College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Why Philosophy

Why major in Philosophy?

CLASS graduates

  • Philosophy majors applying to law school in recent years have scored higher on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) than any other humanities MA, better than all social science majors except economics, better than all natural science majors except mathematics, and better than all business and applied fields, including engineering.
  • On the verbal portion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), philosophy majors outperformed all other humanities majors, including English majors.
  • Philosophy majors recently scored higher than all business majors and second only to mathematics majors on the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) for students applying to graduate business schools.

A recent article in the New York Times describes the Philosophy major's recent growth in popularity: In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opt for the Life Examined.

Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates from the American Philosophical Association gives an introduction to standard courses in an undergraduate philosophy curriculum, and a discussion of the applications of undergraduate philosophical training to careers in law, business, publishing, sales, criminal justice, public relations, and other fields. A brief excerptfrom this guide explains why an undergraduate major in philosophy is by no means solely for those who want to go to graduate school in philosophy:

It should also be emphasized here that—as recent studies show—employers want, and reward, many of the capacities which the study of philosophy develops: for instance, the ability to solve problems, to communicate, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons, and to boil down complex data. These capacities represent transferable skills. They are transferable not only from philosophy to non-philosophy areas, but from one non-philosophical field to another. For that reason, people trained in philosophy are not only prepared to do many kinds of tasks; they can also cope with change, or even move into new careers, more readily than others.

In January 2010, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) released findings from a survey of employers in which employers emphasized the value of these transferable skills. Included in the findings is:

Employers believe that colleges should be placing more emphasis on a set of essential learning outcomes.  Those they believe are most in need of increased focus are: written and oral communication; critical thinking and analytic reasoning; the application of knowledge and skills in real-world settings; complex problem solving; ethical decision making, and teamwork skills.

The Philosophy Department's programs focus on development of all of these high-level cognitive skills. In short, these programs aim to deliver precisely what employers want, according to the AAC&U's survey.

It seems to me that philosophers have acquired skills which are very valuable to a member of Congress. The ability to analyze a problem carefully and consider it from many points of view is one. Another is the ability to communicate ideas clearly in a logically compelling form. A third is the ability to handle the many different kinds of problems which occupy the congressional agenda at any time.

-Lee H. Hamilton, Representative, 9th District, Indiana