The practice of philosophy is a careful, in-depth study of humanity’s most basic ideas, presuppositions, and beliefs. Its goal is to understand as clearly as possible who we are, how the world is, and how we conceive the world. Philosophy then seeks to challenge those conceptions and examine the reasons for holding them. While the discipline of Western philosophy has a historical lineage traced back through Europe and Ancient Greece, increasingly the practice of philosophy includes previously marginalized voices and approaches in order to understand the human being in all its embodied identities. The Bates philosophy curriculum emphasizes both the history of philosophical thought and the striking innovations, insights, and relevance of contemporary philosophy. The study of philosophy, with its creative interplay of insight and reason, has ancient roots, yet remains in continual ferment.

The philosophy department encourages all Bates students to take a philosophy course and to consider a philosophy major, minor, or concentration. Students new to philosophy are encouraged to start off with 200-level courses that focus on particular problems of philosophical interest. Some topics addressed in these courses include the nature of morality, the justification of law, the place of mind in a physical world, the nature of perception, the justification of our beliefs, the possibility of knowledge, the social construction of race and gender, the understanding of the self, the understanding of space and time, the possible existence of god, the nature and possibility of truth, the purpose and proper understanding of language, and the nature of emotions as well as the point and value of philosophical inquiry itself. Although critical reading, thinking, and writing skills are developed in all philosophy classes, PHIL 195 (Introduction to Logic) provides a more focused study of proper reason that is beneficial to majors and nonmajors alike.

More information on the benefits and opportunities open to philosophy majors is outlined at “Why study philosophy?” on the department website (

Major Requirements

Students who major in philosophy are expected to complete eleven courses in the field. Eight of the eleven courses must meet the distribution requirements indicated below. Students are urged to take the courses listed in 1) and 2) below as soon as possible after they decide to major in philosophy. The philosophy faculty has structured these requirements to allow students the flexibility to plan their own programs within the constraints of a broad philosophical education. Philosophy courses offered in the Short Term count toward the eleven required courses. First-year seminars taught by philosophy faculty count toward the eleven required courses. In addition, students may, with departmental approval, fulfill one of the eleven courses with a course from another field. Study-abroad courses and transfer courses may satisfy major or minor requirements with the approval of the department chair. Students arrange their programs in consultation with their departmental advisor. Those considering graduate or professional school are encouraged to consult with their advisor in order to design an appropriate course of study.

1) Logic.
PHIL 195. Introduction to Logic.

2) History of Philosophy. Two of the following:
CM/PL 271. Ancient Philosophy.
PHIL 272. Philosophy in the Modern Era (1600-1800).

3) Ethics and Political Philosophy (the good, the right, and community). One of the following:
PHIL 213. Biomedical Ethics.
ES/PL 214. Environmental Ethics.
PHIL 233. Making Moral Minds: Nature, Nurture, and the Sources of Morality.
PHIL 255. Human Nature, Politics, and Morals.
PHIL 256. Moral Philosophy.
PHIL 257. Moral Luck and Social Identity.
PHIL 258. Philosophy of Law.

4) Metaphysics and Epistemology (being, meaning, knowledge). One of the following:
PHIL 210. Philosophy of Cognitive Science.
PHIL 211. Philosophy of Science.
PHIL 234. Philosophy of Language.
PHIL 235. Philosophy of Mind.
PHIL 236. Theory of Knowledge.
PHIL 245. Metaphysics.

5) Seminars.
Two courses at the 300 level.

6) Senior Thesis.
PHIL 457 or PHIL 458.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

Pass/fail grading may not be elected for courses applied toward the major.


The minor in philosophy consists of six courses. A coherent program for each student's minor is designed in accordance with program guidelines and in consultation with a member of the philosophy faculty who is chosen or appointed as the student's departmental advisor for the minor. Among the six courses there should be at least four courses related in a coherent group. Examples might include a group of courses relevant to philosophical reflections about the student's major field, or a group of courses on ethical and political questions, or a group of courses on a specific historical period. This group of courses should be designated, in consultation with the departmental advisor. The minor may include one first-year seminar and up to two Short Term courses in philosophy.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

Pass/fail grading may be elected for only one course applied toward the minor.