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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 survey of US business and nonprofit leaders conducted on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent 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 NYU Abu Dhabi, including Chemistry, Political Science, Biology, and Psychology. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, a degree in Philosophy is one that "pays you back!"
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 or Legal Studies). 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 US law schools) than students in almost every other major.
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, philosophy majors perform better on the Graduate Management Admission Test (required for admission to US business schools) than students in most other majors, including Economics.
What about Graduate School in Another Subject?
Majoring in philosophy prepares one for graduate work in almost any field. Most US graduate programs require prospective students to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). 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 the quantitative section.
Philosophy: A Practical Choice
Still unsure about where a philosophy degree can take you? Are your parents skeptical? Show them some of these articles from major newspapers and magazines lauding the study of philosophy.
- I think, therefore I earn, Guardian
("Philosophy graduates are suddenly all the rage with employers.")
- Philosophers Find the Degree Pays Off in Life and in Work, New York Times
("For all the jokes about them, philosophy majors appear to do remarkably well.")
- Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major, Atlantic
- Mark Cuban Says Studying Philosophy May Soon Be Worth More Than Computer Science—Here's Why, CNBC
("In 10 years, a liberal arts degree in philosophy will be worth more than a traditional programming degree.")
- Bernanke to Economists: More Philosophy, Please, Buinsess Week
- The Sword of Damocles: The Value of Philosophy to a Business Leader, Chicago Business Journal
("The biggest complaint I hear from executives about their employees is their inability to think (morally and intellectually) through problems and decisions.")
- For Philosophy Majors, the Question After Graduation Is: What Next? Washington Post
("Graduates in philosophy inhabit Wall Street corner offices, roam the oak-paneled halls of the Supreme Court, and reign over boardrooms in Silicon Valley.")
- That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket, Forbes
- In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined, New York Times
- How Philosophy Makes You a Better Leader, Harvard Business Review
- The Management Myth, Atlantic
("If you want to succeed in business, don't get an MBA. Study philosophy instead.")
- The Unexpected Way Philosophy Majors Are Changing The World Of Business, Huffington Post
("Philosophy and entrepreneurship are a surprisingly good fit. Some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs and innovators come from a philosophy background.")
- Be Employable, Study Philosophy, Tyee
("Yes, the course of study that has long been denigrated as frivolous and useless in the job market has been the part of my education that I lean on again and again. For work and everything else.")
- Think On: Philosophy Is a Quintessentially Modern Discipline, Times
("Philosophy is, in commercial jargon, the ultimate 'transferable work skill.'")
- To Beat the Market, Hire a Philosopher, New York Times
- Philosophy Is Back in Business, Bloomberg
("Forget economics. Philosophy offers a deeper, broader way of thinking to help guide companies through times made tougher by overspecialized experts.")
- Learn Philosophy, US News and World Report
("The classic discipline can help with contemporary dilemmas and modern careers.")
- The Truth Is, Philosophy Rules Your World, NPR
("We can all benefit from using reason as a tool to carve meaning out of existence, as a guide to live a life well-lived, to examine the nature of reality and truth, to make our lives matter.")
- What Do Philosophers Do? Outside of Academia, That Is, Atlantic
("It's the skills that philosophers are trained in — critical thinking, clear writing, quick learning — that translate well to life outside of academia.")
- Why I Was Wrong about Liberal-Arts Majors, Wall Street Journal
("If more tech hires held a philosophy or English degree with some programming on the side, we might in the end create better leaders in technology and life.")
- Why Study Philosophy? To Challenge Your Own Point of View, Atlantic
("It's us at our most human. And it helps us increase our humanity. No matter what you do, that's an asset.")
Careers for Philosophers
What can you do with a degree in philosophy? Well, you can become . . .
- President of Morgan Stanley (Robert Greenhill)
- A ridiculously wealthy investor (George Soros)
- CEO of Hewlett-Packard (Carly S. Fiorina)
- US Supreme Court Justice (Stephen Breyer and David Souter)
- Mayor of Los Angeles (Richard Riordan)
- US Secretary of Education (William Bennett)
- Prime Minister of Canada (Paul Martin, Jr.)
- A famous design engineer (Ove Arup)
- Pulitzer-Prize winning author (Studs Terkel)
- Host of an iconic game show (Alex Trebek)
- Nobel Peace Prize Winner (Aung San Suu Kyi)
- Co-founder of Wikipedia (Larry Sanger)
- A renowned comedian and producer (Ricky Gervais)
- Academy-Award winning filmmaker (Ethan Coen)
- A four-star General in the US Army (Jack Keane)
- A French resistance fighter in WWII (Stephane Hessel)
- Pope (John Paul II and Benedict XVI)
- Co-author of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (P. C. Chang)
- CEO and co-founder of Trend Micro (Eva Chen)
- A groundbreaking anthropologist (Claude Levi-Strauss)
- A champion NBA basketball coach (Phil Jackson)
. . . to name just a few possibilities!
The Career Development Center at NYU Abu Dhabi works with students to help improve interpersonal skills, find internship and job opportunities, and prepare for graduate school.
Through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.