What is Philosophy, Anyway?
Well, it turns out that "what is philosophy?" is a philosophical question in itself.
People who study metaphilosophy try to work out the definition, scope and boundaries
of philosophy. We can get started, though, by identifying a couple of things that
philosophy is not. (We call this a 'negative' definition or characterization.)
- Philosophy is not just a bunch of moldy, old dead people telling you what is right
or wrong, although one can learn from studying one’s intellectual ancestors.
- Philosophy is not a bunch of slogans, pithy sayings or bumper stickers.
- Philosophy is not a body of doctrine which one is meant to accept uncritically.
So what is it? Western Analytic Philosophy is the activity of investigating conceptual issues through the application of a rigorous,
critical logical method. Let’s look at those one at a time.
- It's is an activity, a way of thinking about issues or addressing problems. The issues
or problems change with the times but what stays the same is a commitment to a critical
analysis of the reasons for or against a position.
- It involves investigating conceptual issues. Conceptual issues are those which cannot
be addressed through empirical means, questions that cannot be answered by experimenting,
making an observation, taking a survey, etc. When you think about it, such questions
are endless: Is there a God? What is the best form of political society? What standards
of moral conduct should we adopt? What counts as a good explanation in the physical
sciences? Do we have free will? What is the nature of thought?
- It involves a critical approach to questions like the above and here “critical” should
not be understood in the sense of being negative – remember movie critics sometimes
say that a particular movie is good. To talk of critical thinking here is to talk
about carefully and objectively examining the reasons for and against a position.
Of course, there are some nice conceptual or philosophical questions here: what are
the ideal standards of rationality and objectivity?
Eastern Philosophy encompasses the same range of foundational questions, but focuses more on transformative
methods and less on adversarial methods of reflection and evaluation than Western
Analytic Philosophy. We offer courses in both!
Crash Course in Philosophy #1: What is Philosophy? (Western Analytic)
What Can You Do With A Philosophy Degree?
The answer to the above question might surprise you. With a philosophy degree you
can do just about anything you want. According to business and industry leaders two
of the most important qualities successful executives must possess are (1) the ability
to learn in new situations and (2) the ability to analyze, interpret and evaluate
information. (Malnig & Malnig, What Can I Do With a Major In...?, p. 147) These are
abilities that are acquired through the careful study of philosophy.
To be a little more specific, philosophy majors acquire:
Critical Thinking Skills: the ability to quickly and accurately discern what is relevant (and what peripheral)
to an issue or problem; the ability to identify commonalities within a set of data;
the ability to interpret difficult material accurately; the ability to understand
difficult, sophisticated material; the ability to draw fine discriminations.
Logical Reasoning Skills: the ability to determine precisely what follows from a set of premises or an evidence
base; the ability to construct logically valid arguments in support of a conclusion;
the ability to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in a position, proposal, or
prospectus; the ability to evaluate the validity of a position, proposal or argument.
Communication Skills: the ability to organize points into a persuasive, compelling presentation; the ability
to write and speak clearly and effectively.
Research Skills: the ability to independently determine what information is relevant, find it, and
Management Skills: The ability to analyze complicated processes, problems and procedures
into constituent elements; to devise strategies for addressing problems; to assess
progress and evaluate performance and progress objectively.
Given the array of skills developed through the study of philosophy, it is not surprising
that corporate executives believe that philosophy graduates “tend to learn fast and
advance quickly” (Careers for Philosophers, American Philosophical Association).
Several of our philosophy majors have gone on to successful careers in a wide variety
of fields after graduating from WSU. Here is what some of our former students have
to say about the benefits of a degree in philosophy.
I consider my background in philosophy, and the training it provided me in philosophical
thought and critical reasoning, as one of the greatest keys to my success in business.
I truly believe that philosophy is one of the best core educations that anyone can
get to prepare them for facing the challenges of life (in any field of work).Jason Van Sickle, President and CEO
J. Van Sickle and Co.
In 1989, I made the decision to major in philosophy at Wichita State University. 5
years later, I was graduating with law degree from Harvard Law School. It was only
during LSAT preparation that I realized how critical my philosophy training was going
to be with respect to nailing the exam. With two courses in formal logic under my
belt, the game questions were nearly automatic. The ability to quickly navigate verbose,
conceptually rich material and instantly distill it to its component elements proved
critical to success in both the exam and the law generally. Philosophy, as it turned
out, was and is the ideal pre-law major.Craig Macy, J.D., Harvard University
Founder and CEO Syncronus Corporation
I attended WSU and majored in philosophy in 1995. At that time, my goal was to go
to law school. Things changed, of course, and I graduated from Purdue University in
2002 with a Ph.D. in philosophy. Since that time, I have worked both in the private
sector and in the academic world. In the last three years, I have held three different
positions. In the world of business, I was an organizational development analyst.
Because of my ability to use the critical thinking skills from philosophy I was always
able to quickly identify problems and generate solutions for improved processes. I
further used my philosophical background as the Director of Organizational Management
and Leadership at Friends University. Quite simply, my leadership style and approach
is a philosophical one as I rely heavily on moral and political theory. These skills
in philosophy have served me well as I am now Associate Dean for the College of Adult
and Professional Studies at Friends University. I can honestly attest that training
in philosophy will help you in any organization or work setting.Jeremy A. Gallegos, Ph. D., Associate Dean
College of Adult and Professional Studies, Friends University
I entered Wichita State University as an art history major; the second degree in philosophy
arose out of the pleasures and rewards of each additional philosophy class. The drive
for additional courses was fuelled in part by the way the Wichita State philosophy
professors sharpened their students' thinking--it was as if the mental mud was slowly
washed away. The second major reward was the way the historical courses brought together,
or seemed to give a larger meaning to, courses in the same period from other disciplines.
That attempt to identify and examine the most salient or telling issues relating to
a particular subject still drives my work as a cultural historian.Stephen Gleissner , Chief Curator
Wichita Art Museum
In the world of business, there are too many misconceptions regarding the relevance
and value of studying philosophy. Majoring in philosophy taught me how to think, not
what to think. It taught me several valuable lessons that continually apply to my
business and my life. Here are a few of them:
It is more important to ask the right questions than it is to have the right answers.
Critical thinking trumps functional knowledge. It is more important to understand
the "why" rather than the "what" or "how."
The world of business is full of clutter and it is very easy to get lost in it. Studying
philosophy gave me the tools to better discern what is strategically relevant and
disregard that which is not.
If you are able to understand complex problems, subjects, and issues, and articulate
them into relevant and straightforward terms, people will pay you a lot of money for
No one has all the answers and be wary of those who claim they do.
As our world becomes increasingly smaller, having the ability to step outside of your
own frame of reference and understand and assimilate different perspectives is a huge
Troy L. Carlson , President and CEO
Getting my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy was one of the best choices I could have
made for my professional career. A degree in Philosophy serves many purposes. First,
my Philosophy degree taught me to think critically and analytically which has been
a valuable skill for me as an employee. Secondly my degree taught me how to clearly
articulate my thoughts which has proven valuable numerous times as I navigate the
business world. Finally, it never ceases to be a great interview question when someone
asks me why I chose to get my degree in Philosophy. When I tell them it “made me a
better thinker” I automatically make a great first impression.Sarah Strydom , Chief Marketing Officer
Midwest Single Source
It took me a long time to admit to myself that what I loved most about the world-what
I was most interested in- were its philosophical underpinnings. I remember reading
an article that the Harvard Business Review published claiming that people who studied
Philosophy were happier and more productive than those who didn't. I think that people
who have studied Philosophy know how to ask the questions that will lead them towards
a more meaningful answer; an answer one would be honored to live within. My education
at Wichita State-under the tutelage of the Philosophy Department- has equipped me
with the confidence and the analytic capacity to ask and answer these deeper, more
structural questions with clarity, purpose, and poise. Currently, I'm asking these
questions in a context that seeks to restructure educational policy, but who knows
what'll come next.
Hannah Erickson , Columbia University
When I was a Philosophy student at Wichita State I was frequently asked the question,
“What are you going to do with a Philosophy degree?” My typical response was, “hopefully
nothing.” I think I got my wish. Taoism was, and still is, my favorite brand of philosophy.
Taoist Philosophy recognizes that the universe already works harmoniously according
to its own way, as a person exerts their will against or upon the world; they disrupt
the harmony that already exists. A key principle in this philosophy is wu-wei; which
is loosely defined as effortless doing or action without action. Wu-wei doesn't imply
absence of action; rather it indicates spontaneity and non-interference; letting things
follow their natural course. I live on a small farm and raise vegetable and poultry
using sustainable methods of agriculture. I do not control and modify every aspect
of the property. The land is allowed to do what it does and I work around it. I listen
to it, I feel it, in a lot of ways I have become a part of the land. I take time out
to reflect and let things be. It’s quite different than the life I left behind before
graduation. I can't tell if I’m regaining my humanity or losing it. Those existential
questions are still there with me and I explore them every day. Am I getting closer
to answering them? Absolutely not; and that’s OK. It’s rare that one gets to live
and practice a philosophy. I am doing nothing with my degree; just as I had planned
.Alan Holton , farmer
The benefits of philosophy are inexhaustive, which include greater analytical thinking,
critical thinking and writing, as well as gaining the ability to take on and have
a better appreciation of difficult questions regarding politics, economics, ethics
and religion. For myself, philosophy has proven to be beneficial in furthering my
education, as it has formulated a foundation for obtaining an MBA. I will forever
be indebted to the gifts and values that come from this field, as it is not just a
major but a skill that one acquires.Matthew C. Rose, class of 2018