Heavy Thinking

Monday, April 07, 2008

More and more college students are choosing Philosophy as their major. David Schrader, Executive Director of the American Philosophical Association, offers his thoughts on why and what they do with their degrees after graduation.

And, we want to hear from you. Did you major in Philosophy? Was it worth it? Why? Comment below!


David Schrader

Comments [33]

Amy from Manhattan

Any philosophy majors who can't find a job could join the Unemployed Philosophers Guild ( Well, actually that's a company that offers EnlightenMints and dolls/puppets of famous philosophers (a list that's now expanded to cover literature & politics).

You'll notice that's a .com site. I forgot that & entered the name with .org, which redirected me to a site w/the opening line, "Welcome to the programmer's guild." Hmm.

Apr. 07 2008 12:05 PM
Al from Manhattan

I have a BS in mechanical engineering from Penn State and an MBA in finance from Stern. I thought I was doing the right thing. Now Wall Street is hiring theater majors and I can’t find a job to save my life. I wish my ASE certification was current. At least I’d be able to feed myself.

Apr. 07 2008 12:00 PM
Dr. Arturo Lindsay from Atlanta, GA

I am surprised and offended at the remarks made about fine artists. I am a working artist with an MFA (UMass Amherst) I also have a Doctor of Arts Degree (DA) from NYU. I would have ended the comments about philosophers, et al with "…and fine artists create objects and events for philosophers to think and write about." Please remember that fine artists like poets and musicians breath a soul into a nation. It is bad enough that we are under appreciated by the general public, it hurts when an enlightend person like Brian Lehrer on a station like NPR degrades our profession.

Apr. 07 2008 11:56 AM
Claire J. Dutt from 10510 (Westchester)

One more thing - we live in a relatively unstable world . . . change, change, change.
Philosophy assists in determining our purpose in doing whatever it is we do, the meaning in our lives.

Love the increase in Phil. students; tried for years to get students to try at least one course. Also one does not need to be a major. Just take as many Phil. courses as possible as electives, etc.


Apr. 07 2008 11:49 AM
Alexander Hoffman from Brooklyn

Brian is confusing self-selection with what philosophy majors might learn in their programs.

It is possible that what people see in people with philosophy degrees is a product of their programs. But it is also possible that philosophy attracts certain kinds of people, people who already have certain skills or way of thinking. Or even people are are interested in developing certain skills or ways of thinking, and would have done so had they majored in other programs.

Its like assuming that Stuyvessant High School is doing something special to get such high SAT scores and college acceptance rates. Great portions of their success are due to the fact that only certain kids/families would even consider applying.

When talking about education, Brian should be clear to keep in mind the importance of examining who enters programs/schools in the first place when considering what those programs/schools are providing for them.

Apr. 07 2008 11:47 AM
albertine from New York

not true about art majors!
I am a new product development consultant
My friends are designers, teachers, proj mgrs, architects. Art school is great training for jobs that don't even exist yet! and according to NYTimes and Daniel Pink -- the MFA is the new MBA for a coming world that is going to have to be redesigned and re thought because of natural resources and human population

Apr. 07 2008 11:47 AM
Keith from Morristown NJ

I am a 1974 cum laude Grad of Boston College where I majored in both English & Philosophy. It was a long time ago, of course, but I remember thinking that studying both of these topics allowed me to see the linkages in the development of human thought
in many wonderful ways. From the earliest philosophers
like Heraclitus, to the most current we see the struggle with trying to understand "why" and then to inform us in "how" we might approach life. Today, I am president of my own company KULPER & COMPANY and certainly work hard at providing great outcomes for my clients. The culture of my firm is informed by everything I have learned during my life and it is very important to me that I strive to stay aligned with what I learned way back when I struggled with the teachings of the great philosophers....well worth the effort and it has proven to be the right thing to do!

Apr. 07 2008 11:46 AM
drew from New Jersey

Yes, but asking "venti or grande?" provides us a means to ask both how AND why in our work.

So there.

Apr. 07 2008 11:46 AM
John from New York

I took only one philosophy course while earning my B.A. in English (with a minor in Astronomy). The course was simply entitled "Forms of Reasoning." I still use some of the tools of analysis that I learned, and I wish I'd taken more classes on the subject.

Apr. 07 2008 11:46 AM

I remember when people used to say "You can't get a job with a social science major." Now us survey researchers are back in "style."

Apr. 07 2008 11:44 AM

To clarify something your guest said, if a person follows a philosophy major with a graduate degree in philosophy, then one goes on to become a philosophy professor, which means, one teaches philosophy. So in terms of "what you do with it", a philosopher doesn't actually ponder all day; they grade papers, for the most part :)

Apr. 07 2008 11:44 AM
Peter from New Haven

Philosophy is great for teaching. Cartesian doubt and socratic method are for me the cornerstones of my pedagogical method.

I'm an historian now, writing a dissertation on ritual in the early middle ages, and majoring in philosophy opened the doors of perception, as it were.

Apr. 07 2008 11:43 AM

Steve Martin was also a phil. major and (with a phil. masters myself) I see it as the root of all of his humor.

Apr. 07 2008 11:43 AM
Chelsea from New Brunswick, NJ

I think it's important to remember that what we're talking about here is a Western (European) Philosophical tradition. There are a variety of philosophical traditions in the world: some tied to religion (like Buddhist philosophy) while others are related to different regions. There are even indigenous philosophical traditions dealing with the nature and form of knowledge that are quite different from this Western tradition.

We should be careful of universalizing one particular tradition.

Apr. 07 2008 11:42 AM
Paul from nyc

I remember writing these 20 page papers in my philosphy classes. A single wrong word would ruin the entire effort. People think of philosophy as dealing with huge subjects. Most people don't know how much precision is required in the discourse. That kind or rigor made me very efficient in breaking down problems.

Apr. 07 2008 11:42 AM

Hi Brian,

I majored in Philosophy at Columbia and graduated in 2002--I switched from my original major in English because I liked the rigor of Philosophy and liked that I would be studying ideas and original texts instead of literary criticism. I was an analytical thinker to begin with, but I agree that the coursework really strengthened that approach I take to everything else in my life. Now I work as a freelance writer and editor, and I find I'm drawn to story ideas in which I draw out arguments and the repercussions of whatever topic I'm considering. I can't say it's landed me a large dividend, but I'm not complaining.

Apr. 07 2008 11:39 AM
Kevin from Williamsburg,Brooklyn

I graduated with an a BA in philosophy from Vanderbilt 97. Worse, for the US anyway, I concentrated on continental philosophy. After college I went into working with technology on Wall St. My own experience was that my training in many different alternative logical forms, and the emphasis on writing, and language prepared me exceptionally well to keep up with technology, a discipline which experiments with logic and language as a matter of course. In some ways I end up far more flexible and agile than my engineer counterparts.

In addition, philosophical reading, writing, and discussion still forms my favorite avocation. Overall, majoring in philosophy was easily the the best decsision I ever made.

Apr. 07 2008 11:38 AM

There was an article today in the NYT by Stanley Fish about Continental Philosophy in the US. What are your guest's thoughts about the analytic/continental split?

Apr. 07 2008 11:37 AM
bg from brooklyn

I did phil for my undergraduate.
BTW- when I grad'ed only top 5% got teaching jobs at normal state schools. All the white guys are getting rolled out (slowly) so its a good place for women or minorities.
I didn't bite.
for the past 10 years I have been working as a..
house painter,
motorcycle mechanic, (yeah cliche)
and now.. self employed carpenter.

Apr. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Gary from Manhattan

Have both my B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy. Have been a successful self-employed accountant/consultant for the last 10 years. Among other things, Philosophy prepared me to be able to tackle any subject on my own.

Apr. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Eric from B'klyn

What about the 'debate' about global warming science?

Apr. 07 2008 11:37 AM
Brian from NJ Shore

I majored in philosophy and undergrad. But I also have a major in accounting also. A double major duality pretty much worked out well. When I graduated I was recruited by the big eight accounting firms. No philosophy firms. I also did a stint in the IRS. The Treasury Department liked philosophy of accounting majors And so I hear does the FBI. While in the IRS I was considered for the Secret Service but didn't want to go there. I'll call it Philosophical differences with the Treasury Department. Thereafter, I went directly to law where I remain. The most philosophical endeavor in law is matrimonial or family law. As a philosophy major I see it as pondering the "cesspool of human frailties"

Apr. 07 2008 11:37 AM
James Walton from Brooklyn, NY

Sorry to nit-pick, but the audio clip you played at the beginning of this segment was from "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" 1993, a movie made 20 years after Bruce Lee, the star of "Enter the Dragon" died.

Love the show. :)

[BL Show responds: Indeed. Good ear!]

Apr. 07 2008 11:36 AM
Kevin from Bed-Stuy

In 1987 -When I was in college I worked at a cookie shop and my boss (the business owner) had a degree in philosophy. On the first day of work every employee would have to sit down, read the allegory of the Cave (from Plato's Republic) and have a discussion with him about it. I have always carried that with me and think my life is a little richer for it.

Apr. 07 2008 11:36 AM
Bill from Jersey City

I am a philosophy and English major. I am now a manager and developer of software applications in the IT department of a major NYC publisher. Philosophy gives critical thinking skills and ability to shift focus from the big to small picture and back. It's useful in the corporate world.

Apr. 07 2008 11:35 AM
Cale from Kinnelon, NJ

Interested to know if this parallels an increase in theology degrees or people entering the priesthood?

Apr. 07 2008 11:35 AM
Catherine from Long Island from Massapequa

I majored in Philosophy but I realized that the future was too uncertain for me in academia with the diminished funding for the humanities, so on a good hunch I took an entry level job in IT in 1990. I have had a GREAT career in this field. My writing and communication skills enabled me to have a variety of interesting positions all centered around being a liaison between the technical people (coders, developers, etc) and the executives and business users. I've worked at 3 fortune 100 companies. The basic difficulty for me has been the ethical side. I would have preferred to work in a socially conscious firm, but settled for staking the bulk of this career in a socially neutral financial organization that had a long history of philanthropy and a terrific corporate culture. I loved working at this firm. This lasted until that company was acquired by its competitor firm that has a corporate culture I find anathema. I wasn't faced with the problem of staying, however, as they were eliminating all the good IT jobs on L.I. and with the merger, and there was no way, with my family responsibilities, that I was going to move. Now I'm again in search of a firm that will provide an environment I consider acceptable, along with the flexibility I need to manage my family responsibilities. This is MUCH more difficult than it was in the boom years before the George W. era. Good luck to me and my fellow former or almost philosophers!

Apr. 07 2008 11:34 AM
Jennifer from City College of New York

I got my BA in philosophy and political science after being told, "don't go to college for a career, do what you love."

I would up getting a good corporate job designing and testing software (good application of logical design).

I felt like a sell out though, so I'm getting my PhD in Political Theory and teaching at City College.

I don't feel any less like a sell out, but now my job entails doing what I love and that's nice.

Apr. 07 2008 11:33 AM

I plan to use the analytical skills gained in my undgrad studies in philosophy to practice information science - taxonomies, information architecture, cataloging, etc...I am getting my Master's In Library and Information Science.

Apr. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Mike from lower Manhattan

Philosphy grad from 1998. My jobs in these ten years: UPS loader, waiter, bookbuyer at an independent bookstore, park ranger, investigator for a municipal agency, and so on.

What makes philosophy such a wonderful degree is that it is worthless to this society. (Sorry, but "busy-ness" and thinking don't go hand in hand.) Richard Serra attempted to steal the strength of philosophy and use it as a definition of art when he claimed that art is useless. But philosophy is the only discipline that can genuinely lay claim to the title, "most useless." And that is a good thing. If more people want to become useless to our society, then I applaud that wholeheartedly. But I'm not holding my breath. In reading the Times' article, it sounded like most of these people are already "using" philosophy or planning to "appropriate" the "techniques" of philosophy to other ends when the real end should simply be the thinking itself.

In the end, if this recent surge in philosophy is more than just a press release for the "Union of Philosophers" or a quirky NY Times story (and not attributed to the fact that perhaps it's the outcome of there being more people in college today than ever, that the ratios of who is majoring in what perhaps haven't changed that much), then more apostles of the Analytic Tradition can't hurt the world that much, right?

Apr. 07 2008 11:31 AM
Stephen from Manhattan

I majored in philosophy and music. school for me was never about vocational training, it was more about learning how to think and doing something you love. it's almost as if a bachelor's degree is what a high school diploma was 20-30 years ago. an undergrad degree shouldn't be pursued for the sake of getting a job; rather, it should be pursued for the sake of knowledge.

after graduation, i joined teach for america, taught in the bronx, and got a masters degree in education. i now work in photography and i'll most likely go back to school in a year or two in an as-of-yet-undetermined subject.

Apr. 07 2008 11:20 AM

Also A perfect guest for the Colbert Report :)

Apr. 07 2008 11:19 AM
A Philosopher in Toronto. from Toronto, ON

I majored in philosophy as an undergrad, and then went on to complete an MA in philosophy despite fears of a future lacking in employment opportunities.

During the MA, I found myself struggling with the truly difficult nature of philosophic inquiry. However, once I found a niche within the vast sea that is the study of philosophy, I felt much calmer and more devoted to the field than ever before.

Next year I will begin my Ph.D. in philosophy, with a focus on bioethics. Upon completing my degree, I do not plan to remain within academia. Instead, my goal shall be to enter the realm of public policy, and use my purely academic skills in an applied setting.

Apr. 07 2008 11:18 AM

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