The candidate for the oral examination for the M.A. or Ph.L. degree has finished at least two semesters of full-time graduate work or their equivalent in summer sessions and part-time semesters, in addition to an undergraduate program in philosophy. Hence the candidate is expected to have a knowledge of fundamental issues in the major divisions of philosophy and a knowledge of classical, modern, and contemporary approaches to those issues.

The examination will be conducted by four members of the faculty. The thesis director, the thesis reader, and the dean are usually members of the Examining Board.

The examination will last one hour, covering the eight headings attached. The hour will be divided equally among the four examiners, each of whom will be responsible for covering two of the eight areas of the examination. Each examiner grades the student on his performance in the examiner's two areas; and each examiner also gives one grade for the student's performance for the other three examiners.

The candidate should be prepared to state several issues suggested by each of the questions under each of the eight headings. He or she should be prepared to analyze and to discuss these issues and to answer objections to positions. It is expected that the candidate be able to relate his or her analysis and discussion to the history of philosophy.

Ordinarily the discussion of an area, lasting some seven or eight minutes, will center around one question. The following procedure will be typical. The examiner chooses a question from the list. The student begins to answer, laying out a general approach to the question and pursuing an avenue through issues relevant to it. Ordinarily the examiner will allow the student to set up his answer in this general way. Then the examiner will steer the discussion along roads that will exhibit the student's knowledge and capacity for informed and disciplined philosophical thought. If the examiner believes the student's opening exposition lays out the issues in a too limited way, the examiner may introduce new areas into the discussion. If, on the other hand, the opening exposition seems too vague or too general, the examiner may ask the student to focus his remarks by answering specific questions. The examiner may move on to other questions under the same heading. After approximately half his time is up, the examiner will ask another question, one chosen from his second area; and the procedure will be repeated.

The examiner does not look for a preconceived correct answer to the issues related, but wishes rather to determine how well the student can think and argue philosophically.

M.A. Oral Questions (Revised 12/17/19):

Philosophy of Being:

  1. Explain what philosophy of being is, showing how it differs from other sciences. Explain the various names it has been given: "first philosophy," "divine science," "metaphysics," "the science of being as being."
  2. Explain the concepts of existence, essence, substance, property, accident, change, act and potency.
  3. Explain the nature of causality and discuss the major kinds of causes.
  4. Discuss the one and the many as a metaphysical theme.


Philosophy of God:

  1. Compare proofs for the existence of God.
  2. Discuss difficulties of speaking about God. Discuss the distinction between univocal, equivocal, and analogical predication and how these kinds of predication would apply to the nature and attributes of God.
  3. Discuss the divine transcendence and immanence and divine causality in creation and conservation.

Philosophy of Nature and Science:

  1. Discuss what Aristotle means by nature: how it is related to substantial principles such as matter and form; how it differs from art and violence; and how natural things can be said to act for an end.
  2. Discuss the introduction of mathematics into the study of nature and its effect on the understanding of cause.
  3. What is a law of nature? What is a scientific explanation? What is the role of a model in the construction of a scientific theory?
  4. Discuss two of the following: time, space, place, motion, and force.
  5. Discuss mechanism and materialistic reductionism.

Philosophy of Human Nature:

  1. Evaluate differing conceptions of human nature.
  2. What role do the concepts of reason, soul and end play in the discussion of human nature?
  3. Discuss human freedom and its limitations.

Philosophy of Knowledge:

  1. Explain the basic distinctions used in regard to knowledge: how is perception different from imagination, how is knowledge different from opinion, how is truth different from error, how is error different from ignorance?
  2. Explain the difference between the senses and the intellect and discuss the activities of both. Why is truth said to reside in the judgment of the intellect?
  3. Discuss the relation of skepticism to the theory of knowledge.
  4. In what ways can language lead and mislead us with respect to knowledge?


  1. What is the difference between judging an act as good or bad in itself and judging it as good or bad because of its consequences?
  2. What is virtue and what are the various kinds of virtue? How is prudence related to moral excellence, and what is the relation between virtuous actions and human character?
  3. What is the moral good and how is it different from other forms of the good?
  4. Discuss some alternative moral theories, such as ethics of character, ethics of duty, and utilitarianism.

Political Philosophy:

  1. What is political society, and how does its end differ from that of other human associations? How have political philosophers explained its origin?
  2. Distinguish between power and authority. How does their exercise differ within various forms of political association such as monarchy, aristocracy, republican government, democracy, oligarchy, tyranny, and representative government?
  3. Discuss the nature of law, the various kinds of law, and the relationship between civil law and natural law. What is the basis for the obligation to obey law?
  4. What does the notion "common good" add to political discourse? Is it possible to have political community without shared political beliefs? What are the respective roles of church and government in fostering the commonwealth?


  1. Explain the differences between categorical logic, propositional logic, and predicate logic. What does it mean for a logical system to be truth-functional?
  2. Explain the difference between validity, truth, and soundness in regard to logical inference, and indicate some valid and invalid forms of logical inference.
  3. Explain the difference between logic, grammar, and rhetoric.
  4. What is predication? What is the difference between categories and predicables? What is the relation a) between universals and predication and b) between definitions and predication?