The Standard Program

Date of Update: 5/4/2018
Summary of requirements
In their first semester, all students must attend the First Year Seminar.

In their first five semesters, students must complete ten units of work, distributed across various areas, and successfully take the General Examination. (Special requirements apply to those in the Classical Philosophy programs).

Prior to taking Generals, students must give an undergraduate lecture in the presence of a faculty member.

The General Examination, which provides evidence that students are prepared to write a dissertation, is normally taken in October or January of the fifth semester, but may also be taken earlier, for example in May of the fourth semester. The Department does not have discretion about the dates for the General Examination. These are determined by the Graduate School. A student who fails the General Examination may be given permission to take it again later.

After passing Generals, students must successfully write a dissertation and take a Final Public Oral examination in which he or she must demonstrate a capacity for scholarly research in the area of the dissertation.

Mandatory Advisor Meetings for Pre-generals Students
By one month into each semester, each student who has not yet completed generals will request a meeting with his/her advisor. By way of preparing the advisor for the meeting, the student will send to the advisor no more than two pages describing (1) progress so far completing unit requirements, and (2) any other matters that the student would like to discuss. The student will cc: the DGS on these pages, so that the DGS is assured that the advisor is aware of the student's progress, and that the meeting is within the appropriate time frame.

As concerns (1), the student might list units completed so far, describe units in progress, list the units still needed to fulfill, and express any concerns about completing units on time. If the student is behind on units, he/she might provide a catch-up plan and discuss strategies regarding timely completion of the units.  As for (2), the student might discuss thoughts about a general exam topic, and his/her views on that topic. The student might also discuss work-in-progress on the general exam topic, or any questions about the general exam process.

Mandatory Advisor Meetings for Post-generals Students
By one month into each semester, each post-generals student will request a meeting with his/her advisor.  By way of preparing the advisor for the meeting, the student will send to the advisor no more than two pages describing (1) dissertation progress, and (2) any other matters that the student would like to discuss.  The student will cc: the DGS on these pages, so that the DGS is assured that the advisor is aware of the student's progress, and that the meeting is within the appropriate time frame.

As concerns (1), the student might describe the dissertation topic, list its central claims, or sketch its organizational structure. The student might describe what writing has been done during the past five or six months, and indicate whether the dissertation has already revised in light of feedback (from Princeton faculty or others), or whether the student would like advice about seeking feedback on this writing.  The student might also indicate aspects of the process that are proving difficult, for which guidance is required.  As for (2), the student might discuss whether and where to submit writing for publication, upcoming conferences for submission, which chapter might be suitable for a writing sample, and which chapter might be suitable for a job talk.

In-Seminar Presentations
As a requirement for the degree of Ph.D., students must do three in-seminar presentations in three different seminars they attend, not including the first-year seminar or dissertation seminar.

Units of work, deadlines, and distribution requirements
A unit of work is a single-authored essay, or a written exam, or an oral exam, or some combination of these. Units of work may be, but need not be, associated with material covered in graduate seminars.

After consultation with the faculty member(s) who will award the unit, students are free to decide which units of work they will submit for assessment and when, on condition that they meet the following deadlines:

  • three units by the end of the first semester,
  • five by the end of the second semester,
  • seven by the end of the third semester,
  • nine by the end of the fourth semester.
  • ten by April 30 of the fourth semester for May Generals, September 20 of the fifth semester for October Generals, or by December 15 of the fifth semester for January Generals. Late submissions will not normally be accepted and, in any case, require the prior permission of the Graduate Committee. (After the fourth semester, the schedule for students in the Classical Philosophy program differs. See Interdepartmental Program for Classical Philosophy).

Up to three units may be satisfied by submission of papers written before the student's arrival at Princeton, but neither of the first two units, and only one of the first five, may be satisfied in this way. At least one of the first three units must be for new substantive work in philosophy.

Oral Examinations
At least two units must include an oral examination, administered by a minimum of two members of the faculty. Oral examinations shall be preceded either by a written examination on the same topic, or the submission of a unit paper on the same topic.  The first oral exam must be completed by the end of September of the second year.  The second oral exam must be completed by the end of September of the third year.  Students must achieve a high standard of performance in order to pass these oral exams.

Units must satisfy the following distribution requirements:

  • at least two in history of philosophy,
  • at least two in metaphysics and epistemology,
  • at least two in ethics,
  • at least one in logic,
  • History of philosophy: At least one unit must be in ancient philosophy (philosophy in Greece and Rome from the pre-Socratics through the Platonists of the 6th c. AD), and at least one in modern philosophy (philosophy in Europe from the 15th c. to the end of the 19th c.). If any students would like work on figures earlier or later to count, they should consult with the DGS.
  • Metaphysics and epistemology: This area is interpreted broadly to include metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, parts of philosophy of language, and parts of philosophy of mathematics.
  • Ethics: Students must do at least two units in moral philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of law, social philosophy, philosophy of religion, or aesthetics. At least one unit must be from among the first four options.
  • Logic: For the logic requirement, students must successfully complete: one of the following undergraduate courses [PHI 312 (Intermediate Logic) or PHI 323 (Advanced Logic) or PHI 340 (Philosophical Logic)]; or the graduate course PHI 520 (Logic); or pass an examination equivalent to the final examination in a course that has been, or could appropriately be, offered under one of these numbers. Other work in this area may include formal work, as well as philosophy of logic, and parts of philosophy of language and philosophy of mathematics.

    In addition, a unit can be earned:
    • by learning a language between the time of admission to the program and their general exam. 
      • the language must be relevant to the student’s proposed course of study, and the student must pass a translation exam in the language, as approved by their advisor and the department’s Graduate Committee (relevance to the student’s course of study may take the form of relevance to a secondary project in some area of philosophy);
    • OR - by passing a translation exam in a language relevant to their course of study which the student already knew prior to admission.  In this case the unit will count against the quota of units satisfied by work done before joining the program;
    • OR - by completion of a unit of advanced work in another department, in accordance with a plan previously approved by the department's Graduate Committee (this may not be work also used to satisfy any other requirement);
    • OR - by completion of an additional unit of work in any area of philosophy.

In all cases, satisfaction of a particular distribution unit through a course, paper, or examination depends on the recommendation of the appropriate faculty members. A unit report will be submitted by the faculty member within one month of the completion of the unit of work. All unit reports must be written by a faculty member of the department. If a student plans to obtain a unit report from a faculty member of another department or university, he or she must first obtain permission from our Director of Graduate Studies.

Students who wish to do especially intensive work in one area of philosophy, through extra work either in the Department of Philosophy or in related areas in other departments, may be granted variances permitting them to do less than the norm in some other areas of philosophy, if this is required to allow them to pursue their special interests. Such variances will require approval of the Graduate Committee.

Philosophy students are eligible to participate in the interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience and receive a Certificate in that Program. Information about that Program is available online at: .

There are, in addition, three specific alternative tracks that lead to the Ph.D. degree in philosophy, all of which provide special opportunities for combining the study of philosophy with other disciplines: the Logic and Philosophy of Science track, and the interdepartmental programs in Classical Philosophy and in Political Philosophy. These are described in the Special Programs section, on this page:

The Graduate School
All graduate students in philosophy should avail themselves of the resources of the Graduate School. Our online application, as well as information about graduate student life at Princeton University, can be found on the Graduate School website: Here, also, you will find contact information for questions about the application process, as well as courses offered by other departments (permission of the instructor is generally required.) Students with special interests and qualifications in fields other than philosophy have the opportunity to pursue these interests by taking appropriate courses. The University offers extensive and often unique opportunities for advanced work in fields cognate to philosophy (e.g., Linguistics, Psychology, Computer Science, Economics, Physics, Biology, Mathematics, Political Science, Comparative Literature, etc.). Further information can be found on these websites: and .

The General Examination and the MA Degree
Once students complete their required units, they prepare for the General Examination.

For more detailed information about the General Exam and the Generals proposal click here.

Advancement to continued candidacy for the Ph.D. is based on an assessment of a student's performance on the General Examination in the light of the student's level of achievement in gaining the required units.

The Master of Arts degree in Philosophy is earned by obtaining at a sufficient level of achievement the units required before taking the General Examination. This degree is granted at Princeton only as an incidental degree, offered after completion of part of the requirements for the doctorate; the University offers no program designed for students aiming at the Master of Arts in philosophy as a final degree. Except for Visiting Students from other universities, only Ph.D. candidates are admitted to do graduate work in philosophy.

The Dissertation
The dissertation is normally written under the guidance of one or more members of the department (the primary and optionally one or more secondary advisers). Faculty from other departments and other institutions are eligible to serve as secondary advisers. Occasionally, students wish to write their dissertations under the direction of a faculty member from another department at Princeton. Where possible, this can be arranged. While working on the dissertation, students are encouraged to consult not only their advisers but also other members of the faculty.

For more detailed information about choosing a dissertation topic and the form of the dissertation, click here.

The dissertation is normally limited to 100,000 words; a length of 30,000--50,000 words is recommended. The dissertation should be accompanied by a one-page abstract.

Click here for more information on preparing the dissertation for submission. Click here for degree deadlines.

The dissertation must be accepted by the department, having first been read and recommended for acceptance by two readers, neither of whom may be the student's primary adviser. After the dissertation has been accepted, the student takes a Final Public Oral examination in which he or she must demonstrate a capacity for scholarly research in the area of the dissertation. (Final Public Orals are not to be held during the Summer months, except for demonstrated cases that are immigration-related or for professional need.)

After passing the final examination, the student will be awarded the Ph.D. degree in philosophy by the University.

Teaching Experience
During their years at Princeton all graduate students in philosophy, including those on outside fellowships, engage in some classroom teaching under the guidance of a faculty member: leading discussion groups, setting and marking examinations and tests, and criticizing written papers. This work will normally amount to three hours of classroom teaching plus attendant preparation, or the equivalent, for three terms; and will in no case total less than six hours. Teaching for departments outside of Philosophy for courses that are not cross-listed with Philosophy must be approved by the Graduate Committee to count towards the required six hours. Assignments are made with regard for the student's aptitudes and interests. First year students normally are not assigned teaching responsibilities. 

Prior to taking the General Examination, all students must give an undergraduate lecture at Princeton observed by a Philosophy Department faculty member.

With regard to outside employment –  refer to the Graduate School website for University policies. In addition, International students must follow instructions on the Davis International Center website .
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