The Senior Essay (or “BA Essay”) is one of the requirements for students admitted to the Intensive Major. Standard majors and Philosophy and Allied Fields majors may also apply to write an essay. Note that all majors will be required to meet with the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies Tyler Zimmer at the end of their third year to review their program of study and discuss the possibility of writing the senior essay. All preliminary questions should be addressed to Prof. Zimmer as well.
Students writing a BA essay will have the supervision of two departmental faculty: the Director of Undergraduate Studies (who generally leads the Senior Seminar) as well as the primary faculty advisor to the project. Students may write their senior essay on any topic in philosophy they choose, provided they can secure the agreement of a departmental faculty member to supervise their work. In recent years, topics have included omniscience and free will, the expression of emotion in music, Aristotle's ethics, the nature of coercion, Wittgenstein's legacy, the idea of authenticity, the philosophy of Michel Foucault, the role of context in shaping linguistic meaning, Kierkegaard on irony, and dualism about the mental. The BA essay should be between 15 and 25 pages long.
The Senior Seminar serves as a forum in which BA essay writers gather for presentation and mutual criticism of their work in progress. The course, under the supervision of the Director of Undergraduate Studies (or sometimes another faculty member) and graduate student preceptors, meets the entire academic year. Participation in all three quarters is required for all senior essay writers.
Academic Honors and Awards
Special Departmental Honors: The requirements for Honors include a 3.25 GPA in Philosophy courses, an "A" on the BA Essay, and, in addition, the recommendation of both the BA thesis advisor and the second reader. This recommendation must then be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS), the Department Chair, as well as the Master of the Humanities Division of the College. Please contact the DUS for further details.
The Practical and Theoretical Essay Prizes: Two awards are given to the best essay each year in practical and theoretical philosophy. In 2019-20, Madeleine L. Norman and Eleanor Wachtel (practical) and Indigo Stelian (theoretical) won awards. In 2018-19, Caroline Wall (practical) and Cal Fawell (theoretical) won awards.
The Manley Thompson Book Prize: Every student who writes a Senior Essay and receives departmental honors will receive a book chosen by faculty with whom they have worked.