Why Study Philosophy?

There are intellectual and utilitarian reasons to study philosophy.

The principal reason to study philosophy is the intellectual reason, namely, the love of the many dimensions of the discipline.

In philosophy, one can grapple with classical and contemporary problems.

  • What is the nature of God?
  • Why be moral?
  • Is there an afterlife and what is it like?
  • Is it possible to create thinking machines?
  • Is it morally permissible to clone human beings?

In philosophy, one can grapple with questions in the arts and in the sciences.

  • What makes something a work of art?
  • Is there anything objective in the arts or is it all purely subjective?
  • What is the scientific method?
  • Can a robot be a good scientist?

In philosophy, there are questions with a human face and questions of a cold logical character.

  • What, if anything, do parents and children morally owe each other?
  • Is romantic love important?
  • To what extent can anything be proven?
  • What is a proof anyway?

In short, the principal reason to study philosophy is that it makes a person's life more intellectually interesting and rewarding. Those who study philosophy are challenged to analyze concepts clearly and evaluate evidence and arguments critically.

The utilitarian reason to study philosophy is that it is good preparation for jobs that demand careful reading, critical thinking, intelligent decision-making and sound judgment.

Think philosophy is useless? Not so. The proof is in the salary. Looking at mid-career salaries, philosophy majors rank 16th out of 50. They rank higher than popular majors like Communications, Biology, Accounting, and Political Science. See here.

The philosophical skills of carefully reading a bit of text and making a case for a particular interpretation is very much like the lawyer or judge's job in handling the law. (See what the American Bar Association - Law School Admission Council has to say about pre-law eduction: (PDF). Or, maybe what the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center has to say: (PDF). It is, therefore, no surprise that many philosophy majors are pre-law students. Traditionally, philosophy majors are among the top performers on the Law School Aptitude Test.

The intellectual rigors of philosophy also serve pre-medical students quite well. Philosophy majors are among the top performers on the Medical College Aptitude Test and, typically, 50-55% of philosophy majors applying to medical school are accepted.

On the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Philosophy majors have recently had the highest average verbal scores of any major, the highest average analytical writing skills of any major, and the highest average quantitative skills of any humanities major. (See the data in PDF format.)

A recent applicant to seminary, who had majored in Religious Studies, found that the admissions committee valued his having taken courses in the philosophy of religion, the history of ancient and medieval philosophy, and in modern philosophy (among others).

Through their reading, writing, and questioning, philosophy majors develop skills that serve them well as journalists and writers.

Philosophy majors often put their intellectual skills to work in executive/management sectors of business either via corporate management trainee programs or business school. Philosophers again typically test well on the Graduate Management Aptitude Test.

Philosophy majors also pursue graduate study. Usually, they study philosophy in graduate school, but other areas such as cognitive science, English, history and philosophy of science, and psychology are possibilities.

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