Philosophy covers a wide range of topics and academic disciplines, from Pre-Socratic thought to modern religion. The study of philosophy can be formal, like taking courses as part of a university or post-graduate degree, or informal, like checking out a famous text from the local library. In either case, there is a desire to learn from the great thinkers of the past and present. Hopefully, this desire will allow students to carve out a new path for the future of philosophical thought and practice.
Some people still see a philosophy degree as a waste of time. They believe that it does not train students in a marketable skill like engineering or computer science. However, this perception is changing. Philosophy teaches students how to think critically and question existing processes, which are vital tools in almost any industry. Additionally, careers in academia, politics, and literature are particularly well-suited for philosophy majors. If you're passionate about philosophy, but nonetheless concerned about career options, do not fret. Consider the skills that philosophy develops (critical thinking, research and development, etc.) and search for jobs that require those abilities.
If you want to make a career out of philosophy, then a philosophy degree is a must. Whether you aspire to be a professor, a researcher, an author, or all three, you need to study in advance. So, does a career in philosophy interest you? Not everyone is made to be a professional philosopher, but asking yourself certain questions can give you insight. Evaluate your interests and longterm goals to determine if philosophy is the best path for you.
Is a career in philosophy right for me?
Everyday philosophy can and should be for everyone. However, the same does not necessarily hold true when considering philosophy as a career path. Researching or writing on philosophical subjects takes a great deal of skill, time, and dedication. The following questions should help you determine if a career in philosophy is right for you:
Do you enjoy thinking about abstract concepts?
If the answer is ‘no,' then a career or degree in philosophy is probably not for you. While practical philosophy can deal with concrete, everyday issues, most of philosophy is inherently abstract. Certain thinkers struggle with these ideas, as they can be difficult to understand and, at times, even frustrating. Someone who wants to make a career out of philosophy should love the abstract. They should be willing to dive into abstract concepts and think outside the box.
Do you like to read?
Philosophy is not all about spirited debates. It requires a LOT of research, most of which involves pouring over ancient (or contemporary) texts for hours on end. Not only that, but philosophical texts or analyses are notoriously dense, and often require a slow, calculated approach. Speed-reading is simply not an option. You need to take the time to understand complex concepts and arguments. If this kind of work appeals to you, then philosophy could definitely be a great career choice.
Are you willing to question your own beliefs or way of thinking?
This is one of the hardest concepts to grasp for those studying philosophy for the first time. Some students walk into a classroom assuming that they know more than the professor. This assumption may or may not be true, but either way it is irrelevant. Socrates said it best when he proclaimed that he only knew that he knew nothing. Philosophy concerns itself with questioning what many people already assume to be true. If you are not willing to question everything, or admit that there are many things that you do not or even cannot know, then philosophy might not be the right career path for you.
Are you willing or able to prioritize academics over making money?
People don't usually get into philosophy for the money. There are far more lucrative career paths out there. Being a ‘professional' philosopher requires years of schooling, which in turn requires a lot of time and money. Tuition, books, and the time required to study can all put a strain on your bank account. Not everyone can afford to delay joining the workforce in order to study philosophy. While there are scholarships and ways to make ends meet as a student, this path requires fortitude and determination. Even after graduation, most jobs related to philosophy are in academia, and are not the highest paying positions out there. Those who have been in the field for years make a comfortable living, but it takes time. If you need funds right out of college to pay back student loans or other expenses, philosophy can be tough.
Where should I get my degree in philosophy?
Picking a school is always a difficult choice, no matter the area of study. While most community colleges and four-year universities offer philosophy courses or degree programs, not all schools offer the same quality of education. It is not necessary to go to an expensive Ivy League school simply for the name recognition. There are plenty of universities with top-notch philosophy departments whose degree programs are a fraction of the cost. It is important to do your research and figure out which school is best for your interests and your budget. Nonetheless, the following schools (outside of the Ivy League) have some of the strongest philosophy programs in the United States:
- Boston College – The philosophy department at Boston College is one of the best in the country. The curriculum focuses on the history of philosophy, continental philosophy, and practical philosophy.
- University of Chicago – The University of Chicago's philosophy program encompasses a wide range of subjects in both theoretical and practical philosophy.
- University of Virginia – At the University of Virginia, philosophy majors are introduced to some of the top minds in the fields of theoretical philosophy, metaphysics, and bioethics.
- Emory University – Located in Atlanta, Georgia, Emory University specializes in philosophy as it relates to art, law, and psychology.
What can I do with my degree in philosophy?
While a career in philosophy is generally (though not always) limited to academia, a degree in philosophy can be used for hundreds of different career paths. Once thought to be a poor choice for establishing a good career, philosophy degrees are now regarded as a plus by many employers and institutions. For example, all political ideology began with philosophy. Having a degree in philosophy can give you a leg up when securing an internship or job in the political sphere. Journalism is another field where philosophy majors shine, allowing them to use their experience researching and formulating arguments to keep the public informed.
Additionally, companies in various industries, from the technology sector to sales, look favorably on a philosophy degree. Though some may still regard it as just another liberal arts degree, many will recognize that philosophy is an area that attracts a certain kind of individual. Specifically, it attracts people who are willing to think outside the box, question existing practices, and come up with new and innovative ideas. A philosophy degree trains these skills, making you even more valuable to potential employers.
It is important to understand that a philosophy degree is not just a piece of paper. As with any degree from a legitimate institution, it signifies to others that you have spent years studying a given subject and equipping yourself with certain skills. While the skills acquired from a philosophy degree may seem vague and ill-defined by some standards, they are actually quite beneficial to employers. Here are just a few of the skills that philosophy majors come away with:
As any philosophy major can tell you, research makes up a large part of each course you take for your philosophy degree. The ability to find reliable sources, evaluate them, decipher and recognize valuable information, and then use that information to either form a hypothesis or refute an argument is invaluable. Many people do not know how to research effectively, so a degree in philosophy is a great way to get a leg up on the competition.
It may sound like a common skill, but many people fall victim to logical fallacies, personal bias, or simply an ignorance of different reasoning strategies. A philosophy degree does not guarantee that you will always avoid these pitfalls, but it gives you the tools to know how to form judgements and arguments properly.
While those who like to argue are generally regarded as overly confrontational, arguments in and of themselves are important for exchanging and advancing knowledge. However, a skill for debate is not a skill that everyone possesses. One must hone the ability to debate over time. Philosophy courses provide an environment for your debate skills to flourish.
Thinking about abstract concepts, or even thinking about physical things in an abstract way is important for science, mathematics, and various other areas of study. Philosophy majors are constantly developing this skill, allowing them to look at concepts in a different way and think outside the box.
Application of Ideas
Thinking abstractly is useful, but being able to apply abstract ideas to real-world scenarios is just as important. In the business world, employers want you to come up with practical ideas. Having the ability to move from the abstract to concrete is vital, and a skill that is acquired through practical philosophy.
What classes do I take to get a degree in philosophy?
For most undergraduate degrees in philosophy, there are standard entry-level courses that must be taken. These often include very generalized history courses, followed by courses over larger schools of thought, and finally very specific, complex courses over a variety of subjects. The following list, though not comprehensive, covers some of the most common entry-level and advanced courses in philosophy programs:
Introductory Courses for a Philosophy Degree
- Intro to Philosophy – In almost every program, there will be a basic, entry-level course that provides an overview of philosophy. The content of this course can vary, depending on the university and the individual professor. However, it will generally cover basic concepts in philosophy, as well as important historical figures and philosophical movements.
- Logic – Courses related to logic are also taken very early on, however they usually function very differently from other entry-level courses. Logic courses focus on how one can practice philosophy through theory and the basic functions of logic in philosophical arguments. Logical fallacies are also studied, so that students can recognize when they (or others) make errors in logic.
- Ethics – Many regard ethics as the height of philosophical practice. Accordingly, it is a staple of every philosophy degree. In these courses, students will study the ethical theories throughout history, how these theories develop, how culture influences ethics, and how to discuss and contemplate ethical dilemmas.
Intermediate and Advanced Courses for a Philosophy Degree
- Philosophy of Mind – Though not necessarily for beginners, philosophy of mind is one of the most fascinating areas of study. Even with modern science, the concept of “mind” remains somewhat unclear, and the distinction between mind and body has been debated for centuries. Nonetheless, philosophy of mind is an important part of almost any philosophy degree, though it is generally aimed at those who have already taken basic philosophy courses.
- Knowledge – Much like philosophy of mind, knowledge classes involve complex coursework and require a basic understanding of philosophical and logical principles. Most courses related to knowledge begin with the simple, straightforward definition of knowledge: a justified, true belief. It seems strange to develop an entire course around a few words, but scholars continue to debate this problematic definition.
- Metaphysics – While some schools offer introductory metaphysics courses, many wait to introduce this subject matter until the later stages of a degree program. Metaphysics is the study of “first principles,” such as time, existence, the nature of being, knowledge, and so on. To some degree, metaphysics encompasses almost all other areas of philosophy. It is a very complicated subject, with thousands of years of theories and arguments to study. As a result, these courses are best left for experienced students.
- Political Philosophy – Though we often take for granted the thought processes underpinning our laws, institutions, governments, and political parties, they are all grounded in some form of philosophical theory. Political philosophy courses teach the history of political theory and the ethical principles guiding modern institutions.