I am currently doing an undergraduate degree in philosophy and I want to study history of ideas in graduate school. I'm planning to apply to programs in UK/Europe or history of ideas focused philosophy programs in the US.

There are only four professors in my current department.

I've got some conflict with the prof who teaches Kant, Epistemology, 19th century philosophy, etc. that makes me afraid of retaliatory grading.

Of course, I want to read these authors before graduate school, but obviously it helps to take a taught course.

My questions are two-fold:

  1. How much will it matter not having taken these courses for graduate school?
  2. How much will it affect my ability to write a good sample paper?
  • I am not sure this question is on-topic here. Perhaprs, academy.se would be a better place for this sort of questions.
    – rus9384
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:28
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    True, but hoping to get experience from people who have been through the relevant programs. Will understand however if is too heavily off topic Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 22:54
  • Where do you want to go to grad school? There are some relevant differences between programs in North America and UK/Europe.
    – E...
    Commented Oct 6, 2018 at 23:41
  • @EliranH UK/Europe + history-of-idea oriented faculties in the states are where I plan to apply Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 1:27
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    @freigz I've substantially rewritten your question to focus on something I think might be answerable. Please edit further if this is off.
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 2:35

1 Answer 1


There are some things all graduate programs in philosophy in the US/UK are looking for:

  1. Strong analytic skills
  2. Basic familiarity with logic
  3. Good writing in English
  4. Good grades in classes (especially classes that show reasoning skills)
  5. Strong writing sample (demonstrates 1 and 2)

Where things will differ,

For history oriented programs, you're definitely going to want to demonstrate strong knowledge not just of the era you imagine writing your dissertation about but more broadly. Here, it would also help to have relevant language skills (so if you're talking University of Hawai'i -- Chinese or Japanese or Hindi but if you're talking Emory, then German).

For analytic programs, a much stronger background in logic will be expected along with familiarity with contemporary metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. Probably, some coursework in philosophy of mind would also be good.

Turning to your questions,

Since you're saying history of ideas, it would seem to be a pretty bad gap to lack coursework in Kant.

For the writing sample, it could negatively affect you in two ways. First, undergraduate students usually don't know how to write a good philosophy paper, and part of the point of coursework is to practice and get feedback. The more classes where you've tried writing such papers the better. This is primarily a problem about form and writing methods.

Second, lack of knowledge of Kant would negatively affect the content of papers in quite a few domains. Without having read Kant and understood it, it would be hard to interface with determinism/free will, philosophy of mind, contemporary ethics, phenomenology, Hegel, or epistemology to name a few domains.

Now if you're getting your writing sample read by someone competent, they might be able to steer you away from quagmires on that front, but these are just my two cents (or eurocents?)

  • Kant didn't write grammatically correct German, though. That's kind of lost in an English translation where his sentences get implicitly corrected. I first thought it was me but I had it corroborated: Kant didn't write stilted German but wrong German. So to truly get the full Kant experience you sadly need to learn German. ;-)
    – viuser
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 14:43
  • @wolf-revo-cats: He writes perfectly correct 18th century German with a bit weird (because Latin) sentence structure. That you need to learn the original language for a full experience/understanding is a trivial fact for the "great ones" IMHO.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 19:08
  • @PhilipKlöcking Kant constructs stuff like … so ist es ratsam, sich gedachter beider Kriterien, deren jedes für sich unfehlbar ist, abgesondert zu bedienen. where he uses an indefinite pronoun (“beide”) just like a normal adjective. Even for its time that's not ok!
    – viuser
    Commented Oct 7, 2018 at 22:08
  • It's rather irrelevant to my answer is my take on it. I'm merely describing what different types of graduate schools are looking for. Do you need to re-edit your question clarify something?
    – virmaior
    Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 2:44
  • @virmaior that all makes sense -- more is better and there is no real way of getting around that. But, my situation has turned out to be somewhat exceptional so I suppose I am interested in hearing of any person's experience that went contra to the norm. Acknowledging what is preferred, has anyone had situations where they've come out ok despite shortcomings of the above sort i.e. applying to a history of ideas program or history of philisophy, without comprehensive coursework. Perhaps that would have been a better way to format the question Commented Oct 9, 2018 at 2:49

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