Why Major in Philosophy?


Job candidates and applicants to professional schools can only be helped by being able to examine both sides of a question, think critically, write cogently, and solve very general abstract problems.  And this isn’t just something that only philosophy teachers say.  Below are links to articles and posts by many “real world” sources with information for you about how well positioned philosophy students are for admission to graduate and professional schools, for careers in business, and for jobs in general.  You might be interested in going on in philosophy itself, but coursework in the discipline turns out to be useful in setting you up for the rest of  your life in any case.

These results actually make sense: many employers and professional programs are looking for people who can reason well, articulate a viewpoint, defend their beliefs in writing, and solve very general abstract problems – the very skills that are preeminently developed by a philosophical education.  Our former philosophy majors who have kept in touch with the Department have remarked on how helpful their philosophical training has been in developing their job skills.  To sum up, although (and actually in part because) we live in uncertain times, philosophy compares well to other subjects of study in terms of giving you skills that will stand you in good stead as you face a variety of  new demands in new situations.

THE GOOD NEWS:

National statistics show that philosophy students do exceptionally well on standardized exams.  For a physicists’ website showing the success of philosophy students on the GRE’s, look here.  And here’s another blog (from DISCOVER: science for the curious) highlighting how well philosophers do.

Here’s the link to the aba website showing phil majors second only to math and physics in LSAT scores.  

1998 statistics from the Association of American Medical Colleges show philosophy majors applying to med school had a 50% acceptance rate (where Biology students were at 35%, Chemistry 39%, Physics 42%, and Biochemistry 43% )!!  For an article from a journal published by the American Medical School Assocation about the high proportion of philosophy majors who are accepted, have a  look here.

And here’s a link about the GMAT.

For the usefulness of Philosophy for employability in general  have a look at Shannon Rupp's article on Salon, or The Guardian, or The Wall Street Journal, or Anders Berg Poulsen's discussion on GRASP, or Matthew Stewart's article in The Atlantic.

HERE IS A LISTING OF WHICH PHIL COURSES HAVE CONTENT DIRECTLY RELEVANT TO CERTAIN OTHER INTERESTS YOU MIGHT HAVE.  BUT KEEP IN MIND THAT IT CAN BE EQUALLY VALUABLE TO COMPLEMENT YOUR OTHER INTERESTS (in science or what have you) WITH WORK IN PHILOSOPHY THAT IS NOT SO OBVIOUSLY CONNECTED WITH YOUR PRIMARY FIELD OF STUDY.

For Students Interested in Developing Logical Skills

We offer two introductory courses specifically designed to develop logical rigor. PHIL 102 (Introductory Logic) develops a system of logic using precisely formulated rules and a special logical notation. PHIL 101 (Reasoning) approaches the subject in a less formal way, generally without the use of special symbols. PHIL 102 is usually taken without PHIL 101. Students who have taken PHIL 102 and wish to further develop their logical skills and their acquaintance with formal methods should take PHIL 210 (Symbolic Logic). Students with a special interest in advanced formal logic may take PHIL 410 (Formal Logic), or PHIL 416 and 417 (Metalogic I and II).

For Pre-Law Students

The Philosophy Department offers a large number of courses in ethics and social and political philosophy. All of these are of great value to Pre-Law undergraduates, and in fact an undergraduate major in philosophy is widely considered to be an excellent preparation for law school and a career in law. The study of law is in many respects analogous to the training one receives in a good philosophy class. There is an emphasis on the definition of concepts, the formulation and evaluation of arguments, and the postulation of general principles to explain and justify particular judgments. A good law class, like a good philosophy class, attempts to engage students in a dialectical process of refining and defending their position. Pre-Law students who do not choose to major in philosophy would still do well to take a number of courses focusing specifically on ethical and legal issues. These include PHIL 103 (Introduction to Ethics), 104 (Introduction to Social/Political Philosophy), 112 (Morality and the Law), 230 (Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy), 232 (Sex Roles: Moral and Political Issues), 430 (Ethics), 431 (Social/Political Philosophy), 432 (Topics in Ethics), and 433 (Topics in Social/Political Philosophy). PHIL 101 (Reasoning) and 102 (Introductory Logic) are also highly recommended for Pre-Law students.

For Pre-Med Students

In recent years health care professionals increasingly have had to make decisions of an ethical nature, concerning either matters of policy or cases involving particular individuals. How medical resources should be distributed when need exceeds supply, how the costs of health care and prevention should be distributed, whether to inform patients when there is no hope for them, whether to perform abortions, how far genetic experimentation should be taken. These questions and others like them are largely questions of value and justice, and cannot be decided by science alone. Recognition of this fact by the health professions has led many medical schools to look for candidates who have, in addition to scientific background, some understanding and concern for these broader humanistic issues. Course work in philosophy, with particular emphasis in moral and social philosophy, is thus an important part of an excellent grounding for a career in the health sciences. PHIL 115 (Death) and 116 (Medical Ethics) will be of the greatest interest to Pre-Med students. Topics of great concern to medicine and public health are also often covered in PHIL 230 (Topics in Ethics and Political Philosophy), 432 (Topics in Ethics), and 433 (Topics in Social/Political Philosophy).

For Students in Mathematics or Computer Science

We offer a series of courses in mathematical logic: PHIL 102 (Introductory Logic), 210 (Symbolic Logic), and 416 and 417 (Metalogic I and II). Students of mathematics and computer science will find these courses, as well as PHIL 211 (Inductive Logic and Decision Theory), 410 (Formal Logic), 412 (Introduction to Set Theory) and 415 (Philosophy of Mathematics), of particular interest.

For Students in the Natural and Social Sciences or Engineering

The Philosophy Department offers a series of courses of special interest for students of the natural and social sciences: PHIL 105 (Science and Philosophy), 204 (Introduction to the Philosophy of Science), and 404 (Philosophy of Science). We believe these courses offer the complement necessary for any well-educated scientist or engineer. Taught by faculty members trained both in science and philosophy, these courses allow you to step outside the problem-oriented professional framework of science education and take a broader look at the sciences. These courses cover fundamental questions about the nature of scientific theories and scientific methods: What makes a statement or theory scientific? Is there such a thing as a purely objective observation? What is the nature of scientific explanation? What, exactly, is the relation between theory and evidence? How rational is scientific change? Students with an interest in the philosophical issues underlying the methods of statistical reasoning and the concept of probability used in all the sciences will want to take PHIL 211 (Inductive Logic and Decision-Making).

For Students in the Social Sciences

In addition to the courses mentioned above for students of both natural and social sciences, we offer a number of courses of special interest to students of the social sciences. PHIL 405 (Philosophy of Social Science) addresses philosophical questions of general concern to social scientists, such as the degree of objectivity possible in social science. Students of psychology will be interested in PHIL 122 (Philosophy of Consciousness) and especially PHIL 202 (Philosophy of Psychology), which discusses the philosophical foundations of competing approaches in psychology such as behaviorism, cognitive psychology, and AI. Students of linguistics will be interested in PHIL 406 (Philosophy of Language), which covers such questions such as the nature of linguistic meaning and reference, the relationships among mind, language, and reality.

For Students in Business or Economics

Statistical reasoning and mathematical methods of decision making are widely used in business and in applied economics. Students interested in philosophical issues underlying these methods will find one of our courses especially interesting: PHIL 211 (Inductive Logic and Decision Making). PHIL 109 (Business Ethics) explores and evaluates the important moral, social, and political implications of our business practices and economic system.

For Students Interested in Ethical, Social, and Political Issues

Many of our courses focus on issues of general moral or political concern. These courses will be of interest to you regardless of your career plans, and whatever your major. Here it is possible only to offer a mere sampling of the kinds of questions covered in some of these courses -- PHIL 103 (Introduction to Ethics): What is the ultimate foundation for the distinction between right and wrong? PHIL 109 (Business Ethics): What special moral obligations, if any, does an employer have to an employee, or an employee to an employer? What moral obligations, if any, does a business have to the rest of society, or society to failing businesses? PHIL 115 (Death): What is the appropriate attitude toward one's own death, and toward the death of others? PHIL 112 (Morality an the Law): When is a law - concerning abortion, privacy, capital punishment, or taxation - morally unjustified? PHIL 110 (Philosophy of Sex and Love): What sexual relations, if any, are immoral? What is the nature and extent of one's obligations to one's spouse or lover? PHIL 116 (Medical Ethics): Is abortion morally permissible? How about euthanasia? What is the most just scheme for distributing health care and its costs? PHIL 232 (Sex Roles: Moral and Political Issues): Are women oppressed in our society and if so, in what sense? What practices and attitudes are sexist, and what would a non-sexist society be like? Students who become more interested in moral and social and political philosophy can pursue these subjects further in PHIL 230 (Topics in Ethical and Political Philosophy), 430 (Ethics), 431 (Social/Political Philosophy), 432 (Topics in Ethics), and 433 (Topics in Social/Political Philosophy).

For Students of Literature, Film, Music and Art

Students interested in any of these areas will find our courses in aesthetics particularly valuable. Such courses examine questions of the following sort: What are we saying about something when we call it art? Is there something that all good art has in common? Why does art make up a valuable part of our experience? We offer PHIL 107 (Understanding Art), and 234 (Philosophy and Film).


American Philosophical Association Publications:

Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates

A Non-Academic Career? Information, Resources, and Background on Options for Philosophers

So, You Want to Teach Pre-College Philosophy?

Data on Philosophy as a Profession