Why Study Philosophy?
“It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well.” - Rene Descartes
Here’s what some of our students have said about why they study philosophy:
- “It’s important to learn about genetics, but it is more important to learn to think. Philosophy makes me think!”
- “Philosophy courses give you more than just knowledge of the world; they give you a deep understanding of how the world works, even how it should work.”
- “Majoring in philosophy makes me a better thinker and a more well-rounded person.”
- “My philosophy senior thesis was not only the best part of my Lehigh experience, but it has helped me tremendously throughout law school and my life.”
- “Studying philosophy, I learned to analyze closely and critically, to question thoroughly, and to write and think rigorously. My philosophy skills has made me more valuable to prospective employers and graduate schools.”
Top Five Reasons to Study Philosophy
1. Fascinating subject matter
2. Wide variety of interesting classes taught by outstanding professors
3. Skill development
4. Great preparation for any career or graduate study
5. Personal development
Philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand themselves, the world they live in, and the relations to the world and each other. Those who study philosophy are engaged in asking, answering, evaluating, and reasoning about some of life’s most basic, meaningful, and difficult questions, such as:
- What is it to be a human?
- What is the human mind?
- Are we responsible for what we do, or are we just helpless victims of our genes, environment, and upbringing?
- Is there a God?
- What is the best sort of life to live?
- What is happiness? Can we hope to attain it? Is it what matters most in life? Can bad people be truly happy?
- How should we balance our own desires, needs, and rights against those of others individuals? against those of future generations? animals?
- What kind of person is it good to be?
- What sorts of political institutions are best?
- What do we know and how do we know it?
- What is truth? Is anything true? How can we tell?
- What is art? What is beauty? Does art have to be beautiful to be good?
- Can we justify our judgments about the merits of a film, a book, a painting, a poem?
- What is it for one thing to cause another thing to happen?
- Is there a scientific method?
- How do words come to have meaning?
- Do mathematical objects exist?
- What is time? Is time really real?
In studying philosophy, you’ll have a chance to grapple with these questions yourself and to think about what others—some of the greatest philosophers of the past and present, as well as your fellow students—think about them.
2. A wide variety of interesting courses taught by outstanding professors.
There are philosophy courses that address moral issues, others that focus on the nature of science and technology, many that explore some of the most important philosophical works written across the history of Western civilization and others that introduce great thinkers of Eastern philosophy, courses for those who are interested in mathematics and logic or politics and societies or religion or knowledge or the human mind or the nature of reality.
Some of the courses are broad survey courses, others are in-depth studies of particular issues, texts, or philosophers. Most philosophy classes above the 0-level are small and involve lots of discussion and writing.
Philosophy professors are dedicated teachers who are experts in their fields and who are genuinely interested in helping students to develop their understanding and skills. Our professors have won teaching awards and consistently earn high ratings on student evaluations.
3. Skill development
Far from being an abstract and useless field, philosophy is among the most practical courses of study. Taking philosophy courses imparts skills that will be useful not only in any career but also in your personal life. The study of philosophy will enable you to think carefully, critically, and with clarity, take a logical approach to addressing challenging questions and examining hard issues, reason well and evaluate the reasoning of others, discuss sensibly, and write effectively.
In philosophy courses you can expect to
- enhance your problem-solving capacities, your ability to organize ideas and issues, and your ability to distinguish what is essential from what is not;
- become better able to look at things from a variety of perspectives, to understand different viewpoints, and to discover common ground among them;
- learn how to critically examine your own views as well as those of others;
- develop your ability to understand and explain difficult material;
- learn how to distinguish good reasoning from attempts to manipulate opinions, to construct sound complex arguments, and to evaluate others’ reasoning;
- develop good interpretive, comparative, argumentative, analytical, and descriptive writing skills that will allow you to communicate your ideas in a clear and powerful way.
Philosophy develops intellectual abilities important for life as a whole, beyond the knowledge and skills required for any particular profession…It enhances analytical, critical, and interpretive capacities that are applicable to any subject matter and in any human context”
- The American Philosophical Association
Most students of philosophy don’t go on to become philosophy professors. But they do go on to get good jobs in a wide range of fields, including law, medicine, business, education, journalism, public policy, government, religion, communication fields, public relations, retail management, social service, and many more.
Heading for a career in the business world? The skills you can develop though the study of philosophy are just those that employers are looking for. And philosophy majors earn high mid-career salaries. Don’t take our word for here; check out these news stories:
“Salary increase by major,” Wall Street Journal
“Philosophy is back in business,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 1/12/10
“I think, therefore I earn,” The Guardian 11/19/07
“Study of philosophy makes gains despite economy,” Philadelphia Inquirer 10/1511
A story featuring former Lehigh philosophy major, Shannon Maloney, ’12.
Planning to go to graduate school, law school, or medical school? Then you should know that
• Philosophy majors score higher on GRE’s (verbal and analytical) than any other major
• Only physics and math majors score higher on the LSATs than philosophy majors. And match the skill set the ABA recommends as preparation for studying law to the philosophy skill set.
hyperlink LSAT to http://legalblogwatch.typepad.com/legal_blog_watch/2009/09/choice-of-college-major-sways-lsat-score.html
• 50% of philosophy majors who apply to medical school are accepted
Of course, some philosophy students go on to become philosophy professors. According the Wall Street Journal, being a philosopher is among the best jobs in the United States.
What can you with a degree in philosophy? Ask these former philosophy majors:
- Robert Greenhill, President of Morgan Stanley
- Dan Brownstein, Founder and Manager of a Hedge-fund
- George Soros, Investor)
- Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com
- Stephen Breyer and David Souter, Supreme Court Justices
- Richard Riordan Mayor of Los Angeles
- William Bennett, US Secretary of Education
- Paul Martin, Jr., Prime Minister of Canada
- Stone Phillips, Network Television Journalist
- Studs Terkel, Pulitzer-Prize Winning Author
- Alex Trebek, Host of an Iconic Game Show
- Larry Sanger, Co-founder of Wikipedia
- Ricky Gervais, Comedian/Actor/Producer
- Ethan Coen, Academy-Award Winning Filmmaker
- Jack Keane, Four-star General in the US Army
- Steve Martin, Comedian/Actor
- P.C. Chang and Charles Malik, Co-authors of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI
- Claude Levi-Straus, Seminal Anthropologist
5. Personal development
Careers and jobs are only one part of the rest of your life. The study of philosophy not only affects how you think but also your development as a person. The study of philosophy can be truly enriching an highly gratifying, and it is excellent preparation for lifelong learning and en enhanced intellectual, political, and social existence. It can help you to live better by helping you to understand yourself as a thinking, acting being. Socrates famously said that “the unexamined life is not worth living;” and philosophy is the tool he recommended for examining both one’s own life and the various possibilities open to you throughout your life. What beliefs are important to you now and how reasonable are they? What principles guide you in deciding what to do and do they stand up to scrutiny? Which paths will provide a more fulfulling life for you and which popular paths will eventually leave you feeling hollow? Both the content and the skills you gain from the study of philosophy will enable you to think better about wuch things and so to make good choices.
Philosophy’s critical skills also provide the best defense against popular foolishness and falsehoods, allows you to see through cultural and intellectual fads, protects you from the empty posturing of politicians and the inane prattling of media pundits and commentators, defends you from the slippery claims of advertisers and salespeople, and enables you to see right through silly opinions and everyday nonsense.
Who should study philosophy?