There are three characteristic sorts of disciplinary divisions that tend to leave a philosophy department in a condition in which its whole becomes less than the sum of its parts: (1) between those who are concerned with the systematic study of issues in contemporary philosophy and those who are concerned with the interpretation of classic historical figures and texts, (2) between specialists in theoretical philosophy and specialists in practical philosophy, and (3) between those who take their problems, methods, and overall orientation from the analytic tradition and those who take theirs from the Continental tradition. The Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago is distinctive in its freedom from all three such forms of division within its philosophical community.
The overall structure of the University of Chicago facilitates the Department's commitment to philosophical inclusiveness and breadth. Chicago is distinctive among American universities in having more graduate students than undergraduates in a way that is advantageous to both groups. The College is separately administered with programs and opportunities designed exclusively for undergraduates. Thus, it provides the individual attention and focus on undergraduate concerns that are the hallmark of liberal-arts colleges---but with the added bonus of the resources and distinguished faculty of a world-class research institution.
Yet that same exclusiveness and modest size of the College is also a boon to the University's larger focus on graduate education. For, since the number of undergraduates is comparatively small for a university of its size, the proportion of faculty teaching devoted to graduate education can be correspondingly larger. More specifically, in contrast to the typical three-to-one ratio of undergraduate to graduate teaching at major universities, the ratio at Chicago is somewhat better than two-to-two. (Typically, each faculty member of the Philosophy Department teaches four courses per year, of which one is open exclusively to undergraduates, one exclusively to graduate students, and one to a mixed audience of advanced undergraduate philosophy majors and philosophy graduate students, with the fourth course varying fairly evenly between one of the three preceding sorts, depending upon the service needs of the Department.) This means, in effect that, in comparison with departments of comparable size at most other institutions, the Philosophy Department here can offer over twice as many graduate courses, including small seminars, tutorials, workshops, co-taught courses, and the like---not to mention individual guidance and advising.
Founded in 1894, the Chicago Department of Philosophy is one of the oldest in the United States. John Dewey served as its first chairman from 1894 to 1904; and, under his stewardship, it rapidly became a leading center for the study of philosophy. Led first by Dewey, then James H. Tufts, and subsequently George Herbert Mead, the Department was associated in its early decades, above all, with the so-called “Chicago School of Thought” which sought to furnish a reformulation of the basic commitments of pragmatism on a strict logical basis. Under the influence of President Hutchins, in the early 1930s, the study of the history of philosophy acquired an important role – one which it has retained until this day – in the university’s conception of its intellectual mission as well as in its undergraduate curriculum. Chicago also started to become an important center for analytic philosophy – especially for logic and the philosophy of science – when, in 1936, Rudolf Carnap emigrated from Austria to the United States to join Charles Morris as a member of the faculty. Over the years, numerous other distinguished philosophers have served as members of the Chicago faculty, including Elizabeth Anscombe, Hannah Arendt, Donald Davidson, Richard McKeon, Bertrand Russell, and Leo Strauss.
The place which the study of philosophy presently enjoys in the overall life of the academic community at the University of Chicago is strikingly different from that which it occupies on the campus of any other major American university. There are a variety of reasons why this is so, beginning with the sorts of student and faculty which the university tends to attract, further compounded by the strengths in the study of various forms of intellectual history throughout the university, and yet further reinforced by the emphasis throughout the campus on forms of inquiry which promote interdisciplinary dialogue and innovation. This special role of philosophy within the overall life of the University has numerous palpable secondary effects on the intellectual environment, ranging from the remarkable number of philosophers on the faculty of the University, many of whom have their primary appointments in other departments, to the enormous scope and quality of the book offerings available in the philosophy-related sections of the amazing Seminary Coop Bookstore. The interest in fundamental philosophical issues on the part of faculty throughout the university, in turn, also leads to there being a large number of graduate philosophy seminars and workshops which are team-taught by a pair of faculty members at least one of whom has a primary appointment in the Philosophy Department and the other of whom has a primary appointment in another department.
The Philosophy Department proper presently has twenty-one full-time faculty members: eleven are full professors (three have their primary appointments elsewhere), four are associate professors, and six are assistant professors. The Department has a long-standing tradition of offering several graduate seminars per year that are co-taught by members of the faculty. In addition, the Department typically has at least three or four visiting faculty, as well as a number of post-doctoral fellows, adding variety and depth to the philosophical community (and course offerings). Finally, interdisciplinarity is something of a prized "trademark" of this institution---meaning not only that there are frequent courses and seminars co-taught by philosophers and professors in other disciplines, but also that philosophy graduate students often take courses and seminars in other fields, and, indeed, have specialists in allied disciplines on their advisory committees. Such institutionally fostered "cross-fertilization" significantly enriches the research and collegial environment for faculty and graduate students alike. A number of the Department's workshops are jointly run with another department, as are the Department's joint programs. The entities in the universty with which the the Philosophy Department currently enjoys particularly close forms of cooperation, from joint workshops and programs to jointly sponsored visitors and conferences, are the Committee on Social Thought, the Departments of Classics, of Germanic Studies, and of Linguistics, as well as the Law School.
While we are a "full service" department in the western philosophical tradition, with its center of gravity in the analytic tradition of philosophy, there are certain areas of distinctive strength or character in the department that merit special mention, a number of which fall outside the scope of that tradition, at least as it is usually conceived. Within the history of philosophy, two areas stand out. First, the history of German Idealism, and more broadly, the tradition of German Philosophy from Kant forward to the present, has long been and remains an outstanding strength of the program in philosophy at Chicago, with numerous faculty having research interests that draw upon this tradition in one way or another. Secondly and more recently, the depth and breadth of our offerings in classical Greek philosophy have become genuinely noteworthy, with nine of our faculty now working part- or full-time in some area of ancient Greek philosophy. This strength of the Department becomes all the more noteworthy if considered in conjunction with the very active Chicago-area Consortium in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy.
On the analytic front, there is a sizeable and vigorous group of faculty and students working together on contemporary issues in the philosophy of mind and language---often but not always with reference to Wittgenstein. Within the broad area of philosophy of mind, there are especially numerous intersecting points of interest among the faculty pertaining to the topics of perception, self-knowledge, self-deception, first-person authority, the nature of sensory consciousness, and the philosophical foundations of psychoanalysis. There is a great deal of collaboration between the Departments of Linguistics and Philosophy, centering on issues in semantics and pragmatics, with members of both departments frequently colloborating in seminars, workshops, and conferences. In recent years the Department has been building up an increasingly diverse area of strength in formal philosophy, centering on the application of logical and mathematical tools to a variety of problems at the forefront of research in contemporary philosophy. There is also a strong interest in broader questions pertaining to what is distinctive about the analytic tradition, with a number of faculty pursuing a variety of overlapping forms of research in the history of analytic philosophy, as well as more broadly in the history of logic.
In practical philosophy, aside from the department's longstanding commitment to sustaining wide-ranging offerings across the general fields of analytic ethics and political philosophy, there are a number of notable points of more specific convergence in areas of research among the faculty -- especially in the following four areas: the metaphysical foundations of practical philosophy, the philosophy of action, virtue theory, and Marxism. There is also an unusually large number of faculty in the department presently working in one or another area of aesthetics, with their interests circling especially around issues in the philosophy of the visual arts and in philosophy and literature. And, finally, the Chicago department is an important center of nineteenth- and twentieth-century "Continental" philosophy, with strengths in both the French and the German Continental traditions.
As mentioned above, large departments with strength in several areas tend to become "compartmentalized" (or even factionalized), such that students need to ally themselves with one or another group in order to be taken seriously -- with such divisions characteristically arising between contemporary research and historical scholarship, or theoretical and practical philosophy, or (most notoriously) "continental" and "analytic" philosophy. The department here is not thus divided, and for a simple, compelling reason: most of the faculty already bridge one or more of those divisions in their own interests, and so are in no position to "take sides." We encourage this ecumenism among our students as well. This, in turn, helps to attract a graduate student community hungry for a philosophical environment in which they can move back and forth between such areas of philosophy without ever having to cross any battlefield lines.
The Department is committed to creating an atmosphere in which, on the one hand, the systematic study of contemporary issues goes hand-in-hand with a responsiveness to the history of philosophy and, on the other, the study of historical texts is animated by a sensitivity to contemporary conceptions of what counts as philosophically interesting. Though many of the Department's seminars and dissertation-projects fit neatly into one or another side of the conventional classification of topics into those that belong to theoretical and those that belong to practical philosophy, a fair number of them straddle both sides of the supposed divide, challenging some aspect of its contemporary conceptualization. Finally, though many seminars and dissertation-projects falll squarely within the purview of either analytic or Continental philosophy, a number of them are concerned to encompass topics and texts drawn from each.
All students admitted to the doctoral program in the Philosophy Department are offered a generous five-year fellowship package, designed to make it possible for them to work on philosophy full-time. All admitted applicants are offered the very same financial package at exactly the same time. There are no invidious distinctions, such as differential stipends or waiting lists. In addition to the basic package, students who are making satisfactory progress will be awarded summer stipends for each of three summers. These are not competitive; they are contingent only the respective student's progress through the program. Finally, there are a number of fellowships available for sixth-year support (if needed). These, however, are competitive; not everyone who applies will be awarded one. In order to receive these fellowships, students must be fairly far along in their dissertation work by the middle of their fifth year in the program.
The number of doctoral students actively in residence at a time hovers around fifty-five. In addition, in any given year, there tend to be around five visiting graduate students from a variety of countries, as well as about about that many visiting scholars. The number of undergraduate majors tends to be about hundred and forty, with roughly an additional fifteen minoring in philosophy. The Department does not have a self-standing masters-degree program. (Students interested in a masters degree are referred to the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH)). But there tend to be about twelve students per year enrolled in the special Philosophy Track of the MAPH program.
There is an unusually rich degree of interaction between individuals belonging to all four of these groups: undergraduates, M. A. students, Ph.D. students, and faculty. One reason for this is the somewhat distinctive University of Chicago institution of workshops. The Philosophy Department currently has eight active workshops. (For more information on these, click here.) They play a crucial role in fostering a vibrant intellectual community. Each workshop is open to anyone seriously committed to the study of the topic to which the workshop is devoted. They are attended by graduate students and faculty from other departments in the university, as well as from other philosophy departments in the greater Chicago area.
In addition to its regular doctoral program, the Philosophy Department is also a cooperating partner in four joint programs: one in Ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy, one in German Philosophy, one in Philosophy and Linguistics, and one in Philosophy and Social Thought. (For more information on these, please click here.) These programs are open to any graduate student enrolled in the Ph.D. program who would like to do more specialized work in one of these areas.
Finally, the Department hosts an extraordinary number of lectures and events. This is partly due to the fact that each workshop has its own separate budget for inviting speakers and the membership of each workshop guarantees a certain minimum audience for every such scheduled event. In addition to the workshop-hosted events, there are also quite a few lectures and conferences, often jointly sponsored by the Philosophy Department and another entity in the university. What this means in practice is that, apart from our regular classes and seminars, it is not at all uncommon, on any given day of the week, for there to be several different philosophy events taking place one after the other. (If you don't believe us, just look here!) Every effort is made to reduce any scheduling conflicts between these different events, in order to allow students and visitors to take full advantage of the offerings. The overall aim is to nurture as many different ongoing forms of focused and constructive philosophical conversation across as wide a range of academic formats and forums as our departmental community is able to sustain.
If you would like to learn more about our department by talking with members of our community, the weekly coffee hour -- apparently so-called because coffee is the one libation never served there -- affords a good opportunity to do so. It takes place on Fridays, from 4:30 to 6:00 pm, in the Anscombe Philosophical Library in Stuart 216. It involves a smattering of departmental faculty and graduate students chatting informally over wine, beer, snacks, and other forms of refreshment. Philosophically inclined visitors are welcome.
Further Information Links
Depending upon which of the following sorts of visitor to this website you are, you will be able to find further information about our department that should be of interest to you at the location indicated below:
If you are a prospective graduate student who would like to learn more about our department, then we recommend that you begin reading here.
If you are a prospective graduate student who has already decided to apply to our PhD program, then we strongly urge you to begin reading here.
If you have already been admitted and are presently an entering graduate student in our PhD program, then we recommend that you begin reading here.
If you are a high school student or a freshman or sophmore interested in becoming an undergraduate philosophy major at the University of Chicago, then we recommend that you begin reading here.
If you are already a philosophy major in our department who is considering applying to graduate school in philosophy, then we strongly urge you to begin reading here.
If you are someone who is just interested in philosophy, living in the Chicago area, perhaps studying or teaching at another university, and would like to attend or participate in events or workshops sponsored by our department, then you can find information about upcoming lectures open to the public here, about upcoming conferences here, and about ongoing workshops here.
If you are someone who is just curious about our department and interested in learning more about our faculty, then please keep reading here.
If you have unanswered questions, not addressed in any of the aforementioned sections of our website, then you can find information about how to contact the appropriate member of our department to whom to direct your further inquiries here.
Thank you for your interest in our department.