Why Study Philosophy?

On “The Value of Philosophy,” Bertrand Russell wrote:

“Philosophy is to be studied … because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.”

Philosophy is worth studying not because you learn facts that can be put to any particular purpose, but rather because the study of philosophy is valuable in itself.  But this does not mean that philosophically trained minds cannot be put to use!

Philosophers make more money and do better on various exams for graduate and professional schools than almost any other liberal arts major. 

What Careers Can I Pursue with a Philosophy Major?

Majoring in philosophy is not a way to get a specific job. If you want only that—a job that will not be outsourced overseas right after you accumulate a lot of student  loans—you should consider studying to become an electrician, a brick mason, a plumber, or some other skilled trade. These are lucrative and noble careers.

If, however, you are instead working on your Bachelor’s degree, you probably hope to become some sort of knowledge worker. Such work is vulnerable not only to overseas outsourcing but also to technological disruption. The average person doing such work will have several different kinds of careers in his or her lifetime. The days that a knowledge worker does the same thing for forty years and then retires are almost over.

In light of that, how can you best prepare yourself for a world where the ability to acquire knowledge quickly is the new currency? It will do you little good just to memorize information that employers can retrieve electronically. It costs them far less to use Google than to hire you. Instead, you must demonstrate to potential employers that you can quickly learn how to do whatever they need done. Employers do not want to hire people who (already) know only one particular thing. They want to hire smart people who can adapt as circumstances demand.

To do this, you need to show that you are intelligent, that you can analyze problems, and that you know how to write clearly and concisely. Philosophy, fortunately, is a remarkably hard-headed discipline. Employers do not want employees who merely can recite what others say. They want employees who can understand the strengths and weaknesses of various ways of doing things, and who can teach themselves how to implement the best way. Philosophy teaches you to do just that.*

*The above is excerpted from “The Philosophy Major at University of Missouri-St. Louis.” Click here to read the entire document.

Philosophy majors have gone on to success in a wide variety of professions. Here is a poster showing some famous philosophy majors. The list includes Carly Fiorina (CEO, Hewlett-Packard), Larry Sanger (Co-Founder, Wikipedia), Vaclav Havel (President, Czech Republic, Playwright), Aung San Suu Kyi (Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize), Matt Groening (Creator of “The Simpsons”), Mary Higgins Clark (Novelist), George Soros (Investor and Philanthropist), Susan Sarandon (Actress), and Stokely Carmichael (Civil Rights Activist)

For Further Information

Check out the Department of Philosophy’s Facebook page, where you can see profiles of philosophy alumnae, what careers they have pursued, and get in touch with alumnae, current students, and professors. You’ll see what actual philosophy major alumnae from Mount Holyoke College have been up to. You should also come to a meeting of the student-run philosophy society, which meets weekly to discuss philosophical topics informally over pizza. And feel free to contact the chair of the philosophy department with any questions.