Students will engage in focused, in-depth philosophical inquiry on a single topic of their choosing, demonstrating depth of understanding, appreciation of the historic and current state of the discussion, philosophical acuity, independent thinking and a broad perspective on how their special topic fits into other areas and types of philosophy, and relates to neighbouring disciplines. Over the course of a year, guided by a faculty member, they will write a thesis on this topic – one that emphasizes independent thought – in the context of a year-long Capstone Research Seminar. The thesis will typically be about 8,000-10,000 words long, though lengths may vary; it will usually be a single essay, though it may (in consultation with one’s capstone supervisor) consist in distinct but related essays which together accomplish significant philosophical work; and the central thrust of the thesis will be to develop and demonstrate independent thought.

Unusual Capstones may be permitted. For example, there may be practical components to one’s capstone project; the appropriate nature of this, and its relation to the final written work (which it will not replace) will be determined in conjunction with the capstone supervisor. In addition, the final written product may also take non-traditional generic forms (e.g., a dramatic dialogue or a philosophical novel).

Proposals for capstones; selection of Capstone supervisors.

By 31 March of Year 3, students should submit a preliminary capstone proposal to the Capstone Coordinator for the following semester.

Students should begin by selecting two possible capstone topics, where each of these topics draws substantially on ideas that the student has already examined in some depth in a philosophy course (at Yale-NUS or abroad). The two capstone topics should draw on ideas from different courses. (This requirement is intended to ensure that students have some foundation for their capstone projects – that way they do not have to start from scratch – while also giving us flexibility in assigning supervisors.) The preliminary capstone proposal should contain a description of each topic in about 50-150 words per topic (100-300 words total). For each topic, the aim is to articulate and motivate a distinct question, or cluster of questions, within a well-defined specific area, and to indicate its philosophical (and where relevant historical) context and significance. It is not necessary to include a bibliography or a thesis statement.

In addition to this, students should briefly indicate the relevant coursework that has been done. They should also indicate preferences for first, second, and third choice of supervisor (among Yale-NUS faculty, or NUS faculty where relevant).

The Capstone Coordinator will assign supervisors of capstone projects. The first priority will be to ensure as even a distribution as possible; the next priority will be to match faculty expertise with capstone topics. Supervisors will offer feedback on the proposals to the students, particularly with a view to preparation over the summer. These preliminary meetings would normally be expected to be in person; but if students or faculty are on leave that semester, this feedback may be given in writing. Preliminary capstone proposals that are insufficiently developed will be returned to students for revision with brief comments for necessary improvements from the Capstone Coordinator.

A complete draft of the Capstone proposal is due in Year 4, Week 3.

The final version of the Capstone proposal is due in Year 4, Week 6.


The capstone project grade will be determined as follows:

  • Capstone paper: 75%.
  • Capstone presentation, semester 2: 10% (8% one’s own presentation; 2% responses to other student presentations).
  • 10% for submission of (almost) weekly work-in-progress in semester 1. This is a pilot program. Students should consult with their capstone supervisors about the precise length of this work (though 800-1200 words will be typical), and also about whether this should be new material, a revision of previous material, or a mix of the two. Full credit will be given simply for submitting the appropriate amount of work on time. Late submissions will be penalized by one letter-grade increment (e.g., A to A-) per day late.
  • Such work will be required for all but three weeks in semester 1. It will not be required in the first week, nor in two other weeks that will be selected in conversation with the student’s supervisor to suit the demands of the project.
  • 5% for participation in the capstone seminar. Full credit will be given as long as students attend all seminars and make a reasonable effort to be engaged.
Range of topics and formats:

The project may be on any philosophical topic which can be supervised by our faculty, and which can afford the opportunity for the student to develop and display depth of understanding, appreciation of the historic and current state of the discussion, philosophical acuity, independent thinking and a broad perspective on how their special topic fits into other areas and types of philosophy, and relates to neighbouring disciplines.

In almost all cases, the final written work will take the form of a scholarly dissertation making a substantial contribution to the philosophical discourse, defended in a public viva after submission. It may be 8000-10,000 words long, though some may be longer or shorter. Proposals for final written work taking alternative literary forms (dialogue, play, novel) are possible but must be approved by the Capstone supervisor by the end of Year 4, Week 6. Some suitable reflective or critical reflection on the literary piece is required in such cases, to be worked out in conjunction with the Capstone supervisor.

The capstone seminar:
  • Content. The central purpose of the capstone seminar meetings should be to teach the following skills
  • Research skills (e.g., how to make writing a habit; how to find relevant literature; how to identify an appropriate project; perhaps how to write an annotated bibliography)
  • Capstone writing skills (e.g., how to identify a topic that is neither too broad nor too narrow; how to engage with the literature; how to structure your ideas; how to revise; how to write an abstract).
  • Oral skills, including:
  • Presentation skills (e.g., how to select what to present; how to structure ideas; how to use voice and body language effectively).
  • Discussion skills (e.g., how to ask a good question, for example by distinguishing (if relevant) the context, your question or comment, and its significance; how to give a good response to a question).
  • Workload. The seminar instructor may sometimes assign work that counts towards the work-in-progress that students will be submitting every week. Apart from this, however, an effort will be made to minimize further assignments outside of seminar, so that students may focus heavily on their individual projects.

Students can expect to meet with their supervisor at least fortnightly, for 1-2 hrs. per meeting, and may meet weekly at appropriate stages in development.