Students taking the Senior Literature Review (Philosophy 190) investigate a philosophical topic of their own choosing. Specifically, they consult with a faculty reader to select a topic and list of readings. During the weekly course meetings, students discuss their work with one another. Before the end of finals week, students submit a comprehensive report (20 pages or more) on the current literature on their topic.

Philosophy majors are required to take Philosophy 190 in the fall of their senior year and only philosophy majors are eligible to take it.

Detailed Description for Senior Philosophy Majors

The literature review gives majors latitude that they may not have had in their previous coursework. In consultation with faculty, students choose the topic they will pursue and what they will read.

Philosophy 190 is run by a faculty mentor. The first several meetings will be devoted to choosing a suitable topic, connecting with a faculty reader, and making a list of readings. In subsequent meetings students will take turns presenting a reading from their lists for discussion by the group.

Because the faculty mentor may have no expertise in the student’s chosen area, each 
student is asked to select a faculty reader to work with. A reader is a department member familiar with the literature being reviewed. The reader will provide informed guidance as students research their readings.

The list of readings should include roughly fifteen articles, or an equivalent number of book chapters or other material. The exact number depends on the topic and will be determined in consultation with the reader.

As students work their way through the literature, they should schedule frequent meetings with their readers to discuss the material they are reading.

The faculty mentor will require students to submit précis of their readings at regular intervals during the term. A précis concisely presents the main line of argument in a philosophical work, it explains key concepts and distinctions, it organizes the material, and it identifies possible objections and open questions. 

Taken together, these précis serve as the basis for the final paper: a comprehensive overview of the literature that was read. The final paper explains the state of the debate by answering questions such as these. What are the issues? What are the prominent lines of argument on this topic? What are the unanswered objections?


This final paper will be graded by the reader. The grade for Philosophy 190 is assigned by the mentor.

Philosophy 190 is only offered in the fall term. Seniors who do not pass Philosophy 190 in the fall will have the opportunity to complete their literature review as an independent study in the spring.

Philosophy 190 satisfies the philosophy senior exercise requirement. The literature review can serve as an excellent basis for a senior thesis. Students who wish to write a thesis should sign up for Philosophy 191 the spring term of their senior year.