Why study philosophy?
Philosophy provides us with valuable skills. It produces better critical thinkers, more creative thinkers, and better communicators. Philosophy exposes us to different ways of thinking about even very familiar concepts, in part by carefully engaging the history of thought. Anyone curious about the fundamental questions that have occupied the greatest minds needs to study philosophy.
Philosophy is challenging, which is part of the reason why it’s beneficial, but philosophy is also fun. Philosophy is about working together to understand difficult and important problems, and then striving to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the various solutions that are proposed.
By improving critical thinking, and grappling with foundational questions in ethics, science, religion, politics, and logic, philosophy also produces more responsible thinkers, enabling us to better understand pressing social issues.
Philosophy also contributes uniquely to the development of expressive and communicative powers. It provides some of the basic tools of self-expression—for instance, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments—that other fields either do not use, or use less extensively. It helps one to express what is distinctive of one's view; enhances one's ability to explain difficult material; and helps one to eliminate ambiguities and vagueness from one's writing and speech.
Philosophy provides training in the construction of clear formulations, good arguments, and apt examples. It thereby helps one develop the ability to be convincing. One learns to build and defend one's own views, to appreciate competing positions, and to indicate forcefully why one considers one's own views preferable to alternatives.
Writing is taught intensively in many philosophy courses, and many regularly assigned philosophical texts are unexcelled as literary essays. Philosophy teaches interpretive writing through its examination of challenging texts, comparative writing through emphasis on fairness to alternative positions, argumentative writing through developing students' ability to establish their own views, and descriptive writing through detailed portrayal of concrete examples: the anchors to which generalizations must be tied.
Philosophy Makes an Excellent Second Major
Philosophy pairs well with other subjects, so it’s not surprising that many students choose to double major. They develop the same valuable skills, while also exploring the connections between philosophy and their other chosen areas of study.
A third of the students currently majoring in Philosophy at ETSU are double-majors. Some popular majors recently paired with Philosophy include Psychology, History, Theater, Political Science, Microbiology, and Economics. Talk to an advisor about potential pathways to a double-major.
Understanding Other Disciplines
Philosophy is indispensable for this. Many important questions about a discipline, such as the nature of its concepts and its relation to other disciplines, do not belong to that discipline, are not usually pursued in it, and are philosophical in nature. Philosophy is, moreover, essential in assessing the various standards of evidence used by other disciplines. Since all fields of knowledge employ reasoning and must set standards of evidence, logic and epistemology have a general bearing on all these fields.
Development of Sound Methods of Research and Analysis
Still another value of philosophy in education is its contribution to one's capacity to frame hypotheses, do research, and put problems into manageable form. Philosophical thinking strongly emphasizes clear formulation of ideas and problems, selection of relevant data, and objective methods for assessing ideas and proposals. It also emphasizes development of a sense of the new directions suggested by the hypotheses and questions one encounters in doing research. Philosophers regularly build on both the successes and failures of their predecessors. A person with philosophical training can readily learn to do the same in any field.[Taken from "A Brief Guide for Undergraduates," prepared by the American Philosophical Association's committee on the status and future of the profession. The Principal Author is Robert Audi. 1981.]
Will philosophy help me get a job?
Philosophy doesn’t direct graduates into any specific career paths. Nevertheless, the data suggest that philosophy students tend to enjoy high levels of professional success. Philosophy students have some of the highest acceptance rates into Law School and Medical School. The average mid-career salary of philosophy majors is higher than those of many other disciplines that we might expect to provide a better return on investment. There are lots of professionals in technology and computer science, film and theatre, business, law and medicine, who attribute their successes, in part, to having majored in philosophy. For more, see our pages on law, medicine and business.
How does philosophy help me get a job?
We can see that philosophy majors tend to do well after college, but we also have a plausible explanation for why they’re successful. Studying philosophy enhances problem-solving capabilities. It helps us better analyze concepts and arguments, helps us distinguish what’s relevant from what isn’t, organize our thoughts and deal with questions of value and meaning. Philosophy helps us discover common ground between opposing positions as well as recognize the most important differences.
Philosophical writing requires interpretation, comparison, persuasion, and creativity, thereby strengthening written communication skills in a wide variety of ways. Studying philosophy also improves oral communication skills, the ability to understand complex ideas, and the ability to identify strengths within alternative points of view. These are all attributes that employers value very highly. Often recent graduates can be taught the specific knowledge and skills they need for a given job. It’s much harder to pick up on the fly those skills that are acquired through majoring in philosophy.
To read more from the American Philosophical Association's "Brief Guide for Undergraduates", click here.