MA Requirements

The MA program is designed to serve both those who intend to go on to work in philosophy at the doctoral level at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, and those who wish to pursue philosophical studies beyond the baccalaureate level for other reasons. It can provide philosophical training of interdisciplinary relevance for students intending to work in other scholarly areas, in business, or in the professions, as well as for those wishing to teach in schools or community colleges.

The MA student learning outcomes are the following:

  • Students acquire basic proficiency in at least one philosophically significant language other than English.
  • Students are able to conduct research which leads either to a thesis or a significant portfolio of shorter works.
  • Students demonstrate the ability to write and prepare presentations at high levels of proficiency.
  • Since students come to the program with diverse professional goals the following outcomes are appropriate for many, but not for all:
    • Students are prepared to enter a Ph.D. program
    • Students are prepared to teach philosophy at the junior-college level
    • Students are prepared to enter a graduate-level professional school

While a thesis option is available, the MA program primarily emphasizes course work.

Admissions Requirements

Students seeking admission to the MA program must have a BA degree, including the equivalent of 30 credits in philosophy. Students may be admitted provisionally with fewer than 30 credits; however, all undergraduate deficiencies must be eliminated as soon as possible. Deficiencies may also be assigned in cases where a student’s background does not include a sufficient number and range of courses in Western philosophy. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required of all students to whom it is accessible in applying for admission to the program. Three letters of recommendation and a sample of the applicant’s written work in philosophy (ideally 12 pages, not more than 20 pages) are required. See How to Apply for more information.

Applications from U.S. students are due February 1 for the Fall semester and September 1 for the Spring semester. Applications from international students are due January 15 for the Fall semester and August 1 for the Spring semester.

Course Requirements

To be eligible for conferral of the Master of Arts degree, a student must maintain a grade point average of no less than B+ (cumulative 3.3), while completing at least 30 hours of course work, including no more than 15 credit hours at the upper-divisional undergraduate level, counting 445 (i.e., at least 15 credit hours must be earned in courses at the 600- or 700- level).

Also required for the MA degree are four semesters (or the demonstrated equivalent) of at least one philosophically significant foreign language, typically: classical Greek, Latin, French, German, Arabic, classical Chinese, Japanese, Sanskrit, or Pali. (NB: If a student finishes all philosophy course work requirements for the MA in three semesters–as opposed to the usual four–the student in question will only be required to complete three semesters’ worth of language courses.)

Those intending to go on to pursue a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Hawai‘i must include among the 10 courses required for the MA (a) at least one course (which can be either a Western-focus or a comparative, but not an Asian-focus, course) in the field represented by metaphysics, epistemology, and the philosophy of science (or MELPOS); (b) at least one course (which can be either a Western-focus or a comparative, but not an Asian-focus, course), in the field represented by political, ethical or social theory, and aesthetics (or PESTAE); and (c) at least three text-intensive, Western-focus courses in the history of philosophy. For a course to satisfy this last designation, it must be dedicated to a close and thorough (that is, complete or almost complete, and with due attention paid to historical context) reading of a restricted number of key texts by one to three (related) authors writing prior to 1940.

Students for whom a more flexible program of study would be more appropriate should work with the Graduate Chair and a faculty adviser to select a program of course work around an area of concentration. The Department has particular strength and depth in Asian Philosophy, Ethics, Aesthetics, and Philosophy of Law, but given the diversity of faculty expertise students could develop many other foci, such as environmental or feminist philosophy, while including the contribution of one or more of the Asian or Islamic traditions to their area of interest. When appropriate, students may, after approval of the Graduate Chair, count up to three courses (9 credits) from other departments toward their MA in Philosophy. If, however, a students opts to write an MA thesis, a maximum of two courses (6 credits) from other departments may be counted toward the MA in Philosophy.

The 30 hours of course work required for the MA can include no more that 15 credit hours of upper-division undergraduate courses (300- and 400- level) regardless of department. At least 21 credit hours must be for Philosophy courses, of which at least 9 credit hours must be at the graduate level (600- and 700- level).

Should a student taking this more flexible approach to the MA decide that they would like to continue to the PhD in Philosophy at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, their course work will need to satisfy all the appropriate distribution requirements. Thus they may need to take additional course work, over and above the normal 30 credit hours, in order to satisfy the distribution requirements for the MA.

Option A: Culminating Exam

To complete the MA, each candidate will submit three seminar papers (one of which must have been subjected to significant revision, and which is to be submitted in both revised and unrevised forms as evidence of this) to an examining committee in order to demonstrate the scope of the work the student has done toward the MA. These papers will be read by a committee of four examiners. The culminating exam is an oral exam focusing primarily on one of those papers submitted. The selection of the focus-paper will be made by the examining committee, which will inform the candidate of its choice a few days before the exam is to take place. The exam is expected to last 30 to 60 minutes and is not public. In order to receive the MA degree, the student must pass this examination. A “pass with distinction” will be required of those seeking admission to the doctoral program. This MA examination will be scheduled in the last week or two of classes in either the Fall or Spring semester. Papers must be submitted to the examining committee at least three weeks before the exam is to take place. The membership of the examining committee is to be determined by the Department’s Examination Coordinator in consultation with the candidate. 

Option B: Thesis 

A student in the MA program may (conditional upon the availability of an appropriate faculty supervisor), but need not, choose to write an MA thesis in his or her final semester(s). 6 credits will be granted toward the thirty credits of required course work for completion of the thesis. Taking advantage of the MA thesis option does not affect either the course work distribution requirements of the MA, but it does reduce – from 12 credits to 9 credits – the number of hours of course work that one can take at the upper-divisional undergraduate level. A student is not permitted to begin work on the MA thesis until such time as he or she has completed 18 credits of course work in the MA program. Finally, a student who opts to write the MA thesis will not be required to take the culminating exam. Instead, there will be a defense of the thesis before a committee of four professors and, in order for a student to be eligible for admission to the doctoral program, he or she must pass this defense “with distinction.”

For more information, please refer to the Graduate Student Handbook on the PSA website.