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California State University, Long Beach
Philosophy
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Information on Thesis Proposals

Creating a Thesis Committee

The first step in creating a thesis committee is for a committee chair or advisor to agree to supervise your thesis. Minimally, the committee chair must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty of the CSULB Philosophy Department. Your committee must additionally consist of at least two other faculty members, at least one of whom must also be a tenured or tenure-track faculty of the CSULB Philosophy Department. The department strongly recommends that your third member also be tenured or tenure-track in Philosophy, although it’s possible for the third member to be a part-time faculty member or a person with appropriate qualifications from another
university department or another university. Please consult with your committee chair in determining appropriate persons to invite to serve on your committee. (Although many part-time lecturers in the department are generous in volunteering their time for committee service, we request that you remember that the University does not compensate them for it, and most have heavy teaching scheduleshere and on other campuses.) Your committee must be approved by the department.

Writing Your Thesis Proposal

The goal of your thesis proposal is to present the tenured and tenure-track faculty members of the department with a general outline of your intended thesis project together with a brief justification of its merit as a research project warranting a master’s degree. Take as your goal the creation of a concise, well-written document clearly articulating your project and its relationship to the philosophical literature. In general you should aim for 6-8 pages of text and a bibliography of 1-2 pages. A good thesis proposal will have three elements: (1) A clear and concise statement of the position you intend to articulate and defend in the thesis. (2) A well-researched statement relating your position to the philosophical literature indicating how your position connects with important thought on the subject by other philosophers. (3) An outline of how exactly you intend to structure your exposition in the thesis. This outline should present a chapter-by-chapter account, indicating how each chapter relates to the overall project.

The best strategy for writing your thesis proposal is to start early and interact regularly with your committee. Your committee is your resource for advice and feedback on your proposal while you develop it. The director of your committee is responsible for deciding when the proposal is ready for review, and the committee members must agree. Your committee members are also the ones who will present the proposal and defend it to the department. Thus, the more constructive interaction you have with them while writing the proposal the better. It is important to note that a student cannot submit a proposal to the department on his/her initiative without the approval of the thesis committee.

Some Common Proposal Difficulties

Writing a book report: Your thesis should make a modest contribution to the philosophical literature. A mere summary of the positions and arguments is inadequate. There are many ways you can contribute to philosophical thought: Your contribution could consist of finding a significant thesis or type of argument to constructively criticize. You could find an original extension of, or argument for, another person’s theory. You can develop a critical discussion of a view’s underlying methodological, epistemic, or ontological commitments. You can explore what is really at stake in a philosophical debate or the implications of a view. You can propose a useful organization of the positions in a debate. Whatever you choose, it must signify a step forward – an original contribution – albeit a modest one.

Cutting from whole cloth: While your thesis should contain your contribution to philosophical thinking on your thesis topic, your thesis is unlikely to introduce a totally novel and important way to conceive of or solve a problem in philosophy. Good research in philosophy is almost always grounded in a thorough understanding of the ways in which other people have thought about a philosophical topic or problem. Your thesis should build on the tradition.

Rushing to market: Think of your proposal as something that will take numerous drafts and some serious research to complete. Don’t try to slap together a document in order to meet a deadline. The timeline of an advanced degree is dictated exclusively by the amount of time it takes you to acquire and demonstrate a high level of competence in the field. When your proposal is ready for departmental review, you should be well on your way to writing the thesis itself.

Technical language: In general, it is better to state your thesis without technical language for a couple of reasons. First, expressing your project without reliance on technical jargon is an indicator that you have a good grasp of the issues. Second, not everyone in the department will necessarily be familiar with the terms you use. Of course, sometimes it is important to refer to technical terms in framing a view or problem. When you use technical language, you should always explicate its meaning.

Long historical exegesis: When relating your thesis topic to the philosophical literature the most important facts to include are the ones that indicate how your project connects to recent work on the topic. A proposal need not contain a lengthy synopsis of the history of your topic.

Personal histories: However you came to your topic, that story is not relevant to assessing its philosophical merit or its viability as a thesis project.

Submitting Your Thesis Proposal

Once your advisor and all committee members have accepted your proposal, the next step is for your proposal to be submitted to the department for review. Both your proposal and your thesis committee will be reviewed (solely) by tenured and tenure-track members of the department, and will be voted upon at a faculty meeting.

To prepare your proposal, first add a cover sheet including the title, the date, and the names of your committee members with the advisor identified and listed first. Each member of the committee will sign the cover sheet of your proposal, so include a signature line for each member. Once you have collected the committee signatures, you should prepare hard copies of your proposal for distribution to the faculty mailboxes in MHB seven days before the meeting where your proposal will be considered. (Under some circumstances, electronic distribution of your proposal may be possible; please consult your thesis advisor). All the tenured and tenure-track members of the department must receive a copy of your proposal.

Please note that you are responsible for all printing and photocopying of your proposal. The Department does not provide photocopying services for students for this or other purposes.

Some Example Thesis Proposals

Example 1: Back to the Future: Natural Law and the Original Meaning of the Alien Tort Claims Act

Example 2: Conceivability and Possibility Studies in Frege and Kripke