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What can I do with a degree in philosophy?

By Bruce Umbaugh
Monday, March 18, 2002

What do philosophers do?

Listen to John Cleese's answer

while you consider that these are all philosophy majors:

Steve  Martin, actor, comic, wild and crazy guy [Steve Martin]

Carly  Fiorina, chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Company [Carly Fiorina]

Robert Simonds, producer of hit movies, such as The Wedding Singer and Something About Mary, told The New York Times that his study of philosophy helped him tremendously in his work because,

ultimately, all philosophy is is training in rational argument. As a producer, that's 90% of your job. It's trying to formulate a cohesive point of view out of chaos.
(See The New York Times story, "What Makes Boys Laugh?; A Philosophy Major Finds the Golden Touch," July 23, 1998.)

[Bill Miller] William H. Miller, manager of multi-billion dollar Legg Mason mutual fund

 New York Times story: To Beat the Market, Hire a Philosopher

 Yahoo News: Legg Mason's Value Trust Continues Streak; The Only Fund to Outperform the S&P 500 for Each of the Last 11 Calendar Years

Greg Ray, Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Florida, graduate of Webster University.

Terri Williams, former Mayor of Webster Groves, graduate of Webster University.

Sheryl Pressler, Chief Executive Officer, Lend Lease Real Estate Investments, Atlanta, graduate of Webster University.

Mike McCullagh, IBM Privacy Center, graduate of Webster University.

Kristin Dunnett, attorney at law, graduate of Webster University.

Lew Prince, founder, Vintage Vinyl Records, graduate of Webster University.



Four reasons to study philosophy:

  • philosophical skills have practical, professional value
  • the unexamined life is not worth living
  • you are or will be a citizen
  • it is fun.

The skills you gain tackling "BIG QUESTIONS" have practical value -- and employers (many of them) know this.

The study of philosophy helps develop skills that would help you

  • analyze small problems into component parts
  • evaluate the utility of a product
  • analyze a plan
  • think outside the box
  • detect hidden assumptions and relationships
  • express yourself clearly in speaking and in writing
  • make something intelligible of something complex
  • be able to get your point across with different arguments and different techniques
  • think logically
  • think creatively
  • solve problems
  • make objective evaluations, of both pet ideas and less favored ones
  • evaluate the goodness of data
  • draw accurate conclusions
  • see the big picture
  • locate different sorts of information, evaluate it, and present the most important parts clearly and concisely

Aren't these skills that job seekers should have today? Aren't these skills that are valuable for most of the "good jobs" that anyone might seek?

Furthermore, it is good to "know thyself." The unexamined life is not worth living.

Moreover, it is important in a democracy that citizens be able to think for themselves and not be duped by opportunists and demagogues. (This is awfully important in less democratic societies, as well, when you think about it.)

Finally, many people find studying philosophy is just plain fun. Hard work, to be sure, but rewarding and enjoyable, too. Perhaps you are one of those many people. How might you find out? Wouldn't it be a shame to miss out on something both practically rewarding, good for society, and fun?