Why Major in Philosophy?

Text:
Increase font size
Decrease font size

The best reason to major in philosophy would be that you love it.  (And contrariwise, if you have taken a philosophy course and found that you don’t love it, that’s about the best reason there could be for not majoring in it.)  But other reasons for majoring in philosophy are discussed in these:

  • A new article in the Huffington Post about why philosophy is good for business:  here.
  • For an older article about the same thing, see here.
  • A timely article about majoring in philosophy, doing fantastically well on the GRE, and other good things, see here.
  • An article on the most recent GREs, in which philosophy majors dominated, see here.

 

 

“What’s the point of studying a field in which there aren’t any right answers?”

It’s true that there is no consensus, even among professional philosophers, on the correct answers to most of the basic problems of philosophy (e.g., what makes some actions morally right and others wrong? do we have free will? what is reality ultimately made out of? is there a god? can the legitimacy of the authority of the state be established, and if so then how? is mathematics something humans discovered or something humans invented?), but that doesn’t mean that philosophy doesn’t make progress, and it doesn’t mean that we can’t learn by studying other philosophers.  What we learn by studying the field of philosophy includes:

  • the range of possible answers to philosophical questions
  • the range of possible reasons that have been given for adopting one or another of these   answers
  • the objections these reasons are subject to.

Having studied these things, you might not know for certain what the answer to any particular basic philosophical question is, but you will be able to make your mind up about what to think from a position in which you are more fully conscious of what the alternatives are, and what their known strengths and weaknesses are.  This gives you a kind of freedom to responsibly decide for yourself what to think that, alas, not everyone enjoys.

Training in the practice of philosophy means training in:

  • Stating your own views as clearly and precisely as possible
  • Seeking out the best possible arguments against your own views
  • Seeking out the full range of alternatives to your own views that a reasonable person might take seriously
  • Understanding the arguments for alternative views as charitably as you can
  • Critically evaluating the cases for and against a range of possible views

and these are skills that will serve you well in any intellectual problem you might encounter.

“What are you going to do with that?”

There aren’t many careers that a bachelor’s degree in philosophy will give you specific training for.  But there are very many different kinds of careers that philosophy majors go into after receiving their bachelor’s degrees.  The study of philosophy develops many skills, including:
•    critical thinking
•    evaluation of chains of reasoning
•    construction of chains of reasoning
•    consideration of many different perspectives on a single subject
•    clear written communication on complex topics
and these are skills that will serve you well no matter what you end up doing.

After graduation, philosophy majors go to law school, to medical school, to business school, to seminary, and to graduate school in a range of fields from art business to education to gender studies to philosophy; they go to work for business consulting firms and for humanitarian non-government organizations; they take jobs as technical writers, teachers, web designers …

About Law School and Medical School

Law schools know that philosophy is one of the best pre-law majors.  The skills you develop while taking philosophy courses – such as careful, critical writing about detailed arguments – are the very ones you will need in law school.  Philosophy majors typically do extremely well on the LSAT (though to be honest, we must add that it is not clear whether this is because studying philosophy causes students to get better at solving LSAT-type problems, or whether it just reflects the fact that brighter students tend to be drawn into philosophy to begin with – see above concerning “seeking out the best arguments against your own views”).  For more information, see this website:

http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/physics_math_majors_get_top_lsat_scores_poli_sci_majors_are_average/
Though it is often overlooked for this purpose, philosophy is also an excellent pre-med major.  Here at Chapel Hill, the requirements of the philosophy major have a great deal of flexibility built into them, making it relatively easy to fit in all the science courses you need to take as a pre-med.  A recent issue of a journal published by the American Medical School Association indicates that a very high proportion of philosophy majors applying to medical schools have been accepted.  See it here:
http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Libraries/Misc_Docs/Major_Anxiety.sflb.ashx

See also this article about a major medical school that is very friendly to humanities majors:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/30/nyregion/30medschools.html?hp

How Much Money Do Philosophy Majors Make?

A lot of students are deterred from majoring in philosophy by the widespread belief that a degree in philosophy translates into low earning potential.  This turns out not to be true.  Each year, www.payscale.com issues a report on the median starting salaries and mid-career salaries of people with only bachelor’s degrees, sorted by major.  Not surprisingly, philosophy isn’t at the very top of the list, but it is a lot higher than you might think:

According to the 2011 numbers, the median starting salary for philosophy BAs is $39,800 and the median mid-career salary is $75.600.  This puts it at #2 among the humanities majors (behind American studies), only slightly behind accounting majors, and ahead of several science majors (including biology and psychology) and professional majors (including business, advertising, public administration and hotel management).

For the full report, click here:  http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/degrees.asp

The Wall Street Journal list, “Degrees that Pay You Back,” shows that philosophy majors have the highest increase in yearly earnings from starting median salary to mid-career salary at 103.5 percent. Philosophy is the top earning humanities major, ranking above chemistry, accounting, and business management for midcareer earning potential.
For details, click here: http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/info-Degrees_that_Pay_you_Back-sort.html

Needless to say, nobody should major in philosophy for the money.  But this evidence suggests that avoiding majoring in philosophy for the sake of making money might not be such a great idea either.