Philosophy comps gives you an opportunity to dive into a philosophical topic of your choosing and to engage with your peers in sustained philosophical dialogue on both your research and theirs. There are three stages to comps: The first involves involves some independent preparatory work and culminates in PHIL398 (3 credits, SCrNC), which is a 5 week independent study that runs at the end of the Fall term. The goal of the first stage is to settle on a topic, do some reading, and generate a substantial proposal. The second stage involves PHIL399 (6 credits, graded), which runs every Winter term. In the second stage, you work your way up to writing the comps itself, with the help of feedback from your peers, the primary comps advisor (the faculty member running PHIL399), and a second reader from the Philosophy faculty (assigned roughly the basis of area of expertise, but with an eye toward keeping the workload equitable among the faculty). The third, and final, stage involves PHIL400 (3 credits, SCrNC) which runs every Spring term. In this stage, you revise your comps in light of feedback from faculty members in the Department, and then give a public presentation and defense of your work. Typically, students comps in their Senior year, although it is possible to comps during your Junior year, if there is good reason to do so (e.g. you are a double major, or plan to be off-campus a substantial chunk of your Senior year).

Stage 1: Summer and Fall Term (PHIL398)

Starting around Spring of the year before your comps, and certainly no later than that Summer, you should begin thinking about possible comps topics. We recommend that you choose a topic about which you have done some reading already (preferably in one of your courses). We discourage writing on a topic you have already written a seminar paper about (if you would like to do so, the comps paper will need to be new writing, and you’ll need to submit a copy of the seminar paper along with the comps). You’ll want to find a topic that isn’t too broad (would it take a book—or series of books—to answer the question you’re asking?), and isn’t too narrow (are you simply rehashing Philosopher Fancy Pants’ argument for Φ?). In the Summer and the first five weeks of the Fall Term, you should delve into additional reading to help you narrow the focus of your topic. While you’re on your own in this preliminary stage, you should feel free to meet with faculty and run your topic by them.

By the end of Week 5 of the Fall Term, you should submit a brief (approximately 600 word) topic proposal to the Philosophy Department chair for approval by the Department. Along with this topic proposal, you should include a bibliography of sources that you have consulted and sources that you plan to consult in the course of writing your comps. (We recommend that you discuss your topic with at least one faculty member in the course of writing your initial proposal). Your topic proposal and bibliography is reviewed by the Department, and you are told whether to revise your topic, submit a new topic (this almost never happens), or proceed as planned.

During the second five weeks of Fall Term, you will enroll in PHIL398 (3 credit, SCrNC), which is an independent study. The purpose of the independent study is to give you a chance to do more reading on your comps topic and to start doing a bit of writing. As you develop your topic, you should seek input from faculty, while respecting the fact that, given their busy teaching schedules, faculty members will have a limited amount of time to meet (so, for example, asking for weekly meetings from a faculty member would typically be too much).

By the last day of classes of Fall Term, you will turn in an updated and expanded comps proposal (approximately 1500 words). In this proposal, you will:

  1. Articulate the main philosophical problem or puzzle that you will address in your comps.
  2. Describes some of the main moves that have been made in the relevant literature. What sort of move or argument do you envision making in your comps? (Don’t worry; you needn’t have all of the details worked out at this stage!)
  3. Include an updated bibliography (not included in the word count).

This proposal will be read by the faculty member in charge of comps for the year and a second reader, both of whom will supply some feedback and suggestions.

Along with your proposal, you will submit a pdf reading (of approximately 30 journal or book pages). The reading should be a selection (or a few selections) from the extant literature on your topic that you think supplies some important background for your comps. (You will lead a discussion about this reading in PHIL399 in the Winter Term.)

Stage 2: Winter Term (PHIL399)

In the Winter term, you register for PHIL399 (6 credits) and work with the other compsing majors in the Senior Thesis seminar. During this term, you will continue your research, present your ideas to the seminar, and produce a refined draft of your comps (word limit: 6000 words, footnotes included). The final Winter draft of comps must be submitted by 9am on the first day of finals. A grade on the A-F scale is assigned by the Department as a whole, on the basis of an evaluation by the primary comps advisor and your second reader.

Primary Advisor and Second Readers: PHIL399 is taught by a member of the faculty who has the primary responsibility for advising you in the development of your research and the writing of your paper. You should meet with both your primary advisor and second reader several times over the course of Winter term while writing your comps. Second readers will:

  1. (end of week 4) Receive the first full draft of your comps,
  2. (week 5) Meet with you you to discuss the draft,
  3. (end of week 8) Receive the second full draft of your comps, and
  4. (week 9) Supply written comments on the second draft.

Some second readers may be willing and able to meet more and comment on more drafts, but you shouldn’t count on it, and you should try to be respectful of their time.

Stage 3: Spring Term (PHIL 400)

In the Spring term, you register for PHIL400 (3 credits, SCrNC). There are two parts to PHIL400. First, you must revise and resubmit your paper on the basis of feedback received on the final version of the paper you submitted for PHIL 399. The word limit is still 6000 words (notes included) so you’ll have to learn the valuable skill of revising and responding to feedback without increasing your word count. (You’d be surprised how much you can compress most papers with no sacrifice to the style or content). Your revised paper should be handed in one week before your comps presentation, together with an explanation (not included in the 6000 word limit) of the changes you made in this final revision of your comps.

Second, you will participate in the public Senior Colloquium series. Each meeting of the colloquium is one hour during common time on Tuesday/Thursday, and consists of:

  1. A 20-25 minute presentation of the major ideas of your comps paper. Your presentation should be a prepared spoken presentation, and not just a reading of the paper.
  2. A series of comments and questions on this material (5-10 minutes) by a designated peer commentator and your response. The commentary will be made available to the presenter by the commentator at least 48 hours beforehand. 
  3. General public discussion of the issues.

Based on your final submitted paper, your presentation, your role as commentator for one of your peers, the questions you asked when not a presenter or commentator, and your general participation in the Colloquium, you will be assigned a grade for PHIL400 (Distinction, Pass, or Fail).