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Undergraduate Program

philosophy

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Undergraduate Program Description

Philosophical study at Boston College provides an opportunity for open-ended inquiry and reflection on the most fundamental questions about humanity and our world.

Both as a core requirement and as a major, philosophy is foundational in helping us appropriate our intellectual and spiritual heritage and develop self-understanding anew. Pierre Hadot reminds us, in Philosophy as a Way of Life, that philosophy was originally understood as a spiritual exercise. It had as its goal the transformation of the whole of one’s life, intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Philosophy has been central to the educational mission of Boston College since its founding. The prominence of philosophy in the curriculum reflects the Jesuit heritage of this university. From the beginning, Jesuit colleges placed heavy emphasis on the values of authentic Christian humanism, chief among which was respect for the power of human intelligence and the depth of human experience to seek the truth, and the mutual compatibility of faith and reason.

The study of philosophy remains among the most relevant and urgent of pursuits. Each human being desires answers to life's perennial questions—questions regarding the ultimate meaning of life, such as knowledge, truth, rationality, language, being, transcendence, God, faith, beauty, good, justice, humanity, friendship, love, sexuality, identity, power, and authenticity. Reflection on such questions remains the core of the study of philosophy. Answers to these questions proposed by philosophers of the past remain with us today, not only inscribed in books, but also embedded in the practices and institutions of our contemporary society. The mission of the philosophy Department at Boston College is to provide an encouraging and supportive environment for the exploration of these questions, and for the critical examination of the pluralism of philosophical traditions that continue to inform our personal and corporate lives.

The Philosophy Department offers a broad spectrum of courses with a special focus on the history of philosophy, continental philosophy, and fundamental and contemporary problems in “practical philosophy.” Students who major in philosophy are asked to follow one of several different “tracks” in philosophy to guide and orient their study. These tracks are found on the departmental website and are regularly updated.

The department offers to qualified students the opportunity to participate in the departmental honors program. The honors program is by invitation only to students invited in their junior year. These students as seniors participate in a fall senior honors seminar and through the course of the entire senior year do independent research under the direction of a professor. The Department also participates in the Scholar of the College Program, details of which can be found in the Arts and Sciences section.

A philosophy major prepares students for work in a variety of professional and academic fields, such as law, business, or medicine. Students with particular ability and who wish to be prepared for graduate study in Philosophy ought to pursue the systematic track in philosophy and consult with an advisor early in the course of their major.

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Major Requirements

The Philosophy major consists of a total of 30 credits: six credits of Philosophy Core (two 3-credit courses), followed by 24 credits of philosophy electives (eight 3-credit courses). Students beginning with the class of 2018 are required to choose one of the departmental tracks in order to focus the major around a specific area of study. Please note that after track requirements are completed, a student may take any electives of his or her choice in order to complete the major. (That is, students are not limited to taking courses only within the chosen track.) Specific requirements for each track are located on the departmental website.

Students may also take up to two cognate courses from other departments toward the major. These courses should be philosophical in content and/or substantially contribute to the enhancement of the student’s chosen major track and area of study. This course must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

The two Philosophy Core courses must be drawn from one of the following five options:

  • PHIL1070–1071 Philosophy of the Person (Fall/Spring: 6 credits)
  • PHIL1088–1089 Person and Social Responsibility (PULSE Program) (Fall/Spring: 6 credits) PULSE is primarily open to sophomores.
  • PHIL1090–1091 Perspectives in Western Culture (Perspectives Program) (Fall/Spring: 6 credits). This Perspectives course is primarily open to freshmen with one sophomore section offered annually.
  • HONR1101–HONR1103 Western Cultural Tradition I–III (Honors Program) (Fall/Spring: 6 credits)
  • PHIL1703–1704 Inquiring about Humans and Nature I and II (Fall/Spring: 6 credits)
  • PHIL2281–2282 Philosophy of Human Existence (Fall/Spring: 6 credits; offered intermittently)

Students who participate in the new pilot core courses will also be able to use these core courses toward a philosophy major.

The major tracks offered by the philosophy department are:

  • Systematic Philosophy (a traditional major, also recommended for students wishing to apply to graduate school)
  • Science, Ethics, and Humanities (especially recommended for those with an interest and for double majors in the sciences and pre-med programs)
  • Philosophy and Religion
  • Pre-law, International Studies, and Public Policy
  • Philosophy, Economics, and Justice (especially recommended to double majors in economics, finance, and management)
  • Philosophy and the Arts
  • Perspectives Majors track (see separate description for Perspectives major)

Please note that Philosophy majors who are pursuing a Faith, Peace, and Justice minor automatically fulfill the departmental major track requirement through the completion of the Faith, Peace, and Justice minor

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Philosophy Minor

The Philosophy minor consists of a total of 18 credits: six credits of Philosophy Core courses (two 3-credit courses) followed by 12 credits of philosophy electives (four 3-credit courses). Each student will design his or her own minor in consultation with a faculty advisor. Students may design their minor around one of areas in the major track or they may purse another interest. Minors are encouraged to consult with faculty or the Director of Undergraduate Studies in shaping a coherent minor.

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Core Requirement in Philosophy

The core requirement for philosophy is six credits. The department offers students four basic options for fulfilling the University’s 2-semester core requirement in philosophy: Perspectives on Western Civilization, PULSE, and Philosophy of the Person. Perspectives on Western Civilization is primarily open to freshmen, PULSE to sophomores, Philosophy of the Person, and Inquiring about Humans and Nature (Perspectives and PULSE also fulfill the Theology Core requirement.)

ALL philosophy core courses are a two-semester sequence beginning in the fall and continuing in the spring semester. Students who plan to study abroad should carefully consult with their advisors in order to plan the completion of their core in philosophy.

Perspectives II, III, and IV may also be taken to fulfill the philosophy department core along with other core areas (see below). Like Perspectives I, these courses are yearlong and 6 credits per semester. 

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Perspectives Program I–IV (open to both honors and non-honors students)

The Perspectives Program at Boston College is a 4-year interdisciplinary program centered upon the great books of the Western intellectual tradition. It integrates the humanities and natural sciences in order to help students work out for themselves a set of coherent answers to such questions as the following: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? The Perspectives Program seeks (1) to educate the whole person, (2) to help students develop skills in practical living and critical thinking, and (3) to form students who are intelligent, responsible, reasonable, attentive, and loving.

Each of the Perspectives courses runs for two semesters, for twelve credits. Each is designed to fulfill the Core requirements of the relevant departments. Perspectives I (Perspectives on Western Culture), is normally open only to freshmen; however, at times a sophomore-only section may be offered with limited availability. Perspectives II (Modernism and the Arts), Perspectives III (Horizons in the New Social Sciences), and Perspectives IV (New Scientific Visions) may be taken at anytime while a student is enrolled at Boston College. Descriptions of Perspectives II, III, and IV are also listed in the University courses section of the catalog.

None of the courses in the Perspectives sequence is a prerequisite for any of the other courses.

Perspectives I

PHIL1090–1091 (THEO1090–1091) Perspectives on Western Culture I and II (Perspectives I)

This 2-semester, 12-credit course fulfills the Core requirements in both Philosophy and Theology. For Freshmen only.

Perspectives II

UNAS1104–1105/UNAS1106–1107 Modernism and the Arts I and II

This 2-semester course fulfills the 6-credit Philosophy Core requirement, the 3-credit Literature Core requirement, and the 3-credit Fine Arts Core requirement.

Perspectives III

UNAS1109–1110/UNAS1111–1112 Horizons of the New Social Sciences I and II

This 2-semester course fulfills the 6-credit Philosophy Core requirement and the 6-credit Social Sciences Core requirement.

Perspectives IV

UNAS1119–1120/UNAS1121–1122 New Scientific Visions I and II

This 2-semester course may fulfill the 6-credit Philosophy Core requirement and either the 6-credit Natural Science Core or the 3-credit Mathematics Core and 3-credits of the Natural Science Core.

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The PULSE Program for Service Learning

With its mission to educate Boston College students about social injustice, the PULSE Program for Service Learning educates more than 400 undergraduates each year through the integration of community-based social service and social advocacy fieldwork with the study of theology and philosophy. The PULSE Program offers not only its signature core course, “Person and Social Responsibility,” but also electives. For a full description of the program, please visit the PULSE website at bc.edu/pulse.

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The Honors Program in Philosophy

Admission to the Philosophy Honors Programs

Students will be nominated for membership in the Honors Programs in fall of the junior year. Ordinarily, students in the top 15% of Philosophy GPA’s will be nominated. In addition, members of the Philosophy Faculty may nominate students whom they deem to be especially worthy. Invitations to the Perspectives Honors track will be extended by the Director of the Perspectives Program, and to the History of Philosophy Honors track by the Director of Undergraduate Studies, both in consultation with the Philosophy Department’s Undergraduate Program Committee. The two honors programs are as follows:

Honors Program

Honors students will participate in the Senior Philosophy Honors seminar in the fall semester of senior year, and register for a Philosophy Honors Thesis course with an advisor in the spring semester. Students will be expected to complete a thesis of approximately 50–75 pages by the end of the senior year. Seminar meetings and social events also provide intellectual community for honors program participants.

Perspectives Honors Program

Students in the Perspectives Honors Major track are drawn from Perspectives majors who complete all four of the 2-semester Perspectives courses:

  • Perspectives I: Perspectives on Western Culture
  • Perspectives II: Modernism and the Arts
  • Perspectives III: Horizons of the Social Sciences
  • Perspectives IV: New Scientific Visions

In addition, Perspectives Honors students will participate in the Senior Perspectives Honors seminar in the fall semester, and register for a Senior Thesis Directed Readings course with an advisor in the spring semester of the senior year. Such a senior thesis will ordinarily consist of original research in the field, in close work with a faculty advisor, culminating in the production of a 50–70 page senior thesis.

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Fifth Year B.A./M.A. Program

Undergraduate Philosophy majors may opt to enter a 5-year B.A./M.A. program. Application to the program will normally take place during the junior year. Students admitted to the B.A./M.A. program will follow the curriculum for Philosophy majors, except that two courses taken during the senior year must be eligible for graduate credit. These two courses will count toward the M.A. as well as the B.A. The remainder of the M.A. may thus be completed by taking eight additional graduate courses as well as the master's comprehensive examination and meeting the language requirement for master's students.

It is advisable to consult with the Director of the Graduate Program during junior year. In addition to the two graduate level courses that count toward both the B.A. and the M.A., it is strongly recommended that the student take two graduate level courses in the senior year that are beyond the requirements for the B.A. and thus count only for the M.A. degree. This allows the student to take a normal graduate course load the fifth year of three courses a semester, in preparation for the M.A. comprehensive examination.

Interested undergraduate Philosophy majors must apply to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Expectations are that such applicants will have achieved an overall GPA of at least 3.33 and a major GPA of 3.5 or above.

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