Philosophy

  • Degree Type Bachelor of Arts
  • Department Philosophy
  • Academic Division The College
  • Offerings Major Minor

An instructor teaches class outside An instructor teaches class outside

The Department of Philosophy at Washington and Lee University provides a liberal education that engages students with fundamental questions of existence, knowledge and value.

Philosophy

Dedicated faculty ensure that our students receive quality philosophical training in the history of philosophy, in the central subfields of philosophy and in symbolic logic. Faculty prepare students to understand and think critically about complex views, to question their assumptions and to come to informed conclusions. The department is committed to fostering a collaborative environment for student and faculty inquiry, in which faculty pursue scholarship informed by their teaching and in its own right.

With an unusually large number of professors for a college our size, the W&L Department of Philosophy offers a wide array of courses in historical and contemporary philosophy across different traditions and approaches. Examples include ancient Greek and Chinese philosophy, early modern European philosophy, contemporary ethical theory, and courses on AI and human enhancement. A majority of our professors also teach in interdisciplinary programs, demonstrating the relevance and centrality of philosophy to business, the arts and the sciences.

The most important reason to study philosophy is that it explores life’s biggest questions. Is there a God? What is a person? Do humans have free will? What is acting justly? What is a good life? What are my obligations to others, to non-humans and to the environment? What, if anything, can we know about the universe around us?

Studying philosophy teaches students to read and write critically, to analyze concepts and problems carefully, and to express solutions and arguments clearly and forcefully. Thus, studying philosophy prepares students for many different career paths: business, law, medicine, teaching, and postgraduate research in the humanities and sciences.

Students majoring in philosophy very often double major in business, other humanities disciplines or the social and natural sciences.

Philosophy majors are admitted to law school at a higher percentage than any other major and have the third-highest acceptance rate to medical school. Philosophy majors also outperform most other majors on the LSAT, GMAT and GRE, and their midcareer salaries are the highest in the humanities. Midcareer salaries for philosophy majors are even higher than those of accounting, business management and marketing majors.

Opportunities 

Outside the classroom at W&L, philosophy majors enjoy a wide array of intellectually stimulating experiences. Students meet world-renowned philosophers who come to campus to give public lectures and lead philosophical discussion over coffee or a meal. Many philosophy majors study abroad in locations such as University College at Oxford, University of Copenhagen, College Year in Athens and University of St. Andrews, to name a few. Each year, W&L sends a team of mostly philosophy students to compete in a statewide collegiate Ethics Bowl hosted by The Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC).

Students present philosophy papers at conferences around the country, and many are published in undergraduate philosophy journals. Departmental funding is available to help defray costs. Washington and Lee is home to its own successful annual event, the Mudd Undergraduate Conference in Ethics. This conference, which is supported by the university’s Roger Mudd Center for Ethics, is the only open undergraduate conference in the country solely dedicated to the academic study of ethical issues. All accepted speakers have the opportunity not only to present their papers at the conference, but also to have them published in the The Mudd Journal of Ethics. Leadership opportunities are available to W&L philosophy students for both the conference and the journal.

Philosophy students who meet the criteria may be inducted into Phi Sigma Tau, the International Honor Society in Philosophy. Senior majors who qualify may pursue Honors in Philosophy with a year-long research project culminating in a thesis and defense before the department. Every year the department honors top students with the Edward Dodd Award, Young Scholarship, Charles Thomas Boggs Prize and William Wells Chaffin Memorial Scholarship.

Outcomes

W&L’s tightly knit and supportive alumni network is always willing to assist current students and recent graduates with advice and introductions in the working world.

Our graduates go on to excel in graduate school and work in a variety of professions, including philosophy, law, medicine, business, advertising, engineering, computer science, education, coaching and more.

Paul Gregory

Department Head

Wanda Childers

Administrative Assistant

News


Nathaniel Goldberg and Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler and Nathaniel Goldberg Collaborate to Publish Third Book Together

The W&L professors’ latest publication uses pop culture concepts to untangle real-world histories.

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Katie Yurechko '24

W&L’s Katie Yurechko ’24 Named ODK National Leader of the Year in Academics and Research

Yurechko’s award will support her post-graduate studies as the university’s first Marshall Scholar.

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W&L Philosophy Professor Receives Fellowship to the National Humanities Center

Angela Sun is one of 31 fellows selected for research work at the NHC in 2024-25.

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W&L’s Michelle Morgan ’24 Earns Fulbright to North Macedonia

Morgan was selected for a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to teach English in North Macedonia.

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W&L Professor Awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend Grant

Li Kang will receive $6,000 to support research leading to a book on the metaphysics of three schools of Chinese Buddhism.

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Jay L. Garfield to Deliver Robert W. Root ’42 Endowment Lecture at W&L

The esteemed Buddhist philosopher will host a talk in Stackhouse Theater on March 7.

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Katie Yurechko '24

W&L’s Katie Yurechko Among 2024 Class of Marshall Scholars

Yurechko ’24 is the university’s first Marshall Scholar.

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Sumeet Patwardhan of Macalester College to Deliver Lecture on Feminist Activist Tarabai Shinde

Patwardhan’s talk “What I See with My Eyes: Tarabai Shinde on Men’s Blame of Women” will be held Oct. 17 at 5 p.m.

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W&L Student Co-Authors Paper Published Online by Sage Journals

Katie Yurechko ’24 presented research related to content creators circumventing TikTok’s content moderation algorithms.

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Lindsay Brainard to Deliver Lecture as Part of the Class of 1963 Scholars in Residence Program

Brainard’s talk “Does Artificial Intelligence Make Human Creativity Obsolete” will be held Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. in Northen Auditorium.

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Griffin Conti '26 and Christy Childs '26

Two Washington and Lee ROTC Students Receive Project Global Officer Grants

Christy Childs ’26 and Griffin Conti ’26 will receive funding to study foreign languages this summer.

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Sample Courses

At W&L, we believe education and experience go hand-in-hand. You’ll be encouraged to dive in, explore and discover connections that will broaden your perspective.

PHIL 242

Social Inequality & Fair Opportunity

An exploration of the different range of opportunities available to various social groups, including racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, women and the poor. Topics include how to define fair equality of opportunity; the social mechanisms that play a role in expanding and limiting opportunity; legal and group-initiated strategies aimed at effecting fair equality of opportunity and the theoretical foundations of these strategies; as well as an analysis of the concepts of equality, merit and citizenship, and their value to individuals and society.

PHIL 375

Philosophy of Mind

A consideration and assessment of dualism and materialism and of various theories of the relation between the mental and the physical, such as the identity theory, functionalism and supervenience.

PHIL 260

Political Philosophy

Is the government's power over its citizens morally legitimate? Do citizens have any political obligations to their government? What is individual liberty and how should it be respected? How should a commitment to liberty be balanced against a concern for equality and the common good? Social Contract doctrine—to which the Declaration of Independence adverts—provides answers to these questions. This course surveys the Social Contract theories of three of the most influential political philosophers of the modern age, whose writings shaped our conception of the republic and its principles: Thomas Hobbes. John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.

PHIL 346

Medical Ethics

An examination of the issues arising out of the human impact of modern biomedical research and practice. Specific issues are selected from among the following: abortion, contraception, death and dying, experimentation/research, genetics, in vitro fertilization, intellectual and developmental disabilities, public health/community medicine, science/technology, transplantation and patients’ rights.

PHIL 196

Philosophy & Emerging Technologies

By some accounts, technology is the defining aspect of modern society that shapes how we experience the world. At the same time, technology is accelerating at a pace that challenges our ability to take stock of the ethical issues at hand. In this seminar, we take a critical look at a number of cutting-edge technologies that are still largely on the horizon and attempt to decipher the ethical issues they present and how such problems might be mitigated. Some emerging technologies we critically analyze include artificial intelligence, human enhancement, virtual reality, surveillance technologies, synthetic biology, self-driving cars, and killer robots.

PHIL 274

Metaphysics: Existence & Reality

An examination of central issues in metaphysics. Topics include free will and determinism; cause and effect; space and time; being and existence; and possibility, actuality and necessity.

Meet the Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.

Paul Gregory
Paul Gregory

Paul Gregory

Professor of Philosophy, Department Head

Gregory’s teaching and research interests include philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, logic, epistemology, metaphysics, the history of analytic philosophy, and W.V. Quine.

Curriculum Vitae

Melina Bell
Melina Bell

Melina Bell

Professor of Philosophy and Law

Bell is a part of the faculty in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, and the Law, Justice, and Society Program. She also teaches at the Law School. Professor Bell’s primary research interests are in political philosophy, philosophy of law, and feminist philosophy.

Curriculum Vitae

Brandon Conley
Brandon Conley

Brandon Conley

Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Greg Cooper
Greg Cooper

Greg Cooper

Emeritus Faculty, Professor of Philosophy

Cooper’s teaching and research interests are wide ranging but often meet at the intersection of philosophy and ecology. He has researched and published on the philosophy of biology and general environmental philosophy.

Curriculum Vitae

William Dudley
William Dudley

William Dudley

W&L President and Professor of Philosophy

President Dudley teaches a philosophy seminar each Fall Term, often focusing on topics in higher education. His current course examines the W&L mission statement. He is the author of two books and numerous articles on German Idealism, which is his area of scholarly expertise.

Curriculum Vitae

Nathaniel Goldberg
Nathaniel Goldberg

Nathaniel Goldberg

Professor of Philosophy

Goldberg teaches philosophy courses on logic, pragmatism, science fiction, existence and reality, and language. He has written two books and many articles on epistemology, Kant, metaphysics, and philosophy in pop culture.

Curriculum Vitae

Li Kang
Li Kang

Li Kang

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Kang teaches Introduction to Theories of Knowledge and Reality, and Chinese Buddhist Philosophy. Her research deals with metaphysics, Buddhist philosophy, Chinese philosophy and philosophy of science.

Matthew Lamb
Matthew Lamb

Matthew Lamb

Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Angela Sun
Angela Sun

Angela Sun

Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Erin Taylor
Erin Taylor

Erin Taylor

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Taylor teaches courses on ancient Greek philosophy, medicine, research, poverty and medical ethics. She has researched normative ethics, political philosophy and bioethics.

Melina Bell
Brandon Conley
Greg Cooper
William Dudley
Nathaniel Goldberg
Li Kang
Matthew Lamb
Angela Sun
Erin Taylor
Paul Gregory