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Undergraduate Program


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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 us and our world.

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 very 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 arrive at an independent knowledge of the truth. For this reason, the study of Philosophy was always considered essential to the Jesuit educational mission.

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 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 in the history of philosophy with special focus on Continental Philosophy from Kant to the present. Faculty teach and conduct research in ethics, social and political philosophy, phenomenology, philosophy of science, philosophy of religion, aesthetics, and several other areas of interest. In addition to these areas of specialization, provision is made for interdisciplinary programs.

Undergraduate students may, with the approval of the Chairperson and the individual professor, enroll in certain graduate philosophy courses.

The Department offers to qualified students the opportunity to do independent research under the direction of a professor and offers a select number of students the opportunity to work on a senior honors thesis, by invitation. 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 consult with their advisor to prepare a suitable program of study beginning late in the sophomore or early in the junior year.

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Major Requirements

The Philosophy major will consist 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). Substitutions may be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Chairperson upon the recommendation of the student’s faculty advisor.

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)
  • PHIL1090–1091 Perspectives in Western Culture (Perspectives Program) (Fall/Spring: 6 credits)
  • HONR1101–HONR1103 Western Cultural Tradition I–III (Honors Program) (Fall/Spring: 6 credits)
  • PHIL2281–2282 Philosophy of Human Existence (Fall/Spring: 6 credits)

The eight 3-credit elective courses will be selected in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor. Working under the guidance of faculty advisors, students are encouraged to design a well-balanced program that will give them a solid foundation in the history of philosophy and yet allow for development of their major interests.

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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 their professional or intellectual interests. For example, a student interested in pursuing a profession in the medical field might decide to take courses in the philosophy of science, ethics, medical ethics, or related courses. Faculty advisors will work individually with students to help them develop a coherent set of courses to form a minor. 

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Information for First Year Majors and Non-Majors

The Department offers students three basic options for fulfilling the University's 2-semester Core requirement in Philosophy: Core Program, Perspectives Program, and PULSE Program.

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Core Programs

The Core requirement for all undergraduates is six credits in philosophy. The options and the requirements they fulfill are listed below:

  • PHIL1070–1071 Philosophy of the Person (Fall/Spring)
    This is a 2-semester, 6-credit course that fulfills the Core requirement in Philosophy.
  • PHIL2281–2282 Philosophy of Human Existence
    This is a 2-semester, 6-credit course that fulfills the Core requirement in Philosophy.
  • PHIL1088–1089 (THEO1088–1089) Person and Social Responsibility I
    This is a 2-semester, 12-credit course that fulfills the University's Core requirements in Philosophy and Theology. Must be taken prior to senior year.

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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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PULSE Program for Service Learning

The PULSE Program for Service Learning provides students with the opportunity to explore basic questions in philosophy, theology, and other disciplines. In addition to class meetings and small discussion groups, all PULSE courses require a 12-hour per week commitment to community service in one of over fifty carefully selected social service organizations throughout greater Boston. The combination of academic reflection and community service encourages students to integrate theory and practice. The PULSE Program aims to expose students to urban environments and the realities of urban life. Students should therefore expect to serve in an urban location.

Using classic and contemporary texts, PULSE students address topics such as the relationship of self and society, the nature of community and moral responsibility, the problem of suffering, and the practical difficulties of developing a just society. PULSE students are challenged to connect course readings to their service work and reflect on the personal relevance of both.

By working in field placements in youth work, the corrections system, emergency shelters, health services, legal and community advocacy, and literacy and education programs, students forge a critical and compassionate perspective on both society and themselves. PULSE placement organizations aim at responding to community needs while simultaneously providing a challenging opportunity for students to confront social problems. Most students travel to their placements on public transportation.

Most PULSE students are enrolled in the course Person and Social Responsibility, which fulfills the Core requirements in philosophy and theology. Several PULSE elective courses are also offered, including Values in Social Services and Health Care, Boston: An Urban Analysis, Telling Truths: Writing for the Cause of Justice, Telling Truths: Depth Writing as Service and Witness: Writings on Service, Spirituality and Justice.

PULSE provides four levels of direction and supervision for student work: the on-site placement supervisor, faculty member, PULSE Council member, and PULSE staff. On-site supervisors meet regularly with students to provide information, direction, and constructive feedback. The faculty member directs the student’s academic work in a regularly scheduled class. In addition, he or she meets with students weekly in smaller discussion groups to consider issues which have presented themselves in the student’s service work. The PULSE Council member is a student coordinator, peer advisor, and support person. The PULSE Director has overall responsibility for the educational goals and interests of the PULSE program. In fulfilling that responsibility, the Director and the Assistant Directors consult and advise students, placement supervisors, and faculty.

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The Honors Program in Philosophy

Admission to the Philosophy Honors Programs

Ordinarily students will be nominated for membership in the Honors Programs during first semester junior year, although exceptions will be granted in unusual circumstances. 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 tracks are as follows:

The Honors Majors track

The honors major track is intended for students who may wish to pursue graduate work in the field of philosophy, or other closely related disciplines such as political science, law, and/or international studies.

In addition to their core philosophy courses, students in this track should be advised to take:

  • one course each in the four (4) major historical periods in Western Philosophy: ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary
  • a course in logic, either elementary or at the higher level
  • at least one elective course in the 5000-7000 level
  • courses that prepare the student for future graduate work in their selected field

In addition, Honors students will participate in the Senior History of Philosophy Honors seminar in the fall semester, and register for a Senior Thesis Directed Readings course with her or his advisor in the spring semester of the senior year. Students will be expected to complete a thesis of approximately 75–100 pages by the end of the spring semester of their senior year and are encouraged to undertake an Advanced Independent Research project where possible.

The Perspectives Honors Majors Track

The Perspectives Honors Major track is a four-year interdisciplinary course of study grounded in the great texts of Western Culture that seeks to integrate the humanities, the social sciences, and natural sciences. The Perspectives Program seeks to promote the ideal of liberal education, i.e., the liberation from unexamined assumptions that are passed along as a matter of course in a culture. The Perspectives Program seeks to form students who are intelligent, responsible, reasonable, and attentive.

Students selected for the Perspectives Honors Major track will 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 her or his 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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