How Philosophy Fits Into Your School’s Gen Ed Requirements


What role do philosophy courses play in the general education requirements of your college or university?

László Moholy-Nagy, “Z II”

Reasons for the inclusion of philosophy in such requirements—which vary in form and content from school to school—range from claims about the intrinsic value of studying philosophy and its instrumental benefits to students (and perhaps, indirectly, the public), to the role that offering required courses plays in the existence and status of philosophy departments, including whether there is a philosophy major, minor, or other programs.

A philosophy professor recently wrote in about this:

My university is currently undergoing a revision of our General Education curriculum. Obviously, it is important for a philosophy department to have a role in their institution’s Gen Ed or Core Curriculum. There is probably quite a bit of variety in philosophy’s involvement in Gen Eds from institution to institution. It would be helpful to get a glimpse of this variety. I wonder if it would be possible to invite Daily Nous readers to briefly describe their department’s role in their Gen Ed?

I think this would indeed be helpful. Also of interest would be accounts of what worked in advocating for philosophy’s role in the required curriculum.

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Ryan Muldoon
1 year ago

Under the old gen ed system, we taught a required “western civilization” sort of course to give the broad sweep of the western philosophical tradition. We got rid of this course, and under the new gen ed, philosophy can satisfy certain things (logic counts for a quantitative reasoning course, value theory courses satisfy a values sort of requirement, etc), but there’s no required philosophy course.

Notably, where we get hurt a little bit is that there is a specific writing course requirement, and it is a bit burdensome for us to field a “writing philosophy” course, rather than just our usual writing-intensive upper-level courses. Our students write a lot more than most majors, but they still have to take a separate writing course, and this creates logistical challenges since a lot of our majors are double majors.

In general, I would say that it would be a bad thing to require particular philosophy courses (or any courses in any program) as part of a gen ed. Ideally gen ed requirements are about getting exposure to a diversity of fields and tools, not steering students to particular departments or courses. In my view, students should have to take 2 or 3 “quantitative methods” courses – math, logic, stats, etc, 2 or 3 social science courses of some kind, 2 or 3 natural science courses, 2 or 3 humanities courses, *maybe* 1 normative reasoning course, then the rest can be as they see fit. Maybe add in a restriction that distribution requirements can’t be within one’s primary major, and then you can make sure that students can get some real exposure to different ideas and approaches without mandating that they go to this department or that.

My main suggestion for someone on a gen ed committee is less about figuring out a way of locking philosophy in, but making sure that philosophy and philosophy students aren’t unduly burdened. At least at my institution, we are lumped in with the humanities, but our problems and strengths do not really match any of the other humanities departments at all. What’s good for English is usually bad for Philosophy. Gen Ed should be done from the assumption that departments should be trying to make themselves relevant and valuable to students, not trying to find ways of getting a captive audience.Report

John Collins
John Collins
1 year ago

At East Carolina University students have to take three courses in the area of fine arts and humanities, with at least one fine arts and at least one humanities. Students can take any of a dozen or so philosophy courses for the humanities requirement, but don’t have to take any philosophy. Students can count their major courses toward general education, so an English major would not need to take anything in other humanities disciplines.

Our logic course allows students to meet the gen ed math requirement, but most students take a math class like college algebra.Report

Cynthia Freeland
Cynthia Freeland
1 year ago

Texas public universities have a statewide 42-credit core curriculum divided up into various sub-fields. (You can see an overview of it here: http://publications.uh.edu/content.php?catoid=34&navoid=12683.) Philosophy offers intro-level courses that fit into four areas of the core: math (Logic), creative arts (Philosophy and the Arts), social and behavioral sciences (Philosophy of the Social Sciences), and language, philosophy, and culture (both Intro and Intro to Ethics count here). When the state introduced the new core curriculum back in around 1999, I quickly developed the intro-level Philosophy and the Arts class, and it has been quite popular. Also, it was always interesting to teach (I’m retired now) because it attracted a very wide variety of students ranging from English and drama/arts to accounting, pre-med, hotel school, and so on. This meant it was also more challenging to teach but forced me to revamp my approach to deal with some more basic kinds of questions, in what I think was a good way. I believe Texas Tech took a similar approach in offering an intro-level aesthetics course that fulfils the core requirement, but am not sure about other Texas universities.Report

Cynthia Freeland
Cynthia Freeland
Reply to  Cynthia Freeland
1 year ago

I should perhaps have specified, I’m at the University of Houston, main campus.Report

Joel Velasco
Reply to  Cynthia Freeland
1 year ago

Texas Tech does have the same core curriculum that The University of Houston has. Logic meets the math requirement and we teach 4 of the 43 courses that satisfy the LPC requirement (Beginning Philosophy, Introduction to Ethics, Science and Society, World Religions and Philosophy). We had proposed “Meaning and Value in the Arts” as part of the creative arts core in a previous year, but the state’s coordinating board said ‘no’. We will be trying again to get it approved this year. So it is still not officially part of the core curriculum.Report

Kevin DeLapp
Kevin DeLapp
1 year ago

At my institution, there’s no general philosophy requirement per se, but any philosophy course can be taken to satisfy a Humanities requirement. As at other institutions mentioned in the comments, our (formal) Logic course is a popular alternate for math-phobic students who need to satisfy a “quantitative or symbolic reasoning” requirement.

One particular approach that I’ve seen work at my college, related to General Education, is to develop as many cross-department partnerships as possible, in order to help distribute philosophy exposure across the curriculum. So, for instance, you might petition for your Aesthetics course to be counted as elective credit for art majors, your Business Ethics course to count toward a Business degree, your Moral Psychology course to be cross-listed for Psych credit, etc. Repackaging philosophy courses so that they can be taken under a wider range of guises can help increase the number and diversity of general education requirements that philosophy can satisfy.Report

Polaris Koi
Polaris Koi
1 year ago

I realize this is an outlier comment coming from a country with a somewhat different educational system (Finland), but thought I’d weigh in just for the added perspective. There are no Philosophy requirements for undergraduates at my university (University of Turku). However, most faculties require doctoral students to complete two courses in Philosophy: one in Philosophy of Science and another in Research Ethics. Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
1 year ago

I think the general structure is going to look like this:

1. At most places, philosophy course count toward various GE requirements, but so does lots of other stuff, and so philosophy isn’t “required”, though also isn’t irrelevant from a GE perspective; except

2. At Catholic/Jesuit schools, philosophy often *is* required qua philosophy, sometimes at as many as two courses per undergraduate. So if you wonder why the philosophy departments at places like Notre Dame, Georgetown, Saint Louis, Fordham, etc. are so big–isn’t Notre Dame the biggest in the US?–then that’d be why.

There’s probably counterexamples, but I bet this accounts for like 95% of the data.Report

Russell Woodruff
Russell Woodruff
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

St Bonaventure University is in the second category: all students take Introduction to Ethics and one “Philiosophy Distribution ” course, with choices including Intro to Philosophy, Critical Thinking, Metaphysics, etc.Report

chronos
chronos
Reply to  Jon Light
1 year ago

When I started at my university, a Catholic University in NJ, all students were basically required to take two Philosophy courses (at least one being in ethics). In the more recent system, all students must take one Philosophy course and then take another big books style course that covers “western thought and Catholicism,” which is a broad Philosophy and Religion course taught by philosophers and others. Business Ethics is also required for students in the business school, who would surely avoid it if it wasn’t required. I think having these courses required is a plus for our department. I suggest trying to get on committees and make clear to your colleagues why philosophy courses are valuable, or just turning your school into a Catholic university if possible (ha).Report

Keisha
Keisha
1 year ago

At my previous institution, Texas State University, philosophy was a required course for all 34,000 students. Report

Dave
Dave
1 year ago

In many ways I dislike the gen-ed trends of the last 10+ years. As an undergraduate at a small private but no longer really religiously affiliated college, everyone had to take 3 PHIL/ RELG courses making sure to get 1 from each. Without that requirement (i.e., left to my own 19yo devices,) I probably wouldn’t have taken either. In the end, I enjoyed PHIL so much I’ve studied it for the rest of my life.

Today, our modest sized university has no PHIL requirements, but we have classes in many gen-ed “perspectives” including humanities, global, and historical. The university completely did away with the entire gen-ed area that once required logical or symbolic thinking, and also refused to allow logic to count as “quantitative,” so logic enrollment fell. The end result seems to be much of what we do supports gen-ed but gen-ed does nothing to support us. Thus (from a university or maybe even college level perspective) PHIL is potentially expendable. (Our administrators have recently begun to use “pruning” language in some contexts, though no programs have been mentioned.)Report

Jeremy Henkel
Jeremy Henkel
1 year ago

At Wofford, all students are required to take at least one philosophy course. Several years ago our department did away with prerequisites for our upper-level courses (a move that has pluses and minuses). We have one intro-level course that’s restricted to first- and second-year students, and we frequently set aside a certain number of seats in our other intro-level courses for first-year students. Those two moves seem to have given us more majors and minors, as students who discover that they love philosophy do so before it’s too late to add it. So far, we’ve been able to resist the tendency toward “competencies” models of Gen Ed, even in the face of those who are wont to claim that the “distribution” model is outmoded and outdated.Report

John Schwenkler
1 year ago

At Florida State, all our students have to take Introduction to Philosophy in order to fulfil the statewide ethics requirement. (Enrollments are ludicrous.) Several other philosophy courses can be used to fill other distribution requirements, as described here: https://registrar.fsu.edu/bulletin/undergraduate/information/undergraduate_degree/Report

Andrew M. Bailey
1 year ago

All first year students at Yale-NUS College take a two-semester sequence in Philosophy and Political Thought, taught almost exclusively by philosophers and political theorists. It divides approximately into thirds: 1/3 European, 1/3 Indian, 1/3 Chinese. This is all baked into our common curriculum and unlikely to change anytime soon. One consequence is that there are — and will probably always be — about 15 philosophers or political theorists in our faculty of about 120. All to the good, in my view!Report

Aeon Skoble
Aeon Skoble
1 year ago

At Bridgewater State, no one is required to take philosophy per se, but there is a core requirement of a critical thinking/intro to logic class, which is mostly but not exclusively taught out of our dept. Beyond that, the core requires 9 credits in “humanities,” and philosophy classes count, but none of them have to be philosophy.Report

Kathleen Wallace
Kathleen Wallace
1 year ago

At Hofstra, as part of the General Education curriculum BA students have to take 3 courses from two categories, with at least one course in each category, and the third from either Category:
Category 1 (“HP”): History, Philosophy or Religion
Category 2 (“BH”): “Behavioral Social sciences (Anthropology, Economics, Pol. Sci., Psychology, Geography/Global Studies, Sociology).

(GE curriculum includes Literature and Arts, as well as Sci and Math requirements, but those are different categories that do not compete with philosophy.)

There is also a “cross-cultural” category (requirement = 1 course) and there are a few philosophy courses in that category (along with courses from just about every other humanities and social science program).

In addition, some philosophy courses may satisfy a writing intensive requirement (WI requirement = 2 courses) and some a quantitative reasoning requirement (QR requirement = 2 courses and is explicitly in addition to Math requirement). However, some regular GE courses are designated as WI or QR courses, so a student can satisfy two requirements (e.g., “BH” and “WI”) with one course.

Many students come in with AP credit in History. Since philosophy is in the same GE category as History, there is a reduced incentive for students to take philosophy. On the other hand, some programs require their majors to take an ethics course (philosophy), so those requirements help to offset the impact of AP History credits.

Finally, there is a large Honors College cohort that takes a year long Honors course in Humanities and Social Sciences that counts for some of their GE requirements, reducing the number of students enrolling in department based courses. Philosophy faculty though do participate in the Honors College curriculum, so Honors students get some exposure to philosophy.

BS degree students have fewer General Education requirements and as more students are moving to STEM majors, that has some adverse effects on enrollments in general education courses. Report