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Reasons to Study Philosophy at University

Why study philosophy?

Philosophy is fascinating, which is one of the best reasons to study anything. But there are other good reasons to study philosophy, particularly at university. Here are three.

1. Transferable skills that employers value. Many degree programmes focus on teaching facts to be memorized (teaching that can soon go out of date). Philosophy, on the other hand, focuses much more developing skills – skills that you will find valuable whatever your chosen path in life. These skills include:

The ability to cut through waffle
The ability to spot errors in reasoning
The ability to make a point with clarity and precision
The ability to analyze complex issues and arguments
The ability to think independently and creatively (to “think out of the box”)
The ability to build a strong, rigorous case.

Philosophy develops an approach to thinking and problem solving that employers value – particularly when it comes to the most interesting and rewarding careers.

2. Philosophy degree programmes produce some of the most intelligent and able university graduates. 

The skills philosophy programmes generate translate into higher performance on standardized tests for graduate education (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, etc.), as well as success in the professional world. In the GRE tests of 3rd year degree majors (major = main subject studied) in the U.S.:
  • Philosophy majors rank FIRST among all majors on the verbal section of the GRE.  They even outperform those who take a degree in English.
  • Philosophy majors rank FIRST among all majors on the analytical section of the GRE. That’s predictable, given philosophy’s emphasis on analytical and critical thinking.
  • Philosophy majors rank FIRST among humanities majors and ninth among all majors on the quantitative (mathematical) section of the GRE.  Only students following programmes with a large mathematical component (e.g. maths and physics) scored better.
  • Philosophy majors ranked FIRST among all majors on the U.S. Law School Admissions Test.
Here's a graph plotting degree major GRE results on two of the three components. Where is philosophy? And where are the "useful", "career-friendly" degree majors like, e.g. accounting and business administration?

3. What can you do with a philosophy Degree? “Anything you want”.

Philosophy graduates succeed across a very wide variety of professions, including Journalism, Law, Banking and Management.

“I credit my success to my ability to logically think through problems and my writing skills, both items I attribute to my philosophy classes.”

Kim Feazle, Philosophy Graduate and Financial Analyst, Hill & Knowlton

“When I went to law school, I was told by all my professors that they were going to teach me how to ‘think like a lawyer.’  I soon found out that I already knew how to do that; I had learned to do so as a philosophy major.”

John S. Paul, Philosophy Major and Attorney (Bryan, Texas)

“The quality that Philosophy graduates possess and that is lacking in non-graduates is the ability to examine a selected subject, identify key components and their relationships to each other, and assess the consequences of a component change. It is this analytical ability of philosophers that gives them the edge over their contemporaries in the modern environment.”

Tommy Attaway, Jr., Project Management Specialist, Switzerland

“While no single curricular path is the ideal preparation for law school, you should choose courses that sharpen analytical reasoning and writing skills. Law schools prefer students who can think, read, and write well, and who have some understanding of what shapes human experience.”

From the Law School Admission Council’s Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools

I have been pursuing a top job at one of the leading investment banks in the world. This position was "short listed" to 150 people as interviews went on concurrently in various countries around the globe. At the end of the process, I received the offer and am now working in New York as a Senior Strategist at one of Wall Street's leading firms. After accepting the offer, I asked the Board, who ultimately made the final decision, why I was chosen above the others. Without blinking an eye, the Head of the Strategic Hiring Committee stated a list of reasons, the very first of which was "Out of all the people we considered, you were the only one who studied Philosophy, not to mention having a Masters Degree in it. That told us immediately that you can think outside the box." I have come to realize the answer to the question perpetually posed, "Philosophy? What are you going to with that?" The correct response is "Absolutely anything you want."

Jordan Kotick, Vice-President J.P. Morgan, Wall Street


Anonymous said…
How much of this is the effect of studying the philosophy, and how much is facts about the sorts of people likely to apply for and pass a philosophy degree course?
Unknown said…
You've just made my Day!
Anonymous said…
Philosophy degree programmes produce some of the most intelligent and able university graduates.

That sounds like a claim that studying philosopy makes you smarter. You would definately need to show your work on that one.

ciphergoth makes an excellent point. I think you displayed a graph at some point that put physicists at the top of the intellectual charts? I suspect that has more to do with very intelligent people being interested in physics than physics degree programmes producing intelligent people.
Stephen Law said…

I was careful not to claim a causal relationship (philosophy makes you smarter), though there is evidence for that too.

My main aim here is to deal with the widespread misperception that a philosophy degree is not a good choice or sensible choice if you want to work on Law, journalism, banking, etc. etc.
Ron Murphy said…

The skill set you list could be interpreted in a way you may not have intended.

The ability to cut through waffle - a skill acquired from years of cutting through the waffle of countless philosophers.

The ability to spot errors in reasoning - ditto.

The ability to make a point with clarity and precision - but a skill not always used.

The ability to analyze complex issues and arguments - and still get it wrong.

The ability to think independently and creatively (to “think out of the box”) - I'll give you that one. Countless philosophies are testement to this.

The ability to build a strong, rigorous case - based on the flimsiest of premises.


2. Philosophy degree programmes produce some of the most intelligent and able university graduates.

Ducking and diving in support of one's philosophy requires a certain intelligence that is eminently transferrable to the business world.

3. What can you do with a philosophy Degree? “Anything you want”"

Including theology.
Cornell Anthony said…
Professor Law

What is your response scientists such as Stephen Hawking who state "Philosophy is Dead"?

Hawking also says “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”
Unknown said…
I agree completely with the article :) The reason is simple. Philosophy has no content-specific subject and is therefore focused on teaching skills. Like Socrates intended to teach philosophying instead of theories of philosophy.

Everything can be trained and improved in that way to a certain degree. The same is reliable for logical thinking and precise speaking.

For Philosophying as self-responsible and own thinking the noted skills are needed. Key skills, which are formal tools to analyse and manage every subject and matter.

More or less everyone has in principal the disposition for these skills, but the question is, whether all of them or just a few are trained and developed for practical use ;)

Me: philosophical Conunselor at (Germany)
Chad McIntosh said…
"Like Socrates intended to teach philosophying instead of theories of philosophy."

Socrates, of course, intended no such thing. He disavowed teaching anyone anything, professing only to help others recollect what they already knew.

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