Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Information and Advice for Graduate Students in Philosophy

People often speak of "specialists" in ancient philosophy. But the term can be misleading. Nearly everyone who teaches ancient philosophy in an American university or college is a generalist, whether in Philosophy or in Classics; and nearly everyone teaches several other subjects outside their "field of specialization." Moreover, much of the most important research in ancient philosophy has been done by scholars with a solid background in core areas either of traditional and modern philosophy or of classical studies. And much of the most exciting teaching and research in the field is comparative, exploring relations or interactions between ancient and modern philosophy, or between ancient philosophy and other areas of ancient culture, ranging from poetry and oratory to history and science. It is to your advantage, then, to include a wide range of philosophical topics in your program of graduate study, and generally to avoid taking more than one seminar in ancient philosophy in a semester. During your three years of coursework in particular, you would do well to achieve the following goals:

  • Study of general issues or problems: essentialism, personal identity, virtue ethics, etc.
  • Study of major figures or works outside ancient philosophy: Aquinas, Hume, Nietzsche, etc.
  • Historical studies in early modern philosophy: empiricism and rationalism from Descartes to Kant.
  • Study of central problems and methods in 20th-century analytic philosophy.
  • Work in the modern counterparts to the three areas distinguished in antiquity:




logic, epistemology, philosophy of science


metaphysics, philosophy of mind, theology


ethics, political theory, aesthetics

  • At least one seminar each on Plato and Aristotle.
  • Seminars with many different faculty members, including several in the Joint Program Committee.

Most of these points merely reinforce or supplement requirements set by the Department for all students. Some are best satisfied by TA-ing for undergraduate courses rather than taking seminars; for example, TA-ing for Philosophy 329L ("Early Modern Philosophy") is an excellent way to fulfill the third bullet point.

Integrating Philosophy and Classics

Greek language
Ancient Greek is a top priority. If you have had at least three semesters of Greek, the best sequel is Greek 390, an intensive reading course in Plato that focuses on grammar and translation. If you have not taken any Greek before, plan to take Intensive Greek in the summer: this course covers the equivalent of about three semesters, and it is a far more efficient introduction than starting Greek during the year.

Balancing requirements
It is usually best for entering students to take only graduate seminars in philosophy during the first semester here. This is not a good time for doing Supporting Work, since it is important to get to know the Philosophy faculty, and vice versa -- not least because this often affects TA assignments. One major exception is Greek 390, especially if you have just taken Intensive Greek during the Summer.

Other Foreign Languages
Scholars specializing in ancient philosophy need reading proficiency in the two classical languages, Greek and Latin, and in two or more modern European languages (German, Italian, French, Spanish). At international conferences, some discussion is often in German, French, or Italian, even when English is the principal language. It is therefore best to develop some oral skills, and to enroll in classes that cover all facets of the language (listening, speaking, and writing, as well as reading). Most people find that the other skills greatly enhance their reading fluency; so it is generally less useful to take courses designed exclusively for reading skill.Which foreign languages are most important depends on your interests and plans. Latin is most important in some areas, but German or Italian in others. For example, if you plan to focus on Plato, then German is essential; but if you plan to work on Epicureanism, Latin and Italian are more important. Summers are the best time for learning new languages. Few graduate courses are offered then, and funding is sometimes available for intensive Summer programs.

Reading List
Teaching and research in any area of ancient philosophy require familiarity with certain core texts and problems. The Reading List, which reflects these needs, comprises major texts from the Presocratics and Plato to Aristotle and Sextus Empiricus. It should be a major focus of your study during your three years of coursework. Some of this work will be covered in seminars and other courses, but much of it you must study independently. The Reading List is also the basis for a translation examination which members of the Joint Program must pass before advancing to candidacy.