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 (FWS) program; they are taught by various members of the instructional 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.
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, and a minimum of 3 credits for each, before applying for the major. Students wishing to become philosophy majors should apply via the online form.
A grade of "S" (Satisfactory) for a Spring 2020 Philosophy class will be accepted when applying for the major or the minor, due to the impact of COVID-19.
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, and a total of a minimum of 29 credit hours (for those graduating in December 2023 or after, this minimum will be 24 credits)
- At least one course on ancient philosophy, typically PHIL 2200, 3202, or 3203, also certain other courses with a large component of Plato or Aristotle. For courses other than 2200, 3202, or 3203, check with instructor.
- 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 modern 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
- More than four courses completed at other institutions
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. (For those graduating in December 2023 or after, this will be six credits.)
A grade of B- or better is required for any course to count toward satisfaction of major requirements. For Spring 2020 classes only, a grade of "S" [Satisfactory] is acceptable for a PHIL course to count for 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.
Honors in the philosophy major are awarded on the basis of an assessment of the student’s overall performance in the major, taking into account their grades in philosophy classes, and also their oral performance in class and their departmental citizenship. A primary factor will be the faculty’s assessment of the student’s philosophical writing, as evidenced by the production of one or more substantial pieces of writing, such as seminar term papers, an (optional) senior thesis, or the equivalent.
Students interested in being considered for honors should be philosophy majors and normally, by the time they graduate:
- will 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-);
- must have taken at least ten philosophy courses (these may not include any PHIL courses with a 9 in the second digit, with the exception of PHIL 4900 and PHIL 4901—the senior thesis);
- will have taken at least two courses at the 4000/6000 level, with the aim of producing substantial pieces of philosophical writing (e.g. seminar term papers), or the equivalent; this requirement can, but need not be, satisfied by undertaking the (optional) senior thesis (see below);
- will have taken at least four courses at the 3000 level or above;
- will have taken a minimum of 36 credits hours in philosophy. (Note: for those graduating in December 2023 or after, this requirement will be 30 credits.)
The faculty will consider all eligible students for honors, so there is no need for students to declare themselves interested in being considered for honors. However, we recommend that you speak with your faculty advisor about course selection, particularly with regard to upper-level seminars or the senior thesis, at the start of your junior and senior years, to ensure that your coursework will provide you with sorts of samples of written work that could form the basis of an award of honors.
The Senior Thesis
Students who wish to undertake a substantial, specialized, in-depth independent research project under the supervision of a member of the Sage School faculty may choose to enroll in the optional senior thesis. Students typically devote two courses (PHIL 4900/4901) in consecutive terms of their senior year to writing a satisfactory thesis (although some students have completed a thesis in a single term). Neither PHIL 4900 nor 4901 counts towards the eight philosophy courses required for the major, though they can count towards the ten courses required for honors. Enrollment in the thesis project is dependent on finding a suitable faculty advisor. The senior thesis is one route, but not the only route, to producing the substantial pieces of philosophical writing needed for honors consideration. (Candidates whose theses are judged by the faculty not to merit the award of honors may nonetheless, at the discretion of the faculty, be awarded a passing grade for PHIL 4900/4901.)
Contact the department office for the application for the thesis.
NOTE: The senior thesis is not required for honors in philosophy, and in many cases, students may find it preferable to enroll in two upper level or graduate seminars, and benefit from the greater structure and philosophical community such seminars offer, rather than undertaking the thesis project.
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 jointly by the faculty of the Sage School. Every spring, the faculty will hold a meeting to review each of the graduating majors (including multiple majors) who meet the numerical criteria in order to consider whether they should be awarded departmental honors. No student will be awarded honors unless at least two faculty members are willing to advocate for the honors on the basis of their assessment of at least one substantial piece of work such as a seminar paper or the equivalent. As noted, students will be considered for honors without needing to put themselves forward for consideration. It will fall to the faculty to recruit second readers for seminar papers and theses as necessary.
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. The minor is open to any undergraduate student in any college at Cornell.
Admission to the minor is based on a student's work in philosophy; students would be expected to have completed two philosophy courses (of at least 3 credits each) 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 (of a minimum of 3 credits each, with a total of at least 17 credits*) 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 (or with a large component on some figure/s in the history of 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
- No more than two courses completed at other institutions
*Note: For those graduating in December 2023 or after, total credits earned in Philosophy must be at least 15 for the minor.
For Spring 2020 classes only: a grade of "S" [Satisfactory] is acceptable for a PHIL course to count for minor requirements.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 up to 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. The projects will be posted on the department website when they are available. 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 email@example.com .
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.
Undergraduate majors are entitled to use the departmental library housed in the Philosophy common room, 213 Goldwin Smith Hall.
Minorities in Philosophy (MAP) Reading Group:
Undergraduates are welcome to be part of the MAP (Minorities in Philosophy) Reading Group, along with graduate students. Link to webpage here for the Cornell's local chapter of MAP. Information on the national organization here.