What Are the Core Courses of a Master's Degree in Philosophy?

Although the requirements for a master's degree in philosophy differ from school to school, core courses are included in all programs. The four major areas that philosophy students take are epistemology, history, metaphysics and value theory. Schools offering Liberal Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Core Courses of a Master's in Philosophy

A master's degree in philosophy generally takes two years to complete and can prepare students for entry into a Ph.D. program in philosophy. Many classes at this level are highly specialized, and may cover topics such as Nietzsche, love and friendship, and political authority. Though classes vary from program to program, there are some key courses offered through most master's programs. Such classes include advanced studies in epistemology, ethics, and metaphysics.

Important Facts About This Degree

Prerequisites Some universities require students to be enrolled in one of their Ph.D. programs from any discipline
Online Availability Online master's programs in philosophy are rare; individual classes may be available online through some institutions
Continuing Education Students interested in teaching at the university level should plan on pursing a Ph.D in Philosophy
Possible Careers Students who obtain a Ph.D in Philosophy may find employment as a postsecondary philosophy teacher or postdoctoral researcher
Median Salary (2018)$71,890 (Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)12% (Philosophy and religion teachers, postsecondary)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)


Epistemology is the study of knowledge and belief. More specifically, it looks at the creation and dissemination of knowledge in a particular discipline. Epistemology in philosophy explores the structure, sources and limits of knowledge and justification. Graduate courses in epistemology cover priori knowledge, perception, skepticism, induction, memory and inference.


Any master's degree program includes courses in the history of philosophy, examining different movements, major figures and theories in the discipline. A history of ancient philosophy course may cover Greek moral and political philosophy, including the works of Aristotle, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Socrates and Plato. A course in the history of modern philosophy explores the works of Descartes, Kant, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Spinoza. A history of ethics course will look at the moral philosophies of figures, such as Plato and Nietzsche. Some master's programs may offer a history of science course where students look at the philosophical aspects of the work of such scientists as Watson, Crick, Einstein, Mendel, Lavoisier, Darwin, Newton and Galileo.


Students read the works of various philosophers and contemporary authors on the subject of metaphysics. Various problems are considered, including time and space, free will, ontology, modality and conscious experience. Also, students may examine the metaphysics of properties from different perspectives, including realism, trope theory and resemblance analysis. Students may compare and contrast different cultural responses to metaphysical questions.

Value Theory

Value theory covers the branch of moral philosophy that looks at values and goodness. A master's level course in value theory may explore a large area of moral philosophy, for example, covering social, political, aesthetic, religious and feminist philosophy. Value theory courses look at specific issues in philosophy, such as existentialism, deconstructionism, postmodernism, social and political philosophy, political thought, aesthetics, philosophy of literature and ethics.

Ethical Theory

Important contemporary and historical ethical theories are examined in this course. Topics covered may include assessment of action and character, ethical theories' foundations and their subjective or objective status, and relationship to theories of science and their justification. Some courses may apply ethical theory to specific cultures, such as Western and Asian.


A graduate level course in logic may examine symbolic logic (modern, deductive) and accompanying metatheory. Other topics covered may include translation between artificial and natural languages, proof techniques and first order logic system development. Students may also study metalogic (decidability and undecidability), completeness and consistency of logical systems.

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