PhD in Philosophy

In the PhD program, the MA and MPhil degrees are earned sequentially. PhD candidates must be enrolled full time. All of our PhD students receive a comprehensive program of financial aid, including fellowships and appointments in teaching.

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, beginning 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.

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 six 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. 

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 six-year funding package from GSAS are required to teach in eight of their twelve 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). Students do not teach in the first year, so they should expect to distribute their eight terms of teaching over their second, through fifth years.  Usually, students TA in their second, through fifth 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 teach a Recitation Section of small discussion sections. In some cases, TAs will also maintain a class website.

As per Columbia University policy, the expected time commitment for Teaching Assistant duties should never exceed twenty hours. For more information please see this page on the GSAS website.

Students on multi-year funding packages are expected to complete their Ph.D. within the time-period covered by their funding. Some students apply to teach as Preceptors in the Core Curriculum with Columbia College or as Teaching Scholars with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.  Because these are demanding positions, students who become Preceptors or Teaching Scholars 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. 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. 

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


**3000-level courses and below (undergraduate) courses do not count toward graduate degrees in Philosophy.**

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 earned 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 21 points for the M.Phil., so 51 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

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

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

Course Requirements:
A minimum of 51 points at the G4000-level or above are required for the M.Phil. degree.

-Of these 51 points, at least 24 points must be for E-credit (a passing letter grade).  

  • Of the 24 points of E-credit , at least 21 points must be earned in the first two 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 21 points of E-credit that must be taken in the first two years, at least 3 points must be in each of the following three distribution groups (for a total of 9 points):
    • Group I: Ethics; Aesthetics; Political Philosophy;
    • Group II: Theory of Knowledge; Philosophy of Logic or Logic beyond Symbolic Logic PHILGU5415; Philosophy of Language; Philosophy of Science; Metaphysics;
    • Group III: History of Philosophy (a major philosopher or philosophical period).
  • Of the 21 points of E-credit that must be taken in the first two years, at least 9 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 (PHIL 9985 GR) in the Spring Semester of the third year.  

-3 points will be Pass/Fail, for the Thesis Preparation Seminar (PHIL 9990 GR) following the successful completion of the Proposal Preparation Seminar.

-The remaining 24 points may be taken for R-credit (Registration credit) and must include:

  • 6 points earned in the Proseminar in the first year (3 points in the fall term, 3 points in the spring).
  • 3 points in each of the three distribution groups (in addition to the 3 points of E-credit), for a total of 9 points of R-credit.

In order to earn a letter grade, a student must complete all the requirements for the course. In order to earn R-credit (registration 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.

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


First Year

Fall Semester:
The required First Year Proseminar for R-credit.  
-2 courses for letter grades
-2 additional courses for R credit

Spring Semester:
The required First Year Proseminar for R-credit.  
-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.)

Second Year

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

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

Third Year

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

Proficiency Requirements:

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: 

In consultation with faculty advisors and the DGS during the first two years of the program, students will be guided in the selection of coursework so as to be in a position to satisfy the department, by the end of their third program year, that they have acquired whatever research tools are necessary to complete the proposed dissertation. In some instances this might involve demonstrating proficiency in a language or some cognate field relevant to a candidate’s research project. 

Dissertation Proposal Defense Requirement:

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: