Economics-philosophy (major)

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The economics-philosophy major is not a double major, yet not a double concentration. It allows students to unite the basic Economics curriculum with basic principles taught in Philosophy. Both theoretical and practical, the union of the two studies might seem like an unusual combination, but as students within the major will attest, the two subjects have a lot more in common than one would assume.

A common unspoken secret among Econ/Philosophy majors is that most chose this major because it seemed easy on paper. Most, however, learn midway through the major, if not by the end of their studies, that the E/P major is probably one of the most demanding majors among the social sciences. The addition of a second required Calculus course plus the Macroeconomics course only adds to the demands placed on E/P majors. Good advice to have when possibly choosing this major is to know what you are getting into. Advising is minimal (but thankfully available, which is rare in the Econ department), classes are crowded, and work is time-consuming and sometimes tedious. Much like the courses you will be studying, the Economics/Philosophy major is a mental challenge to those who accept it.


The 44-point requirement for the E/P major breaks down as follows: five economics courses, five philosophy courses, a sequence of two calculus courses, one statistics course, and a senior seminar in Economics and Philosophy.

Those expecting to have lots of room to move within the E/P major should understand that much of their freedom in choosing courses to satisfy the major is limited. The pool from which E/P majors can choose specific classes is smaller than those in the Econ major. There are only three Statistics courses to choose from, four possible sequences of Calculus courses, three mandatory Philosophy courses (Methods And Problems, Symbolic Logic, and Philosophy of Science), and three mandatory Economics courses (Principles of Economics, Intermediate Microeconomics, and Intermediate Macroeconomics).

Expect to spend at least half of your major in large lecture halls. The Calculus, Statistics, and Econ classes have at least 35-40 students, maxing out at 100 or more per section. The philosophy courses tend to be less populated; Methods and Problems will likely be the largest of the courses, at about 45 students per section.

Economics courses

The Economics portion of the major will be challenging, but could also be rewarding. For the most part, that will depend on who is teaching your course and what sort of class you are looking for. Professors tend to either be engaging lecturers but tough graders or boring lecturers and somewhat easy graders. Consensus says there is an equal mix of both, so search out the ones who best fit you. Getting a good Introduction to Priniciples of Economics professor is key, as this course will be the foundation for everything you will study in Economics.

Course work ranges from minimal to demanding. Every Economics course will require at least 3 or 4 problem sets a semester - some require one per week! Midterm and final exams can be quite difficult - forming study groups early in the semester will be helpful. Occasionally, upper-level Econ courses will require essays (8-12 pages), but some professors may allow those essays to substitute for final exams.

Philosophy courses

On the Philosophy side, most professors have been teaching their courses for a long time. Haim Gaifman, Isaac Levi, and Bernard Berofsky are just a few examples of those will likely teach one or more of your Philosophy courses.

The older professors bring good and bad qualities to their classes. On the good side, you will be learning from some of the foremost philosophy professors in the world. Debate can be lively if you have a handle on the material being presented. On the flip side, they have taught these courses for a long time and might not be so willing to accept different points of view from their students, some might even completely resist it. Some professors also have the tendency to spend copious amounts of class time on topics that do not pertain to the material being discussed in class. Striking a balance between accepting the professors' points of view and careful analysis of the texts of any given course is the best means to gain any understanding of the material.

Methods and Problems, with Prof. John Collins, is an often entertaining introduction to the philosophical questions that you will find throughout your Philosophy courses. The Symbolic Logic course will most certainly be the low point of your academic career at Columbia if you take it with Gaifman - in a class of 30-40 students, the number of C and D grades vastly outnumbers the number of A's given (usually one or two students receive an A). Achille Varzi is the man to search out for taking Symbolic Logic. Philosophy of Science for undergrads has not been offered in years, which will no doubt frustrate many in the major, as you will be forced to take the graduate seminar. Those forced into the substitute don't have very nice things to say about the experience.

Course work almost always involves essays. Typically, two to three essays are required, usually including at least one midterm exam. There are variants to this formula. With Isaac Levi, a single paper due the last day of class determines your entire grade. With Gaifman, there is homework due for every blooming class! And don't assume that since you are doing philosophy that the reading is easy or fluffy, as may have been the case with CC. To the contrary, be prepared to spend hours on any given reading assignment. Readings are almost always dense in length and/or in detail and description.

What current majors have to say

  • Great major for a pre-law undergrad.
  • There needs to be more communication between the two departments and advisers.
  • Statistics is an easy course if you do all the work on time.
  • Microeconomics is a necessary evil
  • If you can't do it, don't choose the major.
  • Classes like Economic Development and Urban Economics use real world examples, which livens the classes up.
  • Senior seminar in Economics and Philosophy is entertaining.
  • Midterms and finals in both Econ and Philosophy often mirror those on problem sets so be sure to do problem sets even when they are optional.

Classes/professors to seek out

  • (PHIL) Methods and Problems with John Collins
  • (PHIL) Symbolic Logic with Achille Varzi
  • (ECON) Principles of Economics with Matthew Kahn
  • (ECON) Macroeconomics with Xavier Sala-I-Martin
  • (ECON) Economics of Development with Alex Pfaff or Kenneth Leonard
  • (ECON) Urban Economics with Brendan O'Flaherty

Classes/professors to avoid

  • (PHIL) Symbolic Logic with Haim Gaifman
  • (PHIL) the graduate seminar in Philosophy of Science (probably taught by Isaac Levi or David Albert)
  • (ECON) Econometrics
  • (ECON) Microeconomics with Chris Sanchirico
  • (ECON) Macroeconomics with Edmund Phelps
  • (ECON) Economics of Information and Uncertainty with Andrew Newman.