Sep 28, 2023  
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2022-2023 
School of Graduate Studies Calendar, 2022-2023 [-ARCHIVED CALENDAR-]

Philosophy, Ph.D

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Ph.D. Degree


Admission to the Ph.D. program requires an M.A. in Philosophy or an equivalent degree. There is also a possibility for students enrolled in McMaster’s MA program in Philosophy to be accepted into the PhD program without completing the MA degree, subject to their satisfying certain conditions for excellent progress in their first year. Selection is made by the Ph.D. Program Committee of the Department of Philosophy, and any student admitted comes under the general regulations of McMaster University.



Ph.D. students take six one-term courses. In special circumstances this load may be reduced, but all candidates must take at least four courses.

Comprehensive/Qualifying Exam:

McMaster University regulations require that Ph.D. candidates take a Comprehensive Examination; in the Philosophy Department, this consists in candidates successfully completing Area Requirements and passing the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam (QE) by the end of their second year. Candidates are required to demonstrate to the Program Committee’s satisfaction, a comprehensive knowledge of the central areas of philosophy by demonstrating competence in 5 areas of philosophy from the 2 lists below. No more than three areas may be selected from one list:

Historical Systematic
Ancient and Medieval Philosophy Ethics and Value Theory
Modern Philosophy 1600 to 1800 Metaphysics and Epistemology
Continental Philosophy from 1800 Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy
British and American Philosophy from 1800 Logic, Philosophy of Language, and Philosophy of Science.

Competence in a given area may be demonstrated by completing two graduate semester courses in the area with at least a B+ or equivalent in each course. Graduate courses completed before commencing the Ph.D. program may be counted towards satisfying the area requirements, with permission of the Ph.D. Advisor. A Major Research Paper, completed by a student fast-tracking from the MA program may count as the equivalent of a single course for this purpose at the discretion of the Ph.D. Advisor. Normally, the following are recognized as equivalents of two one-semester courses:

1. A three hour written examination on selected primary texts in the area. The examination may be repeated only once.

2. The candidate’s MA thesis, if it was on a topic in the area.

3. The written portion of the QE on a topic in the area, conditional on its passing in the exam.

4. A published paper in the area, subject to approval by the Program Committee, provided that it appear in a peer-reviewed professional journal in philosophy (graduate-student edited journals are specifically excluded).

Competence in a discipline other than philosophy relevant to the student’s research may substitute for competence in an area of philosophy - reducing the number of areas of philosophy required by (at most, typically) one - with permission of the Ph.D. Advisor. Such competence may be demonstrated in any of the ways specified immediately above.

Candidates are required to successfully complete the QE in which a written dissertation proposal is presented and defended in an oral exam. In order to be eligible to take the QE the student must complete all their course requirements and have achieved (by the end of the 20th month in the program) a GPA on five graduate courses taken towards the Ph.D. of at least 9.5. Additionally, prior to taking the QE, some students may be required to demonstrate competence in one or more skills, which their supervisory committee decides, in consultation with the Ph.D. Advisor, is needed for their dissertation (e.g., a language other than English, logic).


Students must also write a satisfactory dissertation and defend it at an Oral Examination.

A detailed description of the doctoral program is available at

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