"But what can you do with it? Is it practical to major in philosophy?"
Philosophy majors are asked these questions all the time—by family, friends and fellow students.
In one sense, philosophy majors already know the practical value of philosophy, since they are usually drawn to it for the enrichment promised by focused study of the great questions:
What can I know?
What can I hope for?
How ought I to live?
It is doubtful that there can be anything more practical than intellectual, moral and spiritual development.
What people mean when they ask the question, however, is what career opportunities are open to philosophy majors? In fact, there are many career possibilities for undergraduate philosophy graduates.
- A few students earn advanced degrees in philosophy in order to teach at the college level.
- But the vast majority of majors seek non-academic careers in which the study of philosophy is often a professional asset.
- Professional schools—business, law, public administration, computer science and medicine, among others—recognize the value of philosophical training.
The study of philosophy develops many transferable skills, including the ability to see different sides of an issue, present cogent reasoning for a position, detect fallacies in arguments, and boil down complex data to its essence.
Philosophy: The Ultimate Transferable Work Skill
According to the author of an opinion piece in the Times of London, "The great virtue of philosophy is that it teaches not what to think, but how to think. It is the study of meaning, of the principles underlying conduct, thought and knowledge. The skills it hones are the ability to analyse, to question orthodoxies and to express things clearly.... In the US, where the number of philosophy graduates has increased by 5 per cent a year during the 1990s, only a very few go on to become philosophers. Their employability, at 98.9 per cent, is impressive by any standard.... Philosophy is, in commercial jargon, the ultimate "transferable work skill".... It is rewarding in itself; and it could nowadays be the passport to a successful, varied career."
A Path to Law School and Other Graduate Programs
Law schools have long regarded philosophy as excellent preparation.
- According to the Law School Admissions Council's 1996 study, philosophy majors had the second highest national average on the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), just behind physics/math majors.
Philosophy majors have performed very well on the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) as well.
- According to data published by the Educational Testing Service, philosophy majors performed better than business majors on the GMAT.
- Philosophy majors scored 17.6% better than the overall mean on the GRE-Verbal exam (even better than English majors!) and were tops among humanities majors on the GRE-Quantitative section.
Note the wide range of careers of these famous people who majored in or studied Philosophy in college:
- Phil Jackson—LA Lakers head coach (11 NBA titles)
- Matt Groening—Creator of The Simpsons
- Ethan Coen—Writer and director (with his brother Joel) of the films Fargo, The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men, Raising Arizona, and many others
- Ricky Gervais—Actor and comedian; creator and star of The Office and Extras; also starred in The Invention of Lying and Ghost Town
- David Souter and Stephen Breyer—U.S. Supreme Court Justices
- Sam Harris—Well-known author of The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape
- Philip Glass—Influential contemporary composer known for his mesmerizing soundtracks to The Hours, The Thin Blue Line (and other Errol Morris documentaries), and Koyaanisqatsi; his music is featured in the videogame “Grand Theft Auto IV”
- Rahm Emmanuel—Former Illinois Congressman and Obama White House Chief of Staff