About the Department
Dedicated faculty ensure that our students receive quality philosophical training in the history of philosophy, in the central subfields of philosophy and in symbolic logic. Faculty prepare students to understand and think critically about complex views, to question their assumptions and to come to informed conclusions. The department is committed to fostering a collaborative environment for student and faculty inquiry, in which faculty pursue scholarship informed by their teaching and in its own right.
With an unusually large number of professors for a college our size, the W&L Department of Philosophy offers a wide array of courses in historical and contemporary philosophy across different traditions and approaches. Examples include ancient Greek and Chinese philosophy, early modern European philosophy, contemporary ethical theory, and courses on AI and human enhancement. A majority of our professors also teach in interdisciplinary programs, demonstrating the relevance and centrality of philosophy to business, the arts and the sciences.
Why Study Philosophy at W&L?
The most important reason to study philosophy is that it explores life’s biggest questions. Is there a God? What is a person? Do humans have free will? What is acting justly? What is a good life? What are my obligations to others, to non-humans and to the environment? What, if anything, can we know about the universe around us?
Studying philosophy teaches students to read and write critically, to analyze concepts and problems carefully, and to express solutions and arguments clearly and forcefully. Thus, studying philosophy prepares students for many different career paths: business, law, medicine, teaching, and postgraduate research in the humanities and sciences.
Students majoring in philosophy very often double major in business, other humanities disciplines or the social and natural sciences.
Philosophy majors are admitted to law school at a higher percentage than any other major and have the third-highest acceptance rate to medical school. Philosophy majors also outperform most other majors on the LSAT, GMAT and GRE, and their midcareer salaries are the highest in the humanities. Midcareer salaries for philosophy majors are even higher than those of accounting, business management and marketing majors.
Opportunities for Students
Outside the classroom at W&L, philosophy majors enjoy a wide array of intellectually stimulating experiences. Students meet world-renowned philosophers who come to campus to give public lectures and lead philosophical discussion over coffee or a meal. Many philosophy majors study abroad in locations such as University College at Oxford, University of Copenhagen, College Year in Athens and University of St. Andrews, to name a few. Each year, W&L sends a team of mostly philosophy students to compete in a statewide collegiate Ethics Bowl hosted by The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).
Students present philosophy papers at conferences around the country, and many are published in undergraduate philosophy journals. Departmental funding is available to help defray costs. Washington and Lee is home to its own successful annual event, the Mudd Undergraduate Conference in Ethics. This conference, which is supported by the university’s Roger Mudd Center for Ethics, is the only open undergraduate conference in the country solely dedicated to the academic study of ethical issues. All accepted speakers have the opportunity not only to present their papers at the conference, but also to have them published in the The Mudd Journal of Ethics. Leadership opportunities are available to W&L philosophy students for both the conference and the journal.
Philosophy students who meet the criteria may be inducted into Phi Sigma Tau, the International Honor Society in Philosophy. Senior majors who qualify may pursue Honors in Philosophy with a year-long research project culminating in a thesis and defense before the department. Every year the department honors top students with the Edward Dodd Award, Young Scholarship, Charles Thomas Boggs Prize and William Wells Chaffin Memorial Scholarship.
W&L’s tightly knit and supportive alumni network is always willing to assist current students and recent graduates with advice and introductions in the working world.
Our graduates go on to excel in graduate school and work in a variety of professions, including philosophy, law, medicine, business, advertising, engineering, computer science, education, coaching and more.