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2018-2019 Graduate Studies Bulletin 
  Jun 17, 2024
2018-2019 Graduate Studies Bulletin [Archived Catalog]

Philosophy, Ph.D.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students must demonstrate competence in three periods in the history of philosophy from the following periods: 

 I: Ancient 

II: Medieval and Renaissance 

III. Early Modern (17th - 18th Century) 

IV: Modern (19th - 20th Century) 

  • Students must demonstrate knowledge in the following core areas:





Philosophy of Science  

  • Students will complete an original and substantive research project in their area of specialization.
  • Students will develop the professional skills required to contribute to philosophical research.
  • Students who have successfully submitted dissertation proposals will seek to place their work in professional venues (professional conferences and/or journals).
  • Students will develop any language skills required for conducting research in their area of specialization.
  • Students will develop specialized knowledge of a particular philosophical area.
  • Students will be able to offer effective instruction at the undergraduate level in philosophy.

Degree Requirements (60 Post Baccalaureate Hours)

1. Course Requirement

Ph.D. students who enter the program without an M.A. degree in philosophy must pass 16 graduate courses, of which at least 8 are at the 700 level taken in face-to-face format. Students entering the program with an M.A. degree in philosophy must pass 8 or more courses at USC, of which at least 6 are at the 700 level taken in face-to-face format. In either case, at least 12 additional hours of 899 (dissertation preparation) are required. Courses taken at USC must satisfy various distribution requirements listed below. To satisfy all of these requirements, more than eight USC courses may be required for some students entering the program with an M.A. degree.

2. Core Courses

All Ph.D. students must pass the following core courses, normally within the first two years of course work:

3. Philosophy of Science Requirement

Ph.D. students must pass at least one course in philosophy of science. Which courses count as satisfying this requirement is at the discretion of the graduate director.

4. History Requirement

Ph.D. students must pass at least one course in each of three historical periods, normally to be one course from each of the following three lists:

5. Language Requirement

Learning a foreign language is an important part of professionalization as a philosopher. It is therefore expected that students will satisfy a foreign language requirement. If a student’s research area demands knowledge of a particular foreign language, the student will be expected to be proficient in that language. The Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures administers tests of foreign language competency. In rare cases, the students Ph.D. comprehensive examination committee may determine that it is advisable for the student to substitute for the foreign language requirement a substantial competence in a research method relevant to the student’s research.

6. Requirement for Graduate Teaching Assistants

Normally, Ph.D. students with teaching assistantships will be given full responsibility for teaching a course beginning in their 3rd year in the program. In the spring semester of their 2nd year, they will be required to take the 3-credit hour pedagogy course, PHIL 790  (Teaching Philosophy). This course may count toward the 16 courses required for the Ph.D. degree.

7. PhD Advisory Committees

Each student in the PhD program will be supervised by three successive advisory committees: an initial advisory committee, a comprehensive exam committee, and a dissertation committee. These committees assist the student in developing an appropriate course of study, evaluate student progress, provide guidance and counsel, certify the completion of various degree requirements, and ensure that professional standards have been met in completing those requirements. The composition of each committee should reflect the student’s interests and the area in which the student is likely to write a dissertation, though the constitution of these committees may change as the student progresses through the program.

8. Student Portfolios

Each doctoral student must maintain a “portfolio” of achievements in the program. This portfolio will be an essential tool for tracking and assessing the student’s progress in the program.  The contents of the portfolio will be available only to the student and to members of the department faculty. 

The portfolio, including yearly writing samples and a dissertation proposal, will serve as the written portion of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam.  It will also serve as a working basis for developing a job placement dossier. The student must therefore maintain an up-to-date portfolio at least until their date of graduation. 

The Department’s annual assessment of the graduate program as a whole will be based to some degree on a summary review of current student portfolios. Student portfolios will include at least the following items:

  • The student’s statement of purpose and writing sample submitted as part of their application for admission.
  • One or more samples of one’s best writing from each year in the program (at least one expected by August 15 each year) until the Ph.D. comprehensive exam is passed.
  • All signed advisement forms: two per year until the Ph.D. comprehensive exam is passed.
  • A syllabus for each course for which the student is the instructor of record (due within a month after instruction begins).
  • A summary of student evaluations of one’s teaching for each course where one serves either as an instructional assistant (GIA) or as a teaching assistant (GTA), for as long as one is involved in teaching at USC.
  • Copies of all classroom visitation reports for any class for which the student serves in some instructional capacity and for which such a visitation was scheduled.
  • An up-to-date curriculum vitae, including (but not limited to) a chronological record of all GSA/GRA/GIA/GTA duties, a list of publications and works submitted for publication, a list of public presentations at conferences, and any record of service to department, university, community, or profession. 
  • A dissertation proposal (expected at the beginning of the fourth year).

It is expected that the student will develop professionally while in the graduate program so that earlier contents of the portfolio may not reflect the student’s later capabilities, such as at the time of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam or later when the student begins to actively seek academic job placement.  The student if need be will have ample opportunity during the oral portion of the Ph.D. comprehensive examination to discuss how earlier writing samples could be amplified, amended, or disowned.  Likewise, it is assumed that the writing samples that serve as part of the student’s placement dossier will be carefully selected by the student (in consultation with the Placement Director) so as to maximize the student’s chances of job placement.  The portfolio itself will not serve as a placement dossier though the student may make relevant materials directly available to prospective employers.

9. Admission to Candidacy

To be recommended for admission to candidacy, a student must have satisfied several requirements:

  • The student must have completed all required course work other than PHIL 899 .
  • The student must have submitted a Doctoral Program of Study (DPOS) form.
  • The student must have submitted a Doctoral Committee Appointment Request (G-DCA) form.
  • The student’s written work in graduate courses taken at USC must have been strong enough to justify a high expectation of success in the remainder of the program.
  • The student must have demonstrated proficiency in any teaching duties assigned throughout the course of their graduate work, either as instructional assistants or teaching assistants.

Final approval for admission to candidacy for the PhD degree is made by the Dean of the Graduate School.

10. Dissertation Proposal and Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination

The Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination is designed to assist the student in writing a dissertation. It is taken after all required course work has been completed, at a stage when a dissertation topic has been selected and a provisional but detailed proposal drawn up. The comprehensive exam is in two parts, written and oral. A dissertation proposal will serve as the cornerstone of the written portion of the Comprehensive Exam. Procedures for submitting a dissertation proposal and the structure of the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination are as follows:

  • Following admission to candidacy, the student in consultation with the Graduate Director and the student’s initial advisory committee should select an appropriate and willing Ph.D. comprehensive exam committee from among the department’s Graduate Faculty.
  • dissertation proposal should be formally approved by the student’s Ph.D. comprehensive exam committee, normally early in the Fall semester of the fourth year. This proposal will be some combination of written materials such as a dissertation outline, a multi-page dissertation overview, a synopsis of each chapter, a sample chapter in essentially finished form, one or more finished papers on a similar topic, a substantial bibliography, or a literature review. The exact combination should be determined in consultation with the student’s comprehensive exam committee. Overall, this written material should clearly and substantially identify the topic, thesis, and argumentative structure of the proposed dissertation. It should also provide ample evidence of the student’s familiarity with relevant primary and secondary literature.
  • In conjunction with an overall review of a student’s “portfolio” of achievements in the program up to that point (including yearly writing samples), the combination of written materials constituting a dissertation proposal will serve as the written portion of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam.
  • An oral examination will normally take place in the Fall semester of the fourth year, roughly a week after approval of the written dissertation proposal. This exam takes as its starting point the written proposal but may range more broadly to ascertain the viability of the proposed research, specifically to determine that the proposed project is worth doing, that it is doable in a timely manner, and that the student is capable of completing the project.
  • Immediately after the oral examination the committee meets to determine whether the student has passed or failed. The decision is made by majority vote. A student who fails may apply to take the examination a second time, and may also apply to have the membership of the committee changed. Changes in committee membership must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. Normally the second examination will be taken no more than six months after the first. A student who fails the examination a second time or who chooses not to be re-examined will not be permitted to continue in the Ph.D. program but, upon request, may be awarded a terminal M.A. degree. If approved, the student must have fulfilled all MA degree requirements by the end of the respective academic year, including passing the MA Comprehensive Exam and filing the appropriate Change-of-Status form with the Graduate School.

Completion of the Ph.D. comprehensive examination is expected in the Fall semester of the fourth year, leaving time in the program for the student to work on an approved dissertation topic and to prepare for academic job placement.

11. Ph.D. Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

No later than five years after passing the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, a Ph.D. student must complete a dissertation. The dissertation topic must be approved by a committee of graduate faculty members, consisting of the advisor, two other graduate faculty members judged competent in the field, and one graduate faculty member from outside the Philosophy Department. The student is expected to have whatever specialized skills are required for the dissertation topic chosen (e.g., familiarity with one of the sciences, or proficiency in a foreign language). At the time the dissertation is submitted the student must also provide an abstract of the dissertation.

To complete the requirements for the Ph.D., the student must successfully defend his or her dissertation before an examining committee appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies and approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. The committee will consist of no fewer than four members, of whom at least one is from another department. Typically, these will be the same professors who are members of the student’s Dissertation Committee. The dissertation defense should take place not less than thirty days before the date at which the candidate expects to receive his or her degree.