Well, let’s start with a couple of things that it is not. First, philosophy is not a way of life, although the study of philosophy may influence how one lives one’s life. Second, philosophy is not just a bunch of moldy, old dead people telling you what is right or wrong, although one can learn from studying one’s intellectual ancestors. Third, philosophy is not a bunch of slogans, pithy sayings or bumper stickers. Fourth, philosophy is not a body of doctrine which one is meant to accept uncritically. Philosophy is the activity of investigating conceptual issues through the application of a rigorous, critical logical method. Let’s look at those one at a time. First, philosophy is an activity, a way of thinking about issues or addressing problems. The issues or problems change with the times but what stays the same is a commitment to a critical analysis of the reasons for or against a position. Second, philosophy investigates conceptual issues. Conceptual issues are those which cannot be addressed through empirical means, questions that cannot be answered by experimenting, making an observation, taking a survey, etc. When you think about it, such questions are endless: Is there a God? What is the best form of political society? What standards of moral conduct should we adopt? What counts as a good explanation in the physical sciences? Do we have free will? What is the nature of thought? Third, philosophy involves a critical approach to questions like the above and here “critical” should not be understood in the sense of being negative – remember movie critics sometimes say that a particular movie is good. To talk of critical thinking here is to talk about carefully and objectively examining the reasons for and against a position. As philosophers we want to hold only those beliefs for which we have the sort of reasons which an ideally rational, ideally objective inquirer would find intellectually compelling. Of course, there are some nice conceptual or philosophical questions here: what are the ideal standards of rationality and objectivity.
The answer to the above question might surprise you. With a philosophy degree you can do just about anything you want. According to business and industry leaders two of the most important qualities successful executives must possess are (1) the ability to learn in new situations and (2) the ability to analyze, interpret and evaluate information. (Malnig & Malnig, What Can I Do With a Major In...?, p. 147) These are abilities that are acquired through the careful study of philosophy.
To be a little more specific, philosophy majors acquire:
Critical Thinking Skills: the ability to quickly and accurately discern what is relevant (and what peripheral) to an issue or problem; the ability to identify commonalities within a set of data; the ability to interpret difficult material accurately; the ability to understand difficult, sophisticated material; the ability to draw fine discriminations.
Logical Reasoning Skills: the ability to determine precisely what follows from a set of premises or an evidence base; the ability to construct logically valid arguments in support of a conclusion; the ability to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in a position, proposal, or prospectus; the ability to evaluate the validity of a position, proposal or argument.
Communication Skills: the ability to organize points into a persuasive, compelling presentation; the ability to write and speak clearly and effectively.
Research Skills: the ability to independently determine what information is relevant, find it, and organize it.
Management Skills: The ability to analyze complicated processes, problems and procedures into constituent elements; to devise strategies for addressing problems; to assess progress and evaluate performance and progress objectively.
Given the array of skills developed through the study of philosophy, it is not surprising that corporate executives believe that philosophy graduates “tend to learn fast and advance quickly” (Careers for Philosophers, American Philosophical Association).
Several of our philosophy majors have gone on to successful careers in a wide variety of fields after graduating from WSU. Here is what some of our former students have to say about the benefits of a degree in philosophy.
Jason Van Sickle, President and CEO, J. Van Sickle and Co.
Craig Macy, J.D., Harvard University; Founder and CEO Syncronus Corporation
Jeremy A. Gallegos, Ph. D., Associate Dean,
College of Adult and Professional Studies, Friends Univesity
Stephen Gleissner, Chief Curator, Wichita Art Museum
Troy L. Carlson, President and CEO, Initiatives, Inc.
Sarah Strydom, Chief Marketing Officer, Midwest Single Source
It took me a long time to admit to myself that what I loved most about the world-what I was most interested in- were its philosophical underpinnings. I remember reading an article that the Harvard Business Review published claiming that people who studied Philosophy were happier and more productive than those who didn't. I think that people who have studied Philosophy know how to ask the questions that will lead them towards a more meaningful answer; an answer one would be honored to live within. My education at Wichita State-under the tutelage of the Philosophy Department- has equipped me with the confidence and the analytic capacity to ask and answer these deeper, more structural questions with clarity, purpose, and poise. Currently, I'm asking these questions in a context that seeks to restructure educational policy, but who knows what'll come next.
Hannah Erickson, Columbia University
When I was a Philosophy student at Wichita State I was frequently asked the question, “What are you going to do with a Philosophy degree?” My typical response was, “hopefully nothing.” I think I got my wish. Taoism was, and still is, my favorite brand of philosophy. Taoist Philosophy recognizes that the universe already works harmoniously according to its own way, as a person exerts their will against or upon the world; they disrupt the harmony that already exists. A key principle in this philosophy is wu-wei; which is loosely defined as effortless doing or action without action. Wu-wei doesn’t imply absence of action; rather it indicates spontaneity and non-interference; letting things follow their natural course. I live on a small farm and raise vegetable and poultry using sustainable methods of agriculture. I do not control and modify every aspect of the property. The land is allowed to do what it does and I work around it. I listen to it, I feel it, in a lot of ways I have become a part of the land. I take time out to reflect and let things be. It’s quite different than the life I left behind before graduation. I can’t tell if I’m regaining my humanity or losing it. Those existential questions are still there with me and I explore them every day. Am I getting closer to answering them? Absolutely not; and that’s OK. It’s rare that one gets to live and practice a philosophy. I am doing nothing with my degree; just as I had planned.
Alan Holton, farmer
Here are some relevant links about why you should study philosophy:
"What to do with a Philosophy degree?"
"Why Study Philosophy?" (video)
" Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs "