philosophy

Philosophy involves reflection upon and understanding of all phases of human activity. Philosophy especially directs itself to the nature of knowledge and the most basic concepts of human understanding and value: morality, society, art and aesthetic experience, as well as science, politics, and religion. Philosophy is thus closely involved with other disciplines because, as human activities and quests for knowledge, they and their findings provide the material for philosophical inquiry. The courses offered by the department are designed to help students develop their own capacities to reflect intelligently on questions of fundamental and lasting significance. The philosophy major is intended to meet the needs of four types of students:

  • those who wish to use philosophy as the organizing core of a liberal education;
  • those who desire to study philosophy in preparation for graduate work in some other field, such as law, government, or theology;
  • those who plan to major jointly in philosophy and one of the social and natural sciences or humanities; and
  • those who have a professional interest in philosophy and intend to do graduate work in the subject.

Students should inform the philosophy office of their intention to major and be assigned an advisor within the department. More information can be found at major declaration.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Science (B.S.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of science degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.

Bachelor of Science DEGREE REQUIREMENTS

Mathematics Two (2) 3+ credits of intermediate/advanced level MATH, COMP SCI, STAT
Limit one each: COMP SCI, STAT
Foreign Language Complete the third unit of a foreign language
Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include 6 credits in biological science; and must include 6 credits in physical science
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 90th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S Students PURSUING AN L&S MAJOR

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.  Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non-L&S-degree-seeking candidates:  

  • Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
  • Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
  • Music (Bachelor of Music)
  • Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)

Requirements for the Major

27 credits and 8 courses in philos

PHILOS 211 Elementary Logic (or equivalent; should be taken as early as possible)3-4
or PHILOS 511 Symbolic Logic
PHILOS 430 History of Ancient Philosophy3-4
PHILOS 432 History of Modern Philosophy3-4
5 PHILOS courses of at least 3 credits numbered 400 and above 115
19th Century Philosophers
Jewish Philosophy from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century
Existentialism
Environmental Ethics
Classical Philosophers
Classical Philosophers
Junior Honors Seminar
Junior Honors Seminar
Philosophy of Religion
Special Topics in Philosophy of Religion
Theory of Knowledge
Special Topics in the Theory of Knowledge
Study Abroad in Philosophy
Symbolic Logic
Methods of Logic
Public Health Ethics
Language and Meaning
Philosophy of the Natural Sciences
Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Special Topic
Philosophical Problems of the Biological Sciences
Philosophy and Economics
Philosophy and Literature
Freedom Fate and Choice
Modern Ethical Theories
Special Topics in Ethics
Great Moral Philosophers
Philosophy of Moral Education
Philosophy of Mind
Aesthetics
Philosophy of the Artificial Sciences
Political Philosophy
Topics in Feminism and Philosophy
Issues in Social Philosophy
Philosophy of Law
Metaphysics
Special Topics in Metaphysics
The Ethics of Modern Biotechnology
Mathematical Logic
Senior Honors Seminar
Senior Honors Seminar
Additional credits—if necessary—to achieve 27 for the major 23
Total Credits27-30

distribution

At least 1 course from each category:

Category A

PHILOS/​RELIG ST  501 Philosophy of Religion3-4
PHILOS 503 Theory of Knowledge3
PHILOS 504 Special Topics in the Theory of Knowledge (Topics that count: "Bayesian Epist" and "Epistemic Ideals")3
PHILOS 516 Language and Meaning3
PHILOS 520 Philosophy of the Natural Sciences3
PHILOS 530 Freedom Fate and Choice3
PHILOS 551 Philosophy of Mind3
PHILOS 560 Metaphysics3
PHILOS 562 Special Topics in Metaphysics (Topic that counts: "Consciousness")3

Category B

PHILOS 241 Introductory Ethics3-4
PHILOS 253 Philosophy of the Arts3-4
PHILOS 454 Classical Philosophers (Topic that counts: "Aristotle's Ethics")3
PHILOS 541 Modern Ethical Theories3
PHILOS 549 Great Moral Philosophers3
PHILOS 553 Aesthetics3
PHILOS 555 Political Philosophy3

residence and quality of work

2.000 GPA in all PHILOS courses and courses that count for the major
2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level credits in the major, taken in residence3
15 credits in PHILOS, taken on campus

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Philosophy Major in consultation with the Philosophy undergraduate advisor.

Honors in the Philosophy Major: Requirements

To earn Honors in the Major in Philosophy, students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Minimum 3.300 overall university GPA
  • Minimum a 3.500 GPA for all PHILOS courses
  • 1 additional course from either Category A or Category B with a grade of B or better
  • Two-semester Senior Honors Thesis in PHILOS 681 (1-3 credits) and PHILOS 682 (3 credits) with a grade of AB or better.4

University Degree Requirements 

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.

1. Ability to think critically about arguments.

2. Ability to interpret complex texts accurately and analyze them logically.

3. Ability to communicate precisely and concisely in both writing and speech.

4. Familiarity with the history of Western philosophy and the major debates withing that tradition.

5. Ability to be engaged citizens who think carefully and well about their responsibilities to others.

6. Ability to exchange reasons about controversial matters respectfully and with the aim of uncovering the truth.

7. Interpretative charity and intellectual honesty, which includes appropriate attribution to others of their ideas, and recognition and frankness about the limitations of one's own ideas.

Advising

The Department of Philosophy encourages our majors to begin working on their career exploration and preparation soon after arriving on campus. We partner with the SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science. Philosophy majors develop important and widely marketable skills, like the ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems. This means that getting a degree in philosophy provides excellent preparation for a variety of careers.

Studying philosophy can also help you get into graduate school. Philosophy majors excel on standardized tests like the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. They rank first among all majors on the verbal and the analytical section of the GRE. Philosophy majors also tend to do better than just about any other major on the LSAT. With a mean score of just over 157, they are second only to physics majors. When it comes to the GMAT, philosophy majors rank in the top five of all majors, and they consistently have higher scores than business majors (including management, finance, accounting, and marketing majors).

L&S career resources

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and liberal arts degree; explore and try out different career paths; participate in internships; prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications; and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers).

SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career. 

Professors Bengson, Brighouse, Fletcher, Gibson, Gottlieb, Hausman, Kelleher, Mackay, Masrour, Messina, Nadler, Paul, Schectman, Shafer-Landau, Shapiro, Sidelle, Sober, Southgate, Steinberg, Streiffer, Titlebaum, Vranas

Undergraduate Scholarships

The Department of Philosophy has received generous support in order to fund two scholarships each academic year. 

The Charles Manthey Winter Philosophy Scholarship is given to a major in philosophy who will graduate within the next four terms of the award and who has at least a 3.5 grade point average over the past two terms, and who can demonstrate financial need. 

The Colonel Jerome Ellis Goodrich, USMC (retired), Scholarship is awarded to an undergraduate major in philosophy with academic merit and financial need, and who is a U.S. citizen.  

Applications for these scholarships are typically due in early April and winners are honored at our annual Awards Banquet in May. 

We also have an annual paper prize called the Temkin Undergraduate Essay Prize in Value Theory. This prize recognizes an outstanding essay in value theory, where this is construed quite broadly to include topics in political philosophy, philosophy of law, metaethics, applied ethics, etc. Essays are typically submitted in early April and the winner is also honored at our Awards Banquet.  

If you have any questions about these scholarships or essay prize, you may send an email to frontoffice@philosophy.wisc.edu.