Great Ideas Of Philosophy Logic And Critical Thinking
I think philosophy is important for two main reasons: (1) it can help improve critical thinking skills and (2) it’s a good way to know certain things. Even so, much more can be said—especially considering each specific thing philosophy can teach us. Many things it can teach us are important for various other reasons.
There are many people who question the importance of philosophy (such as Lawrence Krauss), and I suspect that the main reason that they are unconvinced is because they don’t think philosophy can make progress or provide us with knowledge. Consider that at one point Krauss said, “[Science progresses and philosophy doesn’t.”1
What is philosophy? It is the attempt to reason well about certain traditional domains of study: logic (the study of good reasoning), epistemology (the study of knowledge), metaphysics (the study of reality), and ethics (the study of morality). Just like science, some philosophy is better than others, and a lot of philosophy done by amateurs misses the mark so badly that it is often better described as something else entirely. When science is done very badly, it’s often appropriately called “pseudoscience;” and when philosophy is done very badly, it’s often appropriately called “sophistry.” (However, sophistry is generally thought to be deliberately manipulative rather than a sincere attempt to be reasonable.)
1. Philosophy can help improve critical thinking skills.
Most fields of study, such as physics, history, and economics, are mainly about providing us with knowledge of some sort. However, some fields of study are more practical, such as computer engineering, and they are mainly about providing us with skills. Practical fields are supposed to help improve our abilities, so that we can do something using them. Philosophy is not necessarily a primarily skill-oriented field of study, but it is the specialized field of study for critical thinking, and it can help us improve our critical thinking skills.
Some people have thought that philosophy automatically helps improve critical thinking skills as a byproduct, and no special attention is required for it to do so. There might be some truth to this, but non-critical-thinking-oriented philosophy classes don’t seem to be so much better than various other classes in the humanities. Perhaps writing argumentative essays in any field of study can help improve critical thinking skills. According to a meta-analysis by Claudia María Álvarez Ortiz, Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking Skills? (PDF), the most effective classes at improving critical thinking skills are those devoted to critical thinking, and the analytic philosophy tradition in particular is effective at teaching these classes.2
Critical thinking skills are highly related to logic (a philosophical domain), which is the study of proper reasoning. That shouldn’t be surprising because the main idea of critical thinking is to reason well. The critical thinking classes taught by philosophers teach students about logic in addition to providing practice problems that can improve their critical thinking skills.
Although philosophy can be used to improve critical thinking and most people want to reason properly, it’s a hard sell because people who know the least about logic think they know just as much as those who know quite a bit about it thanks to a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger effect (PDF). How many people think they reason properly and understand logic? Very few seem to realize that they need to improve their understanding of these things and one relevant study showed that people who were tested in their competence in logic “overestimated their logical reasoning ability relative to their peers. On average, participants placed themselves in the 66th percentile among students from their class, which was significantly higher than the actual [average score] …it was participants in the bottom quartile… who overestimated their logical reasoning ability and test performance to the greatest extent.”3
You might think, “Okay, some people know less about logic than they think, but maybe people know all they need to know about logic anyway.” If you are optimistic, you might think people are automatically logical for the most part and don’t need to learn more about it. However, Tim Van Gelder has discussed some startling facts about critical thinking, such as the fact that “[a] majority of people cannot, even when prompted, reliably exhibit basic skills of general reasoning and argumentation.”4
2. Philosophy is a good way to know certain things.
Philosophers have a type of expertise—they know a lot about various philosophical issues, the history of various philosophical debates, and quite a bit about what it means to reason properly. They tend know more about these things than those who aren’t philosophers (and getting a degree is a step in the right direction to becoming a philosopher). For this reason we can learn a lot from philosophers concerning their various specializations, and we can sometimes learn a lot by doing philosophy on our own as well. We can all learn a little about what philosophy has to offer by actually doing some philosophy on our own. After all, philosophers didn’t attain their expertise just by twiddling their thumbs. It took a lot of hard work, and we can attain greater philosophical expertise for ourselves.
Not everyone thinks we have anything to learn from philosophers. What makes us think philosophers know more about logic, epistemology, metaphysics, or ethics than the rest of us? If anyone can know anything about these things, then it’s philosophers considering the rich history of ideas and the great deal of time they devote to studying various issues. Even so, I think everyone knows something about these issues. For example, everyone knows at least one thing about logic logic—the fact that it’s inappropriate to argue in the following way—“Rocks exist. Therefore, whales are not fish.” It is also indisputable that philosophers do know quite a bit about logic precisely due to the progress they have made. For example, there was a time before we knew what argument form was, but now we know quite a bit about it.5 Natural scientists agree that we can reason properly, that we can know something about proper and improper reasoning, and that logic as developed by philosophers restrains how natural science can be done. (For example, two observations that contradict one another can’t both describe reality properly.)
Moreover, we know that some people know more about logic than others (such as that shown by the Dunning-Kruger effect), and we know that logic as developed by philosophers is very helpful for improving critical thinking skills. According to the scientific studies examined by Tin Van Gelder, “The lesson from cognitive science is that if we want students to substantially improve their skills, we must at some point help them develop theoretical understanding as compliment to the crucial hands-on know-how.”6 The theoretical understanding he is talking about are logical concepts (and how they are to be properly applied), such as premise identification7, argument form, valid reasoning8, and informal errors in reasoning9.
One important question is what type of knowledge philosophy can offer us. For example, is it like the knowledge natural scientists can give us or is it mainly knowledge of concepts and logical implications? Or both? Let’s consider both of these options:
(a) Factual knowledge
Factual knowledge is the type of knowledge good natural science seems to give us: Knowledge about laws of nature, causal relations, and things that exist in the world. These are the kinds of things physicists, chemists, and biologists are interested in. However, it’s not entirely clear what entities science gives us factual knowledge about. There’s a debate over which scientific entities really exist (such as electrons), and philosophers debate over how we should answer this question. Those who think invisible theoretical entities, such as electrons, exist are “scientific realists” and those who don’t think so are “anti-realists.”
Moreover, some philosophers think that there’s also moral facts, facts about logic, or facts about mathematics. Philosophers are then thought to be able to help us decide if we should believe such facts exist (and therefore be realists of those things), and if so, what we should believe about them. These are not the type of facts scientists study, but philosophers might still help us attain factual knowledge about these things.
The view that there’s facts about logic and mathematics is especially promising because scientists often have to presuppose that there are certain logical and mathematical facts—that we can discover these facts and that scientific observation is mistaken when it contradicts these facts. For example, logicians almost unanimously agree with the principle of noncontradiction, which states that a statement can’t be true and false at the same time. If one statement is true, then all statements that contradict it are false. Sometimes we have an observation that contradicts a scientific theory we believe to be proven. At one point Mercury didn’t revolve around the Sun as Newton’s theory of physics predicted. We could say that our understanding of the observation is wrong or that the theory is wrong. There is a problem if someone says that both the observation and the theory is true, and there’s a problem if a scientist says that contradictory observations prove the principle of non-contradiction to be false.
Some people argue that philosophy is not meant to give us factual knowledge. It is often thought that philosophy is inherently unresolvable—that philosophers debate endlessly without ever expecting to give us a final answer. Sometimes it’s said that “there’s no right answer” (perhaps in the sense that there are multiple different answers that could be rationally defended). Of course, we might wonder if the same is really true of science. Perhaps science also will continue to make progress endlessly and the answers it provides will continue to be refined without ever giving us a “final answer.”
Although I am sympathetic to the view that philosophy can provide factual knowledge, I don’t think philosophy has to give us a final answer to make progress or be informative. A great deal of the factual knowledge philosophy seems to provide is knowledge about what’s not the case. We can sometimes eliminate a belief or philosophical theory similar to how scientists can often eliminate a failed hypothesis. For example, we can eliminate the belief that “all conclusions are true.”
(b) Conceptual knowledge
Some people who don’t think philosophy is meant to give us factual knowledge still agree that philosophy can be informative and that philosophers have a type of expertise, and they often say that philosophy is really about clarifying concepts and finding logical implications. For example, some philosophers are compatibilists who think we could have free will, even if the world is deterministic (which is the view that everything that happens has to happen exactly one way). They don’t think there’s a logical implication that would make a world with both of these things impossible based on their conceptions of free will and determinism. Compatibilism doesn’t state that we actually have free will or that the world is actually deterministic. It is a view about what could be the case in the world rather than what’s actually the case.
One important question is if conceptual knowledge is really so different from factual knowledge. Some people think philosophers can’t tell us anything about the world, but that they could help provide conceptual knowledge of the type described above.10 They don’t think conceptual knowledge is factual, and some people will hesitate to even call it “conceptual knowledge” because they don’t think philosophy is about generating knowledge. Even so, I think it is clear that even conceptual discussions can involve progress and they can be very informative, such as when we developed the concept of argument form. If it’s not knowledge, then calling it “conceptual understanding” might be more appropriate.
However, some people do think conceptual knowledge can be factual. For example, perhaps understanding certain moral concepts is enough to know that causing pain just for fun is wrong. (We can analyze what it means for actions to be morally wrong, the concept of pain, the concept of doing something just for fun, etc.)
One purpose of conceptual knowledge is to make clarifications and avoid sloppy thinking, but another purpose could be to help us know what beliefs should be rejected, which is quite similar to how I suggested philosophy could provide us with factual knowledge. For example, if compatibilism is true, then we should reject incompatibilism (the view that free will can never exist in a deterministic world).
Specific philosophical issues
Even if philosophy can be informative and give us some type of knowledge, we might wonder if philosophy is important in any sense. Some people criticize philosophers for doing research in an armchair or being in an “ivory tower” (with everyday life far from their mind’s eye). One possible answer is simply that knowledge has value—that it’s always better to be knowledgeable. Even if philosophy isn’t useful, it might still be worth doing. Mathematicians don’t always tell us what we can do with their results, but most of us seem to accept that it has some sort of a value anyway. However, there are many other answers as to why philosophy has value and I think philosophy can be of the utmost importance to making our lives better. The reason I think this is the case is because various philosophical issues have unique ways of helping people.
One philosophical domain in particular that I think we should all agree has practical importance for everyday life is critical thinking (and logic by extension). For example, consider the research that shows that people tend to lack in critical thinking skills, and the link between logic-oriented critical thinking education and critical thinking skills. Of course, someone might say they see no reason to think reasoning well is important. My reply would be that reasoning well helps us avoid deception (such as the deception used by advertisers, political pundits, quacks, etc.), make better decisions in general, and to increase the odds of persuading others to believe things that they should agree with.
Finally, the reasons that logic education is important can also be refined based on all the specific things it can teach us, such as logical form, logical validity, and informal fallacies. Each of these things have unique lessons to teach us, as was discussed in Why Logic is Important.
Although many people are unconvinced that that philosophy is important, I think there are good reasons to think it is important. Philosophy can not only help improve critical thinking skills, but it can help provide us with knowledge of logic that can greatly help improve critical thinking. Moreover, I do not find the view that philosophy makes no progress and provides us with no knowledge to be plausible based on the fact that it seems clear that everyone knows something about at least one philosophical domain (logic), and some people know more about that domain than others.
Note: This webpage used to have an entirely different piece. I wrote the newer piece on 8/22/13.
© James Wallace Gray 2013 (Updated last 10/28/13)
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Five Reasons to Major in Philosophy
I get a lot of students who tell me that they loved the one or two philosophy classes they took as an undergraduate student, and that they would have enjoyed taking more courses if their schedules allowed it, but since they weren’t majoring in philosophy it just wasn’t possible. This is really unfortunate when you find a student that really loves philosophy and you know isn’t nearly as passionate about their chosen major.
So I ask them, have you ever considered majoring in philosophy? Or keeping your current major and adding philosophy as a second major?
Most often the student will say “no”, they’ve never really considered philosophy as a major. Sometimes they’ll say that they have thought of it but dismissed it for one reason or another. A lot of students express worries about the marketability of a philosophy degree. One student told me, half jokingly, that her parents would kill her if she said she was switching her major to philosophy!
I understand where these students are coming from, I sympathize with their worries,and their parents’ worries, about employment and the marketability of their degree.
But too often I think these worries are based on misconceptions about the practical value of a philosophy degree. I’d like to address this question — “why major in philosophy?” — and along the way clear up some of the more common misconceptions about the value of a philosophy degree.
What You Learn When You Study Philosophy
Before we do anything else we need to spend a bit of time talking about what it is that you actually learn as a philosophy major.
It’s helpful to distinguish the various skills that you’re taught as a philosophy major, from the actually content of the material that you’ll be learning.
On the “skills” side, the most obvious category, and maybe the most important, is the ability to think logically, critically and independently. Philosophy majors usually have to take at least one course in logic, and basic skills in logic and argumentation are reinforced in every class, since these are the basic tools of philosophical reasoning. Students get lots of practice in reading and analyzing the argumentative structure of various kinds of texts.
Alongside this instruction in logic and argumentation, philosophy students are taught to value independent critical thought, and to scrutinize the arguments they hear from tv, media, advertisers, politicians.
Philosophy also teaches and demands strong communication skills, both in speech and in writing. Philosophers pays close attention to language, and we value clarity and precision in the use of words. To do philosophy well you need to learn to say exactly what you mean, and to mean exactly what you say. I remind students that someone can write beautifully and still be unclear about what it is they’re trying to say. Philosophy demands clarity above all else, because the issues we talk about are conceptually difficult enough to begin with.
Lots of degree programs demand basic reasoning skills, but philosophy develops particular skills in reasoning with very general, sometimes very abstract, concepts and principles. For example, in an ethics class we might want to know, is it wrong to steal in such-and-such a situation. But we also ask, if it’s wrong, WHY is it wrong? What MAKES it wrong? And this moves us up a level, to discussing fundamental moral values and principles. And then students are required to think and reason and argue about different candidates for fundamental moral values and principles, which is an even higher level of abstraction still.
Now, these discussions don’t just spiral off into the heavens. At all times we’re concerned about how general principles apply to specific, concrete cases, and philosophy students become very good at seeing the practical consequences of adopting different, higher-level principles. This is a skill with lots of practical value, just ask any lawyer or business executive or high-level administrator, they’ll tell you how important these kinds of skills are in their field.
Moving on to “content”, not surprisingly, if you major in philosophy then you’re going to be exposed to the ideas and theories of some of the most influential philosophers spanning the time of the Greeks to the present.
You’ll learn about the most influential views on the deepest questions we can ask, about the nature of reality, about the nature and origins of knowledge, about the foundations of ethics and morality, about different theories of justice and the role of the state in political life, and much more.
Let me just pause a minute to emphasize an important point. Some might reasonably wonder what the relevance is of studying, in our day and age, the abstract philosophical theories of people, most of whom are long dead. Well, it is relevant, and here’s why. The world we live in today — the economic and scientific and legal and political and religious institutions that make up modern societies — this world is a product of the ideas and the influence of philosophers, scientists and thinkers of various kinds across the span of history. The modern world has an intellectual history, and we can’t hope to understand how it works and where it’s headed if we’re ignorant of how it came to be. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more relevant than that.
And this leads to the final item on my list — intellectual history and conceptual foundations. One of the great things about philosophy is that you can study almost any discipline from a philosophical perspective, so if you happen to love science, you can study the philosophy of science; if you love art you can study the philosophy of art; if you love politics you can study political philosophy; and so on.
The difference between studying science, and studying the philosophy of science, is that the philosophy of science focuses on the nature of science itself — what it is, how it works, what its methods are, what it can and can’t tell us about the world — and it focuses on foundational questions within the sciences that are hard or impossible to answer by empirical means alone. The same goes for all these “philosophy OF” fields.
From a student’s perspective, what’s great about this is that if you pair up the study of your favorite subject with the philosophy of that subject — science with the philosophy of science, art with the philosophy of art, psychology with the philosophy of psychology, economics with the philosophy of economics, and so on — then you can potentially acquire a much deeper understanding of that subject than you otherwise would have.
To my mind, this naturally leads to an argument for adding a philosophy degree as a second major alongside another major, but even if you just major in philosophy, you can indulge your interests in these other subjects to whatever extent you like, since studying the philosophy OF any field requires that you learn something about that field.
But now we’re getting into reasons for majoring in philosophy, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Here, I think we should start at the beginning, with a deeper and more basic reason for studying philosophy.
Five Reasons To Major in Philosophy
1. Philosophy Has Intrinsic Value
The search for truth and wisdom about the most important issues that face human beings — this has intrinsic value, it’s important for its own sake.
Now, I get that not everyone feels this way, but a lot of people do. For a lot of us, philosophy has intrinsic value and we value it intrinsically. It’s something that we naturally feel compelled to do, we do it for its own sake, not for the sake of anything else.
Natural philosophers are easy to spot. You enjoy staying up late and arguing with your friends about God and ethics and politics and religion. You’re frustrated by the superficial way that important issues are discussed in the media. It really bugs you when people adopt views just because their parents or their peers or their religion or the media tell them to.
You know who you are.
2. It’s What a Liberal Arts Education Ought To Be
This term “liberal arts” is sometimes misunderstood. The original meaning dates back to Roman times, when a “liberal arts” education meant an education worthy of a free person, hence the word “liberal”, with same root as “liberty”, which means “freedom”.
The liberal arts curriculum became standardized and in the medieval Western university the so-called “Seven Liberal Arts” included at its core the “trivium” — grammar, logic and rhetoric — which focused on basic thinking and communication skills, and the four subjects that made up what was called the “quadrivium” — arithmetic, astronomy, music and geometry.
That’s the classical meaning of the term. These days the term is more often associated with an educational philosophy, liberal education, that captures the spirit of the classical tradition in a modern context.
Here’s a definition of “liberal education” endorsed by the AACU, the Association of American Colleges and Universities:
Liberal Education is an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest.
Philosophy teaches students how to think critically and independently, and how to communicate effectively, both in speech and in writing. The study of philosophy typically results in a broad, general knowledge of a lot of different subjects. It’s what a liberal arts education ought to be!
But now I hear the voice of that student I mentioned in my head, who said her parents would kill her if she told them she was switching her major to philosophy. This is all well and good, they’ll say, but really, what kind of a job can you get with a philosophy degree?
I get it. Philosophy has a reputation for being one of the more impractical university degrees. But I want to show you that this reputation isn’t nearly as deserved as you might think.
3. Employers Are Looking For These Skills
For starters, employers really are looking for the skills that philosophy teaches. Business leaders routinely say that finding smart, technically competent employees isn’t hard, there are tons of those on the market. What’s much harder to find are employees who have strong communication, critical reasoning and problem-solving skills. They’ll say “I can teach you how to program. I can teach you how to use a piece of technology. I can teach you policies and procedures. That’s easy. What’s much harder to teach, and what is increasingly lacking in university graduates, are these general communication and reasoning skills.”
There’s survey data to back this up. In 2009 the Association of American Colleges and Universities sponsored a survey to investigate employers’ views on college learning in the wake of the economic downturn. They interviewed over 300 business and government executives — owners, CEOs, presidents, and vice presidents — and asked them what skills they thought were important for their employees to have, and whether universities were successful at teaching these skills to recent graduates. The results are telling.
This summary table gives a list of skills and learning outcomes.
The percentage on the right is the proportion of employers surveyed who said that colleges and universities should place MORE emphasis than they do today on that particular skill.
Look at the top of the list. Number one, “the ability to effectively communicate orally and in writing”. Number two, “critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills”.
If you’re good at philosophy, you have these skills, they’re central to philosophy.
If you look down this list, what you see are skills associated not with proficiency in technical fields, but with a broad liberal arts education: the ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings, the ability to connect choices and actions to ethical decisions, understanding global context, cultural diversity, civic knowledge, proficiency in a foreign language, democratic institutions and values. Remember, this is what business leaders are saying they need in their employees, not academics trying to justify their jobs.
Employers are looking for these skills. Philosophy is one of the best liberal arts degrees for teaching these skills.
4. Your Income Expectations Are Higher Than You May Think
Here’s another fact that might surprise you. With a philosophy degree, your income expectations are higher than you might think. And hopefully it’s becoming more clear why this is the case.
Here’s a table with a list of different university degree programs, from a 2008 survey. The middle column gives the median starting salary for graduates of those programs. “Median” here just means the most common starting salary. The column on the right gives the median mid-career salary — this is the most common salary after 15 years of work experience. And these are salaries for people for whom this is their terminal degree, no degrees beyond the bachelor’s degree.
Not surprisingly, engineering, computer science and the more technical business-related programs rank highest on this list. On the bottom of this list you see “philosophy”. Not a great starting salary, just under 40 thousand. But look at the mid-career salary — $81,000! That’s not bad.
What’s more interesting is what programs fall below philosophy on this scale. In the figure below we’ve scrolled down the list a bit, and we’re seeing the programs that have lower median salaries than philosophy.
Some have higher starting salaries, but all of these have lower mid-career salaries. And look at the list. Chemistry is below philosophy. Marketing is below philosophy. Political science and accounting are below philosophy. Architecture is below philosophy.
Let’s scroll down a little farther.
Nursing, journalism, geography, art history, biology, english, anthropology, psychology — all with statistically lower mid-career salaries than philosophy graduates.
These figures surprise a lot of people, but by now you shouldn’t be too surprised. Recall the survey about the skills that employers are looking for. Critical thinking, communication and analytic problem-solving skills are very much in demand, and philosophy graduates are better than average in these areas. But philosophy graduates are also good at high-level reasoning involving general principles, and this whole set of skills becomes more important, and less common, as you move up the administrative ranks in an organization. Philosophers who work in government and the business world will testify to this. Their skills don’t give you much advantage when you’re doing data entry and clerical work in entry level jobs, but they confer an increasing advantage as you move up the job ladder.
So, it’s a reasonable speculation that philosophy ranks as high as it does on this list because philosophy graduates are better prepared than many other graduates to compete for mid and upper level jobs with higher salaries.
But we’re not done yet. Here’s our fifth and final reason for majoring in philosophy.
5. A Philosophy Major is the Ideal Springboard Degree
A philosophy major is the ideal “springboard” degree.
What do we mean by this? We mean that philosophy is an ideal springboard to graduate programs and professional schools beyond the undergraduate level. If you’re interested in going to graduate school, law school, medical school, or an MBA program, philosophy is a great undergraduate major.
How do we know this? Well, each of these programs requires that students take an admission test to get in.
For graduate school programs, you have to take the GRE. For law school, you have to take the LSAT. For MBA programs, you need to take the GMAT. For medical school it’s the MCAT.
It turns out that philosophy majors do very well on these graduate admission tests. In fact, when you average over all of them, the undergraduate major that performs best on these tests overall is the philosophy major.
Here’s an example. Below is a list of GRE scores ordered by major, averaged over three years. The GRE test has a verbal reasoning component, a quantitative reasoning component, and an analytical writing component. This table shows the verbal reasoning scores. Liberal arts majors do well in this category, but philosophy majors do the best, even above english majors.
Data from the Graduate Record Examination's Guide to the Use of Scores 2010-11. Produced by Educational Testing Service.
Now here are the quantitative reasoning scores.
Not surprisingly, math, engineering and physical science majors do very well in this category. They do better than philosophy majors, on average. But once you move below this category, philosophy is at the top of the list. Philosophy majors do better than biology majors, they do better than architecture and accounting majors.
The table below shows the GRE scores for the analytical writing section.
Again, the liberal arts disciplines do well, but again, philosophy tops the list. And notice how low the math and physical science majors are on this component of the test. They win the quantitative category but lose on the other categories, with the result that philosophy is, on average, the highest scoring major.
This general pattern is played out over and over in these graduate and professional admission tests. They all have a verbal or language component and a quantitative or analytical reasoning component. Philosophy majors score very high on the verbal and language components and better than average on the quantitative and analytical reasoning components, with high average scores overall.
Here’s a table showing the majors that perform best on the LSAT test. The LSAT emphasizes logic games, analytical reasoning and argumentation; it doesn’t really have as large a verbal component as the GRE, but it does have an essay comprehension section. Over 2007 and 2008, economics and philosophy tied for first place.
LSAT Scores of Economics Majors: The 2008-2009 Class Update, by Michael Nieswiadomy http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1430654
Actually, this table is a bit misleading since it omits the math/physics majors, who actually do better. But they’re such a small percentage of the students taking the LSAT, and this particular table omits the smaller categories.
The table below shows the smaller categories, with math and physics on top, and economics and philosophy tied for second.
Again, it’s interesting to see what majors fall below philosophy. Engineering. Chemistry. History. Biology. English.
We can scroll down farther.
Below english we have computer science. Finance. Political science. Psychology. Anthropology. Journalism. Sociology.
And ironically, the two lowest performing majors — the ones with the most students who arguably are looking to get into law school — are pre-law and criminal justice.
Here are five reasons to major in philosophy:
- Philosophy has intrinsic value, and we — or many of us, at least — value it intrinsically. Some of you reading this are natural philosophers, you know who you are. A philosophy degree might be the perfect fit for you.
- A philosophy degree is what a liberal arts education ought to be. Critical thinking and communication skills; broad, general knowledge. It’s not the only way to get a good liberal arts education, but it’s one of the best, particularly if you combine with a more focused, in-depth study of a particular field.
- Employers are looking for these liberal arts skills. They really are, they’re a scarce commodity on the job market, and they become increasingly scarce and more important in higher level positions, which makes them even more valuable the higher you go.
- Your income expectations with a philosophy degree are higher than you may think. It’s just false to think that this is an impractical degree. It’s certainly no more impractical than many other liberal arts and science degrees, and it does better than many in terms of expected income.
- Philosophy is the ideal springboard degree. If you’re interested in going on to graduate school or law school or medical school or business administration programs, the skills that you develop as a philosophy major can help you compete for admission to these programs. The combination of strong verbal and analytic reasoning skills results in philosophy majors doing very well on graduate admission tests.
If you’re a student and you’re interested, go visit your university’s philosophy department website, check out what they offer, and schedule an appointment with a departmental adviser. They’ll be happy to help out.