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Why Philosophy?

What is “Philosophy”?

The word itself derives from Greek roots that means love of wisdom. A substantive and precise characterization of the field of philosophy, and its practice, is difficult. In part, this is because philosophy is so all-encompassing. Nearly every academic discipline is a historical outgrowth of philosophy. Because of its broad nature, contemporary philosophy is divided into numerous subfields, each of which would be easier to characterize than the whole of philosophy. Related questions concern the value of philosophy. Below we summarize the practical and intrinsic value associated with philosophical education.

Practical Value of Philosophy

Philosophy students are consistently among the top performers on standardized grad school prep exams – e.g., GRE, LSAT, MCAT, GMAT. Those exams do not emphasize discipline-specific knowledge; rather, they emphasize skills with logical reasoning and comprehension of logic-rich texts. Why? The thinking is that if you are good with logical reasoning, then we can train you! Philosophy students do fantastically well on these exams for the simple reason that philosophy courses focus on logical reasoning. Adding a philosophy Minor or second Major will help improve your prep exam scores, and that will likely get you into a better-ranked graduate program. More generally, you'll increase your problem-solving skills.

If mastery with creative writing (among other forms) is your goal, then English courses are terrific. If instead, the goal is mastery of reading and writing skills associated with academic, journal-style texts – i.e., analytical writings rich in logical reasoning – you can do no better than to take philosophy courses. Indeed, recent data for the GRE exam (see links above) show that for the two portions of the exam associated with verbal and writing skills, philosophy students earned the very highest scores of any Major. Adding a philosophy Minor or second Major will improve your reading and writing in your first Major, helping you to earn better grades.

This is not simply to repeat that the themes that philosophy students develop superior logical, reading, and writing skills. Rather, the present point is that philosophy is among the most interdisciplinary of fields – arguably, the most interdisciplinary. The history of every other academic discipline traces back to philosophy. Whether you're majoring in psychology, biology, physics, or whatnot, your discipline was founded by philosophers working on specialized topics unique to (what has become) your field. Part of the legacy of these philosophical origins is that scholars across all fields continue to earn PhD degrees – “PhD” abbreviates “Philosophy Doctorate”. The philosophical foundations underlying other disciplines makes the study of philosophy particular well-suited as Minor or a second Major. Many of our course titles are a tribute to the interdisciplinarity of philosophy – such courses as “Philosophy of Biology”, “Philosophy of Physics”, “Philosophy of Science”, “Philosophy of Social Science”, “Philosophy of Mind”, “Philosophy of Language”, “Philosophy of Law”, “Philosophy of Literature”, “Philosophy of Education”, “Philosophy of Art” . . . you get the idea. Bottom-line: The study of Philosophy combines fantastically well with a Major in any other field. Adding a Philosophy Minor or second Major typically rewards students with a deeper understanding of issues relevant to their first Major.

Though STEM fields are much in demand these days, the situation remains strong for Humanities Majors. Indeed, recent studies indicates that, over time, degrees in the Humanities reward students with higher salaries, gradually closing the initial pay gap occurring in comparison with Majors in professional fields. Further research indicates that philosophy Majors are the best paid, among Humanities Majors. Indeed, a Wall Street Journal analysis shows that philosophy Majors and mathematics Majors are tied, for earning the highest midcareer salary increases – greater than a 100% increase.

Intrinsic Value of Philosophy

The history of philosophy is the history of big ideas and influential thinkers – such thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Xunzi, Aquinas, Descartes, Pascal, Locke, Hume, Kant, Mill, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Beauvoir, Rawls, and more. Take on course on one or more of these thinkers. You'll discover that rethinking the ideas of great intellectual masters is its own reward.

The outstanding performance of philosophy students on grad school prep exams is the natural outgrowth of strong logical and analytical abilities. Together with superb abilities at dissecting the writings of others, and persuasively expressing one's own views, makes the study of philosophy a natural fit for freethinkers and problem-solvers.

Wall Street Journal, “Philanthropist Nicolas Berggruen’s Big Bet on Philosophy”
Washington Post, “Why kids – now more than ever – need to learn philosophy. Yes, philosophy.”

Generations of thinkers have praised the virtues of an active life of the mind. Perhaps the most famous is attributed to Socrates – “The unexamined life is not worth living”. While we are not asserting something quite that strong, it is widely agreed that a contemplative life will increase the sense of meaning and satisfaction in your life.

New York Times, “In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined”
New York Times, “Philosophers Find the Degree Pays Off in Life And in Work”
Salt Lake Tribune, “Colleges defend humanities amid tight budgets”
Google's in-house philosopher, Damon Horowitz, “Quit Your Technology Job and Get a Humanities Ph.D.

Further Links on the Value of Philosophy

Last Updated: 5/9/22