The Standard Program

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 program).

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 Adviser Meetings for Pre-generals Students

By one month into each semester, each student who has not yet completed generals will request a meeting with their adviser. By way of preparing the adviser for the meeting, the student will send to the adviser 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 Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) on these pages, so that the DGS is assured that the adviser 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 behind on units, the student 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 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.

Pre-generals students are not normally advised by faculty who are currently on LOA unless specific permission is given by the faculty adviser.

Mandatory Adviser Meetings for Post-generals Students

By one month into each semester, each post-generals student will request a meeting with their adviser.  By way of preparing the adviser for the meeting, the student will send to the adviser 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 Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) on these pages, so that the DGS is assured that the adviser 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 been 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

Starting with students joining the graduate program in Fall 2015 - as a requirement for the degree of Ph.D., students must do three in-seminar presentations in three different graduate seminars they attend, not including the first-year seminar or dissertation seminar. Each in-seminar presentation must be approved by the faculty member in charge of the seminar, in an email sent to the Graduate Program Administrator, stating the course number (PHIxxx) and date of presentation. Any presentations given outside of the department must be preapproved by the student’s adviser. Remote in-seminar presentations must be preapproved by the DGS, unless the class itself is held remotely.

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 units by the end of the second semester,
  • seven units by the end of the third semester,
  • ten units by May 31st of your second year.

Late submissions will not normally be accepted and, in any case, will 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.

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 value theory,
  • History of philosophy: At least two units, which must be selected from two of the following three fields: ancient philosophy (Greco-Roman philosophy from the pre-Socratics to the Platonists of the 6th century CE); medieval and modern philosophy (European and Mediterranean philosophy from the 6th century CE to the end of the 19th century); and non-Western philosophy (for example, Chinese or Indian philosophy). 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.
  • Value theory: Students must do at least two units in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of law, social philosophy, philosophy of religion, or aesthetics. At least one unit must be from among the first four options.
  • The Formal Methods Requirement: for the formal methods requirement, students must successfully complete either one of

    PHI312 Intermediate Logic
    PHI323 Advanced Logic (aka Set Theory)
    PHI334 Semantics
    PHI340 Philosophical Logic
    PHI371 Philosophical Foundations of Probability and Decision Theory

    OR one of

    PHI520 Logic
    PHI532 Philosophical Problems in Logic
    PHI533 Decision Theory
    PHI534 Philosophy of Language
    PHI538 Philosophy of Physics
    PHI543 Machine Learning
    OR a pre-approved course in another department (in consultation with their advisor and the DGS)

  • Students must let the professor teaching the 5xx-level course know that they are taking the course as the formal methods requirement, so that the professor can set them course work sufficient for satisfying the requirement (e.g. regular problem sets).
  • The formal methods requirement cannot normally be fulfilled by independent work with a faculty member.
  • It is recommended that students who are not yet prepared to take any of the courses above and who need background in elementary logic either sit in on PHI201: Elementary Logic, or precept for it.

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, the student must first obtain permission from our DGS.

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.

Additional Information

Rules regarding French or German Language Exams can be found here: , under the section Rules for Sight-Reading, Reading List or French/German Language Exams.

Students who fail a language exam must wait at least one month to retake the exam.

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.

Language Study

The Graduate School typically offers intensive courses in selected foreign languages during the summer. Details can be found here:… .  The department will usually cover the tuition for one Graduate School summer language course per year, per student. Inform the Graduate Program Administrator prior to registering for the course.

Based on a decision made yearly, the department may cover the tuition for one "outside" language course per year, at a fixed rate determined each year by the department, which would be an opportunity in SAFE, named Graduate Language Program. Contact the Graduate Program Administrator for information.

Travel/Research Funds

Effective immediately, travel funds for graduate students will be research funds. The funds can be used for travel, but also for books relevant to students’ course of study, and for approved types of electronic equipment (i.e., desktop and laptop computers; tablets).

Purchases of electronic equipment must be made for students by the departmental IT technician, Jason Robinson. The university prohibits reimbursement for all electronic equipment. Equipment purchased from these funds remains the property of the university and must be returned when enrollment ends. By contrast, books may be kept. Therefore, students cannot combine private and research funds to purchase electronic equipment. Students may use these funds for purchase of electronic equipment only one time during their course of enrollment.

These funds are available July 1 – June 30, and the balance does not roll over. You may make your book purchases on your own and submit receipts via Concur for reimbursement. Please check with Joann Zuczek or Anna Faiola for the balance in your fund and for the chart string for reimbursement of books.

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 (Incidental) 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 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 an abstract of no more than 350 words in length.

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 which 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 Public Oral examination, the student will be awarded the Ph.D. degree in philosophy by the University. Ph.D. award dates can be found here.

Teaching Experience and Outside Employment

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. The work will normally amount to six to nine hours of classroom teaching plus attendant preparation, spread out over two or three terms, and will, in no case, total less than six hours. Depending on undergraduate class registration, a grad student may be called upon to teach beyond the 6-hour minimum. 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 minimum of six hours. Students are required to check with the department manager prior to contacting outside departments for Assistant in Instruction (AI) opportunities. Assignments are made with regard to 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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