Online PhD in Philosophy

Some describe philosophy as a discipline focused on everything. Philosophy investigates topics such as human existence, knowledge, social issues, values, reality, and the mind. This is often considered to be a controversial field because philosophy takes a logical, unbiased approach to every topic being studied, which includes entertaining unpopular points of view, theories, and beliefs. Philosophy also scrutinizes many topics that tend to make people uncomfortable, such as the existence of God, the basis of human morals, whether science can truly prove anything, and the nature of evil.

A PhD degree program in philosophy familiarizes students with the history, principles, and practice of philosophy. Students learn philosophical theories, problems, and methods of philosophical enquiry. The training students receive hones their critical thinking skills and allows them to study even the most controversial and emotional topics objectively, taking into consideration all possible viewpoints and applying logic and reason to their findings. A PhD in philosophy program is typically geared toward those looking for a career in education so they can acquire the knowledge and skills needed to teach students how to apply philosophical methods to their areas of interest.

About PhD Programs in Philosophy

PhD programs in philosophy take up to five full-time years to complete. The majority of philosophy courses rely heavily on open discussions which is why it's difficult to find an online PhD degree program in philosophy. In class your instructor may give lectures, present topics for discussion and debate, and hand out assignments that are usually research and writing intensive. Your program may also include numerous seminars that you must attend. Curriculums vary by program, though many of the same concepts are covered. The following is an example of a philosophy PhD program curriculum found at The City University of New York:

Year One:

  • Philosophy of Mind. This course familiarizes students with theories associated with the human mind, such as mental representation, consciousness, perception, and emotion.
  • Personal Identity. This course explores theories of diachronic and synchronic personal identity, as well as physical, social, and psychological theories of personal identity, memory, multiple personalities, and more.
  • Philosophy of Education. This course covers the works of many historical and contemporary philosophers such as Plato, David Lewis, Rousseau, and Martha Nussbaum. It examines how political philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics influence educational policies.

Year Two:

  • Scientific Realism. This course explores existence and independence dimensions of realism, focusing on arguments that reality is based on unobservable scientific properties such as atoms and photons, as well as arguments that reality is based on the cognitive activities of the mind rather than science.
  • Reason & Religions. This course focuses on the philosophy of religion based on perspectives of Western and Eastern religious traditions.
  • Evolution & Social Behavior. This course examines various works discussing how and why social behavior has evolved.

In addition to completing courses and attending seminars you will have to write and successfully defend a dissertation. While the dissertation processes may be similar each program will have specific requirements that must be met. At Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, you must form and gain approval of a three-person pre-dissertation committee which will offer guidance in selecting a topic and must approve your proposal before you advance to candidacy. Then you attend a dissertation seminar which provides you with chapter-by-chapter feedback on your dissertation, ensuring that your writing is clear, concise, and properly structured. Finally, you must form and gain approval of a dissertation committee consisting of at least three philosophers from Rutgers to whom you will present and defend your dissertation. All members of the committee must accept your defense for your dissertation to be approved.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Philosophy

A PhD in philosophy degree program allows you to hone your critical thinking skills in such a way that you are able to see all sides of an argument or issue, regardless of your personal beliefs. These programs are designed to teach you how to educate students and teach them how to apply philosophical methods, principles, theories, and enquiry to their chosen fields. This ability is valuable when teaching in any one of the various Ph.D. programs being offered by colleges and universities today.

Critics of philosophy PhD degree programs claim that going beyond a master's degree in philosophy is unnecessary. The basis for this argument is that in most cases, the first two years of a Ph.D. program are composed primarily of master's-level courses. The final two to three years of a Ph.D. program consist of seminars and dissertation work. Therefore, critics argue that you can learn all you need to know in a master's degree program in philosophy.

Application & Admission Requirements

You must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution before applying for a PhD in philosophy program, and some programs require professional or volunteer experience. When applying for enrollment you need to submit an application, your official transcripts, a personal statement, your GRE scores, letters of reference, and most schools require a writing sample ranging from 15 to 25 pages in length. All of this is reviewed and if found to be acceptable, you will then be asked to come in for at least one interview which is typically held on campus. You will be notified regarding your acceptance into the program within a week of the interview, in most cases.

Career Options & Job Market

A PhD in philosophy program trains and prepares you for an academic career, either teaching philosophy or applying philosophical principles to other areas of study. Some colleges and universities require only a master's degree, but to be a professor at a major college or university you will need to hold a doctoral degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for postsecondary teachers is expected to increase by 17% through the year 2020. The BLS also reports that the median salary earned by postsecondary teachers in May 2010 was $62,050, though the top 10% earn as much as $130,000 a year. Keep in mind that job availability and salary depend on several factors, including your location, employer, and amount of experience.

Where to Find Information

  • American Philosophical Society The APS promotes philosophic knowledge through meetings, community outreach projects, publications and conducting and supporting scholarly research.
  • American Philosophical Association The APA encourages and provides avenues for philosophers to exchange creative and scholarly ideas to promote continual learning among philosophers.
  • American Association of Philosophy Teachers The AAPT focuses on improving and advancing the art of teaching philosophy by holding workshops, conferences, providing information, and developing teaching programs.

How to Get Funding

Accredited philosophy schools are able to offer federal financial aid to their students, and many of these schools also have their own scholarships and financial aid programs. For example, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Missouri State University, and California State University-Long Beach offer scholarships for philosophy students. The American Philosophical Society offers fellowships and grants. Other financial aid options include the following:

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan.
    Students pursuing a PhD in philosophy may want to consider this aid program, which offers a maximum loan of $20,500 per academic year with a fixed interest rate of 6.80%.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. Full-time philosophy students needed financial assistance may be eligible for the Federal Perkins Loan, a low-interest loan averaging $3,500 per academic year with a fixed interest rate at 5.0%.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Campus-based programs offered by individual institutions are managed by each one's financial aid office and typically include federal financial aid programs as well as loans and scholarships that are unique to the institution.

Essential Advice

  • Philosophy focuses on leaving no stone unturned, so you need to be detail oriented and thorough in your research.
  • You need to have an open mind and be willing to see things from all angles so as to not be biased when it comes to studying certain topics.
  • Philosophy entertains many unpopular concepts, thoughts, theories, and points of view on topics such as religion, freedom, personal identity, and social issues, so you need to be able to put aside your personal feelings and beliefs when studying such arguments.
  • As a philosophy student you must be able to objectively apply critical thinking and logic to even the most emotional topics.