Why Major or Minor in Philosophy?

Questioning Fundamentals

Philosophy encourages us to ask fundamental questions about the nature of existence, the meaning of life, the constitution of values, the elucidation of truths, the formation of subjects and groups, the status of politics, the significance of beauty and the historical development of human society. These questions constantly confront us, in provocative and challenging ways, with the powers and limitations of our self-defined status as homo sapiens, which can be modestly translated as ‘thinking beings.’

The Examined Life

To reflect on the deep principles shaping our conduct and worldview is one of the most valuable and stimulating activities. It allows us to gain insight into the deep-seated forces that influence the ways in which we think, feel, act, and perceive the world. It also assists us in grappling with these very forces and potentially reconfiguring them in order to release unforeseen potentialities.

Logic and Analytical Reasoning
Education in philosophy trains students in careful and thoughtful analysis of arguments. It helps them identify the logical structure of claims as well as potential weaknesses. It also assists them in constructing the best possible arguments to articulate and defend their own views, a process which includes seeking a full range of alternatives and counter-arguments that a reasonable person might make.

Critical Reasoning and Reading Skills
Philosophy is not a passive discipline. Students are expected and encouraged to critically reflect on the claims that they encounter and consider counter-arguments. They are also trained in the art of close textual reading and the analytic dissection of philosophical positions, which includes identifying the central issues at stake, meticulously mapping the development of the argument in the text or oral presentation, devising additional arguments to support the claims advanced, and critically evaluating the positions taken.

Written and Oral Expression

Philosophy teaches you to clearly and precisely present complex ideas in both writing and conversation. It provides you with analytic and rhetorical skills as well as argumentative tools that allow you to enhance your expressive capabilities and persuasively argue your case.

Performance on Standardized Exams
Philosophy majors score extremely well on standardized tests such as the GRE, the GMAT and the LSAT, as evidenced by the graph below from New Mexico State University’s Philosophy Department. Also see these calculations, which demonstrate that philosophy majors have the highest verbal scores and the highest analytic writing scores of any major on the Graduate Record Exam for the period studied.

 Major LSAT GMAT GRE (verbal)
GRE (Quantitative) Average 
 Mathematics  +12.8%   +13.3%
 +2.7%
 +26.3%
 +13.8%
 Philosophy  +8.7% 
 +11.0% 
 +17.6%   +4.6%  +10.5%
 Chemistry                    
 +7.6%  +7.5%  +2.1%   
 +18.3  +8.9%
 Biology                 
 +4.0%     
 +3.3%  +5.4%  
 +8.0%  +5.2%
 English              
 +5.6%   
 +4.1%  +14.5%   
 -5.7%  +4.6%
 History                
 +2.9%  +4.6%   
 +10.8%  -5.5%  +3.2%
 Foreign Languages                        
 +5.7%  +3.3%  +7.9%  -4.2%  +3.2%
 Gen. Humanities                        
 +4.7%  +1.8%  +7.3%  -5.0%  +2.2%
 Psychology                   
 +0.9%     
 +0.8%  +3.1%  -4.0%  +0.2%
 Political Science                       
 -1.6%  
 +.06%  +3.5%  -5.0%  -0.8%
 Arts & Music                      
 -.05%  
 -1.2%  +1.7%  -8.4%  -2.0%
 Business Admin.                  
 -4.5%  -0.8%  -9.1% 
 -2.3%  -4.2%
 Management                     
 -5.4%  -7.7%  nr*  nr  -6.6%
 Speech                        
 -2.7%  nr  -6.0%  -14.3%  -7.7%
 Sociology                       
 -7.0%  -5.0%  
 -5.0%  -15.0%  -8.0%
 Education                        
 -8.7%  -4.2%  -10.4%  -15.8%  -9.8%
 *nr=not recorded 


Graduate School, Law School and Medical School 

Majoring in philosophy obviously provides solid training for pursuing graduate studies in philosophy, as well as in other humanities disciplines or the social sciences.

Philosophy is also widely recognized as one of the best pre-law majors since the skills that are developed—such as diligent, critical writing about complex arguments—are precisely that ones that are required in law school. Philosophy majors typically perform extremely well on the LSAT (see above, as well as this article).

Finally, philosophy is also an excellent pre-med major. A relatively recent issue of a journal published by the American Medical School Association, and made available on UNC Chapel Hill’s Philosophy Department website, specifies that a high proportion of philosophy majors applying to medical schools are accepted. This article in the New York Times also describes how a major medical school is very friendly to humanities majors.

Job Market

Despite certain preconceptions one might have, philosophy majors actually perform very well on the job market. This article in The Guardian explains that employers are increasingly interested in philosophy majors: "Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show philosophy graduates, once derided as unemployable layabouts, are in growing demand from employers." 

According to this article in the New York Times, as well as this article by the 2012 President of the MLA, philosophy graduates--and humanities majors more generally--are prized by employers because of their superior reasoning and creative thinking skills. The former article states: "For all the jokes about them, philosophy majors appear to do remarkably well. That, at least, is the conclusion one can draw from an unscientific survey, 20 years after graduation, of the class of 1977 at four schools: Princeton University, the University of Virginia, the University of Nebraska and Texas A & M University."

Career Opportunities

There is a widespread assumption that majoring in philosophy leads to low earning potential. This is not, in fact, true. The website, www.payscale.com, issues a report every year on the median starting and mid-career salaries of individuals with a Bachelor’s Degrees in various disciplines. Philosophy is far from the bottom of the list.  According to 2013 numbers, the median starting salary for philosophy BAs is $38,300 and the median mid-career salary is $72,600.  This places it at #3 among the humanities majors, behind Classics and American Studies. It is only slightly behind Accounting and Marketing & Communications majors, and it comes out ahead of several science majors (including Biology and Psychology), as well as many professional majors (including Business, Communications, Hotel Management, Multimedia and Web Design, and Public Administration). For the full report, click here

Conclusion

If you are interested in asking fundamental questions, pushing the limits of your thinking, honing your skills in logical argumentation, developing your critical acumen, improving your expressive capabilities, performing well on standardized exams, pursuing graduate studies, succeeding on the job market and/or not depreciating your earning potential, you should consider majoring or minoring in philosophy.

Related Programs

Each semester, faculty in our Department teach courses that cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries, bringing the study of Philosophy into dialog with institutes, departments, centers and programs in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. These disciplines and institutions include:

Augustinian Institute

Cognitive Science Program

Computer Science Department

Sociology and Criminal Justice Department

Geography and the Environment Department

Ethics Program

Honors Program

Center for Liberal Education

Center for Peace and Justice Education

Women’s Studies Program

Faculty in the Department also regularly bring the study of Philosophy into dialog with courses they teach for inmates at Graterford Prison.