The University of Massachusetts Amherst

The Philosophy PhD Program


Part One: Administration

1. The Degree

The Department offers a course of study leading to the PhD in Philosophy.

2. Supervisory Committee

The Supervisory Committee (SC) consists of three members. One of these is the Graduate Program Director (GPD). The other two are members of the Graduate Faculty of the Department of Philosophy, appointed to the SC annually by the Department Chair. The Chair may not serve on the SC. The SC administers the Starred Paper/Area Exam system, interprets the regulations governing that system, and performs other duties that are assigned to it by the department.

3. Advisors

Before the beginning of their first year in the program, the GPD will assign to each incoming student a member of the Department’s Faculty as Advisor. When a student’s PhD Dissertation Committee has been formed, its Chair becomes the student’s Advisor. Advisors are expected to review progress with their advisees at least once per semester. Advisors are responsible for representing the interests of their advisees at the Review. A student may change their Advisor at any time (with the consent of the faculty member selected and the GPD), but ABD students can only change their advisor if they change the chair of their dissertation committee.

4. Review

The work of each student in the Program is reviewed by the Department after each semester. Students who wish some action to be taken at a review should so inform the GPD by email prior to the review. Students are expected to consult with their Advisors after each review. Students whose work is found to be satisfactory are so informed by their Advisors. Those whose work is found to be unsatisfactory may be asked to confer with the Department Chair or GPD, as well as with their Advisors, and they may be dismissed from the program.

5. Grades in Courses

The grades given in graduate courses are: A, A−, B+, B, B−, C+, C, C−, and F.

See the addenda to the regulations for more information about what grades mean.

6. Incompletes

If a student is unable to complete the work for a course by the time grades are due for the semester, the student may petition the instructor for a grade of incomplete. The granting of incompletes is at the discretion of the instructor. If the student receives a grade of incomplete, they will then have (with the instructor’s permission) until 11:59 PM of the day prior to the first day of the next semester to complete the work. (Thus, an incomplete for a Fall course must be completed before the first day of the following Spring semester; an incomplete for a Spring course must be completed before the first day of the following Fall semester.) If the coursework is not completed by the deadline, the course will no longer be eligible to be counted toward the satisfaction of any Departmental requirement, even if the coursework is subsequently completed and the student receives a grade in the course to replace the grade of I (incomplete) or IF (incomplete failure) on their graduate school transcript. This policy is not applied to the Area Exam Practicum, which has its own policy, stated in Section 21 below.

7. Preliminary Decision Semester

The SC assigns a Preliminary Decision Semester (PDS) for each incoming student during their first semester in the Program. Normally the Preliminary Decision Semester is the Spring semester of the student’s third year. This is the semester by the end of which a student is expected to have satisfied the Preliminary Requiement—see Part Two; and especially Section 22 below.

Part Two: Preliminary Requirements

8. Course Requirement

Each student in the program must pass fifteen University graduate level philosophy courses at the 500-, 600-, 700- and/or 800-level. Philosophy 699 (Master’s Thesis), 800 (Area Exam Practicum) and 899 (PhD Dissertation) may not be used to satisfy the Course Requirement. At most three of the fifteen required courses may be independent studies or writing practica.

Courses used to satisfy the Course Requirement must be taken on a letter-grade basis (see Section 5 above), and may not be taken pass/fail.

9. Proseminar Requirement

Each student in the program is required to enroll in, and receive a passing grade in, Philosophy 700 (Proseminar) during each of their first two semesters in the program. This is an intensive course that covers foundational works in philosophy, and students will be required to make presentations and submit papers on a regular basis. (This course is only open to first-year students in the PhD program.) Both semesters count towards the Course Requirement (see Section 8 above) and Seminar Requirement (see Section 10 below).

10. Seminar Requirement

Each student in the program must pass at least six University philosophy seminars numbered 700 or above. (The proseminar counts each time it is taken.) No independent study or practicum course may be used to satisfy this requirement.

11. Distribution Requirement

Each graduate level course in philosophy—with the exceptions of the proseminar, independent studies and practica—will be designated with a distribution area. Each student in the program is required to take courses meeting the following distribution requirements:

  1. At least one course in Value Theory;
  2. At least one course in Logic;
  3. Courses in at least three different subcategories within the broad M&E category. The subcategories are:
    • Metaphysics
    • Epistemology
    • Philosophy of Language
    • Philosophy of Mind
    • Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Mathematics
    • “Other” M&E
  4. Courses in at least two of the three subcategories within the History of Philosophy category. The subcategories are:
    • Ancient philosophy (Classical Greek and Roman philosophy, roughly Thales to Boethius)
    • Modern philosophy (16th through mid-19th century European philosophy)
    • “Other” history of philosophy (includes history of analytic, medieval, American and non-Western philosophies)

At the beginning of each semester, the GPD will ensure that all students are made aware of which courses offered that semester satisfy which distribution requirement. The proseminar, as well as independent study and practica courses, do not satisfy the Distribution Requirement.

12. Transfer Credit

Graduate level philosophy courses at institutions other than the University and courses in fields other than philosophy may be used to satisfy the Course, Seminar, or Distribution Requirements only with Departmental approval (i.e., in virtue of a vote of the Philosophy Faculty). A course is eligible for transfer only if it was taken while the student was enrolled in a graduate program. Acceptance of non-Departmental courses as satisfying either the Seminar Requirement or the Distribution Requirement is unlikely. Furthermore, the upper bound on non-Departmental courses accepted as satisfying the Course Requirement is six in the case of a student who had an MA in philosophy at the time of enrollment in our Program; the upper bound is three in the case of those who do not have philosophy MAs; these upper bounds will be reached only in exceptional cases.

If a student receives transfer credit for three (or more) courses, their Preliminary Decision Semester (see Section 7 above) will be moved up by one semester. In the very rare circumstances that a student receives transfer credit for six courses, their Preliminary Decision Semester will be moved up by two semesters.

The Department will consider requests for transfer credit only from students who have completed at least two semesters in the PhD Program.

See the addenda for more information on how to obtain transfer credit.

13. Starred Paper Requirement

Each student is required to receive a grade of PASS on a Starred Paper by the end of their fourth semester in the PhD Program.

A Starred Paper is a substantial work giving solid evidence that its author is able to do the kind of original research and writing required to complete a satisfactory doctoral dissertation in philosophy.

See the addenda for more information on what is expected of a Starred Paper.

14. Starred Paper Day

At the beginning of each semester, the GPD establishes a Starred Paper Day for that semester. Normally, Starred Paper Days fall during the last two weeks of the semester. Any student planning to submit a Starred Paper on a given semester must notify the GPD during before the end of the second week of the semester. The notification should state the title of the proposed paper, give a short description of the subject matter, and specify the field of submission.

Students are strongly encouraged to enroll in Phil 600 (Writing Practicum) during the semester in which they plan on submitting their Starred Papers.

15. Starred Paper Committees

The SC will establish appropriate Starred Paper Committees for grading Starred Papers. Each Starred Paper Committee consists of three members, one of whom serves as Chair. The student is informed of the membership of the Starred Paper Committee and is required to have at least one meeting with the Chair. Students are encouraged to consult with all three members of the committee prior to submitting the paper.

If a student is enrolled in Phil 600 (Writing Practicum) during the semester in question, the SC will endeavor to make the instructor of the practicum the Chair of the Starred Paper Committee. However, in certain circumstances, this may not be possible.

16. Submission

Any student who has properly notified the GPD and has met with the chair of the Committee may submit a Starred Paper on Starred Paper Day. The Starred Paper is submitted to the GPD. The GPD sees to it that all members of the appropriate Starred Paper Committees receive copies of papers promptly after submission.

17. Grades on Starred Papers

Each member of a Starred Paper Committee assigns to the paper exactly one of the following grades: PASS, FAIL, NEITHER-PASS-NOR-FAIL (NPNF), and reports it to the Chair of the committee. The overall grade is determined by the following chart, depending on the combination of grades from the three individual members.

3 0 0 PASS
2 1 0 PASS
2 0 1 NPNF
1 2 0 NPNF
1 1 1 NPNF
0 3 0 NPNF


After consulting with other Starred Paper Committee members, the Chair of each committee produces a brief written statement of the committee’s evaluation of the paper. One copy of this statement is given to the student, another is placed in the student’s file together with the paper. Students are also encouraged to discuss their papers with committee members after receiving their grades.

It is sometimes appropriate to resubmit a paper which receives a grade of NPNF in revised form in a subsequent semester, but the student should seek the advice of the Starred Paper Committee before doing so. The difference between NPNF and FAIL is also relevant to the Two Fail rule (see Section 25 below).

18. The Writing Practicum

Philosophy 600 (Writing Practicum) is a special 3-credit independent-study-like course designed to help a student develop a paper (typically one written for another course), and improve it, with the goal of producing the kind of polished philosophical research that makes for good professional academic work in philosophy. A student enrolling in the course must receive approval from the instructor they wish to work with prior to enrollment.

A student is strongly encouraged, but not required, to enroll in this course while developing the work intended to be submitted as a Starred Paper. However, students may enroll in this course even if they are not working on potential Starred Papers, and may take the course more than once, provided that a distinct piece of writing is worked on each time.

The writing practicum may count towards the fifteen courses required to complete the Course Requirement, subject to the limitation that no more than three of the fifteen may be independent studies or practica; see Section 8 above.

19. Area Examination Requirement

A student satisfies the Area Examination Requirement if they receive a grade of PASS in the Area Exam Practicum, or have an INCOMPLETE changed to a PASS.

20. The Area Examination Practicum

Philosophy 800 (Area Exam Practicum) is a special 3-credit, mandatory pass/fail course. After a student has selected the area of their intended dissertation, they inform the GPD that they wish to enroll in the Area Exam Practicum (typically during the 6th semester in the program). The SC then forms a suitable Area Examination Committee composed of three members of the philosophy faculty, one of whom serves as Chair. Once the Committee is formed, the student may enroll in the Practicum.

Students enrolled in the Practicum are expected to meet regularly with the Chair of the Area Exam Committee until the Area Exam itself takes place. This course does not count as one of the fifteen courses required to fulfill the Course Requirement.

Once a student is enrolled, the process of completing the Practicum has two stages. The first involves the creation and approval of the Area Examination Document. The second involves the (oral) Area Examination itself.

The Area Examination Document: The student and the Committee members agree on a list of readings in the area of the intended dissertation. The student then prepares a document of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 words containing summary exposition and brief discussion of the main doctrines and arguments in the readings on the list. This document should take the form of a narratively coherent guide to the topic; it should not just be a sequence of summaries of each reading. The Area Examination Document is submitted to members of the Area Examination Committee, who then may either approve it or ask for modifications.

When all members of the Committee have approved the document, the Chair proceeds to schedule the Oral Area Examination.

The Oral Area Examination: This is an oral exam lasting approximately 90 minutes. Questioning in the exam should be primarily focused on doctrines and arguments discussed in the Area Examination Document. Afterwards, the members of the Area Examination Committee determine the grade. Grading and reporting of grades on Area Examinations follow the pattern of grading and reporting on Starred Papers (outlined above in Section 17).

21. Area Examination Results

A student who receives a grade of PASS on the Area Exam itself will receive a grade of PASS in the Practicum.

A student who receives a grade of FAIL on the Area Exam itself will receive a grade of FAIL in the Practicum. The student must then re-enroll in the Practicum, and restart the process, in order to complete the requirement.

A student who receives a grade of NPNF on the Area Exam itself will receive a grade of INCOMPLETE in the Practicum. The Committee may require the student to retake the oral exam, or meet some other requirements, before the grade may be changed to a PASS.

If a student receives a grade of INCOMPLETE in the Area Exam Practicum, either because the oral exam was not able to be scheduled before the end of the semester, or because a grade of NPNF was given for the exam, the student will have until the end of the next semester to complete the requirements. (If they are not completed, the grade will change to an IF and the student must re-enroll in the Practicum, and restart the process.)

22. Preliminary Requirement

If, by the end of their Preliminary Decision Semester, a student has completed all components of the Course, Proseminar, Seminar, Distribution, Starred Paper, and Area Examination Requirements, then they will be certified as having completed the Preliminary Requirement for the PhD in Philosophy.

Any student who has not been certified as having completed the Preliminary Requirement by the end of their Preliminary Decision Semester, and who has not been granted an extension, will be deemed to be bad standing in the program, and the student may be dismissed from the program.

23. Satisfactory Progress and Grades in Coursework

In order to complete the Preliminary Requiement on schedule, under normal circumstances a student must complete 3 or more courses per semester, and in order for the quality of that work to be considered satisfactory, a student must earn a grade of A or A− in the bulk of these courses.

At the end of each of their first four semesters in the program, any student who has not, in total, completed a cumulative total number of courses with grades of A or A− equal to or greater than twice the number of semesters they have been in the program (so 2 after the first semester, 4 after one year, 6 after three semesters, and 8 after two years) will be deemed to be in bad standing in the program, and the student may be dismissed from the program.

24. Starred Paper Rule

Any student who does not complete the Starred Paper Requirement by the end of their fourth semester in the Program will be deemed to be in bad standing in the Program, and the student may be dismissed from the Program.

25. Two Fail Rule

A student who receives grades of FAIL on Starred Paper submissions, or Area Exam attempts, twice (including one of each), will be deemed to be in bad standing in the Program, and the student may be dismissed from the Program.

26. Extensions and Exceptions

Extensions to complete the Starred Paper Requirement, or Preliminary Requirement, and exceptions to the Two Fail Rule, or other regulations, are sometimes granted. Extensions and exceptions require the vote of the Philosophy Faculty.

See the addenda for more information about extensions of milestones and financial aid eligibility.

27. Master’s Degrees

Students in the PhD Program may receive the Master’s Degree upon completion of all components of the Preliminary Requirement other than the Area Examination, as well as applicable requirements of the Graduate School.

Part Three: The Dissertation

28. Dissertation Committee

Once a student has completed the Preliminary Requirement, they acquire a Dissertation Committee, which then oversees the rest of their work for the PhD. This Committee is formally appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School, on the recommendation of the GPD. The Committee has four members, three of whom (including the Chair) must be members of the Graduate Faculty of Philosophy, and one of whom (the "outside member") must be a member of the University’s Graduate Faculty, but in some Department other than Philosophy. Students must form their committee, and have it formally appointed, by the end of the semester after completing the Preliminary Requirement.

29. Forming the Committee

In forming a Dissertation Committee, a student first chooses the Chair of the Committee. Having established the Chair’s willingness to serve, the student reports this choice to the GPD. The latter then chooses the three additional members, after consulting with the proposed Chair and the student, and submits the whole slate of members to the Dean of the Graduate School for formal approval.

30. Role of Committee Members

Most of the actual writing of the dissertation is done under the supervision of the Chair of the Dissertation Committee. The three remaining members serve primarily as readers of the dissertation and as examiners at the Final Oral Examination, though they may provide guidance during the writing as well.

31. Prospectus

Once the Dissertation Committee has been appointed, the student, in consultation with the Chair, prepares a dissertation prospectus, which must then be approved by each member of the Committee. When the prospectus has been approved by the members of the Committee, the GPD submits the approved prospectus to the Dean of the Graduate School.

32. Philosophy 899

In order to receive the PhD, a student must register for at least 10 credits of Phil 899, Doctoral Dissertation.

33. Seven Month Rule

The Graduate School requires that at least seven months elapse between the submission of the prospectus and the Final Oral Examination.

34. Final Oral Examination

When the dissertation itself is finished, it is submitted to the Dissertation Committee for judgment. If, and only if, the Committee approves it unanimously, the dissertation is submitted to the Chair of the Department, who, if they also approve, then instructs the GPD to place a copy of the dissertation in the main office and to schedule the Final Oral Examination.

The dissertation does not yet need to be in its final form, or formatted fully according to the University’s specifications, at the time it is submitted to the Committee. It must, however, be complete, properly proofread, and clearly legible.

The time and place of the Final Oral Examination are announced by the GPD not less than two weeks beforehand. The copy of the dissertation placed in the Main Office by the GPD must be available for a period of at least two weeks prior to the Final Oral Examination.

The Final Oral Examination is conducted by the Dissertation Committee. The Examination is open to the University community at large, students and faculty, and any member of the Department may participate in the questioning of the candidate. Only the members of the Dissertation Committee, however, vote on the candidate’s performance. Their vote must be unanimous in order for the student to pass the Examination.

35. Submission of Final Version of Dissertation

Having passed the oral exam, the student then submits the degree eligibility form to the department and the final version of the dissertation to the University. (For complete details of what is required, see the “Checklist for Doctoral Degree” in the Graduate Student Handbook.) Filing deadlines for the May, September, and February degree granting dates can be found in the Graduate Academic Calendar. A printed, bound copy of the dissertation should be submitted to the Department to be displayed in our dissertation collection.

Part Four: Miscellaneous Regulations

36. Residency Requirement (Imposed by the Graduate School)

In order to qualify for the PhD, a student must spend at least one academic year—either a Fall-Spring or a Spring-Fall sequence—in residence doing full-time graduate work at the University. A student does full-time graduate work in a semester only if they take a schedule of courses amounting to nine or more credits.

37. Statute of Limitations (Imposed by the Graduate School)

The Statute of Limitations (SOL) is the period within which all degree requirements must be completed. The SOL is set at six years for incoming doctoral students. A graduate student may be granted additional time to complete their degree program by the Graduate Dean provided the student's Graduate Program Director makes such a recommendation and provided satisfactory and reasonable progress is being made.