Benefits of Studying Philosophy
Having elected to study philosophy, the first question majors and minors often hear from family, friends, and strangers alike is, “What are you going to do with a degree in that?” In effect, many people assume that neither the knowledge acquired nor the skills learned through the study of philosophy translate into personal and professional prosperity. As with many assumptions, these impressions are based on a lack of information and not on an analysis of empirical data. This was famously illustrated recently when U.S. Senator Marco Rubio stated during a Republican presidential debate in November of 2015 that, “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” Yet, as Forbes magazine reported the following day, 20 years out from graduation those with baccalaureate degrees in philosophy earn a median salary of $97,000 while those with associate degrees in welding earn $58,000. Although the intellectual and personal benefits of philosophy abound, let us not underestimate the economic value of studying philosophy either.
So, how does the study of philosophy translate into such potentially high lifetime earnings?
Unlike some other disciplines, philosophy cannot be learned merely through reading textbooks or through rote memorization. Rather, philosophy requires a rigorous engagement with complicated texts from the world’s philosophical traditions that demand patience, nuanced interpretation, comprehension, abstract reasoning, creative problem solving, focus, and persistence. Because of these requirements, the study of philosophy cultivates a diverse and versatile set of skills that not only span a variety of career paths, but also serve one over the course of a lifetime.
Students of philosophy develop:
- An enhanced ability to identify, advance, and evaluate evidence offered in support of a position.
- An enhanced ability to identify and evaluate unstated assumptions at work in a concept, theory, or issue.
- An enhanced ability to ask incisive and pressing questions concerning an issue.
- An enhanced capacity for identifying problems and offering creative solutions.
- An enhanced ability to master difficult and challenging ideas and material.
- An enhanced ability to identify one’s own weaknesses and shortcomings in comprehension.
- An enhanced ability to cope with and adapt to ambiguity and uncertainty.
- An enhanced ability to distill and explain complex material.
- A sensitivity to language and reasoning that enhances one’s ability to articulate coherently and persuasively one’s thinking in speech and writing.
- An enhanced ability to see concepts, problems, and issues from more than one perspective.
- An enhanced ability to identify points of commonality and divergence between multiple perspectives.
- An enhanced sensitivity to the nuances of positions held by others.
- An enhanced ability to negotiate differences of opinion.
- A sensitivity to and concern for the sophisticated nuances at work in different ethical issues, positions, and worldviews.
- An enhanced confidence in one’s own reasoning and judgment.
- An enhanced ability to articulate one’s vision and its merit to others.
- The ability to locate, identify, and employ legitimate sources of information and knowledge.
- The ability to produce and evaluate knowledge.
In an age of artificial intelligence, high-frequency trading, global markets, and media saturation, employers themselves state that they are looking for people who:
- Thrive in subjective and ambiguous environments where potential solutions do not come in black and white.
- Possess not only the right information but also the rigorous learning and reasoning skills to identifying and analyze complex problems and offer creative solutions.
- Are innovative, dynamic, and creative thinkers that can help with formidable strategy problems.
- Are expansive thinkers that can work across multiple perspectives.
- Can shift easily between micro and macro perspectives.
- Can see past the immediate data in front of them and situate it in the larger horizon of industrial and economic trends.
- Are able to identify and understand new and unique opportunities in existing markets.
- Can dig deep into assumptions, problems, and issues.
- Can easily locate parts in terms of their larger systems.
- Are attentive to nuance and detail.
- Can communicate ideas clearly and effectively in both writing and speech.
- Have ideas about human nature, life, culture, and society.
- Are capable of questioning the nature of the world and humanity’s place in it.
Read for yourself what employers have to say:
The aforementioned set of skills make philosophy majors invaluable and much sought after in today’s global economy. Philosophy majors find careers in:
- Computer Science
- Fund Raising
- Health Care
- Non-Profit Sector
- Public Policy
- Public Service
Further resources on the types of jobs that philosophy majors have gone on to pursue:
The study of philosophy provides excellent preparation for graduate school as philosophy majors tend to score among the highest of any major on entrance exams.
GRE – for graduate school in the humanities and sciences
- Philosophy majors score higher on the verbal section than any other major.
- Philosophy majors score higher on the written section than any other major.
- Philosophy majors score higher on the quantitative section than any other major in the arts and humanities.
LSAT – for law school
- Philosophy majors score amongst the top three highest majors in the arts and humanities and the top ten of all majors.
GMAT – for business school
- Philosophy majors score higher than any major other than engineering.
MCAT – for medical school
- While the AAMC does not show score results for specific majors, humanities majors as a whole score higher than any other discipline.
Philosophy in the News
"Liberal Arts in the Data Age," Harvard Business Review, 2017
"Speech at a Reception for Philosophy Ireland," President of Ireland, 2016
"Sabina Higgins backs campaign for teaching philosophy in schools," The Irish Times, 2016
"Silicon Valley Needs More Philosopher-Kings," Big Think, 2016
"Why policy needs philosophers as much as it needs science," The Guardian, 2016
"A Harvard Medical School professor makes the case for the liberal arts and philosophy," The Washington Post, 2015
"Why Some M.B.A.s Are Reading Plato: Schools Try Philosophy to Get B-School Students Thinking Beyond the Bottom Line," The WallStreet Journal, 2014
"Why Study Philosophy? 'To Challenge Your Own Point of View'," The Atlantic, 2014
"The Unexpected Way Philosophy Majors Are Changing The World Of Business," The Huffington Post, 2014
"Meet the philosopher kings of Silicon Valley," The Tech Street Journal, 2013
"Bernanke to Economists: More Philosophy, Please," Bloomberg, 2012
"In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined," The New York Times, 2008
"The Management Myth: Most of management theory is inane, writes our correspondent, the founder of a consulting firm. If you want to succeed in business, don’t get an M.B.A. Study philosophy instead," The Atlantic, 2006
Notable Philosophy Majors
Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr
Bachelor’s Degree, University of Victoria, 1996
Master’s Degree, University of Cambridge, 1998
Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and presidential candidate
Bachelor’s Degree, Stanford University, 1976
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn
Master’s Degree, Wolfson College Oxford, 1993
Damon Horowitz, entrepreneur and in-house philosopher at Google
Ph.D., Stanford University, 2007
John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market
Majored in philosophy at University of Texas at Austin and Trinity University (no degree earned), ca. 1975-1977
Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia
Bachelor’s Degree, Reed College, 1991
Ph.D., Ohio State University, 2000
Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal
Bachelor’s Degree, Stanford University, 1989
Government and Politics
Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court Justice
Bachelor’s Degree, Stanford University, 1959
Bill Clinton, U.S. President
Rhodes Scholarship at University College Oxford, 1968-1970
Rudolf Giuliani, former New York City mayor and presidential candidate
Bachelor’s Degree (minor), Manhattan College, 1965
Beverley McLachlin, first female and longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada
Bachelor’s Degree, University of Alberta, 1965
Master’s Degree, University of Alberta, 1968
Angela Davis, social activist
Bachelor’s Degree, Brandeis University, 1965
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader
Taught social philosophy at Morehouse College, 1961
Noam Chomsky, professor, activist, author, and public intellectual
Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cornel West, professor, activist, author, and public intellectual
Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University
Pope John Paul II
Ph.D., Jagiellonian University, 1948
Simone de Beauvoir, writer, philosopher, and political activist
Master's Degree, Sorbonne University in Paris, 1929
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, author (Plato at the Googleplex) and Macarthur Fellow
Bachelor’s Degree, Barnard College, 1972
Ph.D., Princeton University, 1977
Christopher Hitchens, author
Bachelor’s Degree, Balliol College Oxford, 1967
Ayn Rand, author (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged)
Bachelor’s Degree, Petrograd State University, 1924
David Foster Wallace, author (Infinite Jest)
Bachelor’s Degree, Amherst College, 1985
News and Journalism
Suroosh Alvi, co-founder of Vice Media
Bachelor's Degree, McGill University, 1991
Tamara Keith, journalist and NPR White House correspondent
Bachelor’s Degree, University of California Berkeley, 1999
Arts and Entertainment
Wes Anderson, filmmaker
Bachelor’s Degree, University of Texas at Austin, 1990
Ethan Coen, filmmaker (of the Coen Brothers)
Bachelor’s Degree, Princeton University, 1979
Stephen Colbert, comedian and TV host
Majored in philosophy at Hampden-Sydney College (transferred), 1982-1984
Harrison Ford, actor
Majored in philosophy at Ripon College (no degree earned), 1960-1964
Philip Glass, composer
Bachelor’s Degree, University of Chicago, 1956
Rashida Jones, actor
Bachelor's Degree, Harvard University, 1997
Terrence Malick, filmmaker (The Thin Red Line)
Bachelor’s Degree, Harvard University, 1965
Rhodes Scholarship at Magdalen College Oxford, 1966-1968
Taught philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1968
Gene Siskel, film critic
Bachelor’s Degree, Yale University, 1967
Elliott Smith, singer-songwriter, musician
Bachelor’s Degree, Hampshire College, 1991
Phil Jackson, NBA coach
Bachelor’s Degree, University of North Dakota, 1967
Bruce Lee, martial artist
Studied philosophy at University of Washington (no degree earned), 1961-1964
For a more complete list, check out the APA website here:
Further Reasons to Study Philosophy