The Department of Philosophy offers work leading to the doctor of philosophy with a major in philosophy.

The M.A. is granted to Ph.D. program students when they pass their preliminary examinations and become a dissertator. When a student must leave the program early and is unable to complete a Ph.D., a terminal M.A. is granted upon satisfying the department's criteria for a master's degree.

The Ph.D. degree is awarded in recognition of a successfully completed program of advanced studies in philosophy, culminating in a dissertation which represents a contribution to philosophy or to philosophical scholarship.

The Ph.D. program falls into two major stages. The first consists of work that prepares the student for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Studies during the first stage of the program are devoted to acquiring the philosophical skills and learning needed to do philosophy in the second stage when writing a successful dissertation.

The department offers five years of support to all incoming graduate students. Support begins with the first fall semester and continues for at least nine additional semesters, provided the student makes satisfactory academic progress and carries out duties acceptably as a graduate assistant.

The department assigns a faculty member as placement officer and devotes a significant portion of staff resources to help graduates find employment.

Fall Deadline January 5
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

For admission to the Ph.D. program with full graduate standing, a student must have completed the equivalent of a B.A. with a major in philosophy. Promising students who do not meet this requirement may be admitted with deficiencies provided that they have completed at least 12 credits in philosophy. 

The deadline for applications is January 5. You must apply online by that date to be considered for admission.

The process begins with the application to the UW–Madison Graduate School.

Answer all required questions and be sure to submit the following:

  1. Reasons for Study (also called Statement of Purpose)
  2. Names of at least three professors and their email addresses for letters of recommendation
  3. TOEFL or Melab scores if your native language is not English
  4. Supplemental application (questionnaire about what philosophy courses you've already studied)
  5. Writing sample (4,500–6,000 words recommended, which is 15–20 pages double-spaced, devoted to a philosophical subject)

GRE scores are not required and will not be looked at.

Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide an English proficiency test score. Please see the specific English proficiency requirements here

If you have questions about the process of applying, contact Miriam Fagan, graduate coordinator, or 608-263-5278.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Program Resources

We offer five years of support to all incoming graduate students, beginning their first fall semester, and continuing for at least 9 additional semesters, provided the student makes satisfactory academic progress and carries out duties acceptably as graduate assistants.The support you receive may vary from year to year between assistantships and lectureships.  

Note to International Students

Please be advised that all students who are not U.S. citizens must prove that they have the financial means to live and study in the United States, before they are granted a visa. For an explanation of this policy, see International Applicant Financial Information.

Additional Financial Aid

Citizens of the United States and permanent residents should contact Student Financial Services (phone: 608-262-3060) for more information on eligibility, how and when to apply, and types of aid.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions


Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement All 51 credits except for 3 credits must be in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide (

*For students seeking a dual Ph.D./J.D., 42 of 51 credits must be in graduate-level coursework.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.
Assessments and Examinations Doctoral students must pass a preliminary examination, which includes a written exam, oral defense, and a dissertation proposal defense. Doctoral students are required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination after they have cleared their record of all Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis). Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required. writing the dissertation, candidates must pass an oral defense of the completed dissertation.
Language Requirements Contact the program for information on any language requirements.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements All doctoral students are required to complete a minor.

Required COURSES

At least 21 credits must be earned in philosophy courses numbered between 800 and 989. The remaining credits may be earned either by transferring credits from previous graduate-level work or by taking courses at the 400–900 level.

No more than one course at the 400–600 level nor more than two courses at the 700 level can count toward the credit-hour requirements for the Ph.D.

Typically, students take 10 seminars at the 800–900 level, two 700-level seminars, and earn the remainder of the credits by taking directed research or thesis-prep courses (e.g., PHILOS 990 Research and Thesis). In other words, the course requirements for the Ph.D. involve (a) completing the requirements for the M.A., (b) taking additional courses to reach a minimum of 51 credit hours, and (c) taking an additional seminar (700–989) at some point between the M.A. and completing the Ph.D., as part of the 51 credits.

Seminar requirement: at least 12 courses at the 500 level or above; at least 10 of these must be at the 800 or 900 level, and an additional course must be at the 700–900 level. Courses must be passed with a grade of B or better, except for 701, which requires a grade of S.

Ordinarily, students take at least three graduate seminars in the major area, two history seminars, PHILOS 902 Proseminar in Philosophy, and three seminars in other areas of philosophy. In addition, students typically take a reading seminar (PHILOS 701 Reading Seminar) before advancing to candidacy and another reading seminar after advancing to candidacy. At least 9 of the 12 courses must be taken in the UW–Madison program.

History of philosophy requirement: Two of the 12 required seminars must be advanced history of philosophy courses (PHILOS/​CLASSICS  830 Advanced History of Philosophy and/or PHILOS 835 Advanced History of Philosophy).

No more than two courses from a previous program can be applied toward the seminar requirement.

Reading seminars: Each seminar meets with a concurrently offered reading seminar (PHILOS 701 Reading Seminar). Students attend all the seminar meetings and do the readings, but have a substantially lighter workload, determined by the professor before the beginning of the semester. Students may take as many PHILOS 701s as they like; however, only two PHILOS 701's can count toward the seminar requirement for the Ph.D. No more than two PHILOS 701's can be applied to the 51-credit-hour requirement for the Ph.D.

First Year Proseminar: Required of all first-year graduate students (3 credits).

History of Philosophy Courses: Students must take at least two courses for a total of 6 credits. 

900-level Seminars: The number of courses a student takes on this list depends on how many credits are taken in history seminars, transferred credits, etc. Typically students take between 7-9 seminars at the 900-level, each at 3 credits. 

PHILOS 903 Seminar: Epistemology3
PHILOS 911 Seminar-Logic3
PHILOS 916 Seminar-Philosophy of Language3
PHILOS 920 Seminar-Philosophy of Science:Causation, Explanation & Probability3
PHILOS 941 Seminar-Ethics3
PHILOS 951 Seminar-Philosophy of Mind3
PHILOS 955 Seminar Social and Political Philosophy3
PHILOS 960 Metaphysics Seminar3
  • Reading Seminar: Students typically take one PHILOS 701 Reading Seminar course before advancing to candidacy and another between advancing to candidacy and earning the Ph.D. These are also 3 credits each.

Contact the program for information about additional requirements.

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 9 credits of coursework numbered 500 or above taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


The Graduate School regularly reviews the record of any student who earned grades of BC, C, D, F, or Incomplete in a graduate course (300 or above), or grade of U in research credits. This review could result in academic probation with a hold on future enrollment or in being suspended from the Graduate School.


Every graduate student is required to have an advisor. An advisor is a faculty member, or sometimes a committee, from the major department responsible for providing advice regarding graduate studies. Students can be suspended from the Graduate School if they do not have an advisor.

To ensure that students are making satisfactory progress toward a degree, the Graduate School expects students to meet with their advisor on a regular basis.

The Assistant to the Chair serves as the advisor for the first year or so. Students then select an advisor and, as coursework and other requirements are completed, a committee of faculty is selected by the student to serve as advisors. The primary advisor serves as the dissertation chair. The dissertation committee members (typically 3 faculty from the Department of Philosophy) serve as readers. 


15 credits

Time Constraints

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements; that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.



Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

  1. Expert ability to think critically about arguments.
  2. Expert ability to interpret complex texts accurately and analyze them logically.
  3. Ability to design curriculum for undergraduate courses in their areas of expertise and competence.
  4. Ability to communicate very precisely and concisely in both writing and in speech.
  5. In-depth familiarity with the history of Western philosophy and the major debates within that tradition.
  6. Ability to write a book length manuscript which constitutes an original and valuable contribution to the field.
  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.
  8. Fosters ethical and professional conduct.
  9. Ability to engage in high quality undergraduate instruction in their areas of expertise and competence.
  10. Well-equipped to pursue continuous professional development with respect to goals.

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