Non-philosophers: Your Views on Philosophy

I do a degree in plain philosophy. I have never taken any university-level course on any other subject. I am currently in my third and final year, and I intend to go on to obtain a PhD in the subject and try to become an academic.

Surprisingly, none of the people I know who are doing other degrees in my university think I am doing a degree that will leave me with no good career prospects, and most of the people I know are non-philosophers, in fact many of them are science students. However, this seems to be an uncommon attitude towards philosophy degrees. I have seen people make tend to make two claims: that a philosophy degree is a very poor investment, and that philosophy itself is pointless or useless as an intellectual pursuit. Indeed, even if they don’t think my degree is a useless degree to have, my own friends agree with the second claim.

I would like to ask the non-philosophers (and of course, philosophers if there are any) here some questions. I genuinely am interested in discussing the utility of my degree.

  1. Have you had any significant contact with philosophy? Of what kind? By this I mean something more than knowing that it exists, or coming to know about general attitudes and beliefs about it. For example, have you taken a course in philosophy, read some books, went to conferences, had a philosopher among your family or friends?

1a. If so, and if the question applies, what made you want to have contact with philosophy? What attracted you to it?

  1. Independently of (1), what do you think about philosophy as a degree? Do you think it’s useless to have it as a degree? If so, why? What have you heard or read about its usefulness? Do you think it is easy/hard? Why?

  2. What do you think about the usefulness of philosophy in general? Again, do you think it is a waste of time? Why? Should it get any funding? Why?

  3. What is your concept of philosophy? What do philosophers do, and how do they do it?

Of course, feel free to ask any questions about the degree, about how I would answer those questions above, or about what I think of your answers to those questions.

  1. and 1a. i took three or four college level philosophy courses. I took them because they were taught by Professors I respected greatly and assumed the subject would be interesting.

  2. I don’t think it’s useless as a degree if you want to go into academic and teach. I don’t think the field is going away.

  3. I think it is a complete waste of time and useless field. I don’t think anything is better, more interesting, or more beautiful as the result of the field of philosophy. We could stop studying and discussing philosophy today and no one would notice any difference or care one bit. There are a lot of fields and pursuits I have no interest in (Ballet, French literature, physics) but none I think are useless except this one.

  4. No idea.

what is ‘plain philosophy’ ? How do you get a degree in it without taking any other courses, much less even think about getting a PHD?

This smells more like a BS degree to me -

Well, I would much rather hear about your views on philosophy. Or if you want to ask questions about my degree it would be nice for you to keep an open mind about it.

But if you really want to know what exact programme I’m enrolled in, ok…

And two of my friends have offers for a PhD in Oxford.

The vast majority of philosophers are either just spouting off random garbage of quality comparable to that from your typical stoner, or worse, are just parroting the random garbage spouted by other philosophers before them. Not all of them are this way, but…

This does not bode well for you, and is also a sign that your university is doing you a grave disservice.

I have taken a number of philosophy courses in college, not because I’m particularly interested in it, but because my college quite rightly believed in the value of a well-rounded education. It’s not a useless major for purposes of getting a job, but that’s just because many employers look at a college degree (in any field) as evidence of a certain amount of general education, which in your case you are lacking.

How do you know this? What kind of philosophy have you read? Can you give any examples?

I am only doing philosophy because I am doing a degree in England. There is no such thing as a liberal arts degree here. You choose a subject and you do that thing exclusively for three years. Be it philosophy, maths, economics, engineering, what have you.

Employers certainly don’t look down on that here. I got into an internship with the largest accounting firm of the country last summer, and one of the senior members of my department also had a degree in pure philosophy.

  1. One or two college level courses of strict philosophy, several humanities courses that were related to the subject. Looking back, I got more out of the humanities courses than I ever did out of the science courses.

1a. I like the concept of understanding my motivation, societies motivation, etc. I don’t know what your definition of philosophy is but I’m including sociology, psychology, gender studies, etc under the umbrella of philosophy.

  1. I have no idea. I have a science degree, and that really doesn’t guarantee good jobs. A lot of degrees that people think provide opportunities (MBA, JD, science, etc) are flooded with applicants and the labor market has responded by permatemp work, low wages and no benefits. I can’t say philosophy is a waste and you should study something else. Outside of health care, a lot of degrees are overrated.

  2. No. Like I said, I got a lot out of these fields on a personal level. I’ve forgotten most of what I studied in college, but the philosophy and sociology courses stayed with me.

  3. Attempt to understand behavior and motivations. Like I said, I’m adding a lot of the social sciences under the umbrella of philosophy.

You are attending Cambridge? OP must be somewhat ironic, no?

Cambridge has of course been one of the world’s great universities for hundreds of years; it is by general acclamation still ranked in the world top five, isn’t it?

A Cambridge degree of any kind ought to get someone a serious interview with most companies if that is what the degree-holder wants. He might need to get a “First” or whatever it is you call highest honors over there if he wants to continue on to graduate school. OP knows all this, of course.

You should take another read at the post you quoted - my thoughts are well summed up there.

But, that might require you take some other courses in order to gain the needed comprehension to understand, so I’ll let it drop at that.

As to career prospects, a philosophy degree obviously doesn’t steer you towards (or train you for) a particular career like a medical degree, or an engineering degree, or even a law degree. But I see no reason why it would be any worse, career-wise, than any primary degree in the liberal arts/humanities field, and it could be a good deal better than some of them. At a minimum, it will equip you to think rigorously in both abstract and concrete terms; to reason; to evaluate. If you get a first or a 2:1 from a reputable philosophy department I would have thought any employer who isn’t demanding a particular occupational qualification would be impressed with that.

And, of course, you can also challenge the notion that university education should be evaluated purely or largely in terms of how well it prepares you for entry into a profession.

Getting a degree a philosophy is fine with me.

Taking not a single course in college outside of philosophy is highly questionable.

As you are probably aware, a major at a 4 year US college will typically involve about 9 courses, plus pre-requisites. The rest of the courses will be in something else. Many colleges have a breadth requirement as well. So the idea of specializing in one subject will be a foreign one to most of the board.

  1. I took 3 semesters of philosophy in college. I’ve read of few books on philosophy, but can only understand it at the introductory level. I enjoy dipping into Stanford’s website. I own a couple of one volume encyclopedias of philosophy. When philosophy majors on this message board start drilling down into a philosophical topic, I run out of gas quickly.

  2. I can imagine philosophy or theology being good training for lawyers. ISTM that philosophy would be solid training for the mind, but I’m leery of doing 3 years of it. But I have an American mindset insofar as undergraduate work is concerned.

  3. While I enjoy philosophy, it’s a bit of a fringe field in a way. I’m wary of the dangers of a purely analytic/non-empiric approach to problems. I don’t know why empiricism is so powerful, but it seems to be.

As an adjunct to other studies though, a philosophical outlooks has its utility, IMHO.

  1. Philosophers address the questions that the rest of academia can’t get a handle on, like the problem of consciousnness. Philosophers write journal articles, like other academics. Philosophers write more and more about less and less, like other academics. Philosophers teach the history of philosophy.

As verificationist points out, this is standard in the UK where he is based (and in many other countries). For an undergraduate degree, you select one or, at most, two or three fields of study, and that’s all you study.

My undergraduate degree (in Ireland) was law. In four years, I didn’t take a single course outside the law school. Had I done a history degree, for example, I wouldn’t have taken a single course outside the history school. It’s not that I didn’t or wouldn’t have chosen to; the option wasn’t there.

There are more broadly-based degrees available. For example, Oxford has a well-known offering which is philosophy, politics and economics. If you take that degree, all the courses you take will be in one of those three schools.

And there can be still more broadly-based degrees available; in some universities you can take a wide range of liberal arts/humanities courses in your first year, but you focus on just one or two (liberal arts/humanities) subjects after that. But if you wanted, say, and engineering degree or a science degree from those universities, you’d still find yourself taking nothing but engineering or science courses from day one.

  1. I was a philosophy major for a couple of years, but I couldn’t hack it. I had an advanced seminar on Aristotle and i was completely at sea and could not follow the other students or the professor. So I switched to something else.

1a. What drew me to philosophy was the promise, that I thought I saw, of a better understanding of the world and of life. Instead what I got most of was people splitting hairs about words (this was in the late 60’s).

  1. Philosophy as a degree is about as useful as, say Art History. Fine if that is going to be your field and if you are good enough to make a living in it. Otherwise, your basic humanities/liberal arts degree which may or may not prepare you for a career in business. I, like you, wanted to get a PhD and be a professor.

  2. Philosophy is critical, and I wish more people had some grounding in it. Logic and epistemology especially. How do you know what you know? What assumptions underlie your view of the world? Much of what we decry here on SDMB as ignorance in the world is largely a result of a complete misunderstanding of epistemological issues.

  3. I think of it as kind of like mathematics and physics combined. Like mathematics, you have to start with a few basic axioms, and build from there. Like physics, you take everyday things and dig down and down to find out what they are really made of, and what principles drive them. Philosophy is the study of everything, and everyone has a philosophy whether they know it or not. Most people’s is pretty muddled, though. One job of a philosopher is to impose a sort of syntactic system on this chaos, in order to understand it better.

Holy fuckin’ shit. I am truly in the wrong country.

American Philosophy prof here…

And I had a longer post and it’s all gone now.


I basically said Philosophy makes you good at things, but no one knows this, and it may just be that philosophy involves people selecting themselves for a philosophy major who are already good at things.

And it is hopeless to try for an academic career in Philosophy. It’s like 70 applicants per position or something like that.

And I qualified that everything I said was based on experience and knowledge of the American market.

Your thoughts on what are well summed up there? I don’t see an answer to the question “what are your views on philosophy.” This is what he said he’s interested in hearing from you about. You replied by saying that your views are “well summed up” in the quoted post. But none of your views on philosophy are stated in that post. And if that’s not what you were saying is “well summed up” then you’ve left the reader without a clue as to what you are talking about.

Wtf Chronos? I am surprised and disappointed.

He does answer the question. If you drill down to the underlying post, he says that he thinks that verificationist’s philosophy degree is a BS degree.

Verificationaist’s philosophy degree is a BS degree” is not an example of explaining one’s views on philosophy.

In another context, the quoted statement might have been meant to communicate that all philosophy degrees are bullshit. (That’s closer to a claim about philosophy, but still not really all the way there.) But this is not such a context. In this context, the remark was “this smells like a BS” degree, where “this” referred, not to all philosophy degrees, but to Verificationist’s particular philosophy degree, or anyway, any philosophy degree from the program he’s getting his degree from.

(Or she.)