What is Philosophy, Anyway?

As an academic discipline in the Western world, philosophy is essentially the strategic and disciplined pursuit of wisdom, particularly wisdom about the most fundamental features of the world and human life.  We ask the really hard questions and we develop methods for pursuing answers. 

What is it to know? Epistemology Ways of knowing, possible objects of knowledge, certainty and fallibility, consensus and dissent, etc.
What is good? Value Theory Morality, aesthetics, political and social justice, the value of lives and ways of living, etc.
What's real? Metaphysics Space, time, God, immortality of the soul, freedom of will, the nature of existence, the existence of nature, etc.
By what methods can I become wise? Logic Sentential and predicate logic, multivariate and fuzzy logics, non-deductive inference, fallacies and biases, etc.


Sometimes we make genuine progress on very hard problems. When we make enough progress, new academic disciplines like physics, biology, and psychology spin off from philosophy. We maintain a strong connection with these disciplines through specialties like philosophy of the arts, philosophy of science, and philosophy of law. 

  • As an activity, philosophy involves critical reflection, conceptual framework and theory development, and analysis of the reasons for or against a position.  
  • Our topics in philosophy focus on conceptual and normative issues that cannot be addressed through empirical means, that is, questions that cannot be answered by experimenting, making an observation, or taking a survey. It's one thing to find out what most people believe is the right thing to do, and another to find out what's actually the right thing to do.

Here are a few fun videos to help round out your understanding of philosophy:

Crash Course in Philosophy #1: What is Philosophy? 

The School of Life: What is Philosophy for?

Train of Thought: What is Philosophy?

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!

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). As the testimonials below demonstrate, 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 organize it.
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).

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Links to more information about philosophy as a degree and a profession


Who Studies Philosophy?  

Resources for Undergraduates 

Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy 

Resources on Diversity and Inclusiveness


Data and Information on Philosophy as a Profession 


Career Guide Beyond Academia


Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs (Wall Street Journal 2009)


Want a good job? Major in philosophy (America Magazine 2020)


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 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