Undergraduate Program

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Getting Started

Any philosophy course numbered in the 1000s or 2000s is suitable for beginning study in the field. Sections of PHIL 1110, 1111, and 1112 are part of the first-year writing seminar program; they are taught by various members of the staff on a variety of philosophical topics, and because of their small size (17 students at most) they provide ample opportunity for discussion. Students who want a broad introduction to philosophy may take PHIL 1100, but many students with special interests may find that the best introduction to philosophy is a 2000-level course in some particular area of philosophy; such courses have no prerequisites and are usually open to first-year students.

For more information about appropriate courses in philosophy, browse the course listings here.

Major Requirements

Students expecting to major in philosophy should begin their study of it in their first or second undergraduate year. Admission to the major is granted by the Director of Undergraduate Studies of the department on the basis of a student's work during the first two years. Normally the student must have completed two philosophy courses with grades of B or better before applying for the major. Students wishing to become philosophy majors should apply via the online form.

Students admitted to the major select or are assigned a faculty member as their academic advisor. The advisor can help students plan an appropriate curriculum in the major, select courses outside the major, and ensure that they are meeting college and department degree requirements.

Requirements for the major:

A minimum of eight philosophy courses, taken for a letter grade, including:

  • At least one course on ancient philosophy (PHIL 2200, or a course with a large component on Plato or Aristotle)
  • At least one course on the history of modern philosophy before 1900 (e.g. PHIL 2220 or a course with a large component on some figure(s) in the history of philosophy before 1900)
  • A minimum of six philosophy courses numbered  2000 or above
  • A minimum of three philosophy courses numbered  3000 or above

IMPORTANT NOTE: The eight courses satisfying the major may NOT include:

  • More than one section of a first-year writing seminar (PHIL 1110, 1111, 1112)
  • Any course with the digit "9" in the second place (e.g. 1900, 1910, 3972, etc)
  • PHIL 4900 or 4901

In addition, students must take at least 8 credits of course work in philosophy or related subjects, approved by the student's major advisor if not offered by the Philosophy Department.

A grade of B- or better is required for any course to count toward satisfaction of major requirements.

A course in formal logic (e.g., PHIL 2310), while not required, is especially recommended for majors or prospective majors.

Majors in philosophy may choose to pursue honors in their senior year.


The pursuit of honors in philosophy affords students an opportunity in their senior year to undertake a specialized, in-depth research project under the supervision of a member of the Sage School faculty resulting in a substantial piece of written work, an honors essay. Honors are awarded to candidates upon completion of a satisfactory honors essay. Honors candidates typically devote two courses (eight credit hours) during their senior year to honors work. Students interested in pursuing honors should consult with their faculty advisors in their junior year. Application to pursue honors can be made in the Department of Philosophy office, 218 Goldwin Smith Hall.


Students interested in pursuing honors should be a philosophy major and normally have:

  • A GPA (Grade Point Average) of at least 3.5 in the major, and a minimum overall GPA in all courses taken at Cornell of 2.7 (B-).
  • Completed at least five courses in the department by the end of their third year (with at least one at the 3000 level or above)
  • Done at least some coursework in the area in which they propose to write
  • Identified an area
  • Recruited an advisor

Admission to the honors thesis course is decided on a case by case basis by the student's proposed advisor in consultation with the DUS (Director of Undergraduate Studies) and faculty who have taught the student in the past. Some requirements may be waived for students in special circumstances. Students meeting the other requirements but unable to recruit an advisor should consult the DUS.

PHIL 4900/4901 and the Honors Essay 

In either or both semesters of the senior year, a candidate for honors, with the permission of the faculty member who will supervise the honors project, enrolls in PHIL 4900/4901 and undertakes research leading to the writing of the honors essay by the end of the final semester. Honors students normally need to take both PHIL 4900 (fall) and 4901 (spring) in their senior year to write a satisfactory honors essay. Neither PHIL 4900 nor 4901 counts toward the eight philosophy courses required for the major. 

Honors Awards

The decision to award a degree in philosophy with honors (cum laude), high honors (magna cum laude) or highest honors (summa cum laude) is made by the faculty of the Sage School. The faculty primarily considers the quality of the honors essay but also give some weight to the student's overall academic record, record in philosophy, and performance in PHIL 4900/4901. Candidates whose honors essays are judged by the faculty not to merit the award of honors may, at the discretion of the faculty, be awarded a passing grade for PHIL 4900/4901.

Minoring in Philosophy

The philosophy minor is designed for students who would like to formally pursue focused studies in philosophy, receiving recognition for this work, along with their major in another field.

Admission to the minor is based on a student's work in philosophy; students would be expected to have completed two philosophy courses with grades of B or better prior to applying.

To satisfy the requirements and complete the minor in philosophy, a minimum of five philosophy courses must be taken for a letter grade (B- or better), including:

  • No more than one course numbered below 2000
  • At least two must be numbered above 3000
  • At least one must be in the history of philosophy before 1900, including study of ancient or modern philosophy before 1900
  • Courses numbered 1900-1999, 4900, 4901 (or any courses with a "9" digit in the second place) will not be accepted for the minor
  • No more than one semester of FirstYear Writing Seminar (FWS: PHIL 1110, 1111, 1112) will be accepted

For more information, email philosophy-minor@cornell.edu.

If you are interested in applying for the minor, please fill out the minor request form here.

Note on Transfer Credits for Study Abroad for the Major/Minor

Philosophy majors and minors who are considering study abroad should keep in mind that any pre-approval given by the Philosophy Department before a student does coursework abroad is merely tentative approval. A final decision about transfer of credit can be made only after the work for a course has been completed. It is important that a student save as much information relevant to Philosophy courses taken abroad as is possible (examples:  syllabi and reading lists), in order to provide that information to the Philosophy Director of Undergraduate Studies upon return to campus.

In particular, some courses taken abroad involve significantly less written work than do Philosophy courses at Cornell. (In extreme cases, the only written work that a student does is to take a final exam.) It is very unlikely that the Philosophy Department will grant more than 2 Cornell credits for any such course.  Accordingly, students should try to find out in advance how much written work a course will involve, and should attempt to take courses that require roughly the same amount of writing required by courses offered by the Department. Contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies for more information.

Minor in Law & Society

The Law & Society minor is open to all undergraduates throughout the university. Though many of those who register for the minor have intentions of going on to law school or a law-related profession, the Law & Society minor is not just for students interested in entering law school. 

The best candidates for the Law & Society minor are students interested in broader relations between legal institutions and historical and contemporary societies. This broader topic is, and should be, of interest to many students, regardless of whether they intend to enter the legal profession.

Visit the Program on Ethics & Public Life (EPL) page for more information on this minor.

Opportunities for Undergraduates

Activities and events in the Sage School provide opportunities for philosophy majors and other students interested in philosophy to engage with one another, with graduate students and faculty in the Sage School, and with visiting philosophers. In addition to opportunities intended specifically for undergraduates in philosophy, there are many activities and events sponsored by the Sage School  which undergraduates in philosophy are encouraged to attend.

Norman Kretzmann Undergraduate Philosophy Lecture:

Each academic year, the undergraduate philosophy majors choose a speaker to invite to campus to give a lecture and interact with undergraduate students. Normally a speaker is selected in the fall semester and invited to visit in the following spring semester. The visit includes a reception or dinner or additional discussion session with the speaker (primarily for majors). The Director of Undergraduate Studies coordinates the selection process and assists the majors in arranging and hosting the event.

Norman Kretzmann Undergraduate Research Assistantships:

Each academic, year two research assistantships are made available to undergraduate majors in philosophy (one each semester). Majors are invited to apply to assist on available faculty research projects. (Available faculty research projects are publicized to majors on an ongoing basis — normally on the department website.) Research assistants earn no academic credit but earn an hourly wage.

The application, which must be submitted to the Director of Undergraduate Studies by the advertised deadline, consists of (1) a letter of application specifying one (or more) of the available faculty research projects and (2) a short statement (no longer than 300 words) explaining the applicant’s qualifications for and interest in the project(s). Applicants should contact the faculty member sponsoring the research project in advance of submitting an application. Research assistantships are awarded on the basis of the applicant’s overall academic record, record in philosophy courses and suitability for the project. Other things being equal, preference is given to seniors, then to juniors and finally to sophomores. Applications are reviewed by a faculty committee chaired by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Should the faculty committee judge in any given semester that there are no suitable applicants, no research assistantship will be awarded in that semester.

Logos: the Undergraduate Journal of Philosophy at Cornell:

Undergraduate interested in philosophy are the staff and editors of Logos, a refereed journal that publishes undergraduate work in philosophy. Logos also sponsors undergraduate reading and discussion groups.  They meet in Goldwin Smith on Thursdays at 5 pm during the academic year.  For more information, email the Philosophy office at philosophy@cornell.edu .

Funds to Support Special Initiatives:

The Sage School sometimes has a limited amount of funding available to support special undergraduate initiatives. In the past, these have included the undergraduate discussion club, travel by undergraduates to philosophy conferences, and Logos. Inquiries about funding for special initiatives should be made to the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Department Library:

Undergraduate majors are entitled to use the departmental library housed in the Philosophy common room, 213 Goldwin Smith Hall.


Contacts for the Director of Undergraduate Studies for Philosophy (Harold Hodes) and for general inquiries about the philosophy major/minor are available on the department contacts page.

Contacts for questions regarding the Law and Society minor are available here.