Philosophy majors are not getting rich, but they’re able to buy enough food to allow them to sit around and ponder things. Truth be told, philosophy majors are at the bottom of the list in starting salaries. As someone who majored in philosophy, I found these statistics to be of interest. In my junior year of undergrad, majoring in philosphy, I panicked. What was I going to do next? My brother-in-law (a lawyer) suggested I go to law school. This didn’t sound like a good idea at the time, because my self-image didn’t involve wearing a suit or carrying a briefcase.
Nonetheless, I ended up going to law school, which is not uncommon for philosophy majors, according to this article. [I don’t actually wear a suit or carry a briefcase as much as I worried I’d be doing. Most work days, even for trial lawyers like me, occur back at the office, not in court.] If you don’t want to go to law school, here are some other things you can do with a philosophy degree.
Despite the potential financial drawbacks, I’m glad I majored in philosophy. To the extent that I’m able to think clearly, I attribute some of that ability to my training in philosophy. There are many sites that describe the various benefits to studying the allegedly “worthless” subject of philosophy, including this page from the website of the University of South Dakota:
Philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone is guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously. One need not be unprepared. To a large extent one can choose how reflective one will be in clarifying and developing one’s philosophical assumptions, and how well prepared one is for the philosophical questions life presents. Philosophical training enhances our problem-solving capacities, our abilities to understand and express ideas, and our persuasive powers. It also develops understanding and enjoyment of things whose absence impoverishes many lives: such things as aesthetic experience, communication with many different kinds of people, lively discussion of current issues, the discerning observation of human behavior, and intellectual zest. In these and other ways the study of philosophy contributes immeasurably in both academic and other pursuits.
The long-range value of philosophical study goes far beyond its contribution to one’s livelihood. Philosophy broadens the range of things one can understand and enjoy. It can give one self-knowledge, foresight, and a sense of direction in life. It can provide, to one’s reading and conversation, special pleasures of insight. It can lead to self-discovery, expansion of consciousness, and self-renewal. Through all of this, and through its contribution to one’s expressive powers, it nurtures individuality and self-esteem. Its value for one’s private life can be incalculable; its benefits for one’s public life as a citizen can be immeasurable.
In spite of the above benefits, I must admit that articles in modern philosophy journals tend to drive me batty. These authors too often publish for the sake of publishing rather than writing because he or she is passionate about the topic. A clue that I am correct about this is to notice the incredible amount of esoteric hair-splitting characteristic of such articles. And do we really need the 180,000th article about Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative? This is especially frustrating in that several professional philosophers have confessed to me that they don’t ever refer to the teachings of moral philosophers when deciding personal moral challenges.
For me, the challenge has been to learn to apply the critical thinking skills in practical ways to real world problems. In short, I refuse to think that the study of philosophy itself is the end game. My faith is that there are real-world applications and consequences for those classroom lessons. Even if trying to apply one’s philosophy readings and writings to the real world is like emerging from the academic Cave and being blinded by the bright light of the real world.