The Value of Philosophy

Studying philosophy is intrinsically valuable — it is valuable in and of itself. Reflection about ourselves and about our place in the world is an essential element of a complete human life.

That is not the only value to be found in studying philosophy, though. Philosophy sharpens and deepens the mind, making us clearer and more cogent thinkers. It also broadens the mind. Adopting a philosophical point of view requires one to be willing to put all of one's assumptions and commitments under the analytical microscope. The salutary effects of such a willingness were memorably and beautifully described by the great British philosopher Bertrand Russell in the concluding chapter of his short book, The Problems of Philosophy:

The [person] who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a [person] the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect.What is more, Russell observed, the benefits of philosophical reflection extend beyond our minds: philosophy also changes the way we engage with the world around us.

The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartiality of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same freedom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insistence that results from seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world of which all the rest is unaffected by any one [person's] deeds. The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admirable. Thus contemplation enlarges not only the objects of our thoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makes us citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizenship of the universe consists [humanity's] true freedom, and [its] liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears.

What Can I Do with a Degree in Philosophy?

Almost anything! Studying philosophy prepares students for any profession that requires rigorous and cogent thinking, reasoned argumentation, and clear and persuasive writing. In a recent survey of U.S. business and nonprofit leaders conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93% of employers indicated that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate's undergraduate major. So, the question philosophy majors face upon finishing their studies is not, “What can I do with a philosophy degree?” but rather, “Of the many career options open to me as a philosophy major, which one is best for me?”

Do Philosophy Majors Ever Earn Any Money?

Yes, they do! As this chart shows, the median mid-career salary for philosophy majors is higher than that for majors in most of the other subjects offered at NYUAD, including Chemistry, Political Science, Biology, and Psychology. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, a degree in Philosophy is one that "pays you back!" (Click on the chart for the full-sized version.)

Does Philosophy Prepare You for Law School?

Absolutely. Many students who hope to go to law school assume that they must major in a subject that has something to do with the law (such as Political Science). But this is a mistake. Law schools are looking for students who read carefully, who think analytically and critically, and who write clearly and persuasively. These are precisely the skills that students cultivate when they study philosophy. This may explain why philosophy majors do as well or better on the Law School Admission Test (required for admission to U.S. law schools) than students in any other major. (See the chart below for details.)

What About Business School?

The same goes for business school. You don't need to major in Economics to go to business school. On the contrary, as the chart below illustrates, philosophy majors perform better on the Graduate Management Admission Test (required for admission to U.S. business schools) than students in most other majors, including Economics! (Click on the chart for the full-sized version.)

What About Graduate School in Some Other Subject?

Majoring in philosophy prepares for graduate work in almost any field. Most U.S. graduate programs require prospective students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). As this last chart shows, philosophy majors consistently perform better than students from any other major on the verbal and analytical writing sections of the GRE. They also tend to score quite well on quantitative sejction. (Click on the chart for the full-sized version.)