Philosophy, Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Program Description

The Ph.D. program is designed to be completed in five years. Accordingly, students in the program are typically guaranteed full financial support for five years. The Sage School does not offer a terminal master's degree. For detailed information on the Graduate Program in Philosophy, please visit the Sage School of Philosophy Web site.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-3687

218 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • philosophy


2015-2016 $29,500

Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Jan. 15; no spring admission

Requirements Summary:

Submit the following to the Graduate School via the online application:

  • Biographical information
  • Academic information (including unofficial transcripts)
  • If applicable, TOEFL scores. (GRE scores are not needed.)
  • Recommender information
  • Three to five letters of recommendation; total of five letters of recommendation will be accepted (submit all online), but only three are required
  • Financial support information
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Writing sample in philosophy (typically 15 but no more than 30 pages long)
  • Application fee

Submit the following to the Sage School of Philosophy (address below):

  • Official Academic Transcripts
Mail to:
Graduate Search Committee
Sage School of Philosophy
Cornell University
218 Goldwin Smith Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853


Assessment Plan, Dec 2011

A. Learning outcomes

The successful graduate student in our program will know how to “do philosophy” as the discipline is currently practiced in the Anglo-American tradition.  This involves, among other things, being able to (1) think clearly and creatively about fundamental concepts, (2) generate original arguments about topics of philosophical significance, (3) write in a clear and logically-perspicuous fashion, and (4) reconstruct and evaluate the philosophical arguments of others.

In addition, students will be competent in the history of philosophy and in philosophical and/or mathematical logic. 

Finally, students will be accomplished classroom teachers and seminar leaders. 

B. Measuring Success

We measure achievement in a number of ways, some of them quite ineffable.  Effable measures, however, include tests, written assignments, seminar papers, coursework evaluations, a semesterly discussion among faculty, one-on-one tutorials, the reading of drafts of dissertation chapters, observation and evaluation of teaching, and two-hour public oral exams (A and B).

Coursework:  Students are required to complete 12 courses covering a broad range of philosophical subfields. To meet this requirement, students typically enroll for credit in three courses per semester for the four semesters constituting their first two years in the program.  There are also historical distribution requirements, a language requirement, and a logic guideline.  Students receive feedback on each of their papers, presentations, and exams in these courses.

Semesterly evaluations and DGS letter:  At the end of every semester, members of the Field generate a one- or two-paragraph write-up about each of the graduate students that they taught or advised.  Faculty members also generate write-ups for students they supervised as TAs or graders.  These evaluations are compiled by the Graduate Field Assistant and distributed as a confidential file to Field faculty.  Approximately one month after final grades are handed in (mid-January or early June), the Field meets for an extended discussion of each student’s work, progress to degree, philosophical development, and overall departmental citizenship.  The compiled write-ups serve as the basis for these discussions, though other sensitive information may be communicated orally during the meeting.  The DGS leads the meeting and keeps track of what is said about each student.  Subsequently s/he writes a letter to each student that includes both the faculty write-ups of their work and a paragraph reporting the Field’s perception of the student’s overall strengths and weaknesses.  Any Field decisions about academic probation are communicated in this letter as well. Students are welcome to discuss these letters with the DGS, Special Committee, and advisor.

Fifth-semester tutorial and A-exam:  Students spend the third year preparing for the A-exam, which is an oral test based on the student's formal dissertation prospectus and work preparatory for writing the dissertation. The first semester of the third year (the fifth semester overall) involves a regular one-on-one tutorial with relevant faculty. This tutorial is the mechanism by which students identify a dissertation area and begin the research necessary for articulating, focusing, and launching a dissertation project.  The sixth semester is spent developing the prospectus and a preliminary piece of work on the topic, again in consultation with relevant faculty.  Ideally, students take the A-exam no later than the beginning of the seventh semester (fourth year).  The materials submitted for the A-exam, as well as the exam itself, provide crucial evidence about whether the student is achieving the desired outcomes.

Dissertation: Students spend their fourth and fifth years writing the dissertation.  At intervals, and at least once per term, students are encouraged to convene their Special Committees and discuss their progress.  Conversations with the advisor should also be ongoing.  These discussions provide evidence of achievement and help keep the project on track.  Chapter drafts are submitted for evaluation and critique throughout the thesis-writing process, and Special Committees can use them to measure learning outcomes. 

B-exam: The B-exam is a public, two-hour oral defense of the completed dissertation and provides decisive evidence about whether the student has succeeded at Cornell. The Ph.D. is awarded on successful completion of the B-exam and submission of the full dissertation, which must be revised in light of advice and criticism provided by Special Committee members during or after the B-exam.

Teaching Observation and Evaluation:  Every term, faculty instructors observe at least one meeting of each TA’s section in order to take notes, offer feedback, and be in a position later to write a teaching letter.  Sometimes a faculty member will observe more than one meeting, or invite advanced TAs to give one of the lectures so that the Field can acquire more evidence about teaching abilities.  The Field also has a special, separate evaluation form for TAs that undergraduate students are asked to fill out during the last meeting of the course.  After the instructor has had a chance to look over these evaluations, s/he provides them to the TA along with suggestions regarding how teaching performance might improve.