Why study philosophy?
Philosophy is a discipline like no other in both its methods and in the nature and depth of its subject matter. Philosophy attempts to answer the questions that form the foundation not just of other disciplines but of everyday life such as: What can we know? What is happiness? How should we make moral decisions? What is the best society? How can we know if God exists? What is the source of aesthetic value? However, for the student of philosophy, the answers to these questions are not as important as the methods by which these answers are sought. Accordingly, in a philosophy class, the emphasis is placed heavily on developing the student’s ability to think clearly and concisely about these and other very complex issues through close readings of historical and contemporary philosophical texts.
The development of these thinking skills and their application to philosophical questions have great personal and professional benefits for the student of philosophy. Personally, students come to have a better understanding of their most fundamental beliefs, how these beliefs affect their worldview and their action as well as how they see their place in their local, national and international communities. Moreover, since philosophical skills are those of clear and concise thinking in general, they are also indispensable for just about any kind of career. These skills are:
- General Problem Solving/Critical Thinking Skills: The skills of rational inquiry so central to philosophy helps one analyze concepts, definitions, arguments and problems. It contributes to one’s capacity for organizing ideas and issues and the capacity to extract what is essential from masses of information. Philosophy also helps one to distinguish fine differences between views, to discover common ground between opposing positions, and helps one to synthesize a variety of views and perspectives into a unified whole. It is also noteworthy that philosophers have the HIGHEST average score of all Humanities disciplines and the third highest score (behind Economics and Finance) of all the Social Science, Education and Business disciplines on the Quantitative section of the GRE.
- Communication Skills: Philosophy provides some of the basic tools for clearly and concisely expressing one’s views – for instance, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments – that other fields either do not use, or use less extensively. It also enhances one’s ability to clearly explain difficult material by helping to eliminate ambiguities and vagueness from one’s writing and speech. It is also noteworthy that philosophers have the HIGHEST average score of all Social Science, Humanities, Education, and Business disciplines on the Verbal section of the GRE.
- Persuasive Powers: The emphasis on clear and concise communication skills through the construction of clear formulations, good arguments, and apt examples forms the basis for being persuasive. One learns to build and defend one’s own views, to appreciate competing positions, and to convincingly show why one alternative is better than another.
- Reading and Writing Skills: Philosophy students at Nebraska Wesleyan University are required to closely read assigned historical and contemporary philosophical texts and then write interpretive, comparative, and argumentative papers on them that also encourage students to use their imagination and develop their own ideas. These activities develop the ability to recognize subtleties, nuances, and other fine details in both their own work and those of others.
Although no non-academic employer specifically looks for philosophers, it is evident that the skills possessed by clear and concise thinkers that are acquired through philosophical activity (such as those just listed) are essential for success in any career. Some careers for which philosophy majors have proven particularly successful are: Law, Computer Programming, Education, Analysis and Research, Marketing, Technical Writing, Government and the Arts.