What is Philosophy?

 
"If I were to start again as an undergraduate, I would major in philosophy," said Matthew Goldstein [chancellor of the City University of New York]. "I think that subject is really at the core of just about everything we do. If you study humanities or political systems or sciences in general, philosophy is really the mother ship from which all of these disciplines grow." (New York Times, 4/6/2008)
 



What is philosophy?
 
Philosophy is an attempt to reason clearly and critically about all areas of experience: science, religion, art, politics, and morality. Its purpose is to understand and evaluate our most basic beliefs and values, and to integrate them into a coherent view of ourselves and the world. One might reasonably say that philosophy is the foundation of civilization: No religion, government, or personal viewpoint has ever existed without a philosophical framework. 
 
Today the study of philosophy continues to play an important role in helping shape the future of human existence and enhances your professional opportunities. Philosophy improves your skills in reading, critical thinking, communication, and presenting effective arguments in a variety of professional settings. With ethics standards making national headlines and a hot topic in boardrooms throughout the country, companies are eager to hire graduates who bring that knowledge and understanding to the workplace.
 
Philosophy is an appropriate preparation for vocations that require a broad liberal education and skills in clear, creative thinking. Such vocations include law, government service, writing, the ministry, medicine, and many types of positions in business. It is especially attractive when paired with another major that teaches technical or professional skills, for example, philosophy with mass communication. 
 
Many of our philosophy students use it as a cornerstone for a career in medicine or law. At ETSU you can incorporate religious studies into your philosophy major if you are passionate about the ministry. The call to teach is also an important career opportunity. Philosophy is not a limiting major, instead it is a door to many opportunities in business, medicine, government, education, and religion.
 


Why study philosophy?
 
Most students entering university are unfamiliar with philosophy. Although high school students are intellectually capable of studying philosophy, they are seldom given the opportunity. Consequently, the students' impressions about philosophy—impressions widespread in our society—are often uninformed or misinformed. They may well wonder: "Why should I study philosophy?"
 
The short answer is because philosophy is provocative, enlightening, and meaningful: It helps us understand that things are not always what they seem, it helps us learn about ourselves and the world, and it teaches us how to grapple intelligently with fundamental questions, such as:
 
"Who am I?"
"Does God exist?"
"How should I live?"
"Should I do what society tells me to do?"
"Can I be sure of any of my beliefs?
"Does my life have meaning?
"Are values just a matter of opinion?"
"What is the nature of mind, language, and thought?"
 
Philosophy makes us more critical, it shows us that what we take for granted may be false—or only part of the truth, and it develops important abilities, including:
 
the ability to reason clearly
the ability to distinguish between good and bad arguments
the ability to think and write clearly
the ability to see the big picture
and the ability to look at different views and opinions
 
These skills are highly prized by employers and by graduate / professional schools. They are never outdated. They enrich our lives and our relationships.
 
By studying the writings of great philosophers we see the extent to which philosophy has influenced science, religion, government, education and art.
 
Philosophy empowers us to critically examine ours views and the views of others. Occasionally this leads us to reject our "inherited" views; however, it should always give us new and creative ways to deal with problems we could not otherwise solve.
 


Will philosophy help me get a job?
 
Philosophy is central to a liberal education. It is also immensely practical. Many employers seek workers with a background in philosophy, providing they also have the requisite technical skills. It is not difficult to see why—philosophy majors do extremely well on a wide variety of measures. For example:
 
Philosophy majors had the highest average among all majors on the
verbal and Analytic Writing portions of the GRE
Philosophy majors had the second highest average amongst all majors
on the quantitative portion of the GRE, after economics majors
Philosophy majors had the highest average LSAT scores of the
12 most popular pre-law majors (tied with economics majors).
Philosophy majors had the highest medical school acceptance rates
(50% compared to 37% for all majors). [source]
 
Some philosophy majors go to graduate school in philosophy. Most, though, pursue careers in other fields: law, medicine, government, computer science, publishing, public administration, etc.—any field which requires clear thinking. More specifically, a major or minor in philosophy would be helpful in any of the following fields:
 
BUSINESS: insurance, publishing, advertising, computer programming,
consulting, investment banking, marketing, technical writing.
GOVERNMENT: public administration, diplomacy, human services,
intelligence, policy analysis.
JOURNALISM: editing, free-lance writing, literary and film criticism.
LAW: legal journalism, criminal justice, law practice, legal aid,
legal research, paralegal assistance.
MEDICINE: consulting, hospital administration, medical practice, nursing.
THE ARTS AND THE HUMANITIES: private and public administration,
theater production, creative writing.
THE SCIENCES: physics, biology, psychology and the social sciences.
OTHER: education, administration, computer science, library administration.
 
In fact, you might be surprisded to learn that the mid-career median salary of philosophy majors ranks 16th out of 50 majors studied by PayScale.com— above such majors as chemistry, marketing, information technology, and business management. [source]
 


Ideas adapted from a brochure by Daniel Kolak.
What can I do with a philosophy degree?