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idkifimsmart

Why study philosophy?

43 posts in this topic

Although I'd love to study philosophy, I realize that college is a large investment and a degree in philosophy will most likely not pay off financially. 

At the same time, I believe philosophy to be a wise investment because of the knowledge I would obtain and the positive way it would shape my character and actions. 

What are your opinions about studying philosophy? What are some things that can be done with a philosophy degree? 

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I used my philosophy degree to wait on tables and bartend at an Applebee's. Eventually I went on to become a programmer, but I'm not sure how heavily the philosophy degree factored into it.

I got a lot out of the philosophy, personally, though I should also mention that I basically studied against the grain. Had I followed instructions and focused on what the professors told me to focus, the education would not have been as beneficial as it was.

If you're into law, medicine, or a number of other post-graduate trainings, philosophy tends to be an accepted and appreciated bachelor's degree.

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I checked out a forum for Philosophy majors. I learned a lot about the academic culture of Philosophy majors, and not one damn thing about life.

You want to study philosophy? All the works of the great philosophers are readily available, and most of them are public domain. Just read them. You want to talk philosophy? Right here is as good a place as any, and probably better than college. Cheaper, certainly.

The best things in life are not free, but they're not bought with money. They're bought with effort and courage and experience. So save your money.

 

 

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3 hours ago, idkifimsmart said:

What are some things that can be done with a philosophy degree? 

I'll also mention social activism (as an offshoot that most people seem to have trouble making pay well), if you're at all interested in the continental side of philosophy.

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2 hours ago, Suraj said:

I'll also mention social activism (as an offshoot that most people seem to have trouble making pay well), if you're at all interested in the continental side of philosophy.

Social activism is like sports. It pays extremely well, but only if you're a superstar.

Or, to put it bluntly, a demagogue.

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5 hours ago, Continental Op said:

I checked out a forum for Philosophy majors. I learned a lot about the academic culture of Philosophy majors, and not one damn thing about life.

Yep. To elaborate on this, and what I hinted at before: 95% of philosophy classes are assigned reading, and writing essays in which you tell professors what they want to hear. Don't expect your actual understandings, curiosities, opinions, or valuations to be of any factor whatsoever in your grades.

 

Quote

You want to study philosophy? All the works of the great philosophers are readily available, and most of them are public domain. Just read them.

Eh. I wouldn't advocate for this, necessarily. I mean, read them, but take everything with a grain of salt. But focus more on sharpening your own mind and understanding then on memorizing the antics of history's most published philosophers.

 

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You want to talk philosophy? Right here is as good a place as any

:thinking:

 

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and probably better than college.

No, that's definitely not true. This forum does not make for good philosophy conversation. And while I am a pessimist about collegiate philosophy education, at the very least, college will offer you the opportunity to meet others interested in philosophy, who are open to conversation and differing opinions. In and of itself, though, not a sufficient reason to pursue philosophy in college (just don't expect to be able to substitute it with an internet forum).

 

@Continental Op: Sorry, didn't mean to single out your post like that, but you made a lot of points that I thought deserved a response. :p

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9 hours ago, idkifimsmart said:

Although I'd love to study philosophy, I realize that college is a large investment and a degree in philosophy will most likely not pay off financially. 

At the same time, I believe philosophy to be a wise investment because of the knowledge I would obtain and the positive way it would shape my character and actions. 

What are your opinions about studying philosophy? What are some things that can be done with a philosophy degree? 

My SO is a philosopher. We talk about this issue quite often. His philosophy department promotes the acquisition of philosophy degrees by claiming that they can be a stepping stone towards all sorts of careers. My husband and I have a different take on this subject, which is certainly not orthodox, nor popular amongst older, more well-established faculty whose job it is to make the discipline of Philosophy appear 'relevant and relatable' to the 'real world' in their yearly promotional campaigns to recruit philosophy majors. In response to your OP questions:

1. Certain philosophy courses and skills can be helpful (formal logic; reasoning and argumentation; conceptual analysis; etc.).

2. If you don't plan on becoming an academic, then you will also need to acquire additional and more specialized  education, training, and qualifications that are directly relevant to your long-term career goals. 

 

In sum: don't pursue an undergraduate degree in philosophy under the false belief that it will lead to becoming qualified for specific jobs. You will need to be more specific in your long-term goals, however, which will in turn make it easier for you to choose the areas of study you wish to explore at the undergraduate level. 

Best of luck to you. 

Edited by Madden

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Philosophy is a defensive system without an active component in your career it will, be only your ability to analyze certain things that can give you a job. Perhaps writting skills and reading skills.

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Philosophy is a fantastic thing to study.

 

...I just wouldn't *pay* to study it, when endless philosophy lectures are free and all of the great works can be read for free.

Spend your college tuition learning skills that will enable you to escape debt-slavery.

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Academic philosophy is largely the province of people who don't have to work for a living. Traditionally it was done by people with way more leisure time than everyone else. Now it's done by academics who were born rich enough to major in something non-STEM without worry.

In short, people who are out of touch with many aspects of ordinary human existence. And it shows. But the existentialists are at least relatively down to earth, in a thumb-sucking way.

Aristotle and Plato can teach useful analytical skills. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche can show you how to challenge accepted wisdom with attention-grabbing rhetoric.

As for truth, the branch of philosophy that was most successful there became what we now call science, and is no longer part of what we call philosophy. As for the good, philosophy has more or less given up and left that up to religion and pop psychology.

Whether philosophy is obsolete or not depends on how you define your terms. Modern academic philosophy is just plain irrelevant. Ancient philosophy offers no new insights, but many of the old insights are still well worth having. Pop psychology is the closest thing we have to living, breathing and relevant existential philosophy.

You want some rigor? Computer science is better than analytic philosophy at everything analytic philosophy promises. Design a database schema and write a program to solve a real world problem. If your program works and is useful, Philosophy professors have nothing on you.

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18 hours ago, idkifimsmart said:

Although I'd love to study philosophy, I realize that college is a large investment and a degree in philosophy will most likely not pay off financially. 

At the same time, I believe philosophy to be a wise investment because of the knowledge I would obtain and the positive way it would shape my character and actions. 

What are your opinions about studying philosophy? What are some things that can be done with a philosophy degree? 

I have a friend who majored in Philosophy at Harvard.

He used that skill to be an excellent admin assistant.  Evidentally, he was a firm believer of the "money isn't everything" philosophy.

Edited by ENFPEACE

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41 minutes ago, Continental Op said:

Academic philosophy is largely the province of people who don't have to work for a living. Traditionally it was done by people with way more leisure time than everyone else. Now it's done by academics who were born rich enough to major in something non-STEM without worry.

In short, people who are out of touch with many aspects of ordinary human existence. And it shows. But the existentialists are at least relatively down to earth, in a thumb-sucking way.

Aristotle and Plato can teach useful analytical skills. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche can show you how to challenge accepted wisdom with attention-grabbing rhetoric.

As for truth, the branch of philosophy that was most successful there became what we now call science, and is no longer part of what we call philosophy. As for the good, philosophy has more or less given up and left that up to religion and pop psychology.

Whether philosophy is obsolete or not depends on how you define your terms. Modern academic philosophy is just plain irrelevant. Ancient philosophy offers no new insights, but many of the old insights are still well worth having. Pop psychology is the closest thing we have to living, breathing and relevant existential philosophy.

You want some rigor? Computer science is better than analytic philosophy at everything analytic philosophy promises. Design a database schema and write a program to solve a real world problem. If your program works and is useful, Philosophy professors have nothing on you.

I'm a philosophy major and I disagree with a lot of what you've stated. I'll pick up on a few points here. Sadly I will not have the time to go into as much depth (or structure my argument) as I'd like to. But do take these as pointers: 

-Firstly, the assumption that Philosophy is for those who 'don't have to work for a living' is quite narrow-minded. Yes, I am a philosophy major, and yes, I am from a middle-class upbringing and have not had to fret over money problems during my short life time due to my parents' hard-graft. Yet, many of my friends from other backgrounds chose philosophy, despite being fully able to graduate in STEM subjects. I believe this is because they haven't been brainwashed by the claim that you have to graduate in x, y or z in order to have a fulfilling career that pays back.

-I'll expand on this latter point. Humanities degrees (such as philosophy) provide different skills to graduates.  Obviously, some skills are notorious for providing a grounding for specific sectors (take the obvious- economics and commercial banking), yet the idea that such degrees are entirely useless and unprofitable is just not true:

  • Unemployment rates. The assumption that 'computer science is better than analytic philosophy' is simply flawed. In Britain, those students who graduate with computer science/IT degrees have the highest unemployment rate out of all other disciplines (11.8%  6 months after leaving university), compared to other humanities majors such as philosophy and english (6.6%).
  • Multi-disciplinary skills within a sector. Most of the 'Big 4' accounting firms (e.g. PwC, KPMG) and several big international investment management companies hire students from non-financial backgrounds. Why? Because spending up to 60 hours a week writing and reading clear, convincing, structured and insightful philosophy is actually useful in the workplace. Who is going to write that 50 page report? Who's going to screen our top candidate Cv's? Who's going to convincingly persuade our clients that this new strategy will work? Humanities degrees provide a strong grounding in such areas, and workplaces are encouraged to be full to the brim with individuals with a diverse range of skills. It's proven to be one of the best ways to get results. If all firms were run by 500 economics majors, the results would be the same, again and again and again. Innovation requires new insights. Philosophy is crucial for such. 
  • Transferable skills. This former point also calls on an earlier assumption you've made about graduates being restricted to work in areas only tightly related to their degrees. If I told you that my medic friend is about to complete a McKinsey internship, you probably wouldn't believe me. Yet she's got killer comm skills and can win over any client that comes her way. My STEM friend has actually transferred to english at Princeton, so that she can pursue a career in publishing (interestingly enough, she's from a very very modest background, and cares about making it big in her career just as much as the average econ grad). 
  • The person, not the degree. The misconception that people are one-dimensional, defined solely by their degree is quite naiive. I personally know of several arts majors at my university heading for banking internships because of how easily they fitted in with the culture of the firm, their drive, their ability to pick up new skills etc etc (things what degrees don't teach you and the like). When you're recruiting you're hiring a person, grades and skills only go so far. I strongly believe (my belief may be wrong, but it is mine) that your degree accounts for about 20% of your hiring potential (with the exception of those which require sector-specific skills, such as engineering). The rest comes from general intellect, interest in the field and (most importantly, in my opinion) attitude.
  • Stick to your strengths. My Dad once told me that one of his successful HR employees indicated that sticking to what you're good at proves to pay off in the long term (see my earlier point about diverse workplaces being more successful). Obviously, this was a passing comment and I don't have figures to back it up in terms (or cannot be bothered since I have to go and write an extremely challenging philosophy essay  this evening), but it's worth noting that forcing yourself to take up something for the sake of £££ is unlikely to make you even half as happy as the years you'll spend reminiscing about what other path you could've taken. I am not a total idealist, and yes, money matters. We all have to pay bills. But it isn't worth your happiness. I will never lower myself to the point at which 'YOLO' is an acceptable response to any question but, idkifimsmart, if you want to do philosophy and you excel at it, why not hone in on your analytical abilities? I would much rather place myself at the bottom of the earning hierarchy (which I probably won't since I am as driven as the best of them to become a top dog) and keep my sense of humour then force myself into a suit that doesn't fit. 

I suggest a compromise. A double major? I'm not sure what happens in the US but if you are able to take multiple subjects, why not do so? One of my friends is majoring in comp sci/phil and is doing brilliantly. 

I realise that my emotions have come out in the latter section of this post, but my points are still valid. I suggest you consider them. Unfortunately, I'm not going to respond to anything anytime soon (since I'm working my bum off applying for internships for this summer), but I will definitely consider your opinions (despite my belief that they are not convincing). No offence. 

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The problem is that the skills that philosophy imparts are only really useful to higher management. All the entry level jobs are of a technical nature. The employer is asking "what can you do for me right now". They are not interested in if you are a better decision maker since entry level positions are about 'the doing' rather than 'the decision making'. Thus philosophy is something that should be read by the ambitious graduate employee aiming for the top rather than the student looking for entry. For this application, what is required is a knowledge of the issue rather than a participation in the debate. Most of the issues in philosophy have been known and debated since ancient times. Some resolutions have been reached but many others are still open. The idea of philosophy as something to be taught as a body of knowledge, rather than participated in, is anathema to philosophers.

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Actually, most of your points are borderline non sequitur. At best, you're using questionable proxies.

Humanities are great, but not as a major. Maybe not even as a minor. When you have to pay your own hard-earned money for tuition, it gives you a different perspective on formal education. Then when you stumble across Project Gutenberg, you realize even Will Hunting paid too much in late fees.

And if you need a professor to teach you how to think critically, you've got bigger problems.

By the way, those of us who program come to realize that coding is itself a kind of humanities skill these days. "Computer literacy" can be more than just a figure of speech if you take it deep enough. Bill Gates may say it's STEM, but he barely counts as a programmer, and he's been known to be disingenuous anyway.

 

 
 
...... added to this post 5 minutes later:
 
2 minutes ago, thod said:

The problem is that the skills that philosophy imparts are only really useful to higher management.

That's giving the executive class more credit than I would give them. I will grant that they get out of touch with practicals, however.

The skills of critical thinking are useful to anyone who has to cope with real life. Philosophy used to be about that. But science took that ball and went home.

Philosophy as anything more than a body of knowledge can only function once it's wrested from the grasp of the academics.

 
 
...... added to this post 38 minutes later:
 

The arbitrariness of what officially counts as philosophy:

http://www.chronicle.com/article/the-man-against-everything/238803

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1 hour ago, unkindhuman said:

your opinion of modern philosophy is, quite frankly, disturbingly specious. 

My understanding of his position is that it mostly 'navel gazing'. Ruminating on obscure and tiny points of difference of issues that have no bearing to real life as it is lived. He stated his fondness for ancient philosophy. The purpose of the ancient philosopher was to know how to live a good life by first knowing what a good life was. The purpose of modern philosophy is to score points against other academics. It is fair enough that society does not ask philosophers about how to grow corn or bake bread, yet they don't seem to be of much use to anyone.

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11 minutes ago, thod said:

The purpose of the ancient philosopher was to know how to live a good life by first knowing what a good life was. 

Eudaimonia is a distinctly Aristotelian focus. Not all ancient philosophers wrote on this. 

Without a good understanding of what it is modern philosophers do (from what you've written I highly doubt you're well acquainted with the field), I don't think it is your place to present what you blindly assert to be the discipline's shortcomings as fact. 

 

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I am inclined to be all Socratic and admit that 'I know nothing'. That puts the onus back on you, asserting that you know something. If you were brave enough to specify that something, I may be critical. That is the curse of modern thought, that criticism, without providing a better alternative, is sufficient.

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On 10/01/2017 at 11:41 AM, idkifimsmart said:

What are your opinions about studying philosophy? What are some things that can be done with a philosophy degree? 


Would be better to double it with something else if you want to 'do' something with it; Computer Science; Commerce; Law, or just get two degrees if you think you have the time or inclination.

I think of a Philosophy degree similar to something like History: People study it because they have an interest in it, not so much a desire to earn a guarenteed income out of it, but perhaps they can, so they do, but they have to be extremely good at it to get anywhere.

I knew a guy who graduated with Politics and Philosophy, smart guy, wanted to get political, but then something happened and he went off the rails, so after graduating he moved to China and no one has really heard from him since.

 

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But then perhaps you are not supposed to do anything with it. Both Plato and Aristotle were aristocratic. They considered that it was a pursuit for their class and they tutored the sons of gentlemen. The slave class laboured to give them, the elite, the free time to consider these issues. We still have a slave class, all those who work full time jobs. They do not have the free time to read the works or debate the issues of the day. Thus those who need to pursue a career, a slave, should not pursue the study.

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5 hours ago, unkindhuman said:

@Continental Op your opinion of modern philosophy is, quite frankly, disturbingly specious. 

 

4 hours ago, thod said:

My understanding of his position is that it mostly 'navel gazing'. Ruminating on obscure and tiny points of difference of issues that have no bearing to real life as it is lived. He stated his fondness for ancient philosophy. The purpose of the ancient philosopher was to know how to live a good life by first knowing what a good life was. The purpose of modern philosophy is to score points against other academics. It is fair enough that society does not ask philosophers about how to grow corn or bake bread, yet they don't seem to be of much use to anyone.

Then you guys are not paying attention to what CO is saying.

CO is not saying that modern philosophy has no bearing, he is saying that studying modern philosophy in an academic setting is a poor use of resources. Everything that the modern philosophy department has to offer is available for free or low cost, and at a person's convenience, elsewhere. It simply does not make sense to pay the gratuitous tuition costs when the same education can be achieved by better means and at better rates.

Now, yes, philosophy, done properly, does involve critical thinking, and does involve developing tools of understanding, and does involve communication skills--But these are not the primary focus, and often not even a secondary focus, in the typical philosophy program. They can be developed, but almost strictly at the student's discretion. But a student does not need a collegiate atmosphere in order to pursue such focuses; they can be developed in other, often more practical, ways.

Most philosophy programs, and this is a flaw with other college programs as well, simply want to get students through the program and out the door. They are not concerned with how well the student actually understands philosophy, or how critically they are able to think, or any such values; they just want the student's money, and want to be done with them as soon as possible. So the education boils down to how well the student can repeat the words used during lectures, and whether their word count is of sufficient length. That is modern collegiate philosophy.

It should go without saying that some philosophy programs, or individual professors, out there will show more integrity, and possibly have a program that is worthwhile. But they are the exception, not the rule.

And there are people out there that will remark "Oh, he studied philosophy at Rutgers? Schedule and interview!". But most, if not all, of those people are themselves employed in academic philosophy, forming a very closed circle: Your philosophy pedigree is only relevant when staying within academic philosophy. When pursuing any other career, it does not matter where or how you gained your skills and abilities, and as such, whether they came from college or not is irrelevant. And when that's irrelevant, college is not worth the cost. Much better to spend that college time actually studying for that career, and using your spare time to build up your critical thinking. That is the responsible choice.

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Philosophy is a wonderful thing to study. Sure, there are bad teachers out there - just like everywhere. But if you take classes from a good teacher, you can learn and think a lot. I am very glad I took so many philosophy classes in college. They expanded my viewpoints and ability to think rationally and to write.

That said, unless you are planning on pursuing a career in philosophy, I think it's not worth majoring in. Even if you are planning on pursuing a philosophy PhD, I'm not sure it's necessary to major in it to go that path. It's a great minor, though, and at the very least I would take a couple of philosophy classes.

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Yet why would you need to take a class at all? stanford.plato is a better resource than any book. Going back and reading the original works is less about philosophy than history. /r/philosophy has interesting articles every day. There is simply no need to do it at college.

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What do you want to do when you graduate? That is what you should be thinking about. You can pick any liberal arts degree you wish. The skills that an employer will expect you to have will be the same. They will expect you to have strong communication skills. You should be able to write well and talk to people. That is pretty much all you learn earning a liberal arts degree. Nobody is going to assume you are going to be a great decision maker because you just studied philosophy, psychology , political science etc. Hiring managers and employers will not care about your fruitless epistemological discussions that end up going nowhere, your theories on morality, your opinions on Nietzsche, Thomas Aquinas, and Kant when it comes to hiring. 

Edited by Braindead

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4 hours ago, yes said:

philosophy, done properly, does involve critical thinking, and does involve developing tools of understanding, and does involve communication skills

Philosophy done improperly is not really philosophy. 

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