Philosophy is the study of the most basic questions that underlie all other fields of study and practice. It addresses questions such as: What is the nature of reality? How can we distinguish right from wrong, and truth from falsehood? How should we organize society and act toward one another? How much can we know about these, and other issues? Furthermore, it studies how these basic questions manifest themselves as foundational issues within specific fields of inquiry. Thus, there is a philosophy of art, of law, of economics, of history, of science, of mathematics, of psychology, of biology, and so on. By studying philosophy one gains the ability to think and analyze problems both in great depth and great breadth. Because of the peculiar depth and breadth of the questions it addresses, it is sometimes mistakenly thought that philosophy is not really about anything specific and is not relevant or useful to any particular career. However, it would be more correct to say that it is about everything, and relevant and useful in every field of endeavor.
A helpful video that introduces philosophy as a whole and then goes on to introduce social and political philosophy is available here. It features Tamar Gendler, Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at Yale University.
What Can I Do With Philosophy?
Not surprisingly then, beyond the personal satisfaction gained by addressing the most basic questions confronting the human mind, the philosophy program gives a strong foundation in those skills necessary for any professional career: strong critical and analytical thinking skills as well as the communication and organizational skills to go with them. The ability to analyze a problem into its fundamental components and then argue coherently and convincingly towards a solution to that problem, is surely the most universal skill and what college level education is all about. While all fields of study employ these skills with respect to the particular problems with which they are concerned, philosophy practices those skills in a much more wide-ranging and penetrating fashion. As a result, philosophy majors find success in all walks of life.
Below you will find a range of materials that speak to this point:
- Articles on the importance of the skills philosophy teaches including evidence that philosophy majors excel in these skills and the how this is reflected in the success of philosophy majors and their median salary.
- A list of famous and highly successful people from a wide variety of professions who have philosophy degrees.
- A sampling of some of Temple Philosophy’s successful alums.
Evidence of the importance of critical thinking skills and the consequent career success of philosophy majors
Philosophy excels in the teaching of critical and analytical thinking skills and the communication skills that go with them. A simple indicator of this is that a course entitled Critical Thinking is a standard offering of Philosophy Departments (Temple’s included) and is not normally offered by any other department.
- In a 2013 study, employers rank critical thinking skills as the number one thing they look for in employees. They rank the major or area of study and its relevance to the job very low.
- College Professors rank critical thinking as the number one college-level skill.
- All graduate and professional exams test for critical/analytical thinking ability. Not surprisingly, philosophy majors excel on them.
- Philosophy majors rank very highly in median mid-career salary ($81,200), even though their median starting salary is relatively low ($39,900).Philosophy majors are ahead of all other Liberal Arts majors and only behind the most high-paying professions like engineering, economics, and finance. This is on the strength of undergraduate degree alone, and excludes those with graduate degrees. See this article in the Wall Street Journal. A recent article in Forbes magazine points out, “if you looked at the pay of people 15 years out, philosophy is in the top 10%.” Whether you’re headed for a career in business, information technology, social services, law, or the health professions, having majored or double-majored in philosophy can help distinguish you from the pack.
- Testimonials from highly successful people on the advantages of studying philosophyPeter Lynch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Lynch), who managed Fidelity’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, when it was the best-performing mutual fund in the world. Here is what he says about what he studied in college and what most helped him in his career:“In college, except for the obligatory courses, I avoided science, math, and accounting – all the normal preparations for business. I was on the arts side of school, and along with the usual history, psychology, and political science, I also studied metaphysics, epistemology, logic, religion, and the philosophy of the ancient Greeks.
- As I look back on it now, it’s obvious that studying history and philosophy was much better preparation for the stock market than, say, studying statistics. Investing in stocks is an art, not a science, and people who’ve been trained to rigidly quantify everything have a big disadvantage. If stockpicking could be quantified, you could rent time on the nearest Cray computer and make a fortune. But it doesn’t work that way. All the math you need in the stock market (Chrysler’s got $1 billion in cash, $500 million in long-term debt, etc.) you get in the fourth grade.Logic is the subject that’s helped me the most in picking stocks, if only because it taught me to identify the peculiar illogic of Wall Street.”One Up On Wall Street. Peter Lynch (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000), p. 49-50.New York Times Article: Philosophers Find the Degree Pays off in Life and WorkFrom Technologist to Philosopher: Why you should Quit your Tech Job and get a PhD in the Humanities http://chronicle.com/article/From-Technologist-to/128231/
- Other articles on the advantages of studying philosophy
- Why Study Philosophy? ‘To Challenge Your Own Point of View’
- Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?
Famous People who have Philosophy Degrees
Sheila Bair (former FDIC chair), Pearl Buck (writer), Stephen Breyer (Supreme Court Justice), Mary Higgins Clarke (novelist), Ethan Coen (filmmaker), Stephen Colbert (comedian), Angela Davis (activist), Harrison Ford (actor), Richard Gere (actor), Rudolf Giuliani (former NYCity mayor), Thomas Jefferson (US President), Tamara Keith (journalist) Dr. Martin Luther King (civil rights leader), Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel Peace Prize winner), Stacey London (stylist), Steve Martin (actor), Stone Phillips (broadcaster), Steve Reich (composer), Susan Sarandon (actor), Susan Sontag (writer), George Soros (investor and philanthropist), David Souter (Supreme Court Justice), Alex Trebec (host of Jeopardy!) and many many others.
See http://www.apaonline.org/?whostudiesphilosophy for a fuller listing.
A Sampling of some of Temple Philosophy’s successful alums
Click here for a list of some recent BA Philosophy majors and minors and their career choices.