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Philosophy Major Guide for 2015-2016

What is Philosophy?

As an academic discipline, Philosophy addresses questions basic to the human experience: What kind of beings are human beings? If human beings have a capacity for reason, what is reason? Suppose reason aims thought at knowing the truth; what is it to know the truth? Is knowing the truth possible? Is science a way to know the truth about the world? Is it the only or best way to know the truth about the world? Are there truths to know that science cannot reach? Even if reason aims thought at knowing the truth, doesn’t it also aim thought at rational action? What does it mean to act rationally? How is acting rationally related to acting morally? Acting rationally and acting morally are both instances of acting in light of values, but what are values? Is there a truth to know about values? How are values related to the fact that human beings are social beings?

These are just some of the questions basic to the human experience that philosophy addresses. Importantly, these questions concern not only human experience, but other academic disciplines as well. Consider: What kinds of truths does mathematics seek? Truths about the world? About thought? Necessary truths? Truths that are universal but not necessarily so? Or consider: What is it that economics properly aims at when it studies human action involved in the production, consumption and distribution of goods? Does it properly aim only at explaining existing patterns of human action of this sort? Or does it properly aim also at improving human action in these areas? If the latter, does it properly aim at improving only the rationality of human action in these areas? Or does it properly aim also at improving the morality of human action in these areas? If the latter, how is economics related to ethics more generally?

So as an academic discipline, philosophy casts a wide net and takes up questions not only basic to the human experience but also of interest to other academic disciplines. There are a great many fields of inquiry within philosophy. They include Metaphysics (What is reality?), Epistemology (What is knowledge?), Logic (What is the structure of good reasoning?), Philosophy of Mind (What is thought? How is it related to its objects and to the world?), Philosophy of Language (How does language function as a medium of thought?), Philosophy of Science (What is science? How is it able to give us knowledge of the world?), Ethics (What are values? How should we act? What makes an action right or wrong? Good or bad?), Political Philosophy (What is political authority? What would just institutions look like?), Philosophy of Religion (Is God possible? Can we know whether God exists? Is faith rational?). These are just some of the fields of inquiry possible within philosophy.

In all of these fields of inquiry, the questions philosophy pursues are basic. And basic questions are often the most difficult. Indeed, sometimes progress is marked simply by finally recognizing and clarifying certain questions as basic, for it is often extremely difficult to arrive at conclusive answers to basic questions. Thus, it is sometimes said that philosophy is the one discipline where success is marked not by conclusively answering but by recognizing and clarifying questions. Of course, philosophy does sometimes answer basic questions, and recognizing and clarifying basic questions is sometimes a mark of success in all serious disciplines.

If Philosophy sounds interesting to you, please consider taking Philosophy 101 or one of our periodic Philosophy 200 special topics courses. These are great opportunities to get your feet wet and see whether you might like to wade into deeper waters.

Career Opportunities in Philosophy

There are many career opportunities for philosophy majors. This is because employers of all sorts value highly the education and training philosophy majors acquire. Philosophy majors know how to think – they see the big picture, question assumptions, analyze arguments, and understand alternative perspectives. And they know how to speak and write clearly, in both expository and argumentative modes. Further, philosophy majors can find themselves at home in the Humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, the exact sciences, and in all manner of professions – for they have been trained to take up basic questions that range across all these areas. Philosophy majors have found careers in business, medicine, law, journalism, media, government, teaching, sciences, social services, and advocacy organizations. And of course, some have gone on to graduate work in philosophy and to academic careers as Philosophers.

One way to get a feel for career opportunities for philosophy majors is to notice the range of famous philosophy majors. They include:

Stephen Breyer: U.S. Supreme Court Justice; David Souter, U.S. Supreme Court Justice; Rudi Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City; Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense and Head of World Bank; Patrick Buchanan, political commentator and former presidential candidate; George Stephanopolous, former Clinton Press Secretary and current political commentator; Bill Bennett, former member of George H. Bush’s cabinet and current political commentator; Stone Phillips, TV news broadcaster; George Soros, financier and philanthropist; Carl Icahn, financier; Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize winning Economist; Ethan Cohen, filmmaker and director; Wes Anderson, filmmaker and director; Woody Allen, filmmaker, director, comedian, author, musician; Vaclav Havel, author and former President of Czechoslovakia; Gene Siskel, film critic; Phillip Glass, composer; Richard Gere, actor; Harrison Ford, actor; Phil Jackson, NBA head coach; John Elway, former NFL quarterback and current sportscaster; Steve Martin, comedian and actor; Jay Leno, comedian and TV host.

Philosophy majors succeed in all sorts of careers. For more information:

Salary Trends in Philosophy

Philosophy majors pursue a wide range of careers. Overall, they do very well in the job market. By mid-career, philosophy majors annually earn on average more than students who majored in any other humanities discipline. The average mid-career salary for a Philosophy major (over $75,000) is comparable to average mid-career salaries for students majoring in such fields as Accounting, Architecture, Marketing & Communications, Biology, and Business. . Of course, this could be because students who choose to major in philosophy are brighter and more capable to begin with than students who choose to major in other areas. But it seems likely that it is also because students who choose to major in philosophy find themselves well-trained for success in a wide range of careers, thus improving their lifetime employment and earnings potential. As with most majors,  immediate post-graduation employment prospects and earnings potential are determined not only by the  major, but by  grades,  work experience, including internships, and career planning. For more information on mid-career salary averages arranged by undergraduate major, see:

High School Preparation

Most students entering the university are unfamiliar with the academic study of philosophy. Although high school students are intellectually capable of studying philosophy, they are seldom given the opportunity through high school coursework. Of course, high school students often find themselves informally reflecting on philosophical questions, for many of these questions arise naturally for people who reflect on general features of their experience as human beings.

Two More Reasons to Major in Philosophy

The Department of Philosophy is excited to announce two new concentrations within the Philosophy major (effective with the 2012-13 catalog): Legal & Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Science & Medicine (details below).  UT boasts especially strong faculty and curricular resources on the topics and issues that these new concentrations emphasize.  The new concentrations provide students aiming for careers in a wide variety of legal, medical, scientific, policy, and academic professions with a major tailored to their interests and ambitions.  The new concentrations will help students applying to a wide range of professional schools (e.g., law, medical, business, public affairs—Philosophy majors are highly competitive and successful in all these fields) draw additional positive attention to their applications.  There are Honors versions of each concentration.

Requirements for Philosophy

Co-requisite: 3 hours of logic, Philosophy  235. A student can declare his or her major online at or in person at the philosophy department main office in 801 McClung Tower.

General Philosophy Major

27 hours of coursework , including three hours of ethics (normally philosophy 340 or 440); six hours in the history of philosophy (three in ancient, normally 320 and three in modern, normally 324); and three hours in metaphysics/epistemology (construed broadly, so as to include any of the following courses: epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, intermediate logic). No more than one course at the 200 level, and at least two courses at the 400 level. Majors are required to discuss their programs with a member of the philosophy faculty.

Honors Concentration

Co-requisite: Philosophy 235 (Logic, 3 hours)

Students must possess a 3.25 overall GPA and a philosophy coursework GPA of 3.50. Students must complete 27 hours of coursework, including—and with at least two being honors courses—three hours of ethics (normally philosophy 340/347); six hours in the history of philosophy (three in ancient, normally 320/327 and three in modern, normally 324/328); and three hours in metaphysics/epistemology (satisfied by any of the courses listed above under this heading). No more than one course at the 200 level; at least three courses at the 400 level; and a total of at least four honors courses. At least one hour of 407 (Honors Thesis), passed with a B or better.

Legal & Political Philosophy Concentration

Co-requisite: Philosophy 235 (Logic, 3 hours)

27 hours numbered 200 or above.  The 27 hours must include 3 hours of ethics, normally Phil 340; 6 hours of history of philosophy, normally Phil 320 (ancient) and Phil 324 (17th-18th century); both Phil 391 (social and political philosophy) and Phil 392 (philosophy of law); and 9 hours from two course clusters labeled, respectively, ‘Epistemology, Metaphysics, Logic’ (includes epistemology, metaphysics, and intermediate logic along with philosophies of mind, science, and religion) and ‘Value Foundations: Policy, Politics, Law’ (includes bioethics, environmental ethics, philosophical foundations of democracy, and global justice & human rights).  There is also an Honors version of this concentration.

Philosophy of Science & Medicine Concentration

Co-requisite: Philosophy 235 (Logic, 3 hours)

27 hours numbered 200 or above. The 27 hours must include 3 hours of ethics, normally Phil 340; 6 hours of history of philosophy, normally Phil 320 (ancient) and Phil 324 (17th-18th century); both Phil 345 (bioethics) and Phil 360 (philosophy of science); and 9 hours from a course cluster that includes environmental ethics, advanced topics in philosophy of science, epistemology, metaphysics, intermediate logic, and philosophies of mind and religion.  There is also an Honors version of this concentration.

To Minor in philosophy, a student needs to complete 18 credit hours of philosophy courses numbered 200 or above. Minors should also discuss their program with a member of the philosophy faculty.

Highlights of Philosophy

While some introductory philosophy courses take place in a large lecture format, with smaller discussion groups, many upper level courses have fewer than 25 students. This allows for close interaction with the professors as well as other students. There are frequent guest lecturers from some of the premier programs in the country. This is in addition to lectures by our own faculty and graduate students, who provide an even greater opportunity for learning. The Philosophy Club, a gathering for undergraduates, meets weekly during the year for philosophical discussion.


Ready for the World logoReady for the World

“Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the UTK campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century.  Thus students are encouraged to actively participate in the diverse cultural programs offered on campus.  Some of these events include the guest lecture series, cultural nights at the International House, and international film screenings.  Visit the Center for International Education web site ( or the Ready for the World web site ( for more information on upcoming cultural programs and activities. Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.

Students are also encouraged to develop a global perspective within their academic program through study abroad. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers study abroad programs in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America. Program lengths vary from mini-term trips to the entire academic year, and students may choose to fulfill general education requirements, study a foreign language, or take courses within their majors. In addition, UTK offers students opportunities for international internships.

Students are highly encouraged to begin planning early in their academic career and to consult with an academic advisor about the best time to study abroad as well as what courses to take abroad. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years.  For all first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog.

For More Information

David Palmer (
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Philosophy Department
(865) 974-3255


The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.

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