactory/no credit), except in the case of a course/seminar used to satisfy the third-year course/seminar requirement and taken for only 2 units. Such a reduced-unit third-year course/seminar must be taken credit/no credit.
At the end of each year, the department reviews the progress of each student to determine whether the student is making satisfactory progress, and on that basis to make decisions about probationary status and termination from the program where appropriate.
Any student in one of the Ph.D. programs may apply for the M.A. when all University and department requirements have been met.
- First-year Ph.D. Proseminar: a one quarter, topically focused seminar offered in Autumn Quarter, and required of all first-year students.
- Distribution requirements during the first six quarters.(Lists of courses fulfilling this requirement are posted in the next section on this website.) Intended to ensure a broad and substantial exposure to major areas of philosophy while allowing for considerable freedom to explore.
- six courses, each taken for the full unit load for the course, distributed across three areas as follows:
- two courses in value theory including ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of law. At least one of the courses satisfying this distribution requirement must be in ethics or political philosophy.
- Two courses in language, mind, and action. One course satisfying this requirement must be drawn from the language related courses, and one from mind and action related courses.
- two courses in metaphysics and epistemology (including metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science). At least one of the courses satisfying this requirement must be drawn from either metaphysics or epistemology.
- Instructors indicate which courses may satisfy particular requirements. If a course potentially satisfies more than one requirement the student may use it for only one of those area requirements; no units may be double-counted. Students must develop broad competencies in all these areas. Those without strong backgrounds in these areas would normally satisfy these distribution requirements by taking more basic courses rather than highly specialized and focused courses. Students should consult with their advisor in making these course decisions, and be prepared to explain these decisions when reviewed for candidacy; see requirement 6 below.
- Logic requirement: PHIL 150 Mathematical Logic or equivalent.
- History/logic requirement. One approved course each in ancient and modern philosophy, plus either another approved history of philosophy course or PHIL 151 Metalogic.
- Students should normally take at least 64 graduate level units at Stanford during their first six quarters (in many cases students would take more units than that) and of those total units, at least 49 units of course work are to be in the Philosophy department. These courses must be numbered above 110, but not including Teaching Methods (PHIL 239 Teaching Methods in Philosophy) or affiliated courses. Units of Individual Directed Reading are normally not to be counted toward this 49-unit requirement unless there is special permission from the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
- Prior to candidacy, at least 3 units of work must be taken with each of four Stanford faculty members.
- six courses, each taken for the full unit load for the course, distributed across three areas as follows:
Writing Requirement: Second Year Paper
The second year paper should demonstrate good scholarship and argumentative rigor, and be a polished piece of writing approximately 8000 words in length. The second year paper need not bear any specific relationship to the dissertation. It may be a version of a prospective dissertation chapter, but this is not required. The final version must be turned in on the last class of the Second Year Paper Development Seminar in Summer Quarter of the second year. Extensions of this deadline require the consent of the instructor of the Second Year Paper Development Seminar and the Director of Graduate Studies and are only granted in exceptional cases (e.g., documented illness, family crisis). The final paper is read by a committee of two faculty members and it is an important consideration in the department’s decision on the student’s candidacy.
A minimum of five quarters of teaching assistancy are required for the Ph.D. Normally one of these quarters is as a teaching assistant for the Philosophy Department's Writing in the Major course, PHIL 80 Mind, Matter, and Meaning. It is expected that students not teach in their first year and that they teach no more than two quarters in their second year. Students are required to take PHIL 239 Teaching Methods in Philosophy during Spring Quarter of their first year and during Autumn Quarter of their second year. Teaching is an important part of students’ preparation to be professional philosophers.
Review at the End of the Second Year for Advancement to Candidacy
The faculty's review of each student includes a review of the student's record, an assessment of the second year paper, and an assessment of the student's preparation for work in her/his intended area of specialization, as well as recommendations of additional preparation, if necessary.
To continue in the Ph.D. program, each student must apply for candidacy at the beginning of the sixth academic quarter, normally the Spring Quarter of the student's second year. Students may be approved for or denied candidacy by the end of that quarter by the department. In some cases, where there are only one or two outstanding deficiencies, the department may defer the candidacy decision and require the student to re-apply for candidacy in a subsequent quarter. In such cases, definite conditions for the candidacy re-application must be specified, and the student must work with the advisor and the DGS to meet those conditions in a timely fashion. A failure to maintain timely progress in satisfying the specified conditions constitutes grounds for withholding travel and discretionary funds and for a denial of advancement to candidacy.
- Writing Seminar: In the Summer Quarter after the second year, students are required to attend the Second Year Paper Development Seminar. The seminar is intended to help students complete their second year papers.
- Upon completion of the summer writing seminar, students must sign up for independent study credit, PHIL 240 Individual Work for Graduate Students, with their respective advisors each quarter. A plan at the beginning, and a report at the end, of each quarter must be signed by both student and advisor and submitted to the graduate administrator for inclusion in the student's file. This is the process every quarter until the completion of the departmental oral.
- In Autumn and Winter quarters of the third year, students register in and satisfactorily complete PHIL 301 Dissertation Development Proseminar. Students meet to present their work in progress and discuss their thesis project. Participation in these seminars is required.
- During the third and fourth years in the program, a student should complete at least three graduate-level courses/seminars, at least two of them in philosophy (a course outside philosophy can be approved by the advisor), and at least two of them in the third year. The three seminars can be taken credit/no-credit for reduced (2) units. Courses required for candidacy are not counted toward satisfaction of this requirement. This light load of courses allows students to deepen their philosophical training while keeping time free for thesis research.
Dissertation Work and Defense
The third and following years are devoted to dissertation work. The few requirements in this segment of the program are milestones to encourage students and advisors to ensure that the project is on track.
- Dissertation Proposal—By Spring Quarter of the third year, students should have selected a dissertation topic and committee. A proposal sketching the topic, status, and plan for the thesis project, as well as an annotated bibliography or literature review indicating familiarity with the relevant literature, must be received by the committee one week before the meeting on graduate student progress late in Spring Quarter. The dissertation proposal and the reading committee's report on it will constitute a substantial portion of the third year review.
- Departmental Oral—During Autumn Quarter of the fourth year, students take an oral examination based on at least 30 pages of written work, in addition to the proposal. The aim of the exam is to help the student arrive at an acceptable plan for the dissertation and to make sure that student, thesis topic, and advisors make a reasonable fit. It is an important chance for the student to clarify their goals and intentions with the entire committee present.
- Fourth-Year Colloquium—No later than Spring Quarter of the fourth year, students present a research paper in a 60-minute seminar open to the entire department. This paper should be on an aspect of the student's dissertation research. This is an opportunity for the student to make their work known to the wider department, and to explain their ideas to a general philosophical audience.
- University Oral Exam—Ph.D. students must submit a completed draft of the dissertation to the reading committee at least one month before the student expects to defend the thesis in the University oral exam. If the student is given consent to go forward, the University oral can take place approximately two weeks later. A portion of the exam consists of a student presentation based on the dissertation and is open to the public. A closed question period follows. If the draft is ready by Autumn Quarter of the fourth year, the student may request that the University oral count as the department oral.
Courses fulfilling Distribution Requirements
Below are yearly lists of courses which the faculty have approved to fulfill distribution requirements in these areas: value theory (including ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of law); language; mind and action; metaphysics and epistemology (including metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science); logic; ancient philosophy; modern philosophy.
Ph.D. Minor in Philosophy
To obtain a Ph.D. minor in Philosophy, students must follow these procedures:
- Consult with the Director of Graduate Study to establish eligibility, and select a suitable advisor.
- Give to the graduate administrator a signed copy of the program of study (designed with the advisor) which offers:
- 30 units of courses in the Department of Philosophy with a letter grade of 'B-' or better in each course. No more than 3 units of directed reading may be counted in the 30-unit requirement.
- At least one course or seminar numbered over 99 to be taken in each of these six areas:
- Philosophy of science
- Ethics, value theory, and moral and political philosophy
- Metaphysics and epistemology
- Language, mind and action
- History of philosophy
- Two additional courses numbered over 199 to be taken in one of those (b) six areas.
- A faculty member from the Department of Philosophy (usually the student's advisor) serves on the student's doctoral oral examination committee and may request that up to one third of this examination be devoted to the minor subject.
- Paperwork for the minor must be submitted to the department office before beginning the program.
The department supports interdisciplinary study. Courses in Stanford's other departments and programs may be counted towards the degree, and course requirements in Philosophy are designed to allow students considerable freedom in taking such courses. Dissertation committees may include members from other departments. Where special needs arise, the department is committed to making it possible for students to obtain a philosophical education and to meet their interdisciplinary goals. Students are advised to consult their advisors and the department's student services office for assistance.
Graduate Program in Cognitive Science
Philosophy participates with the departments of Computer Science, Linguistics, and Psychology in an interdisciplinary program in Cognitive Science. It is intended to provide an interdisciplinary education, as well as a deeper concentration in philosophy, and is open to doctoral students. Students who complete the requirements within Philosophy and the Cognitive Science requirements receive a special designation in Cognitive Science along with the Ph.D. in Philosophy. To receive this field designation, students must complete 30 units of approved courses, 18 of which must be taken in two disciplines outside of philosophy. The list of approved courses can be obtained from the Cognitive Science program located in the Department of Psychology.
Special Track in Philosophy and Symbolic Systems
Students interested in interdisciplinary work relating philosophy to artificial intelligence, cognitive science, computer science, linguistics, or logic may pursue a degree in this program.
Prerequisites—Admitted students should have covered the equivalent of the core of the undergraduate Symbolic Systems Program requirements as described in the "Symbolic Systems" section of the Stanford Bulletin, including courses in artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive science, linguistics, logic, and philosophy. The graduate program is designed with this background in mind. Students missing part of this background may need additional course work. In addition to the required course work listed in the bulletin, the Ph.D. requirements are the same as for the regular program, with the exception that one course in value theory and one course in history may be omitted.
Joint Program in Ancient Philosophy
This program is jointly administered by the Departments of Classics and Philosophy and is overseen by a joint committee composed of members of both departments:
- Christopher Bobonich, Philosophy (Ancient Greek Philosophy, Ethics)
- Alan Code, Philosophy, Philosophy (Ancient Greek Philosophy, Metaphysics)
- Reviel Netz, Classics (History of Greek and Pre-Modern Mathematics)
- Andrea Nightingale, Classics, (Greek and Roman Philosophy and Literature)
- Josh Ober, Classics and Political Science (Greek Political Thought, Democratic Theory)
It provides students with the training, specialist skills, and knowledge needed for research and teaching in ancient philosophy while producing scholars who are fully trained as either philosophers with a strong specialization in ancient languages and philology, or classicists with a concentration in philosophy.
Students are admitted to the program by either department. Graduate students admitted by the Philosophy department receive their Ph.D. from the Philosophy department; those admitted by the Classics department receive their Ph.D. from the Classics department. For Philosophy graduate students, this program provides training in classical languages, literature, culture, and history. For Classics graduate students, this program provides training in the history of philosophy and in contemporary philosophy.
Each student in the program is advised by a committee consisting of one professor in each department.
Requirements for Philosophy Graduate Students: These are the same as the proficiency requirements for the Ph.D. in Philosophy.
One year of Greek is a requirement for admission to the program. If students have had a year of Latin, they are required to take 3 courses in second- or third-year Greek or Latin, at least one of which must be in Latin. If they have not had a year of Latin, they are then required to complete a year of Latin, and take two courses in second- or third-year Greek or Latin.
Students are also required to take at least three courses in ancient philosophy at the 200 level or above, one of which must be in the Classics department and two of which must be in the Philosophy department.
Ph.D. Subplan in History and Philosophy of Science
Graduate students in the Philosophy Ph.D. program may pursue a Ph.D. subplan in History and Philosophy of Science. The subplan is declared in Axess and subplan designations appear on the official transcript, but are not printed on the diploma.
1. Attendance at the HPS colloquium series.
2. Philosophy of Science courses. Select one of the following:
- PHIL 263 Significant Figures in Philosophy of Science: Einstein
- PHIL 264: Central Topics in the Philosophy of Science: Theory and Evidence
- PHIL 264A: Central Topics in Philosophy of Science: Causation
- PHIL 265: Philosophy of Physics: Space and Time
- PHIL 265C: Philosophy of Physics: Probability and Relativity
- PHIL 266: Probability: Ten Great Ideas About Chance
- PHIL 267A: Philosophy of Biology
- PHIL 267B: Philosophy, Biology, and Behavior
3. One elective seminar in the history of science.
4. One elective seminar (in addition to the course satisfying requirement 2) in philosophy of science.
The PhD program provide 5 years of financial support. We also try to provide support for our sixth year students and beyond though we cannot guarantee such support. In addition to covering tuition, providing a stipend, and covering Stanford's health insurance, we provide additional funds for books, computer equipment, and conference travel expenses. Some of the financial support is provided through requiring you to teach; however, our teaching requirement is quite low and we believe that this is a significant advantage of our program.
Stanford Support Programs
Additional support, such as advances, medical and emergency grants for Grad Students are available through the Financial Aid Office. The University has created the following programs specifically for graduate students dealing with challenging financial situations.
Graduate Financial Aid homepage:
Cash Advance: https://sfs.stanford.edu/gradcashadvance
Emergency Grant-in-Aid : https://financialaid.stanford.edu/pdf/EmergencyGrant-In-Aid.pdf
Our program is well known for its small size, streamlined teaching requirements, and low average time to degree.
The program regulations are designed to efficiently provide students with a broad base in their first two years. In the third year students transition to working on their dissertations. During the summer prior to the third year, students are required to attend a dissertation development seminar. This seminar introduces students to what is involved in writing a dissertation. During the third year the course load drops to just under one course per quarter.
The rest of the time is spent working closely with a faculty member, or a couple of faculty members, on the student's area of research interest. The goal of the third year is that this process of intensive research and one-on-one interaction will generate a topic and proposal for the dissertation. During the fourth and fifth year the student is not required to take any courses and he or she focusses exclusively on research and writing on the dissertation.
Being a part of Stanford University means that students have access to one of the premier education institutions in the world. Stanford is replete with top departments in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. In addition, our professional schools, such as the Stanford Law School, are among the best. The range of research in a variety of areas, many of which touch on or relate to philosophical issues, is simply astounding. Students have the freedom to take courses across the university. Graduate students also regularly earn joint degrees with other programs.