More Information.
More details.Hide details.
  • Senior Project


  • Print
  • Philosophy 498: Senior Project

    You must decide whether to complete the project with a portfolio or with a paper presentation. The two options are explained below. Grading will be on a Pass/Fail basis.

  • Senior Portfolio Option

    As a "capstone" requirement for the philosophy major, students will be required to submit a portfolio containing (1) four or five papers they have written for philosophy courses; (2) a philosophical self-assessment. Together, the papers and the self-assessment must total at least 35 total pages.

    The portfolio is intended as a means for students to demonstrate that they possess the skills, abilities, and aptitudes that the Department has identified as being essential for philosophy majors. 

    (1) The course papers (previously written for courses) should:

    • (a) total at least 25 pages;
    • (b) include at least one paper dealing with some philosopher(s) or philosophical movement prior to the 20th century;
    • (c) include at least one paper on some topic in ethics;
    • (d) include at least one paper on some specific philosophical problem or issue outside the field of ethics (such as the mind-body problem, free will, the existence of God, etc.);
    • (e) at least one paper on some 20th century philosopher or philosophical movement

    In selecting papers for the portfolio, students should try to demonstrate breadth and diversity.

    The same paper may be used to meet more than one of requirements (b) through (e).

    Papers should be arranged in chronological order, and should include at least one from early in the student's philosophical career. 

    (2) The philosophical self-assessment should be at least 10 pages long and must include:

    • (a) discussion and critique of the papers submitted, especially addressing the question of how those papers reveal the skills identified in the Department's checklist, and what weaknesses the papers show;
    • (b) reflections on the student's philosophical experiences and development over the course of completing the major (the papers may help illustrate this);
    • (c) informed discussion of the nature of philosophy, showing some awareness of some contemporary critiques of the discipline and/or alternative approaches to the European tradition (i.e., showing awareness of feminism, phenomenology, logical positivism, ordinary language philosophy, pragmatism, Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Native American philosophy, African philosophy, etc.). If one or more of the papers submitted includes discussion of such alternatives, it will be sufficient to point out that fact.
    • (d) discussion of their abilities in the discussion and knowledge categories of the checklist, in so far as these are not shown by the papers.

    Two faculty members will be assigned by the Chair to read and evaluate each portfolio.

    The papers submitted in the portfolio will not be graded or evaluated; it is the selection of papers and the self-assessment that will be graded.

    Two copies of the portfolio are to be submitted: one will be returned to the student, and one will be placed in Department files.

    For purposes of completing the portfolio, students will address this checklist of skills:

    I. Reading and Understanding Philosophical Texts

    Philosophy Majors should be able to:

    1. Identify the main point or points being made in the writing.
    2. Determine the main arguments given in support of those points.
    3. Accurately paraphrase and summarize (in their own words) materials read.

    II. Writing Philosophical Essays

    Philosophy majors should be able to:

    1. Express their ideas clearly.
    2. Organize and structure their essays in a coherent, logical manner.
    3. Make clear what their main thesis and arguments are.
    4. Define important concepts clearly, and use them consistently with that definition.
    5. Use complete, grammatically correct sentences.
    6. Present and defend original ideas.
    7. Use good arguments to support their conclusions.
    8. Avoid using material that is not relevant to the issue being discussed.
    9. Avoid inconsistency.
    10. Recognize possible objections to their claims and arguments, and respond to such objections.
    11. Use original examples to help clarify ideas.
    12. Improve essays by re-writing and revision, especially in response to comments from teachers or fellow students. 

    III. Philosophical Discussion

    Philosophy majors should be able to:

    1. Keep comments directed to the issues being discussed, and avoid irrelevant material.
    2. Show respect for others, and for their opinions.
    3. Attempt to correctly understand the opinions of others.
    4. Make effective and clear oral presentations.
    5. Show willingness to change their mind in reaction to points raised in discussions;
    6. Present arguments for their opinions.
    7. Have confidence to express and debate ideas.
    8. Be more concerned with finding the truth than with scoring points or impressing others.

    IV. Philosophical Knowledge

    Philosophy majors should know the following:

    1. Major figures and developments in the history of Western philosophy: particularly Classical, especially Plato and Aristotle, and Modern Philosophy, especially Descartes and Locke.
    2. Major subject areas in philosophy, specifically including ethics and elementary symbolic logic, plus several others (such as philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of the arts).
    3. Some major issues in contemporary philosophy, (e.g., the mind-body problem, deontology vs.consequentialism, free will vs. determinism, etc.).
    4. Different approaches to philosophy and alternative philosophical styles, (such as feminism, phenomenology, non-Western philosophy). 

    V. Evaluating and Constructing Philosophical Arguments

    Philosophy majors should be able to:

    1. Identify and clearly express conclusions and premises of arguments.
    2. Explore the implications of premises and conclusions.
    3. Assess the logical strength of arguments.
    4. Assess the plausibility of premises.
    5. Have a sense of propriety about major vs minor issues in evaluating argument.
    6. Compare arguments with alternatives (are there better arguments for the same conclusion? is there a good case for some alternative conclusion?)
    7. Recognize and avoid fallacies.
    8. Assess the credibility of sources used. 

    VI. Philosophical Research

    Philosophy majors (especially those contemplating graduate study) should be able to:

    1. Read and understand philosophical texts independently.
    2. Find and use appropriate secondary sources.
    3. Use proper scholarly format for writing papers.
    4. Prepare bibliographies.

    Paper Presentation Option 

    Your project is to develop a paper on a topic in philosophy under the tutelage of one or more philosophy faculty members. At the end of the semester, you will orally present your paper to the department (students and faculty), and take and respond to questions and comments afterward. Because you are crafting a presentation paper, the length should be appropriate for the project: no less than twelve and no more than sixteen pages (font-size twelve, double-spaced, not counting citations). Word count is a more accurate guide: no less than 3,000 words (not counting citations) and no more than 4,000.

    We will be evaluating your presentation paper itself, your oral delivery of it, and your question-answer session afterwards. Grading is pass/fail rather than a letter grade

    Getting Started:

    1. Choose a topic. It is not recommended that you try to write a paper “from scratch.” We recommend that you develop an existing paper (e.g., a final class or seminar paper) written for an advanced philosophy course.
    2. Consult with the department chairperson. The chairperson will approve your topic and decide whether to direct you to another faculty member for instruction on your paper. This will hinge largely on your topic.
    3. We will be evaluating your presentation paper itself, your oral delivery of it, and your question-answer session afterwards. 

    Paper Guidelines

    1. Be sure that your topic is appropriate in nature and scope (not too broad, not too narrow) for a paper of this type.
    2. Organize your paper well and document your sources fully and correctly. You need to decide upon a documentation system at the outset. Consult the Guide to Writing Research Papers, accessible from the MSUM Philosophy Department Website (it is the first item on the Philosophy Links page).
    3. Clearly articulate and argue the thesis of your paper. Make sure to present your views and supporting arguments in your own words. As in any good philosophy paper, you must anticipate and respond to possible counterarguments in the process. 

    Presentation Guidelines

    1. You must speak with fitting volume, clear enunciation, and appropriate pace.
    2. You must present in a way that holds your audience’s attention throughout. 

    (We recommend that you practice giving your presentation with peers or in front of a mirror or on a recording. Your teachers will also provide guidance.) 

    Question & Answer Portion of Talk:

    You are expected to follow your presentation with a question and answer question session. Respond appropriately and respectfully to all questions and comments given. (Knowing your subject well and being aware of what various philosophers have said about it will, of course, help you anticipate questions or comments.) You can expect that the majority of the questions will be requests for clarification of points made in the paper and objections to the position you defend.