Curriculum | St. Lawrence University Philosophy


Philosophy and Liberal Education

Philosophy deals with a range of fundamental questions. What does it mean to live a good life? How should a person live? Are we free? What is the self? What is the nature of reality? How are individual and community related? What is justice, and can we create a truly just society? How should humans interact with the natural world? What is knowledge? What can be known and what is just a matter of opinion? The methods philosophers employ in addressing such questions include careful analysis of existing opinions and their implications, free speculation about possibilities of all sorts, and rigorous critical reasoning to choose among theories.

Every culture has philosophical legacies. These legacies are contested within each culture, change over time and change in response to encounters with other cultures. The philosophy program at St. Lawrence is designed to give students a solid global overview of philosophy. Our courses introduce students to crucial periods of Western philosophy, illustrate the major subfields of philosophy, and move beyond Western philosophy to provide a global perspective.

The activity of philosophy is vital to liberal education. It is through philosophy that a student synthesizes the many facets of life and education into a personal whole. The methods of philosophy—questioning of common assumptions, analysis of ideas and theories, free speculation combined with reasoned criticism—develop abilities that are themselves among the chief aims of liberal education.

The philosophy department program serves as an excellent focus for liberal education. Although some majors go on to distinguished graduate schools, most make use of their philosophical training in other pursuits. We believe that a student becomes liberally educated not primarily by accretion of information but by grappling with fundamental questions about life and learning. Philosophy has a rich history of alternative answers to these questions, and we believe that by understanding these varied answers students are better able to formulate their own philosophies. Our curriculum aims at progressive development of mind and character by increasing students’ awareness of questions fundamental to a thoughtful life, and by developing the capacity for free, creative, critical thought and action.

Major Requirements

Our 100-level courses are introductory courses and have no prerequisites. Our 200-level courses are intermediate-level courses, and some of these courses require a 100-level course as a prerequisite. Our 300-level courses are advanced courses, often requiring relevant 200-level courses as prerequisites. We reserve courses numbered in the 400s for Senior Year Experience (SYE) courses or independent study courses. Within levels, there is no recommended sequence. There is, for instance, no reason to take Philosophy 203 before 223, or 301 before 302.

A major in philosophy consists of 10 courses, including five core courses, electives (with at least two at the 300-level), and at least one SYE course or course sequence. Only one 100-level course counts towards the major. Students are strongly encouraged to begin their philosophical studies with Phil 100 or 103, since taking one of these courses is a prerequisite for several of our core courses.

The core courses are designed to give students a solid global overview of philosophy. The courses introduce students to crucial periods of Western philosophy (ancient Greek philosophy and modern European philosophy), illustrate the major subfields of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethics), and offer a global perspective (by requiring students to take at least one course outside of the Western philosophical tradition).

The five core courses are: Phil 201: Ancient Philosophy; Phil 208: Modern Philosophy, Phil 203: Ethical Theory; Phil 202: Reasoning; and either Phil 223: Asian Philosophy, or Phil 232: Africana Philosophy. These courses do not have to be taken in any particular sequence, but we strongly recommend that students take 201 and 208 in sequence in their sophomore year.

Minor Requirements

A minor in philosophy consists of five to nine courses, including Philosophy 202, 203, 201 and/or 208, and either 223 or 232. Only one 100-level course counts towards the minor.


To receive honors in philosophy, a student must satisfy the requirements for the major. In addition, he or she must have a 3.5 grade point average in the department and complete a departmentally approved honors project (Philosophy 498/499) as his or her SYE.

Preparing for Graduate Study in Philosophy

Majors considering graduate school in philosophy are strongly advised to take Phil 302: Symbolic Logic, plus an advanced course in the subfield of philosophy they may wish to specialize in at the graduate level. Those aspiring to graduate school in philosophy should also plan to write a senior thesis.

Preparing for Law School

A philosophy major or minor offers an excellent background for students considering going to Law School. Anyone who wishes to go to Law School is strongly advised to take Phil 202: Reasoning, and Phil 302: Symbolic Logic. Phil 206: Political Theory, is also recommended for those considering Law School.

Combined Majors

Combined majors that involve philosophy include Environmental Studies/Philosophy, and soon there will be a combined major in Philosophy/Asian Studies. For complete details about these majors, consult the descriptions of these majors in the current St. Lawrence University Catalog.

The philosophy courses required for the Environmental Studies/Philosophy Combined Major include: Phil 202: Reasoning

  • Phil 203: Ethical Theory
  • Phil 201: Ancient Philosophy
  • Phil 208: Modern Philosophy
  • Phil 206: Introduction to Political Theory
  • Phil 310: Philosophy of the Environment
  • 3 electives

If you should decide to pursue this combined major as your major, instead of Philosophy alone, please consult the current St. Lawrence University Catalog under Environmental Studies for full details.

Double Majors and Multifield Majors

A number of philosophy majors complete double majors. The study of philosophy blends well with many other academic disciplines. Students have completed double majors combining philosophy with Government, English, Psychology, Sociology, Biology, and Fine Arts, to list just a few of the possibilities. Completing a double major requires careful planning, as the major requirements for both disciplines must be fulfilled.

Several students have also integrated substantial study of philosophy in multifield majors. The multifield major option allows you to design your own major, in close consultation with faculty advisors in the different disciplines you would be combining. Further details are available in the St. Lawrence University Catalog.

Offerings Schedule

While the Philosophy Department cannot absolutely promise to offer its regular courses according to the following schedule, we make every effort to try to stick to this schedule, in order to assist you in your planning.

Every Fall:

  • 3-5 100-level courses
  • Phil 202: Reasoning
  • Phil 201: Ancient Philosophy
  • Phil 203: Ethical Theory
  • Phil 223: Asian Philosophy
  • Phil 302: Symbolic Logic
  • Phil 310: Phil of Environment
  • Other (rotating)

Every Spring :

  • 3-4 100-level courses
  • Phil 202: Reasoning
  • Phil 208: Modern Philosophy
  • Phil 232: Africana Philosophy
  • Phil 400: SYE: Metaphilosophy
  • Other (rotating)

The other courses listed in the catalog cycle through the "Rotating" slots indicated above. If there is a course that especially interests you, please let a faculty member in the philosophy department know, as student requests receive high priority in schedule planning.

Course Descriptions

Current course descriptions can be found in the St. Lawrence University Catalog, or on the Philosophy Department Web Pages.

Checklist for Completing the Philosophy Major:

  • One 100-level course*
  • Phil 202: Reasoning
  • Phil 203: Ethical Theory
  • Phil 201: Ancient Philosophy
  • Phil 208: Modern Philosophy
  • Phil 223 (Asian) or 232 (Africana)
  • Elective (300-level)
  • Elective (300-level)
  • Elective (or SYE Research: Phil 489 or Phil 498 (Honors))
  • SYE: normally Metaphilosophy (Phil 400). For students doing a thesis, and who have taken Phil 489 or 498, then Phil 490 or Phil 499 (Honors).

*Or an additional elective. In some cases, students receive permission to start the 200-level core courses without having taking a 100-level course at St. Lawrence, if they have had philosophy in the past.