What Can You Do With a Degree in Philosophy?
Apr 19, 2023
What Can You Do With a Degree in Philosophy?
Students who are curious about fundamental questions of human existence, morals, values, ethics and knowledge may wonder about getting a philosophy degree — especially if they find initial coursework in the subject tackles some of those questions in challenging and interesting ways.
What may give a student pause are more practical matters related to the fact that undergraduate liberal arts majors like philosophy don’t have a clear, direct career path. For example, at least not in the way, for example, that studying accounting, engineering or physical therapy does.
You may wonder: what is the study of philosophy, and what do philosophers do? Philosophers explore questions about the meaning of justice, the nature of knowledge, and the purpose of human existence. At the same time, they develop excellent writing, speaking, and thinking skills. Those skills, combined with knowledge gained from studying philosophy, allow philosophy graduates to apply their learning to a whole array of fields.
Shaheen Moosa, North Central College associate professor of philosophy, says that students major in philosophy often do so to satisfy their intellectual curiosity. With some planning and consideration, philosophy students can balance satisfying that curiosity while laying the foundation for a future career, whether that includes graduate school or not. Often, students who have earned an undergraduate degree in philosophy from North Central go on to have success in a different discipline—with that work enhanced by the graduate’s philosophical way of thinking.
HOW TO DECIDE IF PHILOSOPHY IS RIGHT FOR YOU
In an article for U.S. News & World Report, associate editor Melanie Pincus writes that philosophy can be the right major for you if you like grappling with complex questions that don’t have clear answers. You may also enjoy examining diverse viewpoints, perhaps even challenging your and others’, beliefs.
According to Pincus, philosophy classes can give you the opportunity to think critically, identify and evaluate arguments, and engage in moral and ethical reasoning—skills that transfer to careers in business, law and medicine or healthcare, to name a few.
Philosophy is a humanities major that can connect to many disciplines. As a result, you may find that philosophy is a good complement to skills or studies in other subjects that may serve your career aspirations more directly — perhaps mathematics, computing or journalism. Toward that end, it can be a manageable choice as a second major, or round out other accreditations such as a philosophy minor.
Another option is to study philosophy as an elective — taking only one or a few philosophy classes to enrich your skills in critical thinking and in-depth analysis, while enabling you to focus on other areas of study. Before you decide, take a philosophy course or two and discuss the option with faculty members.
WHAT DO PHILOSOPHERS DO?
For World Book Encyclopedia, Joshua J. Mark writes that philosophy is “the study of the most basic and profound matters of human existence.” He notes that the word philosophy comes from the Greek philo (love) and sophia (wisdom).
“Philosophical systems are thought to have developed first in the East, and a working outline proceeds from Mesopotamia to Rome,” he says. He adds that today, “Philosophical schools and movements continue to develop in response to religious beliefs, accepted knowledge, or traditional understanding in any area when these authorities fail to fully address the higher needs of the people.”
There are modern-day philosophers like those referenced in this article by Scotty Henricks for Big Think. There are also people whose study of philosophy has influenced their success in a different field. In Forbes, contributor Theodore McDarrah states: “Some of the most pivotal people of the last century had their educational upbringing in philosophy.” For example, he cites business leaders who majored in philosophy, such as Carl Icahn, the legendary Wall Street investor; Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder; and Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder.
McDarrah writes: “It’s fitting that philosophy has contributed to (their) intensity, insights and sense of social purpose. Philosophy teaches you to reason beyond your subjective opinions; the Socratic Method of argumentative dialogue stresses the importance of public speaking and to think quickly; to never accept what is as what ought to be.”
Of course, there is also the option of continuing education in philosophy at the graduate level, perhaps with the intention of teaching and doing research. For example, Dr. Moosa's research focuses on questions of moral responsibility in the context of large-scale environmental issues. Her recent work considers the difficulties faced in motivating action concerning climate change. At North Central, she teaches courses in ethics, environmental ethics, health care ethics, and political theory.
CAREERS IN PHILOSOPHY
Many wonder what you can do with a degree in philosophy. Students who earn an undergraduate degree in philosophy can go on to a diverse range of careers, including education, social service, business, law, medicine, religion or science.
At a school like North Central College, it is possible to add a specific focus on questions related to the philosophical dimensions of law, sociology and politics. Our Law and Society track prepares students to attend law school or pursue a career in civil service while developing the reasoning skills needed to succeed in any career you choose.
While some North Central students have gone on to earn graduate degrees in philosophy, a much larger number have pursued graduate study in other fields, such as law, communication, and theology. The University of California accepted North Central's first graduate in the Law and Society track at Berkeley Law School into their prestigious environmental law program.
Recent graduates have been accepted into graduate programs in philosophy at Northern Illinois University. A student who graduated last year with a double major in philosophy and computer science now works as a software engineer at Argonne National Laboratory.
An argument for why businesses can benefit from philosophical thinking is the subject of a recent piece by Forbes contributor Theodore McDarrah. He outlines three reasons why “every boardroom should have at least one seat saved for a philosopher”:
McDarrah writes: “Degrees in subjects such as finance and computer science also provide a similar methodology in looking for answers to a question. For example, a programmer may try different lines of code to try and tackle a bug.”
But when a philosopher faces a question, her first instinct is not a trial-and-error approach to finding an answer. Instead, she will first look at the question itself.”
Clarity and brevity
“The skill to clearly articulate a 30 to 40 page argument in a few paragraphs cannot be understated in the business world with all the quick pitch meetings, short interviews and overall attention deficit caused by too many emails. Brevity is a business tactic,” writes McDarrah.
Living the values
McDarrah argues that those with a philosophical background are trained to live their values, instead of saying one thing and doing another. As leaders, he says, they are more likely to make decisions guided by and consistent with a company’s vision and value — which will lead to better results.
How do you gain such training? For example, as a philosophy major at North Central, you can:
- Enjoy small, particularly insightful courses because they are led by full-time professors who encourage personal relationships and discussion.
- Apply for internships and jobs in Naperville and throughout the Chicago area through robust faculty and alumni networks or the Center for Career and Professional Development.
- Get involved politically through NCC College Democrats or Republicans or Student Governing Association
- Receive individualized coaching with our nationally ranked speech and debate team.
At North Central College, philosophy coursework encompasses:
- 20th Century Philosophy
- Ancient and Medieval Philosophy
- Death and Dying
- Ethical Theory
- Knowledge and Reality
- Law and Order in Cross-Cultural Perspective
- Logic and Critical Thinking
- Modern Philosophy
- Philosophy of Law
- Philosophy of Mind
- Philosophy of Religion
- Philosophy of Science
- Power and Statecraft
- Science and Religion: Conflict or Dialogue?
- Social and Political Philosophy
The North Central philosophy curriculum is designed to be an integral part of an overall, coherent, educational experience.
SALARIES IN PHILOSOPHY
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median philosopher salary for workers with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy or religion is $55,000. More than half (57%) of such workers have an advanced degree, including a master’s doctoral, or professional in the same field or a different one. In terms of occupations, 59% of workers with a degree in philosophy or religion are employed in management, educational instruction and library work, community and social services, legal occupations, or business and financial operations.
Kim MacGregor is the editorial director and executive speechwriter in the North Central College Office of Communication. She has decades of experience as a communication strategist and writer for journalism, marketing, and nonprofit advancement. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Marquette University.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Field of degree: Philosophy and religion, last modified Sept. 8, 2022. www.bls.gov/ooh/field-of-degree/philosophy-and-religion/philosophy-and-religion-field-of-degree.htm
Henricks, Scotty. “10 Living Philosophers and Why You Should Know Them Big Think.” Big Think, June 20, 2017. bigthink.com/the-present/10-living-philosophers-and-why-you-should-know-them/
Mark, Joshua J. “Philosophy.” World Book Encyclopedia, Oct. 16,2020. www.worldhistory.org/philosophy/
McDarrah, Theodore. “Why Companies Need Philosophers.” Forbes, Jan 31, 2023. www.forbes.com/sites/teddymcdarrah/2023/01/31/why-companies-need-philosophers/?sh=1fc79bae3ff7
McDarrah, Theodore. “Five Business Leaders Who Have Philosophy to Thank for Their Success.” Forbes, May 27, 2021. www.forbes.com/sites/teddymcdarrah/2021/05/27/five-business-leaders-who-have-philosophy-to-thank-for-their-success/?sh=393a885870da
Pincus, Melanie. “What You Need to Know About Becoming a Philosophy Major,” May 5, 2020, and U.S News & World Report. www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/philosophy-major-overview