What is Philosophy, Anyway?
Well, let’s start with a couple of things that it is not. First, philosophy is not a way of life, although the study of philosophy may influence how one lives one’s life. Second, 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. Third, philosophy is not a bunch of slogans, pithy sayings or bumper stickers. Fourth, philosophy is not a body of doctrine which one is meant to accept uncritically. 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. First, philosophy 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. Second, philosophy investigates 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? Third, philosophy 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. As philosophers we want to hold only those beliefs for which we have the sort of reasons which an ideally rational, ideally objective inquirer would find intellectually compelling. Of course, there are some nice conceptual or philosophical questions here: what are the ideal standards of rationality and objectivity.
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 Univesity
- 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 studyng 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 it.
- 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 advantage.
Troy L. Carlson, President and CEO, Initiatives, Inc.
- 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
Here are some relevant links about why you should study philosophy:
"What to do with a Philosophy degree?"
"Why Study Philosophy?" (video)
" Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs "