Philosophy, Ph.D.

Degree Requirements (60 Post-Baccalaureate Hours)

Doctoral students who enter the Ph.D. program without a master’s degree in philosophy must pass 16 graduate courses.  At least 8 of these courses must be 700-level and be taken in traditional face-to-face format.

Doctoral students who enter the Ph.D. program with a master’s degree in philosophy must pass 8 or more courses.  At least 6 of these courses must be 700-level and be taken in traditional face-to-face format.

Both cases require at least 12 additional hours of dissertation preparation.

Core Courses

Must successfully pass within the first 2 years in the program.

Philosophy of Science Requirement

Pass at least one course. Course must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

History Requirement

Ph.D. students must pass at least one course in each of three historical periods, normally to be one course from each of the following three lists:

Ancient to Renaissance
Course Title Credits
PHIL 505Plato3
PHIL 506Aristotle3
PHIL 507Medieval Philosophy3
PHIL 526Hellenistic Philosophy3
PHIL 540Renaissance Philosophy3
PHIL 701Studies in Ancient Philosophy3
Early Modern
Course Title Credits
PHIL 501British Empiricism3
PHIL 502Continental Rationalism3
PHIL 508Hume3
PHIL 509Kant3
PHIL 705Studies in 17th- and 18th-Century Philosophy3
PHIL 707Studies in 19th-Century Philosophy3
PHIL 723Hegel3
Late Modern
Course Title Credits
PHIL 503Analytic Philosophy3
PHIL 504Phenomenology and Existentialism3
PHIL 534Contemporary European Social Philosophy3
PHIL 706Studies in Continental Philosophy3
PHIL 707Studies in 19th-Century Philosophy3
PHIL 709Studies in 20th-Century Philosophy3
PHIL 721Pragmatism3

Note:  PHIL 760 (Special Topics in Philosophy) and PHIL 797 (Independent Study) may count as history courses depending on the material covered. PHIL 707 may count as satisfying either early or late modern history requirement depending on the material covered.  These determinations are made by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the instructor.

Language Requirement

Learning a foreign language is an important part of professionalization as a philosopher.  Doing so is often central to gaining proficiency in the history of philosophy and it enables one to engage important work being done by scholars who write in languages other than English. If a student’s research area demands knowledge of a particular foreign language, the student will be expected to be proficient in that language.  The Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures administers tests of foreign language competency.

Satisfying the foreign language requirement may entail one of the following:

  • Successful completion of an intensive reading course in a language approved by The Graduate School
  • Passing grade on a language reading proficiency examination administered by the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.  A student may not take the competency test more than 3 times.

Students whose native language is not English may be able to use English to fulfill the foreign language requirement.  An official TOEFL score of 243 for computer-based test or 590 for paper-based test.

If a doctoral student’s comprehensive examination committee determines that the research area demands knowledge of one or more foreign languages, the student is required to demonstrate proficiency in at least one of those languages.  This applies to all students, including those whose native language is not English.  Only if the required research language is the foreign student’s native language may English be used to fulfill this requirement.  In rare cases, a comprehensive examination committee may determine it advisable to substitute a substantial competence in a research method relevant to their research for the foreign language requirement.  The Director of Graduate Studies will give final approval of the substitution and ultimate approval of the substitution will be given by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Students should make arrangements to complete the foreign language and/or research methods requirement by discussing options with their advisory committee early in the program.  Certification of foreign language (and any substitution) remains valid for 8 years.

Requirement for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Normally, Ph.D. students with teaching assistantships will be given full responsibility for teaching a course beginning in their 3rd year in the program. In the spring semester of their 2nd year, they will be required to take the 3-credit hour pedagogy course, PHIL 790. This course may count toward the 16 courses required for the Ph.D. degree.

PhD Advisory Committees

Each student in the Ph.D. program will be supervised by three successive advisory committees: an initial advisory committee, a comprehensive exam committee, and a dissertation committee. These committees assist the student in developing an appropriate course of study, evaluate student progress, provide guidance and counsel, certify the completion of various degree requirements, and ensure that professional standards have been met in completing those requirements. The composition of each committee should reflect the student’s interests and the area in which the student is likely to write a dissertation, though the constitution of these committees may change as the student progresses through the program.

Student Portfolios

Each doctoral student must maintain a “portfolio” of achievements in the program. This portfolio will be an essential tool for tracking and assessing the student’s progress in the program. The contents of the portfolio will be available only to the student and to members of the department faculty. 

The portfolio, including yearly writing samples and a dissertation proposal, will serve as the written portion of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam. It will also serve as a working basis for developing a job placement dossier. The student must therefore maintain an up-to-date portfolio at least until their date of graduation. 

The Department’s annual assessment of the graduate program as a whole will be based to some degree on a summary review of current student portfolios. Student portfolios will include at least the following items:

  • The student’s statement of purpose and writing sample submitted as part of their application for admission.
  • One or more samples of one’s best writing from each year in the program (at least one expected by August 15 each year) until one has completed their coursework and is working exclusively on materials for the Ph.D. comprehensive exam.
  • All signed advisement forms: two per year until the Ph.D. comprehensive exam is passed.
  • A syllabus for each course for which the student is the instructor of record (due within a month after instruction begins).
  • A summary of student evaluations of one’s teaching for each course where one serves either as an instructional assistant (GIA) or as a teaching assistant (GTA), for as long as one is involved in teaching at USC.
  • Copies of all classroom visitation reports for any class for which the student serves in some instructional capacity and for which such a visitation was scheduled.
  • An up-to-date curriculum vitae, including (but not limited to) a chronological record of all GSA/GRA/GIA/GTA duties, a list of publications and works submitted for publication, a list of public presentations at conferences, and any record of service to department, university, community, or profession. 
  • A dissertation proposal (expected at the beginning of the fourth year).

These items should be submitted to both the student’s committee members and the graduate program coordinator who will maintain a physical copy of the complete portfolio. The portfolio itself will not serve as a placement dossier though students may make relevant materials directly available to prospective employers.

Admission to Candidacy

Students are evaluated every semester.  The faculty meets at the end of the spring semester to review students’ overall progression through the degree requirements.  Students will receive a letter from the Director of Graduate Studies summarizing the results of the annual review.

Where a student’s progress falls short of expectations, remedies may be prescribed that must be implemented within a specific time frame.  Failure to resolve the issues within the specific time frame may result in dismissal from the program.  To be considered for admission to candidacy, students must have resolved any issues identified.  To be recommended for admission to candidacy, a student must have satisfied the following requirements.

  • The student must have completed all required course work other than PHIL 899.
  • The student must have submitted a Doctoral Program of Study (DPOS) form.
  • The student must have submitted a Doctoral Committee Appointment Request (G-DCA) form.
  • The student’s written work in graduate courses taken at USC must have been strong enough to justify a high expectation of success in the remainder of the program.
  • The student must have demonstrated proficiency in any teaching duties assigned throughout the course of their graduate work, either as instructional assistants or teaching assistants.

Final approval for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree is made by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Proposal and Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination

The Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination is designed to assist the student in writing a dissertation. It is taken after all required course work has been completed, at a stage when a dissertation topic has been selected and a provisional but detailed proposal drawn up. The comprehensive exam is in two parts, written and oral. A dissertation proposal will serve as the cornerstone of the written portion of the Comprehensive Exam. Procedures for submitting a dissertation proposal and the structure of the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination are as follows:

  • Following admission to candidacy, the student in consultation with the Graduate Director and the student’s initial advisory committee should select an appropriate and willing Ph.D. comprehensive exam committee from among the department’s Graduate Faculty.
  • A dissertation proposal should be formally approved by the student’s Ph.D. comprehensive exam committee no later than the midpoint of the fall semester of the fourth year (or the third year for students with a previous MA). Dissertation proposals can vary in format.  For example, they can include one or more of the following: a dissertation outline, a multi-page dissertation overview, a synopsis of each chapter, a sample chapter in essentially finished form, one or more finished papers on a similar topic, a substantial bibliography, a literature review, etc. What is to be included should be determined in consultation with the student’s comprehensive exam committee. Overall, this written material should clearly and substantially identify the topic, thesis, and argumentative structure of the proposed dissertation. It should also provide ample evidence of the student’s familiarity with relevant primary and secondary literature.
  • In conjunction with an overall review of a student’s portfolio of achievements in the program up to that point (including yearly writing samples), the combination of written materials constituting a dissertation proposal will serve as the written portion of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam.
  • An oral examination will normally take place in the fall semester of the fourth year, roughly a week after approval of the written dissertation proposal. This exam takes as its starting point the written proposal but may range more broadly in order for the committee to ascertain the viability of the proposed research, specifically to determine that the proposed project is worth doing, that it is doable in a timely manner, and that the student is capable of completing the project.
  • Immediately after the oral examination the committee meets to determine whether the student has passed or failed. The decision is made by majority vote. A student who fails may apply to take the examination a second time and may also apply to have the membership of the committee changed. Changes in committee membership must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. Normally the second examination will be taken no more than six months after the first. A student who fails the examination a second time or who chooses not to be re-examined will not be permitted to continue in the Ph.D. program but, upon request, may be awarded a terminal M.A. degree. If approved, the student must have fulfilled all MA degree requirements by the end of the respective academic year, including passing the MA Comprehensive Exam and filing the appropriate Change-of-Status form with the Graduate School.

Completion of the Ph.D. comprehensive examination is expected to occur by the end of the Fall semester of the fourth year, leaving time in the program for the student to work on an approved dissertation topic and to prepare for academic job placement.

Ph.D. Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

No later than five years after passing the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, a Ph.D. student must complete a dissertation. The dissertation topic must be approved by a committee of graduate faculty members, consisting of the advisor, two other graduate faculty members judged competent in the field, and one graduate faculty member from outside the Philosophy Department. The student is expected to have whatever specialized skills are required for the dissertation topic chosen (e.g., familiarity with one of the sciences, or proficiency in a foreign language). At the time the dissertation is submitted the student must also provide an abstract of the dissertation.

To complete the requirements for the Ph.D., the student must successfully defend his or her dissertation before an examining committee appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies and approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. The committee will consist of no fewer than four members, of whom at least one is from another department. Typically, these will be the same professors who are members of the student’s Dissertation Committee. The dissertation defense should take place not less than thirty days before the date at which the candidate expects to receive his or her degree. If a student does not complete their dissertation within the five year period that begins with passing the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, it is up to the student’s dissertation advisor to determine what counts as satisfactory progress in each subsequent year.