Advice on Choosing Programs


Philosophy of Law

“This field is very broad, and it is highly unusual for a philosopher of law to do work in all, or even many, of the pertinent areas. Topics that fall within philosophy of law include, for example: the nature of law and the relationship between law and morality; the theory of legal reasoning and adjudication; the duty to obey the law; the justification of punishment; the nature of responsibility, moral and legal; theories of liberty and justice; the philosophical foundations of the substantive branches of law (criminal, law, property, torts, contracts, international law, etc.); theories of legislation and legal interpretation; the methodology of legal philosophy; and the intersection between the preceding areas and issues and themes in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of language, metaphysics, philosophy of action, etc. Students should pay particular attention to how well faculty interests correspond with student interests—keeping in mind, of course, that your interests may change and develop in significant ways during the course of your graduate education.”
–Brian Leiter (Chicago)

Philosophy of Art/Aesthetics

“Especially at the graduate research level, philosophy of art/aesthetics is an unusually uncentered field, with a number of the best-known people working from distinct arts–notably music, painting, film, literary fiction–or from historical–notably Kantian–contexts.”
–Patrick Maynard (Western Ontario)

Early Modern Philosophy: 17th and 18th Century

“Early modern philosophy, by its nature, includes a very wide range of subdisciplines (epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of religion, ethics, political philosophy, just to name a few). Since graduate faculty working in early modern philosophy often specialize fairly exclusively in some of these sub-disciplines rather than others, students interested in pursuing early modern philosophy should investigate to ensure a suitable overlap between their own subdisciplinary interests and those of the departments that they are considering. (For example, a student with very strong interests in early modern political philosophy should investigate more specifically whether there are faculty available who also have early modern political philosophy as a serious interest.) At the same time, however, students should bear in mind that many of the major figures in the early modern period were system builders who thought that there were important connections between, (for example) their views in metaphysics and epistemology and their views in moral and political philosophy; and for this reason, the understanding of their systems may suffer if one focuses only on their views in one or another subdiscipline. Some people working in early modern philosophy take a more comprehensive view of their specialty, and that may suit some students.”
–Edwin Curley (Michigan) and Don Garrett (NYU)

Continental Philosophy of the 19th and 20th Centuries

“People’s conception of what the right approach to take to Continental philosophy varies more than in more sedate and mainstream areas of philosophy. Even if a potential advisor is a specialist in just the area a student wants, s/he may have ideas about the subject-matter that make it difficult to work with a student who sees things differently. Some scholars engage argumentatively and often quite critically with Continental philosophers; others treat the figures more reverentially. Some treat Continental philosophy in isolation from other parts of philosophy (Continental philosophy is “ghettoized” in some programs); others brings styles and methods of argument associated with Anglophone philosophy to bear on Continental philosophers. Students should try to read some work by potential faculty advisors to get a sense of their approach. Of course, don’t assume that everyone who takes a particular approach is incapable of seeing the merits of alternatives; but be aware that that is a danger. Given the variety of approaches and attitudes towards Continental philosophy, a plurality of potential advisors in a department can certainly be an advantage.

You should also consider carefully what departments offer outside Continental philosophy. There are institutional reasons for this (departments for the most part require students to complete a general education in philosophy in the initial years of graduate study, and once on the job market, it will behoove you to have “areas of competence” beyond Continental philosophy), but intellectual ones too: certain areas of philosophy—for example, Kant, ancient philosophy, moral and political philosophy, aesthetics, parts of metaphysics and epistemology, among others—are complementary to major themes and currents in Continental philosophy.”

—Brian Leiter (Chicago) and Michael Rosen (Harvard)

Studying Philosophy in an HPS or LPS department

“Students interested in the philosophy of science, the history of science, and/or logic may face the choice of whether to pursue a graduate degree in a traditional philosophy department, or in a separate department of history and philosophy of science (HPS), or logic and philosophy of science (LPS). In the English-speaking world, the following schools have separate HPS or LPS departments:

University of Pittsburgh (HPS)
University of California, Irvine (LPS)
Indiana University (HPS)

Cambridge University (HPS)
London School of Economics (LPS)
(Note: LSE has a department of philosophy, logic, and methodology of science, but no separate philosophy department.)
University of Leeds (HPS)

University of Toronto (Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology)

University of Sydney (HPS)
University of Melbourne (HPS)
University of New South Wales (HPS)

Members of HPS and LPS departments were included together with philosophy faculty in the faculty lists used both for overall rankings, and for rankings in specialty areas. (There are, of course, philosophy departments that are strong in philosophy of science that do not appear on this list because they do not have independent HPS or LPS programs. Prospective students should consult the relevant specialty rankings elsewhere in this report.)

In addition, a number of schools have interdisciplinary graduate programs in HPS or LPS that can be pursued from within the philosophy department (or other relevant department). These include Stanford University (HPS), University of California, Berkeley (LPS), University of Notre Dame (HPS), University of Chicago (HPS), University of California, San Diego (Science Studies Program, including HPS and also Sociology of Science), Duke University (History and Philosophy of Science, Medicine, and Technology), University of Washington, Seattle (HPS), Carnegie Mellon University (Program in Logic, Computation, and Methodology), Arizona State University (HPS; some of ASU’s philosophers are actually housed in the School of Life Sciences, rather than in the philosophy department) and Florida State University (HPS).

Graduates of HPS and LPS programs who focus on philosophy of science will often be competing with graduates of philosophy departments for jobs in philosophy. Of course, students who are interested in pursuing graduate work in an HPS or LPS department should seek detailed information about the placement record of that department, just as they would for a philosophy department. Note also that departments may differ in where they place their students. Pittsburgh’s HPS department places most of its graduates in philosophy departments. Indiana’s HPS department frequently places graduates in the history of science in history departments. Carnegie Mellon places a number of its graduates from its program in Logic, Computation, and Methodology in departments of mathematics, computer science, and statistics.

Typically, students in an HPS or LPS graduate program will be able to take courses offered by the school’s philosophy department, and will have opportunities to interact with faculty in the philosophy department. (And likewise, philosophy students will have an opportunity to take HPS or LPS courses and interact with HPS or LPS faculty.) Prospective students would do well to inquire of current students to determine to what extent this actually occurs. Those who plan to make extensive use of a school’s philosophy department would do well to consider the overall quality of that department, as well as of the HPS or LPS department. Moreover, students in HPS or LPS programs who plan to do extensive study in another department, such as history, or some branch of science, should consider the quality of the relevant department.

One important difference between and HPS or LPS department and a philosophy department will be the curriculum and academic requirements. Students in an HPS program can be expected to take a number of courses in the history of science, and may also have to take qualifying exams in the history of science. (This may be less of an issue at British and Australian schools, that put less emphasis on graduate coursework.) Moreover, students in HPS and LPS programs are often encouraged to take courses in the sciences. Most philosophers who pursue research in the philosophy of science find that a solid education in science and its history provides them with a deeper appreciation of their field, as well as a wealth of case studies. Moreover, students in HPS programs will typically receive a good education in the history of philosophy, as this field overlaps importantly with the history of science. On the other hand, it may be harder for students in an HPS program to obtain a background in other central areas of philosophy, such as metaphysics and epistemology, philosophy of mind and language, or ethics and political philosophy. Students in HPS programs are usually well advised to try to learn about some of these areas from the school’s philosophy department, to help them compete effectively for jobs in philosophy. Students in an LPS program will obtain a strong background in formal logic, which can be helpful in the philosophy of science and mathematics, as well as in areas like philosophy of language. These students may find that it is harder to obtain a background in other areas of philosophy, such as the history of philosophy.

Another difference is that HPS and LPS departments are sometimes willing to admit students whose background in philosophy is less extensive than that which is required for most philosophy programs. This is not to say that students can be expected to be admitted to HPS or LPS departments if they have done poorly in philosophy courses. But if a student has a strong background in a relevant area, say history or some branch of science for an HPS program, or mathematics or computer science for an LPS program, this may partially compensate for a shortage of philosophy courses on one’s transcript. This can be a mixed blessing, however, as all graduates of HPS or LPS programs will eventually need acquire a solid grounding in philosophy to compete effectively in the philosophy job market. Obviously, this is less of a concern for those who plan to seek employment outside of philosophy.”
—Christopher Hitchcock (Cal Tech), Craig Callender (UC San Diego), Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY Grad Center), Alexander Rosenberg (Duke), and William Wimsatt (Chicago)