The graduate program in philosophy at Harvard offers students the opportunity to work and to develop their ideas in a stimulating and supportive community of fellow doctoral students, faculty members, and visiting scholars. Among the special strengths of the department are moral and political philosophy, aesthetics, epistemology, philosophy of logic, philosophy of language, the history of analytic philosophy, ancient philosophy, Kant, and Wittgenstein.
The typical entering class ranges from five to eight students. This small size helps foster a sense of community among doctoral students and ensures that they have substantial access to and interaction with their faculty colleagues.
In addition to the standard PhD in philosophy, the department offers a PhD in classical philosophy in collaboration with the Department of the Classics and a coordinated JD/PhD program in conjunction with Harvard Law School.
The department’s graduate program is essentially a PhD program. Because the principal employment for men and women with advanced training in philosophy is in college teaching requiring the PhD, the department ordinarily does not admit applicants who wish to study only for the master’s (AM) degree. The AM may be taken as a step toward the PhD after a minimum of two terms in residence. A candidate for the AM must satisfy the preliminary, distribution, and logic requirements for the PhD; however, the preliminary requirement is reduced to ten half-courses, and only seven of the eight distribution units are required for the AM. In addition, the second-year paper requirement must be satisfied. There is no language requirement for the AM.
Background in Philosophy
The department requires that applicants have obtained a solid undergraduate background in philosophy, indicating that they have a good grounding in the history of philosophy, as well as familiarity with contemporary work in ethics, epistemology and metaphysics, and logic.
The Admissions Committee looks for evidence of outstanding potential in the field of philosophy as shown in the applicant’s academic record, letters of recommendation, and statement of purpose in the application.
A writing sample must be submitted withthe online application.
Scope: The sample must address a substantial philosophical problem, whether it is an evaluation or presentation of an argument, or a serious attempt to interpret a difficult text.
Length: In general, the writing sample should be at least 12 to 15 pages long, but no more than 30 pages; a rough maximum length would be about 25 pages. The admissions committee generally does not have time to read papers longer than this.
Format: The writing sample should be submitted in electronic format, formatted for 8.5-inch x 11-inch paper, 1-inch margins, with double-spaced text in a common 12 point font, such as Times New Roman.
The Department of Philosophy receives nearly 300 applications each year. We ordinarily expect an entering class of five to eight doctoral students. Although the number of qualified applicants exceeds the number of offers the department can make, we invite all who would like to study philosophy at Harvard to apply.
Note: Students seeking admission to the coordinated JD/PhD program must apply to and be separately admitted to Harvard Law School and the Department of Philosophy.
More information is available from the Department of Philosophy and GSAS Policies.