Department Learning Goals


All students completing the major in Philosophy should acquire knowledge which they can demonstrate in recognition, creative application, and effective use.  Specifically, they should understand:

  • The main outlines of contemporary philosophical terrain, including the traditional sub-disciplines or branches of philosophy (e.g., epistemology or ethics) and their purview, i.e., the profound questions which each explores and attempts to answer;
  • A large set of key philosophical concepts and terms drawn from philosophical methods, arguments, or theories (e.g., premise, or naturalistic fallacy or dualism)—the particular lexicon to reflect a student’s emphasis within the field;
  • The history of philosophy (at least in useful outline) as global, multi-traditional, and inter-relational—including the nature of the philosophical enterprise as essentially contested; 
  • A set of landmark philosophical texts—the particular set to vary in accord with a student’s emphasis in the program—along with relevant critical perspectives on those texts (e.g., feminist, post-colonial, or multi-cultural critiques); and
  • The distinctive differences in modes of discourse and forms of language, (e.g., the difference between empirical and conceptual or linguistic issues, between asserting and providing an argument, between a proof and a reason).




All students completing the Philosophy major should likewise acquire skills, which require practice and may be demonstrated through application in a range of contexts and in a wide variety of assignments.  Graduating philosophy majors should be able to:

  • Read philosophically sophisticated texts with understanding, comprehending philosophical ideas and their import;
  • Read a philosophical text or explore a philosophical position sympathetically, “dwell within” the author’s system, and explain the author’s concerns, aims, methods, and conclusions;
  • Read a philosophical text or explore a philosophical text critically, effectively employing tools of logic, counterexamples, alternative conclusions and approaches, and personal narratives—all with an understanding of the import of the critique offered and possible responses;
  • Develop one’s own philosophical orientation and a considered position on one or more important philosophical questions—supported by a thoughtful argument reflecting genuine intellectual commitment, and informed by major philosophical thinkers who are like-minded or contrasting;  
  • Communicate philosophical ideas in writing and oral or visual presentations, with clarity, precision, and incisiveness, in expository, narrative, analytical, and argumentative modes; 
  • Discern the assumptions on which intellectual constructions (theories, arguments, schools of thought, etc.) rest; and
  • Apply more than one theory, tradition, school, or perspective to the attempt to answer significant philosophical problems (e.g., How are we to understand human nature? Or, How are the mind and body related?).




There are also attitudes or dispositions or values which, we believe, will be inculcated in students who successfully complete the Philosophy major.  These cannot often be taught directly; they are typically more difficult to assess.  Yet they are an important component of our mission as a department.  Graduating majors in philosophy should display:

  • A taste for philosophical conversation and the examined life,  and an appreciation of the introspective and dialogical rhythms of philosophizing, valuing the learning that may come through thinking together about difficult issues;
  • A receptivity to alternate viewpoints, an openness to new ideas, that is balanced and secured by one’s own intellectual conviction;
  • A sense of connectedness to other thinkers reflected in a global outlook, a perspective of the history of philosophy, and an alertness to cross-disciplinary contributions and synergies;
  • An adherence to high standards for oneself and others in constructing and communicating intellectual positions—and an intolerance for specious reasoning, vacuousness, deceptive argument, and other such offenses;
  • A disposition to apply reflective thought to order and inspire one’s life and the choices and commitments it may contain.   




Different types of goals suggest, as indicated above, different ways of learning and methods of assessment.  The acquisition of knowledge may be demonstrated through recognition, application, and effective use, and is normally assessed through a variety of written assignments, examinations, presentations, the Senior Thesis.  Skills, on the other hand, are acquired through practice and demonstrated in performance.  The skills we have identified are used contextually, so their assessment is contextual as well; they may be demonstrated indirectly through the range of written assignments, examinations, presentations, classroom exercises (such as debates, critiques, and close textual reading), the Senior Thesis, and performances in extracurricular settings, such as meetings of the Socratic Club.  The dispositional goals, our “habits of the mind and heart,” are the most difficult to assess, both because they require longitudinal observation and because they resist precise appraisal.  Still, they are exhibited over time in our interaction with students as teachers and advisors (including thesis and independent study advisors), in classroom observation and out-of-class engagement, as mentors for special activities (fellowship applications, program preparation, study abroad experiences, and attendees of student-run programs),  as attentive readers of student evaluations of their courses and instructors, and as correspondents with our alumni. 

Other forms of assessment that give evidence of outcomes in student learning include performance on GRE and LSAT examinations for law school and graduate school admission; admission to such programs as Teach for America and the Peace Corps, which reflect the Department’s emphasis on ethical values and social justice concerns; reports of internships students undertake; and continued participation in Service Learning, which is an element of some philosophy courses.   The Department, in line with College policy, requires course evaluations of all students in philosophy courses.  These are read by both the instructor, who uses them to modify course instruction in future courses, and by the department chair, who uses them both evaluatively and constructively.  The tenure probationary review, promotion, and triennial review (for tenured faculty) processes insure that a wide group of faculty carefully scrutinizes all course evaluations.  During the tenure review process, the Chair also interviews randomly chosen groups of students about the course objectives and their learning in courses taught by the probationary faculty member.  This evidence is part of the tenure record of probationary faculty and provides evidence of learning as judged by students themselves.

Faculty judgment of student learning is also accomplished during class visitations, which are required for faculty evaluation process.  This formal observation is carried out both during the pre-tenure and the tenure review process, as well as for promotion, and it provides occasions for the tenured colleagues to assess whether course objectives are successfully being met.

Of course, the Philosophy Departments as a whole is also assessed in its ability as a department to achieve programmatic goals for student learning, through our program of external reviews, such as this current one.  This review, carried out every seven years, by a team of outside reviewers, is a process that involves interviews with students, scrutiny of all course syllabi, course goals, departmental program goals and the Department’s ability to meet the needs and interests of students in philosophy courses.  As a result of departmental reviews, the Philosophy Department has the considered judgment of experienced outside faculty to weigh its success in meeting its objectives for student learning.   Though “input measures” of the department are clearly dominant in such a review, salient and clear “output indicators” are also on display.  The self-study component of the departmental review is especially valuable in weighing data over time, such as shifting enrollment patterns and grade distribution profiles. 

Finally, student learning is assessed in the ability of students to oversee the Socratic Club.

The performance of our students in their courses is assessed through written and oral feedback and through grades.  The Senior Seminar, a capstone experience, coupled with the Senior Thesis, represents the opportunity for summative evaluation of the learning of our majors.  All of our intended outcomes should be demonstrated and assessed in that culminating context. These experiences are instituted specifically to give scope to students to demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are our goals.

The data collected from assessment is regularly reviewed by individual faculty in the form of student performance on required written work and examinations and through course evaluations, by the Chair of the Department who reads all evaluations, interviews students of each faculty member, and observes teaching performance, by the Provost who reviews annual evaluations of each faculty and evaluates the department chair, and by the College Faculty Personnel Committee, which reviews the Department’s tenure assessments of colleagues.   The Department as a whole regularly considers issues that arise from student evaluations, departmental reviews and teaching observations, and receives feedback from philosophy alumni.   At the completion of the Senior Thesis, seniors are interviewed about their evaluation of the senior thesis project and its value for the major. 

Statistical data is gathered and reviewed by the Registrar’s Office which sends the department  chair the grade profiles and enrollment patterns of each faculty member in the Department.  Such data provides useful data over time on student performance.