Why Major In Philosophy?


I came across some old philosophy books in my study this morning and it got me thinking about the value of an undergraduate degree in philosophy.  And I can already hear the jokes, so please keep them to yourself!  At first glance, a Bachelor of Arts degree (Why Major in Philosophy) in philosophy provides no real practical application in the real world.  After all, you will not receive any specific training that can lead to a job, are required to read esoteric texts, and will never arrive at a “right answer” during a final exam or short quiz.  So, why on earth are US colleges and universities struggling to keep up with the demand from students wanting to both take courses and major in philosophy?As an ex-Philosophy major, I can tell you that my degree is invaluable and I would certainly study the same subject if I had to start all over again (I would maybe throw in a degree in Economics as well).  If we cut to the chase, a degree in philosophy provides the following benefits:

Top 8 Benefits of Majoring in Philosophy

  1. How to read critically (i.e., a book, magazine article, newspaper, P&L statement, web traffic report, etc.).
  2. How to write well. (this could be an email, letter, report, blog, or living will).
  3. How to debate and speak in front of large audiences.
  4. How to create impromptu arguments and analysis (this may be the number one business skill of all time and I’d hire someone with this skill set versus a Harvard graduate any day).
  5. How to figure out what is right and wrong (ethics) and identify with different sorts of people and cultures (this is critical in the modern workforce, think how different your job is from what you see on Mad Men each week).
  6. How to apply logic to any problem.
  7. How to think strategically or see the “big picture.”
  8. How to think about a problem by deconstructing the big picture and looking at the details.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.  A degree in philosophy is not a degree in electrical engineering; that is to say, the degree will not train you specifically to go out into the world and be an electrical engineer but it will equip you to do really well in the workforce by allowing you to adapt to any work situation and improve general cognitive ability and learning ability (this is what companies are looking for). Moreover, studying Philosophy in a serious and systematic manner equips students to process information on the fly and pull together disparate bits of information into an analysis or report.

Philosophy also provides excellent training for a professional degree.  Considering the benefits I stated above, philosophy majors score in the very top percentiles on the GRE, LSAT, and GMAT exams. “For example, in a recent GRE study, philosophy majors were ranked among the very top majors in their mean scores on the verbal, analytic, and quantitative components of the exam; in a recent LSAT study, philosophy majors had a higher mean score than even pre-law majors; and for recent GMAT tests, the mean score for philosophy majors exceeded that of any type of business major. Virtually no other major does this well on such a wide cross-section of standardized exams.(quote from the University of New Hampshire Philosophy Department web site http://www.unh.edu/philosophy/index.cfm?id=39F7EBE2-C029-7E5B-F1371DFC37778362).”

Did you study philosophy, let everyone know about your experience by commenting above.


  1. I wouldn’t restrict this to just Psychology majors. Any of the Humanities/Social Science majors (History, Political Science, etc.) will teach you these same skills.

  2. I majored in philosophy (graduated in 1974 from Northeastern University, a school known for turning out EEs) and combined with a master’s degree in history of religion found that, yes, I had no marketable but skills. I eventually finagled my way into a career in high tech, which turned into a filmmaking career, which has come full circle to never regretting my major because now that I’m in my 50s, I’m going to pursue another degree (a masters, I guess) that combines film theory and filmmaking to do teaching in film studies. The high tech part paid off in learning film editing but the philosophy (and religion) part paid off with knowing how to develop a story, creating imaginative scenes, speaking intelligently, and being able to learn many aspects of filmmaking that gives me a unique eye.

  3. The first comment above by WB is typical. WB, Scordo said PHILOSOPHY, not psychology. Maybe instead of critical thinking, we need someone to teach critical listening. I’ve even had students in my philosophy classes pull a WB…

  4. I have to disagree with WB: I had 3 majors (finished 2) which started out in Poli Sci, went to psychology and finished in Philosophy. As I took my philosophy courses, my work in my other subjects improved markedly. I remember taking a lit crit class I Aced after I became the voice of dissent for several, shall we say, imaginative “theories”proffered by other classmates. But my dissent was always done respectfully. Anyway, I never learned how to think critically in other humanities courses, certainly not in a thoroughgoing way.
    Although I still read philosophy and recently finished a Masters in it, I work in IT and I use my skills EVERY day, skills spelled out well by Vincent.

  5. In response to the first comment, it turns out that students who major in the humanities or social sciences (or non-philosophical cognate fields) don’t do as well on either the LSAT or the GRE as philosophy majors do.
    See: http://www.iupui.edu/~philosop/gre.htm
    And: http://www.uic.edu/cba/cba-depts/economics/undergrad/table.htm
    Furthermore, any philosophy student who has taken a course in a “social science” or “humanities” department knows that what goes on in those departments is rarely as rigorous as what goes on in philosophy departments. The scores I noted above go some distance in evincing that.

  6. “Philosophy as a rigorous field” is an important statement. Like BW, I remember moving from courses in the philosophy department to courses in History, English, Psychology, etc. and thinking, “wow, my philosophy classes much more demanding.” So, yes, I think it may be a stretch to compare course work in Philosophy (especially upper level courses) to other social science / humanities courses.
    The connection between IT and Philosophy, per Flaffer, is also quite popular. I spent time doing User Interface Development and Usability immediately after taking my BA and I found my analytic training (especially on the Anglo-Saxon side) easily transferable to my new career.

  7. Great post. Look- no matter what you study in college, you are going to gain those types of skills. I didn’t know that much about philosophy majors, so this is good to know!
    I love to see the practical application of college! It keeps me going, especially when I’m taking a calculus course. 🙂

  8. That WB referred to the subject in question as “Psychology” should tell you all you need to know about the critical reading abilities he or she acquired with his or her degree!

  9. Hi Trevor. Thanks for the comment. Not sure that all majors provide the same critical thinking, writing, and speaking benefits that a philosophy degree would provide. Take a philosophy course, you don’t have to take my word for it!
    Good luck with getting through your degree, especially now that you’re taking calculus!
    All the best,

  10. Thanks for a concise write up. As a philosophy major who’s just about to graduate it really gets to me when people say ‘but what can you do with a degree in philosophy’. To this I have to reply ‘what can’t you do with a degree in philosophy!’

  11. Have just started a job in a law firm (did a law degree with BA, majoring in philosophy) and I so often while I’m thinking and writing away I can just feel the impact that philosophy has had on my ability to think critically and frame my thoughts in a manner that is logical.
    viva philosophy!

  12. I am an undergrad advisor in a philosophy department. Our guidebook for majors includes this top ten list:
    Inevitably, people will want to know why you have chosen to be a philosophy major. Here are some answers you can give them:
    10) Because philosophy “Feeds your Head.” (slogan on our dept t-shirts)
    9) Because philosophers are rational animals (philosophy courses improve one’s reasoning abilities and argumentative skills, helping you discover when other people are being irrational or trying to trick you with bad arguments).
    8) Because I really enjoyed my first philosophy class.
    7) What did you major in? What exactly was it good for?
    6) Because I get to read and discuss some of the greatest works ever written, from Plato to Kant, from Aquinas to Nietzsche, from Frege to Freud, from Descartes to Dennett …
    5) Because philosophy improves my ability to read, write, and think critically and carefully, skills that are essential in any profession, from law to business to medicine to teaching to … you name it.
    4) And most jobs don’t really care what your major was anyway—they just want you to be a smart and interesting person who communicates clearly and learns fast.
    3) Philosophy majors rock the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and other standardized tests for graduate schools.
    2) Because I get to discuss the most fascinating questions in the world, from “How should I live my life?” to “Does God exist?” to “Can science explain everything?” to “Do we have free will?” to “What type of government is best?” to “What is Beauty?” to “What is human nature?”
    1) Because it will make the rest of my life more interesting.

  13. Hello,
    Some people have said that compared to philosophy, humanities and other disciplines seemed less rigorous. (One commentator claims that he or she aced a lit. crit. class after taking philosophy.)
    Well, I was an electrical engineering major with a minor in philosophy.
    Ironically, to me, after all those engineering courses, philosophy classes seemed so easy and relaxing. So, the the relation some see between philosophy and other less rigorous disciplines, I see between engineering and (less demanding) philosophy.

  14. Also, philosophy teaches you to read carefully. For instance, it teaches you not to mistake “Philosophy” for “Psychology.”

  15. Hello all,
    I must say, this is indeed a very interesting debate that’s formed here and despite my own time constraints, I am posting here rather than studying…
    Having earned a BS in biochemistry (more chemistry less biology) as an undergraduate, and as a current medical student with a laboratory research background dating back almost 8-9 years now, I must admit to having been a part of the crowd that mocked the humanities in regards to rigor as compared to the sciences.
    However, having graduated from a liberal arts college and having grown up considerably since my college days, I must admit that instead of seeing two completely different fields, I have actually observed more overlap than anything.
    Setting aside the jocks who thought philosophy was a joke major and just took it to get their 2.0 and graduate, and also setting aside the uber-nerd who believes that science is all and pigeon holes themselves into a lab for 24 hours a day, I believe that much of the theory, creativity, and logical reasoning found in the quantitative mathematical, physical, and biological sciences overlaps and probably stems from the likes of philosophers from back in the day.
    In ancient times, when professors were teaching the principles that define philosophical thought and logic, those same professors also dabbled much in inquiring and questioning already defined ‘laws’ of science that lead to the breakthroughs that helped us realize that the earth revolved around the sun, that the world is actually round, and yes, the apple falls because of gravity and not God’s good graces.
    All of those discoveries were made by ‘philosophers’ and free thinkers and probably not someone labeled as a ‘scientist’ as at time, considering the fact that if those people were labeled heretics and stoned instead of winning an award.
    Translating this in today’s day an age, I feel that society itself can restrict the ‘free-thinking’ though of a logically reasoning philosopher, just like the laws of chemistry can govern what a chemist can or cannot synthesize. However, much like how being a philosophy major can help develop your thought and creativity in the humanities, I feel that it can also help you apply those things in the sciences.
    I must admit, my sociology and philosophy classes that I was required to take probably has a large influence on my own perspective and outlook, not only in daily life, but also regarding my own work on how I would design a clinical trial or even synthesize an organic compound.
    Being able to think outside the box definitely affords you a great ability to apply in any field and I feel that by being able to survive and do well in such a rigorous scientific environment while supplementing with the thought processes of a pure thinker, has afforded me relative success and the ability to write well, think well, and branch out, in any realm, at a young age.
    So, I believe that the perfect mesh between science and philosophy could and should provide you the added ability to really do anything you really want to do with your life. It gives you the discipline, rigor, and structure of a scientific mindset, while providing you the skills and abilities to be creative, debate, and get your point across eloquently and convincingly.
    But then again, who am I to know anything?

  16. great read – Got my BA in philosophy – went to medical school in NY and subsequent residency training in Michigan and now a practicing interventional pain doc. Never regretted my major – Just goes to show as long as you do what you love everything else will fall into place. for the record – the brighter and more interesting students from my med school and residency days had majors outside of the hard sciences.

  17. I just started college and I plan on being a philosophy major and thus I took intro my first semester. It was an amazing class. it grew a lot due to this class, not to mention how much I learned.

  18. Having earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in philosophy, but not having earned a Ph.D. in philosophy (and having dropping out of a Ph.D. program), I have a slightly different perspective on this question.
    To me, the question shouldn’t be “Why Major in Philosophy?”, but rather it should be “Why not also major in philosophy?”.
    The reasons for why one should have this major and for why one should also have another major can both be easily gleaned from the table on the following page:
    Student loans from an expensive attempt at earning a Ph.D. will hit you hard if you didn’t take a second major. I wish I had.

  19. What’s the connection between philosophy and doing well on mathematical bits of tests like the GRE? (Disregarding specialized philosophy courses in these areas). I majored in philosophy and political theory, and did very well on everything except the quantitative parts of the GRE. Maybe that’s a difference between abstract and (relatively) applied philosophy?

  20. People with philosophy majors are experts in modes of reasoning, thought and styles of argumentation. I recently found myself defending philosophy to my stockbroker parents (I’m a scientist). I pointed out how philosophy underpins much of our western social structure and influences very basic decision making and politics. People, governments, societies, are all immersed in beliefs and ideas (ideologies) that they either take for granted or believe for reasons that are good, bad or merely convenient. We need observers and commentators in this world who can parse these things out, comment on them, and influence our ways of thinking. In my opinion, the world needs people with philosophy majors now more than ever.

  21. Became interested in Philosophy through a freshman Philosophy class that focused on ethics. Got a degree in ’67 in Philosophy at Boston U., then to the chagrin of my mother, declined a fellowship to a graduate program at Syracuse. Through many changes in my life, I retained an interest in ethics. I moved through Peace Corps, U.S. Navy, work (and hedonism) then to law school where I found, even as an older student, I still had the ability think critically and write passably (law review). I have now been practicing law for over 28 years and still enjoy the intellectual challenge. My 21 year old son loves to engage me in spirited philosophical debates although I wasn’t able to understand most of the philosophy papers and exams I wrote more than 40 years ago and only recently discovered in our attic.
    Philosophy? Not useful, unless you want be able to think critically and explore how you should live your life.

  22. I did a double major in Philosophy and English literature. I did find that most other intro courses I took seemed much easier. Sometimes philosophy can seem easy as it has alot of freedom in not needing one right answer. At other times it can be difficult, especially if you are reading really dense material and trying to make sense of it. I found Spinoza kind of tough because of his style of writing for instance.
    I do agree that philosophy changes the way you think and broadens your mind. I do also think that it can be applied in any area of your life. I currently work as an English teacher in a high school in Korea and in March will teach in a university. I could have done this with any degree I guess, but I think philosophy has helped me greatly in living in another culture and thinking about how to teach. I think I agree with one of the other posters who said there is alot of overlap. I think that my courses in Anthro, Sociology and Psychology probably also helped me. But like I said, I think the separation between disiplines is partly an artificial box we have made, and that multidisciplinarian approaches have some advantages. Staying strictly in philosophy can have the effect of having your head in the clouds. Science can ground you somewhat for instance. At the same time, having studied philosophy might help you to think creatively and could help in science. Einstein talked about how all Science begins with imagination, then you go out and test it to see if your imagination is pointing you in reliable directions.
    Anyway, all this is an interesting area to think about!

  23. Oh and the subtitle of your blog “Living a Practical Life, Advice on Money Matters, & Tips for Your Home” reminded me of something from my uni days. I had a friend studying economics, but a big group of us used to sit aroung a table in the cafeteria and have discussions of all sorts, often philosophical in nature. I think he’d did an intro course studying Plato’s Republic too. Anyway he said something about economics. He said he thought about it as philosophy with money. I think I’d like to take an economics course sometime.
    I also remember when the scientist David Suzuski came to speak at our Uni. He was talking about how he took an economics course just for interest sake. Well, he’s a big environmentalist, and he kept baffling the prof by asking about how environmental issues factor in with economy. The professor said it just didn’t. So he worked out a theory that combined the two. For example, a certain kind of tree cleans and filters the water under the ground (or perhaps helps to store the water), I don’t remember exactly). If we cut the trees and the water gets polluted or dries up and we then need to solve the problem ourself by building and maintaining a resevoir or water treatment plant then we need to ask ourselves a question? How much cheaper would it be to let nature do the job for us, for free. That’s more of an example of a cross disipline approach involving science and economics, but it seems that it took some creative thinking to make the connection that the economics professor took for granted as being non-existant. Philosophy helps in the same way to make connections between things that you might miss if you are not thinking creatively.

  24. Eddy, I like the list!

  25. The response to this post has been fantastic and folks have made some excellent points.
    For students who are thinking about doing graduate work in philosophy, Willem deVries at the University of New Hampshire has an excellent little paper on “Graduate Study in Philosophy?”

  26. I am not taking a philosophy major as of right now, but I agree that the study of philosophy incorporates much logic. Due to this logic we have some of the most incredible inventions known to man. I have read that many inventors of the past were also philosophers. So is it not plausable that in observing surroundings and environment though a philosophical or logical perspective we as humans achieve great things.

  27. Absolutely philosophy is the essence of everything. One doesn’t need a degree, Ayn Rand got it right.

  28. Well for a mindblowing book on Philosophy read
    “The Slightest Philosophy” by Quee Nelson

  29. My book “Philosophical Revelations” is almost ready to be printed.
    However,I need some feedback on the meaning of the word “philosophy”. I find it used in many references as “His {her} philosophy is…” [References available]
    Without using definitions found in dictionaries etc. I’d like you to tell me your definition.

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  31. Ron Klotz Zellhoefer: um, it was her major…

  32. Jerome, I think most folks (outside of universities/colleges) use the word philosophy to mean a “personal belief or set of principles on how to operate in the world.”

  33. I’m a 43 y/o female with a dusty degree in English, currently working as a graphic designer… I’m strongly leaning toward going back to school for a second B.A. in Philosophy. There’s no “rational” reason for wanting to do this. Being “marketable,” I find, seems less important than actual knowledge, expansion…. from the above comments, it seems, pursuing Philosophy as a major cannot be a bad thing. I suppose I’m musing whether there’s any reason NOT to do it. Thanks for all the comments.

  34. Well, any graduate program that offers a tuition waiver and a decent stipend is worthwhile. I’m working on a MA in philosophy, and I have a pretty sweet deal. I think of it as a two-year job with a free degree at the end. Not bad.

  35. That’s great, Kaitlin. I would only consider the time spent doing the degree (given that you could be doing something else).

  36. This is more so the case for women and minorities (i.e. not me). As a white male, prospects for grad school in philosophy and ensuing work in academia are slim.
    I’m thinking I’m going to keep my Philosophy major (I’m already two and a half years in) and take a minor in Computer Science, with the hope of perhaps finding work as a software engineer–the prospects of spending another four years in undergrad because I changed my major is not my idea of fun…

  37. im going into my freshman year of college and i am really interested in the “deeper” thinking aspect of philosophy, and i was planning on majoring in psychology as well…smart move? even though my ambitions are to one day enter med school, do you honestly think that a philosophy could be properly utilized more so than say…(biology+psychology) or (psychology+philosophy)?
    and response would be a helpful one

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  39. Philosophy is an excellent major. I graduated last December with a BA in philosophy and after graduating I landed a job as a Network Administrator with a Large Construction and Engineering corporation.
    I think that the philosophy degree basically shows that you are a competent, reasonable, logical, qualified individual that has the ability to effectively communicate with people. The classes I took were very difficult, but I am very happy with everything that I have learned. Where else will you get the chance to read about Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Confucious, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Berkeley, Mill,and Nietzsche?

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  41. interesting articles…I liked the style of your writing. thanks for you share anyway

  42. Robert J Chamberlain

    It is my opinion (as a 24 year old white-man who has just taken Intro to Philosophy and Ethics), that if one can sit through Philosophy and Ethics courses reliably, then when you enter the workforce you will be seen as a qualified, rational individual that has interests about how he can live his life in benefit to society as a whole.
    The reasoning skills that one individual will gain from these courses will in fact benefit the person more than the company because the individual will rise higher through the ranks of corporate America when said individual DOES become employable. In addition to being a ‘marketable’ skill, when you sit through interviews the interviewer will know that you DO know how to write (and communciate) well, and that you can be effective in a sometimes chaotic organizational environment.
    I think that what Philosophy and Ethics courses have to offer is more in the area of personal development vs a purely corporatist agenda. In essence, when the individual is ready for the workforce they will be ready to handle all of the headaches and think about them calmly, rationally, and probably the most important: logically.

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  44. Ah, so many refreshing minds on this page! I am just beginning my journey on the road of higher learning and am wondering what, with philosophy as the bread, would taste best as the dip? i.e. a double major. So far I’m thinking sociology and psychology.

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  46. hmm this seems like a very old thread, i don’t know if anybody will read this post.
    i currently attend highschool and was browsing through interesting majors i would like to do and stumbled upon this lovely debate. all the comments seem pretty persuading enough for me to take a double major in philosophy and something else. although, i’m afraid to choose a major that would not provide me a good paying job once a graduate with a degree. College and its majors,minors,requirements, are all very confusing to me. i hope somebody could break down every major to me, what its useful for, what its requirements were, and what schools offered it. if anything, i know i want to involve myself dealing with humans and people. that’s why i took interest about philosophy. i would appreciate some help or clarity. thank you.

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  48. ghost of descartes present

    RE: I believe that much of the theory, creativity, and logical reasoning found in the quantitative mathematical, physical, and biological sciences overlaps and probably stems from the likes of philosophers from back in the day.
    It’s a historical fact, sir.

  49. I encourage multiple majors, but not for economic reasons.

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  51. It is a mistake to think of an undergraduate degree in a college of liberal arts and sciences as a matter of being trained for a specific job or profession. This is just as much true of the sciences as it is of the liberal arts. The main aim of a degree in the liberal arts or in the basic sciences is the acquisition of a certain body of knowledge and the acquisition of the skills needed to extend your knowledge on your own. Well written my friend
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  53. I completely agree although I never took any philosophy classes in college nor even read any philosophy until I was 50+ years old.  But when I did, I was completely taken by how much it was like the career I’d made in computer software development…except…we computer programmers have never been taught this stuff and we’ve been naively reinventing the wheel for the past 50 years things that philosophers have talked about for 2500 years!

  54. aplangcomp&aplitcompbtw

    That’s just high school english to me.  Knowing and understanding all those skills doesn’t make it philosophical to me.  I believe it should be apart of every major for the very reasons you state that philosophy can be a great major.  I’m an engineer who understands rhetoric, ethics, and that there is no right and wrong simply because I believe I owe it to myself and others to at least know what I’m talking about, not because I am only a philosopher.  And so should everyone else, not just those in a philosophy major.  And yes I know I digress from your issue.

    • Agreed. I think the issue is that Philosophy is truly unique in preparing students with the aforementioned skills (a typical degree in Engineering, Biology, et. al will not prepare you in the same way a degree in Philosophy will to think critically, argue well, write well, and adapt to varying work situations (as is becoming the norm in corporate America)).

  55. Hi,
    I am currently in school for a BA in Philosophy, and I have been getting the side eye everytime someone asks, “What are you in school for?” When I tell them, they then reply with, “What are you going to do with that?” Almost laughing it out. I wanted to go to school for English, but I don’t read enough classics. So I sat back and thought about what I really enjoyed doing was teaching. Obtaining my degree in Philosophy would give me everything you listed in your post, PLUS a better ability to actually teach. From reading I now see that I should probably try and test into some other feild to give myself more options.
    Thank you.

    • I’m not sure obtaining a degree in philosophy will “give you a better ability to teach.”  Teaching is a notoriously difficult profession (at any level and especially in the United States where the discipline is undervalued and underpays) and from my experience the best teachers have an innate need or competency in motivating students to learn.  

      Aiming for a dual degree or major is a good idea!

      All the best and good luck.


  56. Seems to me like things which should be taught from birth and not as “privileged knowledge”
    Just to clarify you don’t need to have a major in philosophy to know.

  57. I seriously recommend anyone considering taking Philosophy as a Major to seriously consider doing it as a double Major with a science, business, or language. I also seriously advise you to make sure you do well! With a BA many doors will be open, and one could go on to any number of different Masters degrees afterwards to provide more practical or technical skills as needed, but only if you have a high GPA.

    A week philosophy degree will get you no where, and the route through academia will likely bore you away from the subject matter unless you are an absolute die-hard about the subjects involved, which is a stance I can’t really see most people properly being able to assess until they are in 3rd or 4th year anyway, so cover yourself and back it up with a solid second Major.

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  60. Philosophy is an all encompassing rational enterprise that gives one an edge over his/her peers! It promises and gives one the natural wisdom to thrive in all areas of life….however, I think It should make meaning more for those who has satisfied their utilitarian considerations.

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