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 in philosophical issues, and will provide them with a basis for evaluating and contributing to contemporary debates.
A total of nine courses is required for the major in Philosophy. There are both a new and old set of requirements. Students in the class of 2014 and later must meet the new set; students in earlier classes may choose to meet the old or new set.
The new set has four required classes and five electives. The required classes are: any 100-level philosophy course, Philosophy 201 (History of Ancient Philosophy), Philosophy
202 (History of Modern Philosophy), and Philosophy 401 (Senior Seminar). The five electives will be 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]. In addition at least one of the electives must be a tutorial. The tutorial may also count toward the distribution requirements if it is designated in the course catalog as fitting into one of the three areas. We recommend that prospective majors take Philosophy 201 and 202, Philosophy 203, and a tutorial in philosophy, by the end of their sophomore year. Cross-listed courses and courses taught at other institutions will not count towards the distribution requirement (approved Williams-Exeter Programme tutorials will count, however). Up to two courses cross-listed with other departments at Williams, or taught at other institutions (and approved by the Williams department), may be counted toward the philosophy major.
In the old set of requirements students are required to take 101 and 102, Philosophy 401, and six electives. Students wishing to meet the old set who have taken 101 and not 102 must take a Metaphysics and Epistemology course; students who have taken 102 and not 101 must take a Value Theory course.