Preparation for Proposing a SIP Topic in Philosophy

Review Prior Coursework

Carrying out individual research in Philosophy resulting in a significant manuscript is difficult and challenging work. It requires detailed planning with your supervisor during the sophomore and/or junior year, discipline in maintaining a reading/writing schedule during the senior year, and, throughout, a strong motivation to make an original contribution to the field. First and foremost, the student must be genuinely motivated to address a particular research question and willing to devote about a year of his or her life to concertedly working on it. The student must articulate a precise question, identify and gather the relevant literature on the topic, set out a schedule of reading and writing about such literature, and then faithfully submit writings and revisions to the SIP supervisor. The academic demands of composing a significant document are best addressed by choosing a question in philosophy one is earnestly, if not passionately, committed to answering. Your coursework in Philosophy is a key factor to success. It’s crucial a student have a sound foundation for precisely articulating and convincingly answering a philosophical question, and this foundation is to be found in the student’s prior coursework within the department. Here are some suggestions for identifying the topic of your SIP:

Is there a traditional subfield of Philosophy interesting to you?

  • Epistemology or “theories of knowledge” (How do we know something?)
  • Ethics or Morality (what ought we to do?)
  • Metaphysics (what is there?).
  • Aesthetics (what is art?)

Is there a specialized subfield of Philosophy interesting to you?

  • Bio-medical Ethics?
  • Ecological Ethics?
  • Philosophy of Science?
  • Philosophy of the Social Sciences?
  • Philosophy of Law?

Is there a canonical or contemporary philosopher who interests you?

  • Rene Descartes?
  • David Hume?
  • Immanuel Kant?
  • John Van Ornum Quine?
  • Simone DeBeauvoir?
  • Judith Butler?
  • Susan Hacking?

Is there a specific topic interesting to you?

  • The problem of evil?
  • Is the “mind” different from the brain?
  • Is there a right to die?
  • What is human freedom?
  • What’s the relationship between the good life and the just life?
  • What did Nietzsche mean by “the will to power”?

Bibliography and Initial Research

  • List philosophical works you have read, or plan to read, that may be discussed or cited in you work.
  • Using standard search programs, conduct a literature search on the topic of your SIP, review materials on hand, and make a tentative selection of books and articles you plan to read. (NB: read abstracts of articles that may be relevant to you research!)
  • Identify website(s) that may be useful reference sources.
  • Begin an annotated bibliography, a limited selection of the above, briefly describing the central themes and claims of material most closely related to your topic.

Meeting with SIP Supervisor(s)

Submit to your SIP supervisor responses to the following points:

  • What is the question you will raise and answer in your SIP? (No more than one or two sentences).
  • Identify the basic orientation of your question:
  • Is your question located in a traditional subfield or specialized subfield of philosophy?
  • Is your question one within the history of Philosophy?
  • Is your question about a particular philosopher’s work?
  • Is your question about a specific topic?
  • What courses have you taken that have a bearing upon your SIP question?
  • What essays have you written that have a bearing upon your question (submit them electronically to your SIP supervisor)


  • The SIP is to be completed during the SIP quarter. Your SIP supervisor may demand revisions, which must be completed before the second week of the following term.
  • (NB: Essay assignments for coursework directly following your SIP quarter may be tailored to address and augment your SIP topic; these may be included in the final submission.
  • An assessment or a 12-page presentation of your argument is to be submitted to a professional or student conference. Traditionally, we have chosen the Michigan Academy, but this may vary from year to year
  • The 12-page conference presentation, along with a summary of the ensuing question and answer period of the conference, is to be included in the final submission of your SIP.

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