What You Can DO with a Major in Philosophy

The value of studying Philosophy for developing one’s character and enabling one to find direction and meaning in life — and of course for its intrinsic interest — is undeniable. Those are the primary reasons for studying Philosophy. But some students (and their parents) may worry that majoring in Philosophy may handicap them when it comes time to seek gainful employment. What many students want to know is:

Okay, But What Can I Do With a Major In Philosophy?

They may be surprised to learn is that a major in Philosophy can also prepare one for a satisfying career after graduation.

To see how, let’s dispense with this common worry by engaging in a bit of philosophizing by thinking about what makes a person suited to perform a particular job. One of the most obvious attributes that makes a person suited to a particular job is a set of skills necessary to perform that job well. One approach to education, then, is to focus on developing the specific skills that are thought to be most centrally related to the job one hopes to get after finishing school. On this model, the primary aim of education is specific job-skill training. Community colleges and technical schools are largely based on this vocational model of education.

So far, so good. But what happens if one later decides that one wants more out of life than a job devoted to just one sort of work? What if one wants (or needs) to change careers? One must then acquire a new set of skills suited to the new career path. In other words, you will need to start over from scratch. Is this really the best approach to take to one’s life after college? Suppose that you wanted to build something and can afford to buy only a few tools. Would it be better to buy a set of tools that are useful only for that highly specific task, or to acquire a “meta-tool” – that is, a tool which would allow you to make other tools as they become needed? Clearly, a meta-tool would be a better choice. Analogously, we can distinguish between skills (suited to perform specific jobs) and “meta-skills” (skills that allow one to acquire other skills as needed).

“What is philosophy today if it does not consist in not legitimating what one already knows but in undertaking to know how and to what extent it might be possible to think differently?” – Michel Foucault

Philosophy is precisely such a meta-skill. Once you acquire the abilities to reason, analyze, synthesize, and communicate effectively, you have what it takes to develop more specific skills in almost any area. The ability to think and write carefully, critically, and creatively is always an asset. Philosophy courses aim at enhancing one’s ability to think critically, to reconstruct and evaluate arguments, and to see the implications of embracing certain ideas. For this reason, Philosophy is a useful major whatever your career plans might be now as well as whatever they might become down the road.

The fact is, what fits the job description of entry-level positions is rarely what is required for career and life fulfillment, especially given how rapidly the needs of employers, social and economic patterns, and personal circumstances change. Indeed, students majoring in a liberal art are more in demand than those who are getting finance and accounting degrees.  Moreover, tech companies are beginning to realize that hiring people trained in the humanities is just as important as hiring STEM students.

“‘Realistic people’ who pursue ‘practical aims’ are rarely as realistic or practical, in the long run of life, as the dreamers who pursue their dreams.” – Hans Selye

The fact is, folks trained in Philosophy have found a wide range of occupations in which to apply their philosophical skills. In particular, philosophers have historically flourished in the public sphere.

In conclusion, some (uninformed) people may simply assume without much thought (or any research) that Philosophy is “impractical.” But really, what could be more useful and practical than a set of skills that never go out of style and that allow you to adapt to a rapidly changing world, and that has an impressive track record to boot?