Skip to Content

College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Philosophy

Undergraduate Handbook

Web version revised April 2017.

Please consult the Undergraduate Director for recent updates.

Undergraduate Studies in Philosophy at the University of South Carolina

Thank you for your interest in our program! This handbook should inform you about the philosophy department and our various programs for undergraduates. If you are presently undeclared or seeking to switch majors, we hope you might consider philosophy as either a major, a second major, or minor.



The Practical Value of Studying Philosophy

As just one of many voices, here is Tania Lombrozo for NPR: “As an undergraduate, I majored in philosophy — a purportedly useless major, except that it teaches you how to think, write and speak.

The skills I was learning from working through papers and arguments extended well beyond the coursework itself, yielding habitual patterns of reasoning that made me a more discerning scientist, a more careful writer and a better thinker all around. Within and beyond philosophy, I was learning to spot poor arguments, uncover hidden assumptions, tease out subtle implications and recognize false dichotomies. (It was around this time that my then boyfriend, now husband, jokingly gifted me a modified light box with a button that I could press to light up the damning message: "Distinction blurred!")”

(Tania Lombrozo: “How (and when) to think like a philosopher”



What is Philosophy?

Philosophy differs not only from the natural and social sciences but also from the humanities disciplines with which it is commonly grouped; yet at the same time philosophy is related in significant ways to all of them. 

Philosophy once embraced nearly all forms of inquiry, as can still be seen in the title of the degree granted in most scholarly disciplines — Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. The emergence of the various scientific and humanistic disciplines as independent fields of study has removed many particular sorts of inquiry from its immediate concern. Yet philosophy retains a larger interest both in these other forms of inquiry and in their subjects (that’s why it matches up with all of them pretty well!). It further continues to deal with many issues of fundamental human importance which other disciplines may raise but do not themselves resolve, ranging from the mind-body relation and the idea of God to the nature of knowledge and the status and content of morality.

Philosophy has developed and changed in many ways; but it fundamentally continues disciplined reflection about our world, ourselves, the good life, our dealings with one another, as well as an expanding range of other matters of interest and importance. When properly pursued, it enhances analytical, critical, and interpretive abilities that are useful in a multitude of professions. It also develops intellectual abilities important for life as a whole: the capacities and appetite for self-expression and examination, for exchange and debate of ideas, for life-long learning, and for dealing with problems for which there are no easy answers.


The Philosophy Department

We are located on th 4th floor of the Byrnes Building on Sumter Street across from the Horseshoe. The main office is located to the right as you leave the elevators in room 401A-E. A list of faculty and teaching assistants (and their respective email addresses) is posted to the right of the main office as you enter. 

You can of course also find us on the web: Pay special attention to the “News” section on the welcome page to find out current course listings, speakers, and other departmental events.

In addition to your teachers and teaching assistants, three more key people for you are the Chair, the Advisor in Philosophy, and the Undergraduate Director. Please contact the Undergraduate Director in particular if you have any questions regarding your courses, the department, the major, the curriculum, or any other aspect of a philosophy student's life.


The Philosophy Major: Why

Many careers and professions reward the skills that one learns in philosophy: the ability to think and write clearly and to work out successful resolutions of problems in committees or groups. A major (or minor) in philosophy is widely regarded as excellent preparation for law, medical, or divinity school. Other career options include: administrator, bank officer, computer systems analyst, consumer protection agent, development manager, diplomat, grant developer, high-school educator, intelligence research specialist, investment broker, management analyst, medical ethicist, policy and planning consultant, public information specialist, and technical writer.

For further information, consult the material in the Career Center Library (Thomas Cooper Library, Level 5). This material is also listed on the career center website at


Philosophy Major: How

We approach Philosophy from four angles:

  1. The historical model emphasizes the history of philosophy. As applied to the major as a whole, it usually begins with the Presocratics or with Socrates and Plato. It traces and critically discusses the views, problems, and methods of these and subsequent important philosophers, often with attention to their wider cultural setting.
  2. The field model stresses coverage of central fields and various subfields of philosophical inquiry. They generally include metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, the theory of knowledge, logic, ethics, together with the history of philosophy. Beyond these fields, there are the areas of social and political philosophy and the philosophy of science, language, religion, and art. More recently, the practice of applying philosophy, above all in the field of ethics, has stimulated the development of medical ethics, business ethics, and professional ethics in general.
  3. A related but alternative approach is represented by the skills model. The goal is the development of a critical mind. The goal is promoted by the development of analytic abilities with regard to problems and interpretive abilities with regard to philosophical texts.
  4. There is also a problems model. Its emphasis is on understanding major philosophical issues, such as the nature of religious belief, the mind-body problem, the nature of knowledge, the free will issue, and the problem of objectivity in ethics.

No one kind of philosophy course — historical, field, problem, or skills — must logically or pedagogically precede any other. Philosophical development is a progressive integration of appreciative and critical approaches to problems and texts in introductory, intermediate, and advanced courses.

Introductory work (courses on the 100 and 200 level) cultivates the abilities to recognize philosophical questions and grasp philosophical arguments; to read philosophical texts critically; to engage in philosophical discussion; and to write philosophical papers involving interpretation, argument, and library research. Courses at this level commonly begin with a general introduction to philosophy and include a basic course in symbolic logic and survey courses in the history of ancient and early modern philosophy.

Intermediate courses (200 to 300 level) offer students the opportunity to become acquainted with various areas of philosophical inquiry and various periods of the history of philosophy. Courses on this level are electives and often offer opportunities for identifying the major fields of interest of philosophy majors and minors. Courses dealing with matters of interest to students majoring in other subjects are also usually placed at this level — e.g., courses concerned with philosophical perspectives on religion, science, history, the arts and literature. This level also houses the required Junior Seminar (PHIL 390), which is open to all majors, minors, and anyone interested. It focuses on developing the skills of presentation, paper writing, class discussion, and library research.

Advanced courses (400 to 500 level) deal with important figures in the history of philosophy and central problems of philosophical fields in more detail and with increasing sophistication. One advanced course on a historical period or figure and one course on a philosophical field are required, but the student elects what each of these two courses will be. The one specific requirement is a senior seminar (PHIL 490)  for majors in their final year. The department seeks to choose challenging topics of broad interest for this "capstone" experience – this should be the perfect way out of the program and out into the world. 

You might want to consider to Graduate with Distinction. This option is open for all majors with cumulative GPAs of 3.30 and GPAs of 3.50 and above in their major. The major additional requirement is the completion of a senior thesis. This thesis is directed and monitored through PHIL 495 – just talk to a Professor of your choice! The successful completion of this requirement will mean that the student will graduate "with honors" in philosophy. It is most important that students declare their interest in this option in their junior year to allow them sufficient time to complete the thesis.


Double Majoring and Double Degree

We highly recommend to consider a so-called double major. This is an ambitious plan, but, if you are interested in Philosophy and in pursuing a career either inside or outside academia, this might be the most exciting and rewarding option. It not only looks good on your CV, but it could open up new career paths in that it enables you to deepen those areas where your majors complement each other – and, last not least, a double major could be a unique opportunity for personal enrichment.

Do talk to your advisor about this, but also consider to contact the Advisor in Philosophy or the Undergraduate Director.

If the second major is also a BA degree, then the same total of 120 hours is required, but the requirements for both majors must also be met.  A second baccalaureate degree (a BS) is also possible.  For this more challenging option, additional requirements for the double degree include a miniumum of 24 hours beyond those required for the first degree (a minimum of 144 semester hours). Courses accepted toward any requirements for the first BA degree may not be applied to the major requirements for the BS degree – this is why it is absolutely mandatory to talk to your advisors at regular intervals. 


The Philosophy Minor

The philosophy department offers a general minor with very broad requirements to appeal to a variety of students. This general minor in philosophy is designed to provide an introduction to the subject, which will serve the student who has a personal interest in philosophy or who may desire to pursue graduate studies in the field or a related humanities field such as religious studies, classical studies, or history.

Minors must take 18 hours of philosophy at the 200-level or above. Consultation with the advisor is strongly recommended at an early time, so that a set or sequence of courses can be selected which is particularly relevant either to the major or a particular interest of the student. Each minor will be guaranteed to have full input in the selection of six courses which will greatly advance her or his philosophical knowledge and expertise. Please contact the Undergraduate Director or the Advisor in Philosophy for more information.


Interdisciplinary Study, Including the Medical Humanities Minor

The Department of Philosophy encourages interdisciplinary study in programs such as women's studies, African-American studies, comparative literature, Latin American studies, contemporary European studies, and Southern studies. Majors in these areas are encouraged to take philosophy courses that relate to their interests in topics such as the work of Malcolm X, aesthetics, and continental or American or feminist philosophy. Philosophy majors with interests in these philosophical areas are also encouraged to take related courses in the relevant interdisciplinary program.

In addition, faculty of the department team-teach interdisciplinary courses on a regular basis with faculty from departments both within and outside of the College of Arts and Sciences. Such courses are cross-listed under both departments or, for courses in the Honor's college, appear under the SCCC course listings. 

The philosophy department is also proud that an interdisciplinary program in medical humanities has been developed by members of its department. This program has been designed primarily for premedical students in order to give them an understanding of the ethical issues as well the sociocultural, legal, economic, and political factors that condition medical knowledge and practice. The 18-credit hour program is also of interest for students in health law or other areas directly related to the health professions. For information about this program, please contact George Khushf ( or consult the bulletin ( ).


Advisement and Academic Progress in Philosophy

Faculty at the Philosophy Department at USC is diverse – as is the form your particular major in Philosophy might take. We strongly encourage you to talk to us about your interests – may it be during office hours, after class, or via email.

Your official guide in developing an integrated, diverse, and intensive program of philosophical study is your advisor. There is no substitute for good and timely advising in the advancement of your academic study in philosophy. Each semester, advance notice of times for advisement is given to all majors by the Advisor in Philosophy. It is clearly in your best interest and will advance your study if you sign up and appear for advisement during the official advisement period — late October or early November for the Spring term and late March for the Fall term.


Philosophy Outside the Classroom

Stay with us even after class!

The department offers regular Philosophy Colloquia by external faculty, at least three times per semester. Usually, the talk takes place on a Friday afternoon (check out the news section on our homepage and like our facebook page!). Sometimes, the lecturer also offers a seminar in which she or he discusses a related text. Readings will be provided in advance – so, if a particular speaker or topic sounds interesting to you, do not hesitate to contact us to inquire about the readings.

Professor Tollefsen also initiated a Queen Street Symposium at his house. Each time, a faculty member (including Teaching Assistants) is invited to give a talk and discuss it with the audience.

We are also very glad to have an active Philosophy Club – please contact the members directly if you are interested:

A clear way to be an active participant is to give a talk oneself. The South Carolina Society for Philosophy welcomes undergraduate members. Each year, usually at the end of February, there is a three-day meeting at one of the state campuses. There is also a yearly competition for the best undergraduate essay. The winner receives a modest financial award and a place on the speaker program. Give it a try!


Major and Minor Requirements

Please check out the undergraduate bulletin.


The South Carolina Honors College

 Students enrolled in the Honors College have a variety of options for fulfilling any philosophy course requirements they have. Every term there are honors sections of such basic courses as Introduction to Philosophy, Introduction to Logic, or Contemporary Moral Issues. There are also standard philosophy courses such as Philosophy of Mind and Health Care Ethics that have offerings that can be taken for honors credit by special arrangement. Finally, there are special intermediate and upper-level courses developed specifically for honors students. Recent offerings include Death: The History of an Idea, Ethics of Food, Cannon and Catapult, and Authenticity.


Curriculum Offerings for Undergraduate Study at USC

A list of philosophy course offerings can be found on the USC Undergraduate Bulletin web site. Also, we offer course descriptions for upcoming classes here.



Josiah Morse Award in Philosophy

Josiah Morse was the first Jewish Professor at USC, and for most of the time of his tenure at the Department of Philosophy (1911-46) its sole member. Most memorable are is attempts to improve racial relations in the South through education and communication. The Josiah Morse Award in Philosophy is awarded in his memory each year to seniors who have demonstrated a superb academic achievement in the study of philosophy. The student(s) must major in philosophy.

Edna W. and Foster E. Tait Scholarship Award

The Tait Scholarship is awarded annually to a senior majoring in philosophy in his or her last semesters of study at USC to help defray the cost of tuition. The student must show excellence in her/his achievement in philosophy and demonstrate financial need.

Each year, we ask for applications for the award – make sure that you are included on our philosophy majors mailing list once you declare your major!

James W. Oliver Award in Logic

The James Willard Oliver Award in Logic is awarded each year to a graduate student in philosophy or to an undergraduate student majoring, minoring or doing cognate work in

philosophy who best exemplifies excellence in symbolic logic and the application of symbolic logic to other areas of philosophy. Overall academic excellence will be considered, but primary emphasis will be placed upon a mastery of symbolic logic and its applications.

The university offers, of course, many awards for undergraduate students as well. Of particular interest for you might be the Rhude M. Patterson Fellowship (established through a bequest from the late Mrs. Patterson for women in the humanities and social sciences) and the Elsie Taber Scholarship (awarded to a worthy student).



We will assist you even after graduation – may it be by providing you with advice, or letters of recommendation for graduate schools (not only in Philosophy), internships, or fellowships/grants.

Information about career placement is available from the Career Center, located on the sixth floor of the Close-Hipp (BA) building. There you can obtain, among other materials, the tape "What I Can Do With A Major In" (WICDWAMI) session on philosophy participated in by a political consultant, businessman, and high-school administrator.

Some general pointers for life after the ivory tower: Make it a point to think about your post-graduation plans well before your senior year. Bring them up during your advisement sessions with our department, other departments, or the college with which you are associated. Make sure that your plans fit with the academic progress you are making toward graduation.

Please keep in touch after graduation! We would love to hear from you about how you are doing, both in work and in life.


Contact Information

For more information, please contact the Undergraduate Director.