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Why Study Philosophy?

For people who want “be all they can be” as human beings, it’s hard to imagine a more practical course of training than the study of philosophy. More is necessary, to be sure. But a life without philosophical reflection is missing something valuable, and - if Aristotle is right - something essential to a good life. Philosophy is a response to the deepest questions human beings can ask, and hence, it sheds invaluable light on what we human beings are, and what we care about and believe. This articulates some of the inherent value of studying philosophy.

And, yet, philosophy is “practical” in another sense, as well. What it offers students enhances their powers in ways that give them an edge as they proceed to complete their schooling, and move into careers. 

Philosophers Score Better

Philosophy majors score well above average on a number of standardized tests, including the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) and the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). In addition, the American Medical Association found philosophy majors had the third highest acceptance rate into American medical schools.

Test Performance by Undergraduate Major

Rank LSAT GMAT GRE Verbal GRE Quant.
1 Mathematics Mathematics Philosophy Physics
2 Economics Philosophy English Mathematics
3 Philosophy Engineering Anthropology Engineering
4 Engineering Chemistry History Computer Science
5 Chemistry Economics Foreign Languages Chemistry
6 Other Humanities English Physics Other Science
7 Foreign Languages Computer Science Other Humanities Economics
8 English Foreign Languages Journalism Biology
9 Anthropology History Political Science Philosophy
10 Biology Other Humanities Biology Anthropology
(These data were reported in the Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 66:1, 1992. The rankings are by average mean differential.)

Philosophers Get Jobs

Despite the stereotype of unemployed philosophers, employment reports show the career opportunities available to philosophy majors. As the American Philosophical Association reports, only 2.3% of philosophy majors were unemployed, based on National Research Council data for 1995. That’s less than half the national unemployment rate at the time. So philosophers are employed at a rate that easily beats the average. While not all employed philosophers work in educational institutions, 79.7% were. As for the rest: 6.9% worked for a private company, 4.4% were self-employed, 4.6% worked for a non-profit, and 4.1% worked for government.

Why are philosophers so overwhelmingly employed? They have learned to think critically and creatively, to articulate, and to find outside-the-box solutions. Take, for instance, this surprising praise:

My company took a contract to extract beryllium from a mine in Arizona. I called in several consulting engineers and asked, ‘Can you furnish a chemical or electrolytic process that can be used at the mine site to refine directly from ore?’ Back came a report saying that I was asking for the impossible — a search of the computer tapes had indicated that no such process existed. I paid the engineers for their work. Then I hired a student from Stanford University who was home for the summer. He was majoring in Latin American history with a minor in philosophy. I gave him an airplane and a credit card and told him, ‘Go to Denver and research the Bureau of Mines archives and locate a process for the recovery of beryllium.’ He left on Monday. I forgot to tell him that I was sending him for the impossible. He came back on Friday. He handed me a pack of notes and booklets and said, ‘Here is the process. It was developed 33 years ago at a government research station at Rolla, Mo.’ He then continued, ‘And here also are other processes for the recovery of mica, strontium, columbium, and yttrium, which also exist as residual ores that contain beryllium.’ After one week of research, he was making sounds like a metallurgical expert. He is now back in school, but I am keeping track of him. When other companies are interviewing the engineering and the business-administration mechanics, I’ll be there looking for that history-and-philosophy major. (Loren Pope, 2007. Looking Beyond the Ivy League: Finding the College That's Right for You.)

As the Times of London opines:

In this country [England], the Higher Education Statistics Survey puts philosophy of science right up with medicine in its employment record for graduates.

Philosophy is, in commercial jargon, the ultimate “transferable work skill.” That is not the only argument for expanding philosophy departments, and encouraging sixth-formers to read Plato, or John Stuart Mill on liberty. Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, has cautioned against an obsession with the narrowly vocational. Lecturing the Confederation of British Industry on the “sly utilitarianism” of employers, he defends a liberal education as needing “no justification beyond the satisfaction and enjoyment that it brings.” Teenagers waiting for their A level results and pondering degree courses should consider philosophy. It is rewarding in itself; and it could nowadays be the passport to a successful, varied career. (15 August 1998)

Philosophers’ Monetary Compensation is Adequate

According to the Princeton Review, philosophers’ starting salary averages $27,000 but after 5 years averages $40,000 and hits $60,000 after 10 to 15 years. Philosophers typically work 50 hours per week.

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