Socrates. Plato. Aristotle. The love of wisdom has persisted throughout the centuries and is carried on today, in some form or another, by those engaging in philosophical debate or even pursing a philosophy degree. Fast forward to more modern times when leaders, thinkers and writers such as Bruce Lee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Clinton and T.S. Eliot have studied philosophy. The successes don't stop there, however. They bleed over into areas such as business and entrepreneurship where — yes! — even LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Flickr founder Stewart Butterfield have philosophy degrees.
What do you learn in a philosophy major?
A philosophy degree is just one type of liberal arts degree (with others including English and history) that can help to stretch a student's thinking when it comes to logic and argumentation. Whereas previously, a student might only have seen one side of an argument, they might learn to understand many perspectives after studying philosophy. They can also learn how to concisely express their views in both written and spoken language. In fact, students pursuing a bachelor's degree in philosophy man gain many valuable skills, including how to:
Q&A with a philosophy graduate
Bryan Craig, a senior researcher at The Miller Center for Public Affairs in Virginia, obtained his BA in Philosophy in 1992 from Ohio University.
1. Why did you decide to study philosophy?
In my freshman year at Ohio University, I took an Introduction to Ethics course with a great teacher, and I realized how differently I can see the world. It was a "game changer" for me.
2. What's the most interesting part of your degree program?
Taking ethics courses. I took two of them, and ethics for me brought out the practical side of a philosophy degree. In fact, Ohio University has an Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics, which was in its infancy when I went through the program.
3. What was the most surprising thing about getting a philosophy degree?
How differently I saw the world. It gave me a chance to look at the big picture of things in life, human behavior, and organizations/institutions.
4. How do you use your philosophy major in your career?
The major gave me critical-thinking skills and the ability to look at the forest, not just the trees. I use these skills on a daily basis as I evaluate material, and it gave me a good foundation for strategic thinking.
5. Would you recommend the philosophy major to others?
Absolutely. The major was used mainly for pre-law, but today, business and medical ethics have arrived and it makes a lot of sense to double major with philosophy as you specialize in a career. I have to stress again that this major prepares you for strategic thought, something I see vital in any organization you work for.
6. Would you do it again?
Yes, I would. The major gave me some great skills that I use personally and professionally every day. It also gave me an intellectual challenge, which I cherish.
- Appreciate others' point of views
- Think versus being told what to think about
- Communicate clearly
- Become a critical and logical inquirer
- Efficiently problem solve
- Understand cause and effect
- Prepare for law school, another professional program, or for a future as a professor in philosophy
Liberal arts degrees are sometimes viewed as impractical, but the truth is that a liberal arts education, including one based on philosophy, could give graduates a one-up when it comes to employment. A study by The American Association of Colleges and Universities shows that analytical reasoning, critical thinking and the ability to effectively communicate are top skills that employers prioritize. The ability to analyze and solve complex problems is also ranked as important.
The University of Kentucky Department of Philosophy website even goes so far as to describe a background in philosophy as the "ultimate transferable work skill," enabling graduates to enter fields as diverse as business, international diplomacy, law, religion and social work.
What kinds of philosophy degrees are there?
Philosophy students can specialize in a broad range of disciplines within the subject. Although not all programs offer the ability to study a niche field of interest, there may be programs offering specializations in areas like logic or the history of modern philosophy.
As in many other disciplines, both undergraduate and graduate philosophy degrees are available. Whatever level you choose to pursue, your studies can lead you into greater depth and comprehension as you work toward completing the program. Some of the degree programs offered in philosophy by colleges and universities include:
You can explore the worlds of both ancient and modern philosophy, take a look at the foundation of ethics, and explore philosophies related to specific cultures or particular lines of thought. Traditionally, bachelor's degrees take at least four years to complete for full-time students, and depending on the school, they may include a practicum or capstone project. Students with a bachelor's degree in philosophy could enter fields such as journalism, law, nonprofit work, public policy and public relations.
In a master of arts program, you can advance your knowledge of philosophy, learning more about aesthetics, ethics, and political philosophy, or examining theories of knowledge and the philosophy of language and science. In this subject, the master's isn't usually the terminal degree, and many students continue on to a Ph.D., which can enable them to become a college professor in philosophy. However, as with a bachelor's degree, a master's degree in philosophy can be useful to entering a number of fields, ranging from business to divinity, economics, law and publishing.
If you want to work as a professor or college instructor of philosophy, a doctorate may be for you. Most doctoral level programs do prepare students to become instructors, but may also provide them with financial support through means of a teaching assistantship or fellowship. In a doctoral level programs, students may be required to write a series of papers or to focus their research and energy toward a dissertation.
What about online philosophy degrees?
To be or not to be may be the essential question about online philosophy degrees, but the answer is that, yes, they do exist. In fact, not only are they available online at the bachelor's degree level, but they can be found in abundance. Unlike other programs, like in health care, bachelor's degrees do not require completion of clinical hours or lab time, making them easy to translate to the online format.
Master's degrees in philosophy may be harder to find online, however, and might instead be offered as part of a broader conceptual program. The same is true with doctoral degrees. That said, you may be able to find some specific courses in a philosophy degree program that can be taken online or through an alternative learning format. Whatever level interests you, a good first step is to compare schools online and in your area that offer liberal arts degrees, and see what philosophy programs might suit you.
What can you do with a philosophy degree?
Many students are interested in teaching or becoming involved in the discipline of philosophy itself. Others want to enter related fields, such as law or political science. But philosophy degrees can help students establish a strong future if they want to continue their studies in many fields. Consider that:
- Philosophy majors outscored majors in several other areas, including in accounting, business education and information systems, on the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) in 2010-11.
- Of students taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in 2010, philosophy majors tied with economics majors as the two top performers, followed by students with engineering, history and English degrees.
- On the GRE in 2013-14, students intending to major in philosophy at the graduate level scored highest on the verbal reasoning and analytical writing components than those intending to major in other areas.
This just goes to show you that a philosophy degree is far from useless and can lead, in fact, to a future full of promise and opportunity. The skills gained by studying philosophy are in high demand with employers, and they're applicable in a wide variety of industries.
1. "Raising the Bar: Employers' Views on College Learning in the Wake of the Economic Downturn," American Association of Colleges and Universities, 2010, http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2009_EmployerSurvey.pdf
2. Philosophy, B.A., Arizona State University, https://asuonline.asu.edu/online-degree-programs/undergraduate/bachelor-arts-philosophy
3. Master's Program in Philosophy, Brandeis University, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, http://www.brandeis.edu/gsas/programs/philosophy.html
4. "What Can You Do with a Degree in Philosophy?" Angela Foster, The Guardian, Oct. 29, 2010, http://www.theguardian.com/money/2010/oct/30/graduate-careers-philosophy
5. "What Can I do with a Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy?" Hofstra University, http://www.hofstra.edu/pdf/studentaffairs/studentservices/career/what%20can%20i%20do%20…%20philosophy.pdf
6. "Why Study Philosophy?" Indiana University of Pennsylvania, http://www.iup.edu/philosophy/about/
7. "Where Can Philosophy Take Me?" University of Kentucky, College of Arts and Science, Department of Philosophy, https://philosophy.as.uky.edu/where-can-philosophy-take-me
8. "Why Major in Philosophy?" The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Philosophy, http://philosophy.unc.edu/undergraduate/the-major/why-major-in-philosophy/
9. Major Requirements, University of Oregon, Department of Philosophy, philosophy.uoregon.edu/undergraduate/major_requirements/#uoreq