The department invites students who have demonstrated particular talents in philosophy to pursue a year-long honors thesis under the guidance of one or more faculty members.

Questions addressed in recent honors theses include: Which moral principles should guide stem-cell research? Are there any universal human rights? Can we coherently have obligations to future persons if who it is that exists in the future depends on our current actions? Might pornography function more like advertising than political speech?


In general, when philosophy department faculty evaluate applications to do an honors thesis in philosophy, we look for evidence that the student would be better served by doing a thesis rather than by completing two more philosophy courses or by pursuing a semester-long independent study project.

We like to see that the student:

  • has made substantial progress towards satisfying the course requirements for the major. This typically requires having taken at least six philosophy courses by the end of the junior year. These courses will usually include PHIL 201, PHIL 221, and at least one seminar.

  • has demonstrated a facility for independent advanced work in philosophy. Such evidence might include successful 350 work, summer research, or a substantial final paper in a philosophy seminar.

  • has identified a specific philosophical issue to be explored in a thesis, is acquainted with current discussions of that issue, and has sufficient background, through prior course work, to enter into these discussions. The student's proposal should indicate the approach to be taken and some of the most important sources that will be used.

  • has had preliminary discussions with at least one faculty member about the topic.

  • has identified one or two faculty members with relevant expertise who might be appropriate and available advisors. (Faculty on leave do not advise honors theses.)

Students who meet the college standard for eligibility for departmental honors (GPA of 3.5 or more for courses above the 100 level in philosophy) may apply to write an honors thesis in philosophy.  (Departments may petition on behalf of students whose average is below 3.5 but above 3.0 if they have exceptional qualifications.)


An application to write an honors thesis in philosophy will include these elements:


1. A listing of philosophy courses taken or in progress at Wellesley or for credit at another institution, with grades received.

2. A two-page proposal that describes the area to be investigated in research for the thesis and frames a specific question that the thesis will address.

3. A list of at least six and no more than ten sources, with a sentence-long comment for each source that explains its relevance.

4. A brief description of the student's relevant background in the area of the thesis through coursework or other activities.

5. A brief description of the student's experience in carrying out independent work in independent study courses, research papers, lab work, presentations, or other projects.

6. A study plan for the student's senior year that lists courses to be taken in the fall and spring semesters.  (At most one of Phil 360 and Phil 370 may be used to satisfy the major requirement for two courses at the 300 level.)

7. A list of one or two faculty members with relevant expertise who might be appropriate and available advisors.

8. The signature of a faculty member whom the student has consulted in developing the proposal.


Materials should be submitted to the department chair by April 1 of the student's junior year. Samples of prior thesis proposals can be found here.



Individual Study

The department welcomes proposals from students for single-term individual study projects (recorded on the transcript as “PHIL 350”). These courses are designed to allow students to pursue independent research on topics of special interest. Students should select a topic that builds in some way on material they have learnt about in prior courses. A 350 should not be taken in lieu of taking a currently offered course. Students interested in pursuing an individual study should meet with the faculty member with whom they would like to work before the term in which they plan to do the 350. The precise requirements of the 350 in any individual case will be determined by the instructor in consultation with the student. Normally a substantial paper is required at the end of the term.