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Why Study Philosophy?

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This page contains a detailed description of the value of studying philosophy and a table containing philosophy classes that would be helpful for various careers.  However, if you are looking for a variety of links on this topic that you can explore (including data or editorials about the benefits of studying philosophy), you might wish to check out Philosophy on the Web

Why study philosophy?

Philosophy makes a central contribution to the educational enterprise through its demands upon intellectual activity. Education in philosophy involves becoming aware of major figures and developments in the history of philosophy, learning up-to-date techniques and accepted answers to philosophical questions, and learning critical, interpretive, and evaluative skills that, in the overall scheme of things, may be considered to be of greatest value.

Graduates of the philosophy program at James Madison University are expected to have come to terms with difficult texts dealing with advanced philosophical arguments. These readings are often quite diverse in method and content. Further, a variety of written work is part of the philosophy student's assignments, and it is expected that these assignments be carefully composed and thoughtfully addressed. Finally, informed discussion is essential to philosophy and philosophical education. This verbal interaction is expected to occur as a routine part of course offerings.

Much of what is learned in philosophy can be applied in virtually any endeavor. This is both because philosophy touches so many subjects and, especially, because many of its methods can be used in any field.

The study of philosophy helps us to enhance our ability to solve problems, our communication skills, our persuasive powers, and our writing skills. Below is a description of how philosophy helps us develop these various important skills.

General Problem Solving Skills: The study of philosophy enhances a person's problem-solving capacities. It helps us to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments, and problems. It contributes to our capacity to organize ideas and issues, to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential from large quantities of information. It helps us, on the one hand, to distinguish fine and subtle differences between views and, on the other hand, to discover common ground between opposing positions. It also helps us to synthesize a variety of views or perspectives into one unified whole.

Communication Skills: Philosophy contributes uniquely to the development of expressive and communicative powers. It provides some of the basic tools of self-expression - for instance, skills in presenting ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments - that other fields either do not use or use less extensively. Philosophy helps us express what is distinctive in our views, it enhances our ability to explain difficult material, and it helps us to eliminate ambiguities and vagueness from our writing and speech.

Persuasive Powers: Philosophy provides training in the construction of clear formulations, good arguments, and appropriate examples. It, thereby, helps us to develop our ability to be convincing. We learn to build and defend our own views, to appreciate competing positions, and to indicate forcefully why we consider our own views preferable to alternatives. These capacities can be developed not only through reading and writing in philosophy, but also through the philosophical dialogue, both within and outside the classroom, that is so much a part of a thorough philosophical education.

Writing Skills: Writing is taught intensively in many philosophy courses, and many regularly assigned philosophical texts are also excellent as literary essays. Philosophy teaches interpretive writing through its examination of challenging texts, comparative writing through emphasis on fairness to alternative positions, argumentative writing through developing students' ability to establish their own views, and descriptive writing through detailed portrayal of concrete examples. Concrete examples serve as the anchors to which generalizations must be tied. Structure and technique, then, are emphasized in philosophical writing. Originality is also encouraged, and students are generally urged to use their imagination to develop their own ideas.

The general uses of philosophy just described are obviously of great academic value. It should be clear that the study of philosophy has intrinsic rewards as an unlimited quest for understanding of important, challenging problems. But philosophy has further uses in deepening an education, both in college and in the many activities, professional and personal, that follow graduation. Two of these further uses are described below.

Understanding Other Disciplines: Philosophy is indispensable for our ability to understand other disciplines. Many important questions about a discipline, such as the nature of its concepts and its relation to other disciplines, are philosophical in nature. Philosophy of science, for example, is needed to supplement the understanding of the natural and social sciences that derives from scientific work itself. Philosophy of literature and philosophy of history are of similar value in understanding the humanities, and philosophy of art (aesthetics) is important in understanding both the visual and the performing arts. Philosophy is, moreover, essential in assessing the various standards of evidence used by other disciplines. Since all fields of knowledge employ reasoning and must set standards of evidence, logic and epistemology have a general bearing on all these fields.

Development of Sound Methods of Research and Analysis: Still another value of philosophy in education is its contribution to our capacity to frame hypotheses, to do research, and to put problems in manageable form. Philosophical thinking strongly emphasizes clear formulation of ideas and problems, selection of relevant data, and objective methods for assessing ideas and proposals. It also emphasizes development of a sense of the new directions suggested by new hypotheses and questions one encounters while doing research. Philosophers regularly build on both the successes and failures of their predecessors. A person with philosophical training can readily learn to do the same in any field.

Among the things that people educated in philosophy can do are the following. They can do research on a variety of subjects. They can get information and organize it. They can write clearly and effectively. They can communicate well, usually both orally and in writing. They can generate ideas on many different sorts of problems. They can formulate and solve problems. They can elicit hidden assumptions and articulate overlooked alternatives. They can persuade people to take unfamiliar views or novel options seriously. They can summarize complicated materials without undue simplification. They can integrate diverse data and construct useful analogies. They can distinguish subtle differences without overlooking similarities. They can also adapt to change, a capacity of growing importance in the light of rapid advances in so many fields. And well educated philosophers can usually teach what they know to others. This ability is especially valuable at a time when training and retraining are so often required by rapid technological changes.

These abilities are quite general, but they bear directly on the range of careers for which philosophers are prepared. Philosophers have the skills necessary for an enormous range of both academic and non-academic jobs. The kind of basic education which philosophical training provides is eminently useful in some major aspects of virtually any occupation.

Below are lists of philosophy courses that are particularly appropriate for people studying, aspiring to, or working in disciplines outside of philosophy, as these philosophy courses help to deepen one's understanding of other fields of study, to answer some of the fundamental questions that arise in other disciplines, and to clarify the relationship between one discipline and another field of study.

The Arts

Aesthetics
Ethics
History of Philosophy
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Religion

Business

Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Social and Political Philosophy
Philosophy of Science

Computer Science

Logic
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Science

Engineering

Ethics
Epistemology
Logic
Philosophy of Science
Social and Political Philosophy
 
 

Health Professions

Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Metaphysics
Philosophy of Mind
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Science

Law

Ethics
Epistemology
Logic
Social and Political Philosophy
Philosophy of Science


 

Journalism and Communications

Aesthetics
Ethics
Logic
Social and Political Philosophy
Philosophy of Science 
 

Government Service

Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Philosophy of Religion
Philosophy of Science
Social and Political Philosophy
 
 

The Clergy

Aesthetics
Epistemology
Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Metaphysics
Philosophy of Religion
Social and Political Philosophy

Social Work

Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Philosophy of Mind
Social and Political Philosophy

Teaching, Pre-College

Aesthetics
Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Philosophy of Religion
Social and Political Philosophy

Teaching, College

Aesthetics
Epistemology
Ethics
History of Philosophy
Logic
Metaphysics
Philosophy of Science
Social and Political Philosophy

Technical Writing

Aesthetics
Epistemology
Logic
Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Science



Note: this text is adapted from three sources: (1) Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates (a publication of the American Philosophical Association), (2) Careers for Philosophers (prepared by the American Philosophical Association Committee on Career Opportunities, and (3) The Philosophy Major (a statement prepared under the auspices of the Board of Officers of the American Philosophical Association).  These texts are available online at apaonline.org.