Ph.D. Program

Note: for additional information, please consult the Ph.D. in Philosophy page on the Columbia Graduate School of Arts & Sciences website.

The purpose of earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy is to become an independent scholar as well as a teacher of the subject. Perhaps the single most important accomplishment during the Ph.D. is the writing of the doctoral dissertation, which is typically a student’s first substantial and original scholarly contribution to Philosophy. The coursework that is undertaken in advance of the dissertation is meant to serve as preparation both for writing the dissertation and for teaching. In addition to coursework and the dissertation, Ph.D. students at Columbia are required to assist in the teaching of undergraduate courses as part of their doctoral training.

On their way to earning a Ph.D. in Philosophy, students earn an M.A. (Master of Arts in Philosophy) and an M.Phil. (Master of Philosophy in Philosophy). 

Phases of Study

The program of study for the Ph.D. in Philosophy falls into three phases:

1) The first and second years, during which students focus on coursework and distribution requirements.

Students should complete the requirements for the M.A. degree in the second year; the M.A. degree must be conferred by the end of the second year.

2) The third year, during which students write three papers in the course of developing a Dissertation Proposal, and take part in the Proposal Preparation Seminar.

Students should complete the requirements for the M.Phil. degree in the fourth year; the M.Phil. degree must be conferred by the end of the fourth year.

Earning the M.Phil. degree means that students have completed all requirements for the Ph.D. in Philosophy except for the dissertation, and so are ABD – “All But Dissertation.”

3) The Dissertation phase, starting with the conferral of the M.Phil. by the end of the fourth year and continuing through the fifth (and, possibly, sixth and seventh years), during which the student completes a dissertation and earns the Ph.D. degree.

Advanced Standing

Columbia University awards the Ph.D. degree only to candidates who have earned the M.Phil. at this institution. However, a candidate may join the Columbia Ph.D. program in Philosophy after having completed an M.A. in Philosophy at another institution. Such candidates may be eligible for Advanced Standing, which would advance them one year toward the M.Phil. Advanced Standing is awarded at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and may not be formally granted until the end of the student’s first year in the program. Students interested in applying for Advanced Standing should speak with the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies).

Financial Aid

The Department of Philosophy operates under a system of multi-year financial aid packages which are provided by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). Such funding is awarded, as far as possible, to all incoming Ph.D. students regardless of nationality.  The packages typically cover five years. All fellowship awards cover the entire cost of tuition as well as health insurance and access to the Columbia Student Health Service. In addition, they provide an annual nine-month fellowship stipend. A detailed overview of the GSAS financial aid system, including the possibi­lity of combining GSAS funds with external fellowships, is available on the GSAS website: Fellowship Information for Doctoral Students. Please be aware that some fees are not covered by fellowship awards or by the Department of Philosophy. Also, please note that of the ten funded semesters, at most four of them will be entirely free of teaching duties.


Columbia University is committed to training its Ph.D. students to become distinguished teachers as well as distinguished scholars in their field. GSAS requires that all Ph.D. students teach at least two terms as a requirement for the Ph.D. degree.

All students who receive a five-year funding package from GSAS are required to teach in six of their ten funded semesters. Normally, such teaching will take the form of a Teaching Assistantship within the Department of Philosophy (except when students are awarded Preceptorships in the Core Program or Teaching Fellowships in the Undergraduate Writing Program; see below). There is some flexibility concerning which semesters a student will be a Teaching Assistant (TA). However, no student will be permitted to teach in the first year, so students should expect to distribute their six terms of teaching over their second through fifth years.  Usually, students TA in their second, third, and fourth years.

The basic responsibilities of all TAs are: to attend class lectures, to hold office hours, and to grade written work. In certain large introductory-level courses, TAs will serve as Section Leaders of small discussion sections. In some cases, TAs will also maintain a class website.

As per Columbia University policy, TA work should amount to a maximum of 20 hours per week.

Timely Degrees

Students on multi-year funding packages are expected to complete their Ph.D. within the time-period covered by their funding, which is typically five years.  Some students apply to teach as Preceptors or Teaching Fellows in Columbia College.  Because these are demanding positions, students who become Preceptors or Teaching Fellows are expected to complete their Ph.D.’s within six years. Please note that students who pass beyond the sixth year have no automatic right to continue to live in University Housing; if they wish to do so, they must submit an application during the Spring semester of their sixth year. Furthermore, the Philosophy Department recognizes absolutely no obligations of any kind to students who pass beyond the seventh year.


Please note that all Ph.D. students must be continuously registered as full-time students during the entire time of their graduate program. The only exceptions to this requirement are official Leaves of Absence, which may be granted only by the Dean of GSAS.

Please see the Registration Categories page on the GSAS website for more information. 


Degree Requirements

The requirements below should be read in conjunction with the general requirements of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.

Note: Courses offered by other departments do not count toward Philosophy degrees unless they are cross-listed. In some cases, the DGS (Director of Graduate Studies) may grant an exception to this restriction if it is justified by a student’s philosophical project.

For the M.A. Degree

The requirements for the free-standing M.A. degree in Philosophy and the M.A. degree taken en route to the Ph.D. are identical.

The course and distribution requirements for the M.A. are half those for the M.Phil.  The requirements for the M.Phil. are cumulative, and include the requirements for the M.A.
(For instance: 30 points of coursework are required for the M.A. degree, and another 30 points for the M.Phil., so 60 points total; 3 points are required in each distribution group for the M.A., and another 3 points are required in each distribution group for the M.Phil., so 6 points total.)

Since the M.Phil. requirements are cumulative, students in the first two years of the Ph.D. program should focus on completing all course and distribution requirements for the M.Phil. degree, but make sure to apply for the M.A. degree as soon as the M.A. requirements (2 Residence Units; 18 points of E-credit including at least 2 seminars and at least 3 points in each distribution group; 12 points of R-credit) are completed.

For the M.Phil. Degree

6 Residence Units (including the 2 Residence Units required for the M.A. degree).   (1 Residence Unit = 1 semester of full-time study.)


All Ph.D. students are required to take the Proseminar in their first year in the program. The Proseminar is taken for R-credit.  


A minimum of 60 points at the G4000-level or above are required for the M.Phil. degree.

Of these 60 points, at least 33 points must be for E-credit (a passing letter grade).  

  • Of the 33 points of E-credit , at least 30 points must be earned in the first 2 years.   The remaining 3 points will be earned in the third year, for a Quodlibetal Studies course in the Fall semester of the third year with the student’s advisor.   (The Proposal Preparation Seminar, in the Spring semester of the third year, is taken Pass/Fail.)
  • Of the 30 points of E-credit that must be taken in the first two years, at least 6 points must be in each of the following three distribution groups:
    —        Group I: Ethics; Aesthetics; Political Philosophy;
    —        Group II: Theory of Knowledge; Philosophy of Logic; Philosophy of Language; Philosophy of Science; Metaphysics;
    —        Group III: History of Philosophy (a major philosopher or philosophical period).
  • Of the 30 points of E-credit that must be taken in the first two years, at least 12 points must be for G9000-level seminars.  Quodlibetal (independent study) courses may be substituted for regular seminars, with the approval of the DGS.

3 points will be Pass/Fail, for the Proposal Preparation Seminar in the Spring Semester of the third year.  

The remaining 24 points may be taken for R-credit (Registration credit).

In order to earn a letter grade, a student must complete all the requirements for the course. In order to earn R-credit (Residence credit), a student must attend the course and satisfy any additional requirements the instructor may impose, such as an oral presentation. However, no letter grade is awarded with R-credit.

Note:  6 points of R-credit will be earned in the Proseminar in the first year (3 points in the fall term, 3 points in the spring).

A typical course load in the first two years of the Ph.D. program would be as follows:

Fall Semester:
The required First Year Proseminar for R-credit.  The Proseminar runs for the first 7 weeks of each term.
-2 courses for letter grades
-2 additional courses for R credit
Spring Semester:
The required First Year Proseminar for R-credit.  The Proseminar runs for the first 7 weeks of each term.
-2 or 3 courses for letter grades
-1 or 2 additional courses for R credit

(Please note that students have no TA responsibilities in the first year.)

Fall Semester:

-2 or 3 courses for letter grades
-1 or 2 courses for R credit
Spring Semester:

-2 or 3 courses for letter grades
-1 or 2 courses for R credit

Fall Semester:

-1 Quodlibetal Studies course for a letter grade with the student’s advisor in the fall term
-1 course for R credit
Spring Semester:

-Proposal Preparation Seminar, taken Pass/Fail
-1 course for R credit


Logic Requirement:

All students must demonstrate proficiency in Logic. This requirement may be satisfied in two ways:

1. Earning at least 3 points of E-credit in a Logic course (G4000-level or above);

2. Passing the proficiency examination in Logic administered by the Department in the last week before the beginning of the Fall Term. (Students who pass the exam are exempt from any additional coursework in Logic.) The proficiency exam is optional and cannot be retaken.

Language Requirement:

Students must demonstrate competence in one of the following languages: French, German, Greek, or Latin. This requirement may be satisfied in four ways:

1. Having taken, within the last five years, two years of one of the designated languages at the college level, and having received grades of B or higher in those courses.

2. Receiving a grade of B or higher in an Intermediate-level college language class (For example, French S1202).  

3. Passing one of the Proficiency Exams administered by the Classics, French, and German departments.   The French and German departments offer courses specifically designed to prepare students for these Proficiency Exams (German S1115 Accelerated Elementary Reading and French S1204 Rapid Reading and Translation).

4. Passing a translation exam administered by the Philosophy Department. The exam consists of a single passage of approximately ¾ of a printed page in length; passing the exam requires translating the given passage accurately into grammatically correct and idiomatic English. The total time allotted for the exam is 90 minutes. Use of a dictionary is permitted.

Note: Students may be exempted from the foreign language requirement only when English is not their native language and the Director of Graduate Studies (in consultation with the Department) approves an alternative requirement. Students with disabilities may be exempted under university-wide regulations.


Defending a Dissertation Proposal is the final requirement for the M.Phil. degree.   After the Proposal Defense (assuming all other M.Phil. requirements are complete), students may apply for the M.Phil. degree regardless of whether the defense was successful.  An unsuccessful Proposal Defense means a student may leave the program with an M.Phil. in hand.   However, in order to remain in the program and become an official Candidate for the Ph.D., a student’s Proposal Defense must be successful and the Proposal formally approved by the student’s Dissertation Committee.  


For the Ph.D. Degree

After students have received their M.Phil. degrees, and are admitted to candidacy, they must successfully complete and defend their doctoral dissertations in accordance with the regulations of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  Students should consult the Dissertation Office pages on the GSAS website: