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The philosophy major (33 credits) and minor (15 credits) offer Iowa State University students the opportunity to explore fundamental human questions through reflection and argumentation. Do we have free will? Can machines think? What makes actions right or wrong? What is the nature of knowledge and what can we hope to know? What does justice require, politically and economically? Philosophy classes explore answers to deep questions such as these, encouraging each student to develop and rationally defend their own views.

Philosophy offers a structured but flexible program to help students graduate on time while pursuing their interests. 2000-level courses introduce students to essential questions and methods of philosophical thought. In 3000-level courses, students engage in close examination of central topics in both contemporary thought and the history of philosophy. Seminars at the 4000-level offer the opportunity to study topics in-depth alongside a committed team of faculty and students. 

Philosophy fosters skills of communication and critical thinking that are valuable across work, family, and civic life. The program equips students to logically analyze and develop new responses to the challenges faced by humanity. It also emphasizes clarity of thought and communication as part of rigorous engagement with both abstract and applied areas of thought. These skills of logical analysis, careful reading, original thought, and clear communication are in high demand across different fields of work and post-graduate study. Philosophy majors typically achieve some of the highest scores on standardized tests such as the LSAT and GRE and have mid-career salaries higher than many other majors.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon graduation, students should be able to:

1. Explain central problems in key areas of philosophy, such as metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, logic, political philosophy, philosophy of language, and the philosophy of science. 

2. Explain the views of historically important philosophers and place them in the context of significant philosophical movements.

3. Identify and critically evaluate arguments by developing objections and replies. 

4. Communicate ideas and arguments, both orally and in writing, with clarity and precision.

5. Engage with different points of view with open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity, and a willingness to learn from the ideas and arguments of others. 

Philosophy Degree Requirements

As majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Philosophy students must meet College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and university-wide requirements for graduation in addition to those stated below for the major.

The degree program in philosophy requires a minimum of 33 credits, plus the zero credit PHIL 4920 course. The following courses compose the core program of the major from which 15 credits shall be chosen. Additionally, two courses at the 4000 level or above (other than PHIL 4900 and PHIL 4920) are required.

Ethical theory: One course required.

PHIL 3300Ethical Theory3
PHIL 3350Social and Political Philosophy3
PHIL 5350Contemporary Political Philosophy3

History: Two courses required.

PHIL 3100Ancient Philosophy3
PHIL 314017th Century Philosophy3
or PHIL 3150 18th Century Philosophy

Metaphysics and Epistemology: One course required.

PHIL 3640Metaphysics: God, Minds, and Matter3
PHIL 3660Truth, Belief, and Reason3
PHIL 3800Philosophy of Science3

Logic: One course required.

PHIL 2070Introduction to Symbolic Logic3

Students in all ISU majors must complete a three-credit course in U.S. diversity and a three-credit course in international perspectives. Check for a list of approved courses. Discuss with your advisor how the two courses that you select can be applied to your graduation plan.

LAS majors require a minimum of 120 credits, including a minimum of 45 credits at the 3000/4000 level. Three of the required 45 3000+ level credits must be earned in a general education group outside the group of the major. You must also complete the LAS world language requirement and LAS career proficiency requirement.

According to the university-wide Communication Proficiency Grade Requirement, students must demonstrate their communication proficiency by earning a grade of C or better in ENGL 2500. 

Philosophy, B.A.

PHIL 20103Philosophy Choice3
ENGL 15003Social Science Choice3
LIB 16001Humanities Choice3
Humanities Choice3Math Choice3
Social Science Choice3World Language/Elective4
World Language/Elective4 
 17 16
PHIL 31003PHIL 20703
ENGL 25003PHIL 3140 or 31503
Philosophy Choice3Natural Science Choice4
Humanities Choice3Social Science Choice3
Natural Science Choice4Elective2-3
 LAS 20301
 16 16-17
PHIL 33003Philosophy Choice - 3000/4000 Level 3
PHIL 3640 or 38003Electives12
Philosophy Choice 3 
 15 15
Philosophy Choice - 4000 Level3PHIL 4920R
Philosophy Choice - 3000/4000 Level3Philosophy Choice - 4000 Level3
 12 13

Minor in Philosophy

The department offers a minor in philosophy which may be earned by completing a total of 15 credits in philosophy. At least 9 credits must be in courses numbered 3000 or above (only 3 credits of which may be in PHIL 4900). The minor must include at least 9 credits that are not used to meet any other department, college or university requirement.


The Department Philosophy and Religious Studies offers a minor in ethics. Ethics is the branch of human thought that addresses questions of human morality. It seeks to define right and wrong at the theoretical level and to guide action across diverse fields of practice. An ethics minor provides opportunities for students to develop an understanding of both the theoretical foundations and the practical applications of ethics. It serves students who wish to understand how ethical thought complements their chosen majors, but also students who have an interest in learning about ethics more generally.

The minor in ethics requires 15 credits; at least 6 credits must be in courses numbered 3000 or above. The minor must include at least 9 credits that are not used to meet any other department, college or university requirement.

All students pursuing the minor in ethics must complete either PHIL 2300 Moral Theory and Practice or PHIL 3300 Ethical Theory. In addition, students must complete 6 credits of courses chosen from a list of core ethics courses (Table A below), as well as 6 credits of courses chosen from a broader list of courses with a significant ethics focus (Table A and Table B combined).


PHIL 2300Moral Theory and Practice3
PHIL 2350Ethical Issues in a Diverse Society3
PHIL 3200Existentialism3
PHIL 3300Ethical Theory3
PHIL 3310Moral Problems in Medicine3
PHIL 3320Philosophy of Law3
PHIL 3340Environmental Ethics3
PHIL 3350Social and Political Philosophy3
or PHIL 5350 Contemporary Political Philosophy
PHIL 3360Bioethics and Biotechnology3
PHIL 3430Philosophy of Technology3
PHIL 4300Value Theory3
PHIL 4500Agency and Free Will3


ACCT 4890Corporate Social Responsibility Reporting3
EE 3880Sustainable Engineering and International Development3
ANTHR 2200Globalization and Sustainability3
ANTHR 2300Globalization and the Human Condition3
CPRE 2340Legal, Professional, and Ethical Issues in Cyber Systems3
ECON 3210Economics of Discrimination3
EDUC 2050Social Foundations of Education in the United States: Early Childhood and Elementary Education3
EDUC 4050Social Justice Education and Teaching: Early Childhood and Elementary3
EDUC 4810Philosophy of Education3
or EDUC 5810 Philosophy of Education
ENGR 3270Voices of Public Policy3
ENTSP 4100Social Entrepreneurship3
GLOBE 2200Globalization and Sustainability3
JLMC 4620Media Ethics, Freedom, Responsibility3
MGMT 3720Ethical and Responsible Management3
NREM 4600Controversies in Natural Resource Management3
NS 4120Leadership and Ethics3
PHIL 3380Feminist Philosophy3
PHIL 3390Liberty and Law in America3
POLS 2350Introduction to Ethics and Politics3
POLS 4800Ethics and Public Policy3
RELIG 3600Religion and Ethics3
RELIG 3700Religion and Politics3
RELIG 3800Catholic Social Thought3
SOC 3340Politics and Society3
SOC 3620Applied Ethics in Agricultural and Rural Development3
WGS 1600Gender Justice1

Philosophy - Graduate Study

The department offers work for a graduate minor in philosophy. For those taking the M.A. or M.S., the minor requirement is two courses above 3000 (but not PHIL 4900), each taken in conjunction with PHIL 5900. For those taking the Ph.D., the requirement is four courses above 3000, at least one of which is above 4000 (but not PHIL 4900), each taken in conjunction with PHIL 5900. Interested students should ask the chair to assign a minor advisor.

The department participates in the interdepartmental program in general graduate studies.