What Can I Do With A Major In Philosophy?

Philosophy is the search for an understanding of how the world as a whole hangs together and of how we are to assume our place in the world. Philosophy pursues its goal first of all historically. It is the trustee of the heritage of great philosophical texts, and it engages those texts in a conversation with contemporary problems. Second, philosophy turns to the contemporary world directly and tries to illuminate and advance its concerns with ethics and art, with science and technology, with ecology and feminism, with law and medicine.

Traditional Subfields of Philosophy

The broadest subfields of philosophy are most commonly taken to be logic, ethics, metaphysics, epistemology and the history of philosophy. Here is a brief sketch of each.

Concerned with providing sound methods for distinguishing good from bad reasoning. It helps us assess how well our premises support our conclusions, to see what we are committed to accepting when we take a view, and to avoid adopting beliefs for which we lack adequate reasons

Ethics: Takes up the meanings of our moral concepts-such as right action, obligation and justice-and formulates principles to guide moral decisions, whether in private or public life.

Metaphysics: Seeks basic criteria for determining what sorts of things are real. Are there mental, physical, and abstract things (such as numbers), for instance, or is there just the physical and the spiritual, or merely matter and energy?

Epistemology: Concerns the nature and scope of knowledge.

The History of Philosophy: Studies both major philosophers and entire periods in the development of philosophy such as the Ancient, Medieval, Modern, Nineteenth Century, and Twentieth Century periods. It seeks to understand great figures, their influence on others, and their importance for contemporary issues.

Special Fields of Philosophy
Many branches of philosophy have grown from the traditional core areas. What follows is a sketch of some of the major ones.

Philosophy of Mind: This subfield has emerged from metaphysical concerns with the mind and mental phenomena. The philosophy of mind addresses not only the possible relations of the mental to the physical (for instance, to brain processes), but the many concepts having an essential mental element: belief, desire, emotion, feeling, sensation, passion, will, personality, and others.

Philosophy of Religion: Another traditional concern of metaphysics is to understand the concept of God, including special attributes such as being all-knowing, being all-powerful, and being wholly good.
Philosophy of Science: This is probably the largest subfield generated by epistemology. Philosophy of science is usually divided into philosophy of the natural sciences and philosophy of the social sciences Philosophy of Art (Aesthetics): This is one of the oldest subfields. It concerns the nature of art, including the performing arts, painting, sculpture, and literature.

Philosophy of Language: This field has close ties to both epistemology and metaphysics. It treats a broad spectrum of questions about language: the nature of meaning, the relations between words and things, the various theories of language learning, and the distinction between literal and figurative uses of language.

Much of what is learned in philosophy can be applied in virtually any endeavor. This is both because philosophy touches on so many subjects and, especially, because many of its methods are usable in any field.

Analytical Skills: The study of philosophy enhances, in a way no other activity does, one's problem-solving capacities. It helps one to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments and problems. It contributes to one's capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from masses of information. It helps one both to distinguish fine differences between views and to discover common ground between opposing positions. And it helps one to synthesize a variety of views or perspectives into a unified whole.

Communication Skills: Philosophy also contributes uniquely to the development of expressive and communicative powers. It provides some of the basic tools of self-expression-for instance, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments-that other fields either do not use, or use less extensively. It helps one to express what is distinctive of one's view; enhances one's ability to explain difficult material; and helps one to eliminate ambiguities and vagueness from one's writing and speech.

Persuasive Skills: Philosophy provides training in the construction of clear formulations, good arguments, and apt examples. It thereby helps one develop the ability to be convincing. One learns to build and defend one's own views, to appreciate competing positions, and to indicate forcefully why one considers one's own views preferable to alternatives. These capacities can be developed not only through reading and writing in philosophy, but also through the philosophical dialogue, in and outside the classroom, that is so much a part of a thoroughgoing philosophical education.

Writing Skills: Writing is taught intensively in many philosophy courses, and many regularly assigned philosophical texts are unexcelled as literary essays. Philosophy teaches interpretive writing through its examination of challenging texts, comparative writing through emphasis on fairness to alternative positions, argumentative writing through developing students' ability to establish their own views, and descriptive writing through detailed portrayal of concrete.
  • A recent London Times article says that because philosophy teaches not what to think, but how to think, it’s the ultimate “transferable work skill.” Philosophy graduates have a 98.8% employability rating.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education and NY Times note that philosophy majors out-perform every other discipline on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), except for physics and math majors.
  • Philosophy majors out-perform even business majors on the Graduate Management Admissions Test
  • Philosophy majors scored 17% higher than the over-all mean on the verbal portion of the Graduate Record Exams, GREs (better than English majors) and we’re tops among humanities majors on the GRE quantitative exam.

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