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College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Philosophy

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with a Philosophy major?

You’d be surprised at how versatile a student graduating with a Philosophy major can be. The analytic and critical skills students develop as a result of grappling with philosophical problems are applicable and of value to decisions that must be made, for example, in industry, debates on public policy, medical ethics, law, and education. On a more personal level, the study of philosophy can help you to understand yourself as a thinking, acting being. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He meant especially to include self-examination. What beliefs are important to you and how rationally defensible are those beliefs? What principles do you cite for the actions you perform, and do those principles stand up to scrutiny?

How can I get an advisor in the Philosophy department?

Students who have declared a major in Philosophy will be assigned an advisor from among the department's faculty. If you would like to request a specific advisor or if you have declared a Philosophy minor and would like an advisor in the department, please contact us.

Does the UVM Philosophy department have a graduate program?

No, and that is good news, all things considered, for undergraduates here. Universities with graduate programs quite often assign their graduate students to do the bulk of recitation and review sessions and course grading in very large courses taught by professors. As a consequence, the professors have little opportunity to get to know their students as persons. Put the other way around, students are acquainted with those professors only as personages who deliver lectures in a classroom holding 200+ other students.

In contrast, because we do all our own teaching, reviewing, and grading, students feel that they are not mere ciphers in our courses. If students have questions about their performance on an exam, they can consult directly with the professor and not with an intermediary. Conversely, professors get to know directly and early on whether a particular student is having difficulty in the course. In these respects the Philosophy department here compares very favorably in the attention we give to students with departments at prestigious, private liberal arts colleges.

Why does your department have so many course options at the introductory level?

That’s because we believe that there are several different, equally valuable ways of introducing students to Philosophy. One of our goals from the beginning is to help students develop their analytical and critical skills. Those skills can be practiced and honed through the study of courses with different philosophical content.

Every member of the department, in addition to offering intermediate and advanced courses, is committed to offering some introductory course every year – in some cases, every semester. Why? Because many students entering college have had little or no exposure to philosophy The same is true of such academic disciplines as psychology and economics, but students are convinced antecedently that these disciplines are important components of higher education. Our job is to spread the word about philosophy – that it’s important and even fun! Students may enroll in an introductory Philosophy course because it satisfies a distribution requirement, fits their course schedule, or simply because they’re curious. It’s important to the flourishing of our department that our introductory courses are taught well: otherwise we won’t have convinced students that there is something valuable and exciting about the study of philosophy, something worth pursuing further in our upper level courses.

What about class size? How many students are typically enrolled in Philosophy courses? How much opportunity is there for active participation in the classroom?

UVM’s undergraduate curriculum is divided into three levels, introductory, intermediate, and advanced. Like many other departments, the enrollment pattern in the Philosophy department is pyramidal, with more students at the introductory level, fewer at the intermediate level, and fewer still at the advanced level. To give some numbers: sections of introductory courses range in size presently from 20 to 130 students (several sections are offered every semester). Intermediate courses vary in size between 30 and 60 students, depending on the subject matter. Advanced courses vary between 25 and 30. There tends to be more of a concentration of Philosophy majors and minors in the intermediate and advanced courses.

Our courses begin basically in lecture format. Advanced level courses have more of an atmosphere of a seminar. At any level, however, if we don’t provoke active, intelligent questions, comments, and discussion in class, we think that we have let our students down.

What sorts of coursework requirements might I encounter in a Philosophy course?

Most of our courses lay emphasis on writing carefully focused, clearly argued essays, typically on a topic or a range of topics set by the professor. In some courses, especially at the introductory level, the essays may be written in class. In intermediate and advanced courses the essays are usually written outside of class time and submitted at a due date. These essays may range from short, expository exercises to longer, more exploratory ventures. In some courses the professor may provide the opportunity for students to rewrite an essay in the light of the professor’s criticism. Some intermediate and advanced courses require a term paper. In some courses students may be involved in oral presentations.

Are there opportunities for me to do independent research in Philosophy?

Yes, there are. The typical independent research project involves a professor and one student working on a topic of mutual interest that perhaps would not be covered, or not covered as deeply, in our regular course offerings. The project would be completed in one semester. Variable credit can be assigned to the project, ranging from 1 to 6 academic credits. (A normal course in the department carries 3 credits.) The most successful independent research projects are those that are arranged in advance, before the semester begins. Because of other demands on faculty resources, a professor may be unable to take on the supervision of a particular proposed topic.

In addition to independent research possibilities eligible students may undertake a year-long honors project in their senior year: consult the web pages under Honors College and under Arts and Sciences Honors Programs for details.

Can I have two majors?

Yes, and you can even graduate in four years! Some of our majors begin with a major in another department or program – Classics, English, Political Science, Psychology, and Religion are common examples – with the intention of minoring in Philosophy, and then realize that they have both the desire and opportunity to convert the minor into a major. (Double majors do not need to have a minor in addition to their two majors.)

How accomplished are the members of the department?

On the basis of our scholarly achievements, our department is recognized nationally as one of the best in the nation among Philosophy departments that do not have a graduate program. But don’t take our word for it – see www.philosophicalgourmet.com/undergrad.asp.

Last modified August 23 2012 09:24 AM

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