The Philosophical Omnivore: Graduate programs inside and outside of philosophy

an Elon alternative to Brian Leiter's Philosophical Gourmet


Philosophy is about more than philosophers talking to each other or lecturing to students, but many graduate philosophy programs aren't about much else. They treat philosophy as a self-contained coach for other disciplines. For example, one distinguished program wants its graduates to be "responsible members of the philosophical community." (What are the irresponsible ones are up to? Are their graduates responsible in other communities when needed? Do they ever expect to be needed anywhere else?) Another program boasts graduate work in "such diverse areas as feminism and cognitive science." (So don't worry your pretty little heads about interdisciplinary possibilities. :) Happily, there are some remarkable places too, both within philosophy departments and elsewhere. These programs show in their structure and activities that philosophy can transform people and communities and not just itself.

American University

The program: An M.A. with emphasis on both religion and philosophy at American University, Washington, D.C. See American University Philosophy and Religion Program.

What's distinctive about it: The program offers an M.A. in philosophy and M.A. programs in the History of Philosophy, Philosophy and Social Policy; and Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs. They insist that their graduates do more than just teach philosophy; they have careers in law, medicine, social work, ministry, omputer science, environmental protection, human rights, journalism, communication, government, business, etc. The program makes good use of the location in Washington.

Why would you enroll? The MA in Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs looks like a great way to give philosophy a practical international application, particularly for those who also have an interest in political science and conflict resolution.

Who you should contact: Prof. Julie Mertus at 410-532-0423

Binghamton University -- SPEL (Social, Political, Legal, and Ethical Philosophy)

The program: SPEL (Social, Political, Legal, and Ethical Philosophy) at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York. See SPEL.

What's distinctive about it: This program tries to combine graduate education in both analytic and continental philosophy together with a strong application to ethics and social policy. They're proud of how well they place their graduates, but it's placement as philosophy teachers primarily.

Why would you enroll? If you want to be a philosopher with a strong background in feminism, applied ethics or social policy, this is a good choice. The program is engaged in human affairs, though not as activists in the Binghamton area.

Who you should contact: Prof. Lisa Tessman (

University of Oregon -- Environmental Studies Program

The program: It's a joint Ph.D. in philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene, OR. See Univ. of Oregon -- Philosophy Dept.

What's distinctive about it: They've got 180 philosophy majors - probably more than any philosophy department on the west coast, so they're doing something effective. On the other hand, some of the philosophy courses have 300 students - it's a state university. They are also not so well-funded with only 10 faculty, though they're hiring 3 more.

Why would you enroll? The Department is intentionally pluralistic, honoring many different approaches to philosophy. It's a very competitive application process. The program would prepare you well for both philosophy and employment. You'd teach for four years while getting your Ph.D., and take a 1 credit one year seminar on teaching. You would also be prepared for the job market with mock interviews on on-campus interview advice. They take job placement seriously.

Who you should contact: Prof. Mark Johnson at or (541) 348-5548. He'd be glad to speak with you.

 Michigan State University

The program: Ph.D. in philosophy at Michigan State University. Lansing, MI.

What's distinctive about it: "The Department is affiliated with two interdisciplinary graduate specializations: Ecology, Evolutionary Biology & Behavior and Cognitive Science. A distinctive strength of the Department is in the area of Philosophy and Ethics of Health Care. In conjunction with the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences (based in the University's medical colleges), the Department offers students the opportunity to do concentrated doctoral work on the ethical, epistemological, and policy aspects of health care."

Why would you enroll? The EEBB program is interdisciplinary in the sense that you have to be enrolled in one of 16 or so other disciplines (one of which is philosophy) in order to obtain a graduate EEBB degree. The Cognitive Sciences grad program has 3 philosophy students. The CEHLS doesn't have a grad program. Feminist Marilyn Frye has retired from the department. Robert Pinnock does good work on evolutionary theory and ethics. of admissions:

Trent University

The program: M.A. in Sustainability or Environmental studies at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. See trent Univ. Theory Center

What's distinctive about it: Though they have no M.A. or Ph.D. program in philosophy, they have a great Centre for studies in other areas such as environmental studies, native studies, and a sustainability M.A. It's a small and young university (40 yrs old).

Why would you enroll? The program is a good combination of humanities and social sciences. The M.A. was actually founded not just by philosophers, but by faculty from Cultural Studies, Political Studies, Sociology, English Literature, Environmental Studies, Modern Languages, Women's Studies, and Canadian studies. So, it's interdisciplinary from the inside out.

Who you should contact: Professor Douglas Torgerson, Director of the Program at theory@trentu.canada.
Centre for the Study of Theory, Culture and Politics
Trent University
Crawford House, Traill College
310 London Street
Peterborough, Ontario,
Canada K97 7B8

University of Louisville

The program: M.A. in Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Louisville (Kentucky). See Univ. of Louisville -- Bioethics

What's distinctive about it: The program is only 3 years old, but has 15 students, including post-baccalaureates and people in medical professions who are making mid-career transitions. The program also offers dual degrees: M.A. plus M.D. or M.A. plus J.D. They're networked with seven hospitals in the Louisville area, so they focus upon health and medical applications of philosophy.

Why would you enroll? If you have a strong interest in not only philosophy, but also the health sciences and clinical ethical issues, this program would be a good match. You'd have a mix of nurses, surgeons, therapists, as well as philosophers to talk with.

Who you should contact: Andrea Sinclair at, or either co-director: Prof. Robert Kimball, chair of the philosophy department, or David Doukas, M.D.

University of Minnesota

The program: A variety of M.A. tracks at the Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

What's distinctive about it: Harry Boyte has been a distinguished director and senior fellow of the Institute. See Humphrey Institute

Why would you enroll? The program is good if you're interested in public planning and policy. However, the philosophy department does not have a formal connection with the Institute or much in the way of transformative M.A. or Ph.D. curriculum.

Who you should contact: Peter Hanks, Director of Graduate Studies:

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

The program: M.A. or Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. See Univ. of Tennessee at Knoxville.

What's distinctive about it: Strong emphasis on applied ethics at the graduate level. CAPE (Center for Applied and Professional Ethics) is interdisciplinary, as is HPST (History and Philosophy of Science and Technology), though the latter is a monthly study group. To their credit, the department also solicits tax-deductible donations to assist their alumni/alumnae and scholarship funds.

Why would you enroll? Good philosophical training with the opportunity to have work on applied and professional ethics as well.

Who you should contact: Richard Aquila, Director of Graduate Studies.

Vanderbilt University

The program: M.A. or Ph.D in philosophy at Vanderbilt University. See Vanderbilt University

What's distinctive about it: The curriculum is thorough. Note that Vanderbilt does require foreign language competence to read philosophy in a language other than English.

Why would you enroll? If you plan to teach philosophy and want a strong background, this is a good choice. However, admission is not easy.

Who you should contact: Robert Talisse, Director of Graduate Studies:

Outside Philosophy

We discover alternative programs "beyond academic philosophy" which have few connections with academic philosophy but which may interest philosophy majors as examples of what applied philosophy looks like off campus. These are a sampling rather than recommendations. Inclusion of sites does not imply any endorsement. However, we hope that this roster will come to include sites which we can recommend:

The School of Practical Philosophy NYC

The program: The School of Practical Philosophy NYC) See The School of Practical Philosophy

What's distinctive about it: This is a 10 week course in "practical philosophy" which emphasizes self-awareness and learning through doing. One of the core resources is Advaita, a form of Indian Vedantic philosophy of unity. "The school was established in 1964 in New York City, is chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, and has branches in various locations in the United States. It is also affiliated with a network of schools throughout the world, all of which followed the lead of a school started by Leon MacLaren in London in 1937."

Why would you enroll? This is one way to learn Advaita as a metaphysical approach to interdisciplinary study.

Who you should contact: You can enroll online or for courses offered in New York City by calling 212-744-4848 or by visiting 12 East 79th Street in person on weekdays between 6:30 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

Atlantic University

The program: M.A. in transpersonal studies at Atlantic University (Virginia Beach, VA) See Atlantic University

What's distinctive about it: This school was founded in the 1930's by Edgar Cayce and has his distinctive spiritual/psychological emphasis, though there's little academic philosophy. Their other center is in Houston.

Why would you enroll? The program stresses spiritual direction and mentorship, though much of it seems to be online. The spiritual direction is not grounded in a particular religious tradition. Not a program for a skeptic.

Who you should contact: Atlantic University -- Registrar

The Four Winds Society

The program: The Four Winds Society (with centers in California and elsewhere)

What's distinctive about it: The program is an international organization which trains participants to be shamans. It was founded by Dr. Alberto Villaldo who left being a clinical professor to studying the Inca tradition in Peru. One of our department's alums, Michael Neely, graduated from the program.

Why would you enroll? You would need an interest in not only philosophy, but also indigenous wisdom traditions and their application to contemporary life. Their classes are offered all over the world:

Who you should contact: