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What is Philosophy?
Philosophy has been central to a university education since the establishment of the first European universities in the 12th century. As other departments and new specialized majors emerge, the study of philosophy continues to transcend the boundaries that separate other areas of study. Philosophy encourages students to reflect seriously about the nature of human life, the problems that beset it, and its place and significance in the larger scheme of things.
Why Study Philosophy?
Before you decide to major in philosophy, you will want an adequate answer to this question to satisfy yourself. After you decide to major in philosophy, you will want an adequate answer to satisfy parents, friends, relatives, and strangers who will want to know what a degree in philosophy will get you and what skills you will gain.
A short answer is: intensive study in philosophy will teach you how to think more clearly and more critically, and will help you develop the skills you need to solve problems of varying degrees of complexity and abstraction. You will acquire these skills by critically engaging classical and contemporary sources that have played a central role in shaping Western thought. Thus, while philosophy has the practical consequence of developing important skills, it also exposes you to a range of questions, authors, and perspectives in a way that will increase and enrich your understanding of the world around you.
Ofcourse, just about any discipline that you may choose will in some way give you an opportunity to interact with issues that you would not otherwise encounter, and most disciplines are intrinsically interesting and rewarding on this account. In selecting your major, you may, then, be more concerned (and even skeptical) about the practical benefits that a degree in philosophy promises. Initially, it might seem more practical, for example, to get a degree in business. In fact, however, philosophy is excellent preparation for professional training, particularly, but not exclusively, in business and in law. Recent evidence suggests that graduates from undergraduate degrees in philosophy typically score higher than graduates from other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences on standardized professional and graduate school admissions tests such as the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test), the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), and the GRE (Graduate Record Exam).
- Philosophy majors do exceptionally well on the GRE. According to a study of GRE scores in the '90s:
- Philosophy majors had the highest mean verbal score of students in all majors.
- Philosophy majors had the second highest mean analytic score of students in all majors.
- Philosophy majors had a higher mean quantitative score than all other humanities and social science majors.
- A1994 study shows that Philosophy majors also do very well on the LSAT.* The mean LSAT for Philosophy majors is higher than it is for both Political Science and Pre-Law majors.
- The mean LSAT score for Philosophy majors is the fifth highest for all humanities and social science majors. (The highest are Linguistics and Classics.)
You might also be surprised at how well Philosophy majors do on the GMAT. The following information is for tests administered from 1991-1996:
- The mean score on the GMAT is higher for Philosophy majors than for any type of Business major (Accounting, Finance, Management, etc.).
- Outside of the hard sciences, Philosophy has had either the first or second highest mean score on the GMAT each year.
- Including the hard sciences, the mean GMAT score for Philosophy majors is fourth or fifth highest of all majors.
None of this proves that if you major in Philosophy you will ace these exams, but it gives you good reason to think it won't hurt! And you will learn things that will be useful no matter what you do.The reason usually given for their performance on these exams is that philosophy majors develop problem solving skills at a level of abstraction that cannot be achieved through the case-study or profession-specific approach favored in disciplines geared towards occupational training. People with strong abstract reasoning skills do better in applied fields, on average, than people who lack the ability to abstract from particular problem-situations. Thus, if you are interested in a career in law or in higher management, philosophy is excellent preparation.
- The ability to think logically, critically and analytically.
- The ability to analyze and solve problems.
- The ability to assess to pros and cons of proposed solutions.
- The ability to write and speak clearly, attending to details.
- The ability to ask the right questions.
Skills such as these allow a person with a background in philosophy to take on new responsibilities and to adapt to new careers more readily than those whose training has been tightly focused on very narrowly defined career goals. To get the best of both worlds, a number of our majors minor in fields more obviously connected to the careers they intend to pursue.
Inaddition to being well-suited for business and the law, philosophy is good training for careers in journalism, other areas of publishing, and in government. There are also careers in philosophy itself, such as academic appointments in universities, colleges, and high schools, professional and clinical ethics consulting in hospitals and in businesses, and consulting positions in government with respect to ethical and political issues and the development of public policy. The opportunities afforded by a philosophy degree are diverse.
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