Courses in the philosophy department are designed to provide students with a background in the history of philosophy and to assist them in developing competence in the analysis and evaluation of philosophical problems and arguments that arise in making choices about their own lives and in participating in the decisions on the future of our society. Philosophy is concerned with the most fundamental questions that human beings can ask. What is the ultimate nature of the world? When are our beliefs justified? What can we know? Which actions are right and which are wrong? What is the best form of government? What is the good life? Is mind reducible to body? In addition, philosophy seeks to understand the bases of other areas of study, for example in philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of law, and philosophy of art.

The philosophy department welcomes both those who have an interest in continuing in philosophy and those who wish to use their philosophical training as a basis for other life pursuits.

The philosophy program offers a disciplinary major (B.A.) and a disciplinary minor.


If you'd like to view a full listing of our course options in philosophy or any other subject, please visit the Online Course Catalogue.

Click for the Course Catalogue


Requirements for the Major (B.A.)

disciplinary, 10 courses

At least six courses must be unique to the major.

No more than three 100-level courses may be counted toward the major.

The following three courses:

  • PHIL 370 Ancient Philosophy
  • PHIL 372 Early Modern Philosophy
  • PHIL 460 Senior Seminar

At least two area courses: (at least one of which must be at the 300-level)

  • One of the following courses about knowledge/reality:
    • PHIL 220 Semiotics
    • PHIL 237 Philosophy of Religion
    • PHIL 238 Philosophy of Natural Science: A Contemporary Introduction
    • PHIL 260 Mind and Language
    • PHIL 342 Experiencing and Knowing
    • PHIL 345 Power, Privilege, and Knowledge
    • PHIL 350 Theories of Reality: Mind, Matter, Free Will, Meaning
    • PHIL 355 Philosophy of Time
    • PHIL 373 Kant
    • PHIL 374 German Idealism
    • PHIL 380 Experience and Consciousness: Introduction to Phenomenology
    • PHIL 390 Contemporary Philosophy
  • One of the following courses about values/normative theory:
    • PHIL 230 Aesthetics
    • PHIL 232 Liberty and Community
    • PHIL 234 Theories of Right & Wrong
    • PHIL 235 Morality and Self Interest
    • PHIL 236 Philosophy of Law
    • PHIL 250 Feminism: Ethics and Knowledge
    • PHIL 256 Health Care Policy
    • PHIL 310 Cooperation, Competition and Justice
    • PHIL 315 Social Justice

Any five additional philosophy courses, at least two of which must be at the 200-level or higher.

Requirements for the Minor

disciplinary, 5 courses

  • One of the following courses about knowledge/reality: 220, 237, 238, 260, 342, 345, 350, 373, 374, 380, 390
  • One of the following courses about values/normative theory: 230, 232, 234, 235, 236, 250, 310, 315
  • One of the following historical courses: 370, 372, 373, 374, 390
  • Any two additional philosophy courses


Our students choose from a variety of introductory and advanced courses, each designed to provide students with strong critical thinking and analytical skills.

Below you'll find a sampling of some of our most popular classes, as well as suggestions for making philosophy a part of your larger interdisciplinary experience at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

PHIL 238 Philosophy of Natural Science: A Contemporary Introduction


Explore several questions about the philosophy of science, including how science is distinguished from non-science, inductive reasoning, when data is used as evidence for a theory, and law of nature. Next, learn about the theory of evolution and its religious, cultural, and political implications in HIST 313 Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution.

PHIL 155 Philosophy and Contemporary Issues: Morality and War


Examine the phenomenon of war from a moral point of view. Consider the questions: When, if ever, is it morally justified to fight a war? What, if any, are the moral limits on how one may fight a war? What difference have nuclear weapons made in our moral understanding of war? Also, explore the just war theory, pacifism, realism, Hiroshima, and nuclear deterrence. Delve further into this topic by enrolling in REL 271 The History and Impact of the Holocaust.

PHIL 345 Power, Privilege, and Knowledge


Learn about social epistemology, the study of the social dynamics of knowledge. Discover how power is used to shape the knowledge produced in a society, and how your race or gender influences your knowledge and ignorance. Next, explore the "social laws of life" in WMST 223 Social Psychology.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.