Before beginning dissertation research, students are required to take two years of coursework, including a proseminar in contemporary philosophy that all students must complete in their first year of graduate study. Students are also required to pass general examinations and demonstrate competence in the following areas: value theory, logic and the history of philosophy.
Interdisciplinary study is encouraged, and candidates for the doctorate may take a minor in a field other than philosophy. There is no general language requirement for the doctorate, except in those cases in which competence in one or more foreign language is needed to carry on research for the dissertation.
Below is a detailed description of the philosophy Ph.D. program. See also Guidelines&Expectations. For information about applying, see our admissions page; we have also compiled data on placement, retention, and average completion times.
Your Advisor | Requirements | Minors | Grades | Ph.D. Thesis
1. Your Advisor
When you join the Department, you will be assigned a faculty advisor who will supervise your course of study until you start independent work on your thesis. Your advisor must approve your program at the beginning of each term, and you should keep him/her abreast of your progress and problems.
Your teachers will write comments on your performance in subjects which you complete. ("Subject" is MITese for course.) These comments will be placed in your file in the Department office (your file is open to you), and they will be discussed at a meeting of the faculty at the end of each term. You should see your advisor at the end of each term to review your progress.
You may change your advisor at any time, on condition of agreement by the faculty member you wish to have as your new advisor; you should notify the Committee on Graduate Students (COGS) of this change straightway. (The current composition of COGS is: Roger White (Chief Cog), Vann McGee, and Alex Byrne.)
You must pass, with a grade (as opposed to an Incomplete), at least 10 subjects. At least 9 must be graduate subjects in philosophy at MIT, unless you take a minor in another field, in which case at least 8 must be graduate subjects in philosophy at MIT. Reading courses may not be used to satisfy this requirement. (If a student is excused from the teaching requirement, he/she must pass at least 11 subjects.)
Undergraduate subjects at MIT may be used to satisfy the overall course requirement only when warranted on educational grounds, in light of the student's preparation, and when approval of the instructor in charge of the subject has been obtained. The instructor may require that a graduate student do extra work in order to pass the course.
All students must take at least 3 subjects in philosophy at MIT during each term of their first year, and at least 1 subject in philosophy at MIT during each term of their second year. Normally, students take 4 subjects during their second year.
Students are strongly encouraged to audit additional subjects, in areas of philosophy outside as well as inside their primary areas of interest.
2.2 Teaching Requirement
All graduate students must acquire some teaching experience. This requirement is normally satisfied by serving as a Teaching Assistant in an undergraduate subject in philosophy at MIT.
The Department has a standing committee which is charged with administering the logic requirement; the requirement may be satisfied in one of the following ways:
(a) by auditing Logic I and completing the work (Logic I may not be taken for graduate credit);
(b) by successfully completing a logic assessment set by the committee;
(c) by successfully completing an alternative or more advanced subject in logic at MIT (for example, modal logic or Logic II) approved by the committee.
(d) by being exempted from the requirement by COGS. Such exemption does not affect the overall course requirements (2.1 above).
The level of knowledge of logic expected for exemption, or tested on the examination, is what is covered in Logic I at MIT: proof procedure and semantics for first-order predicate logic with identity, and some acquaintance with standard metalogical results (for example, those concerning completeness, incompleteness and decidability).
Students are normally expected to satisfy the logic requirement by the beginning of their second year.
All first-year students are required to complete the two-semester sequence 24.400-24.401 (Proseminar in Philosophy), which is an advanced treatment of basic problems in metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and philosophy of logic and mathematics. The two-semester sequence counts as two subjects.
Students must demonstrate competence -- in the manner described below -- in the work of two major philosophers or philosophical schools prior to 1879, with the understanding that if two philosophers are chosen, they may not belong to the same school (for example, not two empiricists), and that if a philosopher and a school are chosen, the philosopher may not belong to the school.
Students must demonstrate competence -- in the manner described below -- on topics in ethics or political philosophy or aesthetics.
Competence is normally demonstrated by successfully completing appropriate graduate subjects: two in history and one in value theory. In case of doubt as to whether a subject is appropriate, the decision will be made by an ad hoc committee appointed by COGS.
A student may petition to be exempted from one or more of these requirements on the basis of his/her previous work; the decision whether to exempt the student will be made by an ad hoc committee appointed by COGS. Such exemption does not affect the overall course requirements (2.1 above).
During your second year -- normally during your fourth term -- you must write a finished, "polished" paper, roughly 25 pages long, on a topic of your choosing. By the end-of-term meeting of your third term (typically the fall term of the second year), you must submit to your advisors in writing a brief statement describing the topic of your second year paper (a paragraph or so) and the names of two faculty members with whom you plan to work (a supervisor and a second reader). You should have spoken to and have the agreement of the faculty members you list.
The paper must be deemed satisfactory by both the supervisor and the second reader; after you have satisfactorily completed the writing of it, they will give you an oral examination on its contents.
This requirement must be met by the end of your fourth term. Meeting it will constitute passing the written and oral general examination requirements imposed by MIT's Graduate School. Students who have not submitted a final version of their second year paper by registration day of their fifth term will receive a warning letter from the department stating that they are not in good standing.
A student may petition COGS to waive a requirement in light of his/her special circumstances.
Although students are free to take subjects in other fields as their schedules permit, specific provision is made for minors in linguistics, mathematical logic, and psychology. A minor normally involves completion of 4 subjects (or their equivalent) beyond those required above, 3 in the allied field and 1 in a philosophy subject closely related to that field. For more specific details, students should consult COGS.
Our faculty uses pluses and minuses, but the grades on your official transcript will be straight letter grades. Here are the meanings that MIT assigns to the grades:
A Exceptionally good performance, demonstrating a superior understanding of the subject matter, a foundation of extensive knowledge, and a skillful use of concepts and/or materials.
B Good performance, demonstrating capacity to use the appropriate concepts, a good understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to handle the problems and material encountered in the subject.
C Adequate performance, demonstrating an adequate understandingof the subject matter, an ability to handle relatively simpleproblems, and adequate preparation for moving on to more advanced work in the field.
D Minimally acceptable performance.
When the faculty determines the status of a student in the program, it does so on the basis of a review of the student's total performance, which includes weighing the strengths and weaknesses of his/her whole record. Thus it is in principle possible to redeem a weakness in one area by excellence in others.
An Incomplete (a grade of I) indicates that a minor part of the subject requirements has not been fulfilled and that a passing grade is to be expected when the work is completed. The grade I for the term remains permanently on the student's record even when the subject is completed. In subjects in which the major work is a term paper, students may earn an I for the subject only if they submit a draft to the instructor(s) by midnight on the day before the end of term meeting. If a student does not hand in a draft by midnight on the day before the end of term meeting, the instructor is required to give the student an F. (The end of term meeting is shortly after the beginning of exam week.)
Any uncompleted incompletes on registration day of the following term will be converted to an F. This applies to all incompletes starting from Spring 2011. Uncompleted incompletes from Fall 2010 will turn into F on registration day of Fall 2011. Earlier uncompleted incompletes will not be converted to an F.
5. Ph.D. Thesis
A student is normally not allowed to begin work on a Ph.D. thesis until he/she has completed all of the requirements listed above. Students must complete all of those requirements by the end of their second year; exceptions will be made only after petition to COGS.
Once a student has completed the requirements listed above, there is the option of taking a terminal M.A. instead of the Ph.D. This requires completing a Master's thesis -- students should consult COGS for more details.
The Ph.D. thesis is a substantial piece of original work in philosophy. A student may plan to write a sustained piece of work on one topic; he/she may instead plan to write two or three papers on connected topics. Within the first month of the student's fifth term he/she will submit to COGS a short (three to five pages) description of the projected thesis.
Students who have not submitted a dissertation prospectus by registration day of their sixth term will receive a warning letter from the department stating that they are not in good standing.
When the plan is approved, COGS will appoint a thesis committee consisting of a thesis supervisor and two additional readers. Normally these advisors will be members of the Department chosen by the student and willing to undertake the responsibility. If the student wants to include a non-MIT professor, or an MIT professor in another Department, on the committee, this must be approved by COGS. The student will then meet with the members of the thesis committee for discussion of the material to be dealt with in the thesis.
The student will meet regularly with his/her thesis supervisor throughout the writing of the thesis, and will provide all members of the thesis committee with written work by the end of each term. This requirement holds for nonresident as well as resident students.
You may change a member of your thesis committee at any time, on condition of agreement by the faculty member you wish to have join your committee; you should notify COGS of this change straightway.
The following rules govern completion of the thesis.
The student will meet with his/her thesis committee during the first week of the term to assess the feasibility of completing the thesis during that term. The student and the committee will agree on a schedule of dates for meeting the following requirements; a copy of the schedule should be given to COGS.
MIT requires that the completed thesis be delivered to the Department office by a date set by the Registrar for all Departments. (Early in January for February degrees, early in May for June degrees.) The Department regards this requirement as met by delivery to the thesis committee by that date of what the student regards as the final draft of his/her thesis.
The student will meet privately with his/her thesis committee to defend the thesis and to discuss any needed revisions. This meeting will be deemed to be part of the thesis defense.
The private defense must be scheduled for a date which will leave time for the student to make revisions before satisfying requirement 5.1.3; the committee may wish to schedule the private defense before the MIT deadline.
One week before the public defense, the student must place two copies of the revised version in the Department office for examination by members of the Department. At this time, a copy of the abstract must be placed in each faculty member's mailbox.
The public defense is open to all members of the Department and their guests; it is chaired by the thesis supervisor, and normally runs for an hour, starting with a twenty-minute presentation by the student of the main results of the thesis. The public defense is the one occasion on which the entire Department has an opportunity to learn about and participate in the student's work, and is a central part of the Ph.D. program.
The public defense is deemed to be the final part of the thesis defense. The decision whether to recommend award of the Ph.D. degree is made by majority vote of the philosophy faculty members in attendance at it.
The public defense must be scheduled for a date which will leave time for the student to make any needed revisions, and for the thesis supervisor to confirm that the revisions have been made, before satisfying requirement 5.1.5.
The final library copy, signed by the student, the thesis supervisor, and the Chairman of COGS, must be given to the Departmental representative to MIT's Committee on Graduate School Policy (CGSP) by the day before that committee's end-of-term meeting at which it approves the final degree list.
Students who will be unable to complete their theses during the spring
term may wish to petition COGS for consideration for award of the degree
in September. Such petitions will be granted on condition that an
appropriate thesis committee can be constituted to work with the student
during the summer. A schedule analogous to that described under 5.1 --
including the scheduling of private and public defenses -- must be given
to COGS by the end of the spring term. The final, signed, library copy
of the thesis must be given to the Departmental representative to CGSP by
the day before that committee's September meeting at which it approves
the September degree list.