Why Study Philosophy?

That is how John Campbell, a philosopher at the University of California at Berkeley, thinks of philosophy---"it breaks down, describes, and assesses moves we ordinarily make at great speed....It then becomes evident that alternatives are possible."

To study philosophy is to grapple with questions that have occupied humankind for millennia, in conversation with some of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived.  Whether they take just a course or two or end up concentrating, students find their time studying philosophy to be among the most rewarding intellectual experiences of their college careers.  So the main reason to study philosophy is that you find intrinsic value in reflection and contemplation.

Nevertheless, many undergraduates who are otherwise drawn to philosophy worry that a philosophy degree is a path to poverty.  But in fact the skills you acquire studying philosophy are highly marketable, especially in a volatile and rapidly changing economic climate.  Many specialized skills eventually become obsolete, and in any case most people end up changing careers several times over the course of their lives.  The skills that philosophy teaches you will always be in high demand: the ability to think and write clearly, the ability to bring to light unnoticed presuppositions, to explain complex ideas clearly, to tease out connections and implications, to see things in a broader context, to challenge orthodoxy.  In short, philosophy gives you skills that you can apply to any line of work.

Harvard philosophy concentrators have gone on to pursue diverse and rewarding careers.  Philosophy alumni have achieved success in law, finance and consulting, business, internet start-ups, medicine, journalism, the arts, non-profit work, education, and academia (both in philosophy and in other academic disciplines).  The question to ask yourself is not, “What can I do with a philosophy degree?” but rather, “What can’t I do with one?”