Option Representative: Christopher Hitchcock
The philosophy option provides students with a broad education in philosophy that is designed to complement the scientific curriculum at Caltech. Philosophy majors will be expected to learn about some of the major figures and movements in the history of philosophy, and to learn about contemporary philosophical debates. The philosophy option also aims to provide students with new perspectives on the material they learn in their science courses, and to enable them to bring their technical skills and scientific learning to traditional problems in philosophy.
The philosophy curriculum will help students to acquire the basic tools of philosophical analysis: the ability to read and interpret philosophical texts; the ability to identify strengths and weakness of philosophical arguments; the ability to develop well-reasoned defenses of philosophical positions; and the ability to anticipate objections to one's own views. In addition, the philosophy option will train students to express themselves clearly and concisely in both writing and speaking. These critical thinking and communication skills provide an excellent foundation for any intellectual endeavor, and are critical to those pursuing careers in fields such as law, business, medicine, and scientific research.
The courses in the philosophy option concentrate in four major areas: philosophy of science; philosophy of mind, brain, and behavior; history of philosophy; and ethics. In their coursework, students will have the opportunity to discuss and debate philosophical issues in small groups, and will learn how to offer and receive constructive criticism. They will also receive detailed feedback on their persuasive writing from several different members of the philosophy faculty.
In their senior thesis, philosophy majors will have the opportunity to pursue more intensive research in one particular area of philosophy, and to sustain an argument on a larger scale, while working one-on-one with a member of the philosophy faculty. This will provide interested students with a solid foundation for graduate work in philosophy and related fields.
Philosophy majors must take at least 99 units of philosophy courses during their four years as undergraduates. These must include 18 units of Pl 90 ab, to be taken in any two consecutive terms in the senior year. The 99 units may include nine units of a Hum/Pl course numbered 50 or below, nine units of Pl 98, and up to 18 units of study in related disciplines.
Depending on their interests, philosophy majors may be required by the option representative or their advisors to take up to 18 units in one or more related areas. For example, students writing on political philosophy or philosophy of neuroscience will be expected to have the appropriate political science or neuroscience background. Students whose primary interest lies in the philosophy of science—particularly in the philosophy of specific sciences such as physics or biology—will have their intellectual interests best served by taking classes in both the history and philosophy of science. Such students are encouraged to pursue the HPS option; or, if they choose the philosophy option, they may be required to take some history of science courses as part of their 99-unit requirement.
Students considering the philosophy option will be well advised to take a Hum/Pl course numbered 50 or below as one of their freshman humanities courses. From the sophomore year onward, they should plan on taking one philosophy course per term, culminating in two terms of Pl 90 ab in the senior year. Students in Pl 90 ab work with a faculty advisor to write a 10,000- to 12,000-word paper on a topic of mutual interest. Senior theses are expected to be of a high standard and to form the basis of students' applications to graduate study in philosophy, should they so desire.
The minor in philosophy is designed for students who want to pursue concentrated study in philosophy without the extensive coursework and the senior thesis required by the philosophy option.
With the exception of courses taken during the first two semesters of freshman year, all courses to be counted toward the philosophy option or minor must be taken for grades unless special permission is granted by the option representative.
NOTE: The official source on requirements for graduation is the Caltech catalog from the year in which a student began studies at Caltech. Please see the catalog online, from this and previous years, for more information regarding the applicable option and minor requirements.