Honors Program

Honors work in philosophy provides the opportunity for especially well qualified students to complete their undergraduate education by engaging in individual research on a tutorial basis. Admission to the program is restricted to those individuals who, in the opinion of the philosophy department, have sufficient preparation, ability, and motivation to complete the program successfully. Normally, students accepted into the program will have a minimum GPA of 3.3 in their philosophy courses. The overall minimum GPA required by the Charles Center is 3.0.  Please consult the Charles Center Guidelines for Honors Thesis Students before you begin the process.

Procedures for Securing Admission to Candidacy

Students should submit their applications early in Spring term of their junior year, in two stages as described below. Due dates depend upon whether a student intends to seek summer fellowship funding through the Charles Center. To apply to the Charles Center (with or without funding), a student must first have an application approved by the department. Information on applying for summer funding can be found at the W&M Honors Fellowships page.

For students applying for Charles Center funding, the department due dates are:

Initial Application: January 30

Final Application: February 6

For students who are not seeking funding, the department due dates are:

Initial Application: March 15

Final Application: April 15

  1. INITIAL APPLICATION: Students should consult with a faculty member with whom they would like to work. If that professor agrees, the student should submit to that professor a written application for permission to preregister for PHIL 495: Honors. This application should include: 1) a description of the proposed project (200 - 500 words); 2) a list of philosophy courses taken and currently being taken, including names of instructors and grades received; 3) cumulative grade point average and grade point average for the previous semester; 4) any other relevant information which would assist in determining the candidate's adequacy of background for the proposed project.
  2. TENTATIVE APPROVAL: If the initial application is approved by the professor, the student can proceed to write the final application, which is required before the student can enroll in PHIL 495. It is advised that students preregister for another course which they would be willing to take if admission to PHIL 495 is ultimately denied.
  3. FINAL APPLICATION: Working with their advisor, the student will submit to the Department Chair a new detailed description of the honors project by the due date. This description should be from four to six double-spaced typewritten pages and include a list of sources to be consulted. Here are some successful proposals from past applicants that will be especially useful to those not applying for Charles Center funding:

    Citizenship as a Partial Relationship
    Bergmann's Dilemma, Dogmatism, and Common Sense
    Dignity and Self-Respect

    For those applying to Charles Center funding (and only those applying for such funding), we recommend that the full proposal be crafted in accordance the following, longer version of the Charles Center proposal [As of January 21, 2020, the Charles Center has changed the content of the application; the Philosophy Dept. is modifying its format slightly to follow theirs and will post new instructions very shortly!]
    1. The first two to three pages of your proposal should be a detailed summary of your intended project written to professional philosophers. (The Charles Center requires one paragraph written to non-specialists instead of this longer specialist summary.)
    2. Describe the coursework or research you have done already that will be relevant to this proposal.
    3. Describe in detail the goals you hope to achieve in your ten weeks of summer research and the methodology you will use to achieve these goals. (This should be the longest section of your Charles Center proposal, but it should not be longer than the extended summary required by the department in 1 above.)
    4. Explain what your research will contribute to the field, and why this work is exciting or unique.
    5. Describe how this research fits into your longterm goals (academic, professional, personal, etc.).
    6. A 1-2 page bibliography of the sources that you expect to consult during the course of the honors research. (The Charles Center does not require a bibliography.)

      Components 1 and 6 should be written to philosophers; the other components should be written to the broad academic audience that would be reviewing your Charles Center application.
  4. FINAL DEPARTMENTAL APPROVAL AND APPLICATION TO CHARLES CENTER: Students who receive the department's final approval of their project should immediately file an application for admission to Honors with the Charles Center [pdf], and if qualified, will automatically be enrolled in PHIL 495. Continued enrollment in PHIL 495 is contingent upon being certified as eligible for Honors work by the Charles Center.
Procedures for Honors 495 and 496
  1. FALL SEMESTER GRADES: Students enrolled in PHIL 495 will be assigned a "G" for the course, if their progress is satisfactory. When work is completed for PHIL 496, grades are officially recorded for both courses.
  2. NONCONTINUATION IN THE HONORS PROGRAM: Upon recommendation of their advisor and with the approval of the department, students whose progress toward completion of their Honors work is unsatisfactory will be denied permission to enroll in PHIL 496. Advisors who intend to make such recommendations should so inform their advisees at least one week before the department makes any final decision. During this period, if the student desires to remain in the Honors Program, he or she should consult with the chairperson of the department and prepare with him or her a written statement of the student's reasons for wishing to continue in the Program. The faculty member consulted will present the student's statement to the department prior to its final consideration of the advisor's recommendation. For further information, see III.B. in the Charles Center Guidelines.
Final Grades for Honors 496

Students who receive "Honors", "High Honors", or "Highest Honors" will be awarded the grade of "A" for their work in PHIL 496. Students whose work is judged by their examining committee to be of insufficiently high quality to merit "Honors" will be assigned a letter grade for PHIL 496 by their advisor. That letter grade may also be an A.

The Honors Thesis
  1. ROUGH DRAFT: A candidate for Honors is expected to submit a rough draft of the thesis to their advisors early in the second semester, and not later than March 15.
  2. FINAL DRAFT: A candidates must submit to the committee members a thesis of about fifty double-spaced typewritten pages two weeks before the last day of classes.
  3. THESIS FORMAT: The final draft of the thesis must be submitted to Swem Library in the format stipulated by the Swem guidelines.
The Oral Examination
  1. THE EXAMINING COMMITTEE: The oral examination will be conducted by an Honors examining committee of at least three members. The Committee shall include at least two examiners from the philosophy department, one of whom will be the candidate's Honors advisor, and one external examiner. A member of the department who is not the candidate's advisor will serve as chairperson of the Committee.
  2. ATTENDANCE AT EXAMINATION: All members of the philosophy faculty are invited to an Honors oral examination. Normally, students other than the candidate are not permitted to attend.
  3. SUBJECT MATTER OF EXAMINATION: The oral examination is designed to test both the candidate's ability to defend the arguments of his/her thesis and his/her knowledge of relevant philosophical discussions of similar material. Thus, a candidate writing on a historical subject is expected to be familiar with contemporary discussions of the problem and also with the broader aspects of the historical period. Candidates primarily exploring a particular contemporary problem should be familiar with historical treatments of similar issues and also with any broader philosophical implications of their subject.
  4. FORMAT OF EXAMINATION: At the beginning of the examination, the committee will meet briefly without the candidate to decide on procedures for the examination. The candidate will then be admitted to the examination. Questioning will proceed in whatever fashion is agreed upon by the examining committee. Philosophy faculty who are not members of the examining committee may participate in the questioning at the discretion of the committee. When the committee determines that the examination should be concluded, the candidate will be asked to leave the room but to remain nearby so that he/ she may be informed of the committee's decision.
  5. AWARDING OF HONORS: After deliberation, the examining committee will determine whether the candidate's work is of sufficiently high quality to merit the award of Honors. If this decision is favorable, the committee will select between the designations "Honors" and "High Honors." In making these decisions the procedures specified below will be followed.
  • The basic decision whether or not to award Honors is to be based solely on the thesis and the oral examination. The second decision regarding the degree of Honors to be awarded (Honors or High Honors) shall also be based primarily on the thesis and the oral examination, with the greater weight given to the thesis. The student's overall academic record in philosophy courses may be used to lower, but not to raise, the degree of Honors that would have been awarded on the basis of the thesis and the oral examination alone.
  • Philosophy faculty members who are not members of the examining committee may participate in the committee's deliberations, but the decisions concerning the awarding of Honors and the degree of Honors are to be made by the examining committee alone.
  • In cases of disagreement among the members of the committee, the opinion of a simple majority prevails.
  • If Honors is awarded, all members of the examining committee are to sign the committee's report to the Charles Center and the title page of the candidate's thesis, even in those cases in which the decision of the examining committee is not unanimous.
The Deposition of the Honors Thesis

The final responsibility of the successful Honors candidate is to see that Swem Library has a signed .pdf copy of his/her thesis.