University of Sydney Handbooks - 2021 Archive

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About the major

Philosophy cultivates the skilful use of critical thinking and intellectual perception that is crucial for adapting to fast-changing social, political and academic environments. A major in philosophy will train you to think precisely, deliberate carefully, and communicate ideas in clear and persuasive ways.

Philosophical questions are often the most intrinsically meaningful to us: “How am I to live?”, “What do I know and how do I know these things?”, “Are my actions genuinely free?”. Philosophy also specializes in teaching skills that are fundamental to success in other academic disciplines and in the workplace, such the ability to identify the essential points of a position, policy or practice; the ability to clarify underlying issues in a debate; precision of thought and expression; clarity and rigor in the assessment of arguments and the ability to make rationally persuasive cases.

Students who major in philosophy learn to engage critically with a wide variety of texts, both historical and contemporary. They are able to identify and formulate philosophical problems and assess proposed answers to them. Philosophy majors become adept at discerning and formulating conceptual distinctions and are able to wield them usefully, both in their study of philosophy and in their wider intellectual engagements.

Students who major in philosophy may also expect to acquire intellectual virtues. They learn sensitivity in interpretation and cultural competence through study of a variety of ages and traditions. They learn intellectual honesty and fairness by evaluating arguments carefully, and they learn to discuss matters of the highest importance without recourse to insult or susceptibility to take offense.

Requirements for completion

The Philosophy major and minor requirements are listed in the Philosophy unit of study table.

Learning outcomes

No. Learning outcome
1 Read, understand, and critically engage with philosophical texts, both historical and contemporary.
2 Identify, formulate and assess philosophical problems, and demonstrate an understanding of important conceptual distinctions.
3 Demonstrate disciplinary expertise in several major areas of philosophy, such as aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, the history of philosophy, logic, metaphysics, theories of the self, philosophy of science, and political philosophy.
4 Demonstrate an understanding of various respects in which arguments can be good or bad, and an ability to distinguish good arguments from bad ones.
5 Demonstrate a thorough understanding of important conceptual distinctions (such as truth vs knowledge, causation vs correlation and relativism vs pluralism) and an ability to apply them.
6 Express themselves precisely and demonstrate an ability to make rationally persuasive arguments.
7 Demonstrate sensitivity, intellectual honesty, generosity and cultural competence in interpretation and in argument.
8 Effectively apply philosophical knowledge and approaches to issues encountered in an interdisciplinary context.
Advanced coursework

How do the perspectives you bring from your studies in History, Philosophy, Gender & Cultural Studies, Archaeology and Ancient History uniquely frame and explain a contemporary issue? The Bachelor of Advanced Studies in the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry will enhance the skills and capabilities students have acquired over the course of majors undertaken within the School’s diverse departments. Students will learn how to apply research training from SOPHI’s unique disciplines, develop an interdisciplinary capacity with methodology, pose problems and consider their solutions in scenarios sourced from History, Philosophy, Archaeology, Ancient History, or Gender & Cultural Studies. Emphasis is placed on developing the ability to apply methods of philosophical, historical, cultural, gender or archaeological inquiry to contemporary problem-solving and to communicate findings to non-academic and culturally diverse audiences via emerging digital media.

Requirements and units of study for advanced coursework can be found on the Philosophy advanced coursework units of study page.


The honours program in philosophy gives students an opportunity to refine their thinking to a very high degree. It is at once a capstone to the training provided in first, second and third year units and a preparation for further study.

Students who take honours in philosophy at the University of Sydney study in one of the world's leading philosophy departments. They work closely with dedicated teachers and active researchers whose interests span a wide variety of fields and methodological approaches.

The honours program in philosophy comprises four coursework units and a thesis of 12,000–15,000 words. Students are also required to give a 20-minute presentation on their thesis topic at one of two Honours Conferences held each year.

In coursework units, students are introduced to current research specialisation and practice and are given the opportunity to build on their existing knowledge.

The thesis is an extended piece of research on an approved topic of the student's choosing, and is written under the individual supervision of a member of staff. The thesis gives students the experience of formulating and conducting a substantial piece of independent research, working closely with a supervisor who helps to bring their reflections and research into sharper focus.

Honours admission requirements

Admission to honours is via the Bachelor of Advanced Studies and requires the completion of a major in Philosophy with an average of 70% or above.

Prior to commencing honours, you will need to ensure you have completed all other requirements of the Bachelor of Arts or other bachelor degree, including Open Learning Environment (OLE) units and a second major.

Requirements and units of study for honours can be found on the Philosophy honours units of study page.

Contacts and further information

More information and current contact details for key academic coordinators may be found on the Department of Philosophy website.

The Department of Philosophy is administered by the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI).