Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations

Department of Philosophy, University at Albany, SUNY


Students are required to take two of the three Ph.D. Comprehensive examinations -- in history and in their track: either Values and Society or Knowledge and Representation. There are separate reading lits for each exam. There are also informal subgroups within the list for each exam. For further full citations and advice on preparing for the examinations, please consult the faculty members who teach in the relevant areas.

These reading lists will be the basis for the Ph.D. Comprehensive Examinations. If the list is modified for future examinations, the chair of the Examinations Committee will distribute copies of the revised version to all active graduate students and to faculty. Students are responsible, however, for verifying with the chair of the Examinations Committee that they have the version of the list on which the next Comprehensive Examination will be based. They should verify this well before they notify the chair of the Examinations Committee of their final intention to take the examination. (See Graduate Handbook II.C.4.)

History exam

  • Plato: Meno, Phaedo, Republic
  • Aristotle: Categories, chs. 1-5; Physics, Bks. 1-2; De Anima, II.1-2; Metaphysics, Bks 7-8 (i.e., Bks Eta & Zeta, H & Z); Ethics, I-IV, VI-VII
  • Hobbes: Leviathan, XIII-XXI
  • Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy
  • Locke: Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Epistle to Reader; Bk. I, 1,2,3 (secs. 1-14), 4 (sec. 1); Bk. II, 1 (secs. 1-10, 10-25), 2-9, 11-13, 17 (secs. 1-5), 19, 21 (secs. 1-5, 75), 22-26, 27 (secs. 1-4, 5-29), 29 (secs. 1-5); 30-32; Bk. III, 1-6; Bk. IV, 1, 2, 3 (secs. 1-27), 4-6, 8-11, 12 (secs. 9-15), 14-16, 17 (secs. 23-24), 18, 19; 2nd Treatise of Government
  • Berkeley: Principles of Human Knowledge, Pt. I
  • Hume: A Treatise of Human Nature, I.iv. 6, II.iii.3, III.i (entire), III.ii.1-2; Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding
  • Spinoza: Ethics, Bk. I-II
  • Leibniz: Discourse on Metaphysics, Monadology
  • Kant: Critique of Pure Reason, Avii-xxii, Bvii-xliv, A1-16/B1-30, A19-41/B33-58, A50-83/B74-113, A84-94/B116-29, A95-130, B129-69, A130-62/B169-201, A176-211/B218-56, A218-35/B265-88, A235-60/B294-315, A293-348/B349-406, B406-32, A405-515/B432-544, A517-37/B545-65, A567-602/B595-630, A642-68/B670-96; Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
  • Hegel: Preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit
  • Mill: Utilitarianism, On Liberty
  • Peirce: "Fixation of Belief", "How to Make our Ideas Clear"
  • Husserl: The Idea of Phenomenology, Lectures I, II, and IV
  • Schlick: "The Turning Point in Philosophy"
  • Carnap: "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology"
  • Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations, sections 185-242

Values and Society track exam


  • Plato, Republic, Euthyphro. Suggested translation: Republic by Grube as revised by Reeve; Euthyphro by Grube.
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Books 1-4,6,7 and 10. Suggested translations: Irwin (2nd edition), or Kraut and Broadie
  • Hobbes, Leviathan, chapters XIII-XXI
  • Locke, Second Treatise of Government
  • Hume, Treatise of Human Nature: Book 2 Part 3 Section 3; Book 3, Part 1 (all), Part 2, Sections 1-6, Part 3 Sections 1-3, 5-6.
  • Rousseau, "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality"; On the Social Contract: Book 1; Book 2 chapters 1-6; Book 3 chapters 1, 10, 11; Book 4 chapters 1-2. Recommended translation: Cress (Hackett)
  • Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Recommended translations: Paton or Gregor
  • Mill, Utilitarianism, On Liberty
  • Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morality. Recommended translation: Clark and Swensen

    2. Contemporary

    a. Political philosophy

  • Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice, Part I; Political Liberalism, chapter 1
  • Nozick, Robert, Anarchy, State and Utopia, chapter 7, section 1 only
  • Gauthier, David, "Reason and Maximization"
  • Feinberg, Joel, "The Nature and Value of Rights"
  • Pogge, Thomas. World Poverty and Human Rights, Introduction and chapter 5

    b. Ethical theory

    i. Metaethics
  • Moore, G. E. Principia Ethica ch. 1
  • Ayer, A. J. Language, Truth and Logic, ch. 6
  • Hare, R. M. Freedom and Reason, chapters 1-3, 6, 9.
  • Foot, Philippa. Natural Goodness
  • Mackie, J. L. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, ch. 1
  • Korsgaard, Christine. Excerpt from Sources of Normativity in Darwall, Gibbard, and Railton, Moral Discourse and Practice
  • Harman, Gilbert. "Ethics and Observation" (The Nature of Morality chapter 1)
  • Dworkin, Ronald. "Objectivity and Truth: You'd Better Believe It," P&PA, v. 25, n.2. (Spring, 1996), pp. 87-139.
    ii. Normative ethics
  • Smart, J. J. C. and Williams, Bernard. Utilitarianism: For and Against
  • Williams, Bernard. "Persons, Character and Morality" in Moral Luck
  • Rawls, John. "Two Concepts of Rules"
  • Stocker, Michael. "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories"
  • Hursthouse, Rosalind. "Virtue Ethics and the Emotions"
  • McDowell, John. "Virtue and Reason"
    iii. Applied ethics
  • Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "A Defense of Abortion"
  • Marquis, Don. "Why Abortion Is Immoral"
  • Singer, Peter. "All Animals are Equal"
  • Glover, Jonathan. "It Makes no Difference Whether or not I Do It"
  • Onora O’Neill, "The Moral Perplexities of Famine and World Hunger," in the 2nd edition of Tom Regan, ed., Matters of Life and Death (1986: 294-336),

Knowledge and Representation track exam

Note: Some items are enclosed in [square brackets] to indicate that they already appear earlier on the list, but are being repeated to emphasize their relevance to an additional area of the list.

    Philosophy of language

  • Frege, "On Sense and Nominatum" (in Martinich)
  • Russell, "On Denoting" (in Martinich)
  • Quine, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism" (in Martinich)
  • Austin, "Performative Utterances" (in Martinich)
  • Grice, "Logic and Conversation" (in Martinich)
  • Donnellan, "Reference and Definite Descriptions" (in Martinich)
  • Putnam, "The Meaning of 'Meaning'" in Mind, Language, and Reality
  • Kripke, Naming and Necessity
  • Kaplan, "Demonstratives" in Almog, Perry, Wettstein, eds., Themes from Kaplan, 483-540, 557-63
  • Paul Horwich, "Meaning"
  • Williamson, "Knowing and Asserting", Philosophical Review, 1996.
  • Tarski, "The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics", in Martinich
  • Grice, "Meaning", in Martinich
  • Perry, "Frege on Demonstratives"
  • Strawson, "On Referring"
  • Burge, "Philosophy of Language and Mind: 1950-1990" (Phil Review, Jan 1992)

    Philosophy of Science

  • Kitcher, "1953 and All That: A Tale of Two Sciences"
  • Carnap, "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology"
  • Goodman, Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, Pt. 3
  • Bas van Fraassen, "To Save the Phenomena" (in Papineau)
  • Larry Laudan, "A Confutation of Convergent Realism" (in Papineau)
  • John Worrall, "Structural Realism: The Best of Both Worlds?" (in Papineau)
  • Brian Ellis, "What Science Aims to Do" (in Papineau)
  • Richard Boyd, Realism, "Approximate Truth, and Philosophical Method" (in Papineau)
  • Nancy Cartwright, Fundamentalism vs the Patchwork of Laws (in Papineau)
  • Stathis Psillos, Causation and Explanation. McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. Chapters 5-9.


  • Bonjour, "Can Empirical Knowledge Have a Foundation?" (in Moser)
  • Quine, "Epistemology Naturalized" (in Moser)
  • Gettier, "Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" (in Moser)
  • Pollock, "The Gettier Problem" (in Moser)
  • Alston, "A 'Doxastic Practices' Approach to Epistemology" (in Moser)
  • Sosa, "Philosophical Skepticism and Epistemic Circularity" (in Moser)
  • Goldman, "Epistemic Folkways and Scientific Epistemology" (in Moser)
  • Moore, "Some Judgments of Perception" (in Swartz)
  • Chisholm, " 'Take', 'Appear', and 'Evident' " (in Swartz)
  • Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, "Pragmatism, Relativism, and Irrationalism"
  • Bonjour, Appendix A of his The Structure of Empirical Knowledge
  • Goldman, "What is Justified Belief?" in Knowledge and Justification, ed. George S. Pappas
  • Sellars, Science, Perception, and Reality: "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind," secs. I-VIII.
  • Chisholm, "The Problem of the Criterion" in his Theory of Knowledge (Prentice-Hall, 1966, 1st ed.)
  • Kim, "What is 'Naturalized Epistemology'?" in his Supervenience and the Mind

    Philosophy of Mind

  • Thomas Nagel, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" in Mortal Questions
  • Putnam, "Brains and Behavior" (in Chalmers)
  • Davidson, "Mental Events" (in Chalmers)
  • Kim, "The Many Problems of Mental Causation" (in Chalmers)
  • Jackson, "Epiphenomenal Quialia" (in Chalmers)
  • Block, from "Troubles with Functionalism" (in Chalmers)
  • [Burge, "Philosophy of Language and Mind: 1950-1990"]
  • [Kripke, Naming and Necessity]
  • McGinn, "Anomalous Monism and Kripke’s Cartesian Intuitions"
  • Block, from "Are Absent Qualia Impossible?"

    Other Metaphysics

  • Davidson, "Actions, Reasons, and Causes" in Essays on Action and Events
  • Quine, "On What There Is" in From a Logical Point of View
  • Dummett, "Realism" in Synthese, 52 (1982), 55-112
  • Russell, Problems of Philosophy, Chs. 9 & 10
  • Quine, "Ontological Relativity"
  • [Kripke, Naming and Necessity]
  • Husserl, Idea of Phenomenology, Lectures I, II, & IV
  • Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, sections 185-242
  • Schlick, M., "The Turning Point in Philosophy"
  • Carnap, R., "Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology"