The Major

Philosophy is a discipline with a long and intricate history, a history that remains an integral part of the discipline. In this way it differs dramatically from the natural sciences: for example, although no contemporary physicists or biologists embrace Aristotle’s physics or biology, among philosophers there continue to be champions of Aristotle’s metaphysics and of his ethics. Because of the richness and continuing importance of the history of philosophy, the program is designed to give majors a historical background that will acquaint them with a wide variety of approaches to philosophical issues and provide a basis for evaluating and contributing to contemporary debates.

The Philosophy major consists of nine semester courses: three required courses and six electives. The required courses are: any 100-level philosophy course, Philosophy 201 (History of Ancient Greek Philosophy), or Philosophy 202 (History of Modern Philosophy), and Philosophy 401 (Senior Seminar). The six electives are structured by a distribution requirement. Students must take at least one course in each of three areas: Contemporary Metaphysics and Epistemology [M&E], Contemporary Value Theory [V], and History [H].  These requirements apply to majors in the Class of 2018 and after. Courses taught in other departments at Williams or at other institutions will not count toward the distribution requirement (Williams-Exeter tutorials may count, however, with the approval of the Department Chair).  Up to two cross-listed courses taught in other departments may count as electives toward the major.  No more than one 100-level course may count toward the major (and one 100-level course is required for the major – no exceptions).

We recommend the following trajectory through the major:

By the end of the first year, take a 100-level philosophy course (this is typically the first step in the major) and one other philosophy course.
By the end of the second, year, complete a 100-level philosophy course, Phil 201 or Phil 202, and at least one other philosophy course.  (If you will be away for the whole of your junior year, you should complete at least five courses by the end of the second year, preferably six).


By the end of the junior year, complete a 100-level course, Phil 201 or Phil 202, and at least four other philosophy courses.

Other recommendations:  take at least one tutorial; aim to distribute your six electives evenly over the three distribution baskets; take a logic course; and take both Phil 201 and Phil 202.