THE ROLE OF PHILOSOPHY PROGRAMS
IN HIGHER EDUCATION
THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL ASSOCIATION
Prepared originally under the title “The Role of Philosophy Programs in Higher Education” by the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession. Approved by the APA Board of Officers, October 1979. Revised in 2007-2008 by the Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession. Approved by the APA Board of Officers, November, 2008.
The following statement attempts to present a concise yet compelling vision of the role of philosophy in higher education. This statement is not intended to be exhaustive, and many of its points will apply more to some institutions than to others. But most of the points have important bearing on any institution of higher learning, and some of them speak directly to current concerns about the preparation of undergraduates both for suitable employment and for responsible participation in a democratic society.
Higher education in America frequently undergoes reassessment, external and internal, formal and informal. Colleges and universities review their programs;the officials who determine the budgets scrutinize costs and benefits; students and potential students compare institutions for quality and relevance to their degree goals. This intensive reassessment can be due to changing demographics, rising costs, and in many institutions, a growing concern by students with the likelihood that their courses will help them to find rewarding employment. Internal reassessment can be a sign of responsible self-analysis, and – even apart from exercises carried out for purposes of accreditation – is frequently mandated periodically by policies set in place by institutions themselves. Occasions like these provide an opportunity for philosophers and philosophy programs to state or restate the case for their centrality and indispensability to their institutions’ mission. We believe that this statement can be helpful in making that case. We also believe that this statement can be of use to admissions offices, deans’ offices, and development offices, in furtherance of the tasks of student recruitment and donor development.
The following remarks are divided into six major sections. We begin by discussing (1) a philosophy program’s fundamental contributions to education. We then turn to (2) its contributions to an institution’s core curriculum. After that we comment on (3) philosophy’s relations to other areas of inquiry. We describe in section (4) the contributions that philosophers can make beyond the curriculum. After briefly discussing (5) different levels of philosophy programs, we conclude with some remarks on (6) how one might go about measuring the success of philosophy programs.
1. FUNDAMENTAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO EDUCATION
The discipline of philosophy contributes in an indispensable way to the realization of four goals that should be fundamental to any institution of higher learning: instilling habits of critical thinking in students; enhancing their reading, writing and public speaking skills; transmitting cultural heritages to them; stimulating them to engage fundamental questions about reality, knowledge, and value.
Texts, lectures, web sites, and other media can be invaluable sources of information, concepts, theories, intellectual perspectives, and evaluative viewpoints. Their sheer quantity and diversity, however, raises three problems for their potential consumer – how to discriminate between information and misinformation, how to distinguish between what is central to a particular topic and what is peripheral, and what is likely to be fruitful as opposed to what is barren. Intellectually engaged readers, listeners, and viewers must have skills and attitudes that enable them to confront these problems and navigate successfully through these media.
2. CONTRIBUTIONS TO AN INSTITUTION’S CORE CURRICULUM
A basic skill is the ability to reconstruct an author’s viewpoint or argument in such a way that the reconstruction is fair to the author and intelligible to someone who is not already aware of the issues involved. In service of the goals of representational accuracy and intelligibility, all philosophy courses emphasize the importance of attending to the author’s thesis and the author’s reasons for espousing the thesis. Not infrequently this task will involve stating the thesis more clearly than the author’s text itself does, along with reconstructing on the author’s behalf arguments that may not be fully stated in the text. Accurate exposition of a viewpoint typically requires some sensitivity to the author’s conceptual framework. The reconstruction of arguments requires some facility with the techniques of logical inference. Finally, students need to learn to disentangle what they themselves believe and thus, perhaps, want an author to say from what the author actually does say. Some viewpoints may be alien – even offensive – to a student. But without a fair, accurate, and intelligible representation of those viewpoints, students will be at a disadvantage in criticizing viewpoints they find objectionable.
Taking a responsible critical stance towards a viewpoint requires attitudes of benign skepticism and an openness to being puzzled. A prominent pedagogical model in higher academia is that of active rather than passive learning, according to which students are not conceptualized as receptacles of information but as active participants in the learning process, motivated, frequently, by curiosity. A central component of active learning is learning how to challenge texts and their authors, not to see them as unquestionable authorities, but as meriting further clarification, interpretation, critical challenge, and development. In teaching students to adopt attitudes of benign skepticism and puzzlement, philosophy courses teach students to become more active and independent inquirers.
Reading, Writing, Verbal Communication
Because many philosophical texts are quite demanding on their readers, one central aim of philosophy courses is to teach students how to read, comprehend, and summarize conceptually difficult material. Students are asked to pay careful attention to conceptual distinctions, to isolate central from peripheral points, to be alert for ambiguities and invalid inferences – in sum, to take an active rather than passive approach to reading. The skills developed in learning how to manage difficult theoretical texts are skills that will serve a student well in many other venues, both within and outside academia’s walls.
Although it is an accomplishment for a student to be able to write clear expository prose about a philosophical view, many philosophy courses, especially above the introductory level, stress the importance of learning how to do philosophy, which includes formulating, articulating, and defending one’s own views. No other discipline emphasizes, in the same ways, verbal argumentation and conceptual analysis. Few other disciplines emphasize, to the same degree, students producing their own theories or critical assessments, as distinct from the exposition of existing material. The argument-focused nature of philosophy requires students to become better writers and speakers if they are to succeed in their courses. For this reason many philosophy classes are, whenever appropriate, heavily discussion-based. The discussion can be Socratic: students learn to subject opinions to logical scrutiny by asking pertinent questions, constructing relevant analogies, and critically assessing the consequences of the viewpoints expressed. Students learn the importance of accurate interpretation, logical organization, clarity of expression, due consideration for others’ positions, the use of concrete illustrative examples, and staying focused on the issues at hand. These qualities of philosophical training in writing and speaking make well-taught courses in philosophy especially valuable to pre-professional students as well as to those pursuing a more general education.
The Transmission of Cultural Heritage
More so than any other academic discipline, philosophy studies the history of ideas and texts that have profoundly shaped Western thought about basic ethical values, political systems and ideals, human rights, the human good, the nature of knowledge and science, and the fundamental structure of reality. The history of philosophy is virtually the history of our intellectual heritage. It is hard to overestimate the ways in which our contemporary thought has been influenced by such philosophers as Plato, Aristotle, and others. Their texts repay careful study, not only because in learning about them we learn something about ourselves, but also because the issues they raise and arguments they present are perennial, as timely now as they were then.
In recent years, philosophy departments have become increasingly mindful that the traditional Western canon needs to be located within a plurality of intellectual traditions. Some departments now offer courses in Asian philosophy (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Near Eastern philosophies), African philosophy, Latin American philosophy, and African-American philosophy.
Reality, Knowledge, and Value
Inquisitive students can find themselves engaging in metaphysical thought when, for example, they wonder whether the world described by the natural sciences is all that exists, or whether humans have freedom of will if the world is deterministic, or whether there is an afterlife. They raise questions in epistemology when they inquire about the scope and limits of human knowledge: How much, if anything, can be known for certain? What are the sources of knowledge? When is it legitimate to accept the testimony of others, and on what grounds? Exposure to the diversity of outlook and opinion that one encounters in a typical college community may lead students to question whether the values they hold can be rationally defended against the charge that they are nothing more than the product of their upbringing.
Philosophers have thought deeply and systematically about these fundamental questions in a way that no other discipline has. As a result, philosophers can help students grapple intellectually with the questions, not only in philosophy courses but also in various interdisciplinary programs, to be discussed a bit more fully in section (3) below.
Many institutions have college- or university-wide course requirements for their students, typically aimed at such goals as critical thinking or logical reasoning, sensitivity to values, and awareness of global issues. Philosophy departments are strongly positioned to contribute courses and programs that further these goals.
If the aim of a particular core requirement is to develop habits of careful, critical thought in students, then philosophy is especially well-suited to the realization of this aim (see the remarks under Thinking Critically in the previous section). The study of philosophy helps students to develop both their capacity and their inclination to do critical thinking. Other disciplines also help in fulfilling this function, but philosophy contributes distinctively, intensively, and extensively to a student’s ability to think critically. Many philosophy departments regularly offer a course devoted exclusively to the topic of critical thinking.
Philosophy courses can also contribute admirably to curricula that stress more formal modes of logical reasoning, emphasizing the goals of quantitative literacy and symbolic reasoning. Successful courses in the disciplines of mathematics, statistics, and computer science that aim at such a goal succeed by inculcating the skills of reasoning rigorously and logically in students. Philosophy courses in formal logic focus on those skills that are common to all these disciplines.
Questions of value are among the most important and most difficult questions that students face. Philosophy courses in ethics, social and political philosophy, philosophy of law, philosophy of medicine, bioethics, environmental ethics, and aesthetics prepare students to be thoughtful, discriminating, and responsible citizens.
Philosophy departments standardly offer introductory ethics courses in which students are exposed both to the dominant methods for reasoning about ethical issues and to some array of contemporary moral problems. These courses aim at giving students the conceptual tools necessary for thinking in greater depth about moral problems, an appreciation for competing moral positions, and an opportunity to develop and present their own moral views. Some of the central questions that ethics courses are likely to address are: What are the relations among morality, self-interest, religion, and law? What, if any, are the basic moral rights of persons? What, if any, moral obligations do we have to other persons, animals, the environment, and future generations? No other discipline treats these questions in the same comprehensive and systematic ways.
In institutions offering academic programs in law (or pre-law), business, medicine, nursing, engineering, and other professional areas, specialized courses in applied ethics such as biomedical ethics or business ethics are important service courses that can be offered by philosophy departments. Institutions with programs in education and the fine arts, including literature, will find courses in the philosophy of education and aesthetics and the philosophy of art attractive.
Philosophers have made and continue to make significant contributions to ongoing debates on a number of issues that go beyond national boundaries, such as environmental pollution, global climate change, and the status of global ecosystems; global trade and national exploitation; human rights; humanitarian intervention vs. national sovereignty; war; international law; terrorism and the status of combatants and noncombatants; foreign aid and famine relief; medical experimentation in third-world countries; and the repatriation of cultural objects.
3. RELATIONS TO OTHER AREAS OF INTELLECTUAL INQUIRY
Mention of global issues at the end of the previous section suggests one way in which philosophy can collaborate fruitfully with other disciplines, such as the environmental sciences, economics, political science, and law in the examination of a family of issues. In addition to interdisciplinary collaboration, philosophy can contribute to the examination of a discipline’s foundations.
Contributions to Interdisciplinary Programs
Interdisciplinary programs are now prominent in many colleges and universities. Fine arts programs can benefit from courses in aesthetics. History of ancient philosophy courses can contribute to classics programs. European studies programs can benefit from courses in history of medieval and modern philosophy. Other programs include, but are not confined to, Women’s and Gender Studies, Sexuality Studies, Cognitive Science, International Studies, Justice Studies, Legal Studies, Environmental Studies, Latin American Studies, East Asian Studies, African Studies, African-American Studies, Science and Technology, and Sustainability Studies. The development of such programs has proceeded by various disciplines extending their attention to topics that have recently emerged or had hitherto been left ignored. Philosophy is a discipline very well suited to making contributions to interdisciplinary programs and many philosophers are now applying their skills in these areas. On many campuses philosophy courses already occupy a essential place in the curriculum for such programs, including required courses for majors. One sign of the liveliness and rigor of philosophical contributions to interdisciplinary programs is the number of specialized philosophical journals now dedicated to their study.
Philosophy played a pioneering role in the development of feminist theory and continues to have a place both in Women’s and Gender Studies and the more recently developed Sexuality Studies programs. Some of the most important, ground-level work in Cognitive Science has been done by philosophers. Philosophers specializing in social and political philosophy have devoted considerable attention in recent decades to the development of theories of human rights, responsibility for global poverty, just international intervention, cosmopolitanism, and international law – areas of intellectual labor that lend themselves to inclusion in programs in International Studies and Justice Studies. Such programs, along with programs in Legal Studies, would also benefit by including a philosophy of law course that lays emphasis on conceptions of justice, democratic theory, and the justification of political authority and legal obligation. Environmental philosophy and environmental ethics are central components of Environmental Studies programs. Courses in non-Western philosophies (or non-canonical Western philosophy) have much to offer regionally oriented interdisciplinary and ethnic studies programs, such as Latin American Studies, East Asian Studies, African Studies, and African-American Studies. Various kinds of philosophy of science courses can be valuable to a program in Science and Technology. Sustainability Studies would be enhanced by courses in the philosophy of environmental science and environmental ethics.
Foundational Questions and Concepts in the Disciplines
While philosophy is not inherently interdisciplinary, philosophy is inherently connected to a very wide array of other disciplines. The curriculum of a typical philosophy department will include many of the following courses: philosophy of science, mind, language, law, art, literature, education, and religion, as well as social and political philosophy, feminist philosophy, biomedical ethics, business ethics, and environmental ethics. Given this array of course possibilities, it is not surprising that students who major in philosophy also major or minor in another area, and that students majoring in other areas take some cognate philosophy courses, quite frequently at the mid and upper levels.
An important and traditional function of philosophy is to foster deeper reflection on the concepts, methods, and issues that are fundamental within other disciplines. For instance, although scientific explanation is, in one form or another, common to all the sciences, conceptual questions about its nature and comparative questions about its logic in the different sciences belong to the philosophy of science. Some of these questions have been treated by scientists, but rarely with the comprehensiveness and generality required for a synoptic understanding of the topic.
Philosophy also critically examines methods of inquiry in the natural sciences and social sciences. Every discipline generates some essentially philosophical questions about itself. To take two examples, psychology generates questions about what counts as a mind, the relation of mental states to brain states, and the compatibility of a scientific study of the mind with ethical assumptions about human freedom and responsibility. Law generates questions about what a law is, what distinguishes good laws from bad laws, and what conditions are necessary for there to be legitimate international law. Every discipline also makes some tacit assumptions about the possibility of knowledge, the nature of the reality studied by that discipline, and what the value of the discipline is. The philosophical fields of epistemology, metaphysics, and metaethics address the most basic questions about the nature of knowledge, reality, and value.
In exploring concepts and methods of inquiry used by other disciplines, in taking up questions that disciplines generate about their own subject matter, and in examining the questions that are fundamental to any area of inquiry concerned with producing knowledge about the world and making value claims about that knowledge, philosophy fulfills a unique and important role as a meta-discipline. It provides a kind of understanding of the other disciplines, particularly of their presuppositions, standards of evidence, and modes of explanation, that other fields of study neither attempt nor are able to provide.
The potential value of a strong philosophy department for other disciplines must not be taken, however, to suggest that philosophy programs can be appropriately absorbed into others, whether they be humanities departments or broad divisions such as those comprising the social sciences. Philosophy is methodologically distinct, and it pursues a distinct set of questions. An autonomous philosophy program is vital both for these reasons and in order to maximize the contribution that philosophers, unencumbered by the constraints, special standards, or narrower subject matter of other disciplines, can make to their colleagues and students.
4. CONTRIBUTIONS BEYOND THE CURRICULUM
In such areas as public service, continuing education, alumni relations, consultation, and public visibility, philosophers can excel in representing and furthering the interests of their institutions.
Colleges and universities quite properly feel obligations to the communities in which they exist and the populations from which they draw their students. Philosophers can contribute greatly to fulfilling these obligations. In most communities there is much concern with a variety of public policy issues, for instance crime and punishment, welfare, medical care, environmental stewardship, and nuclear plants. Philosophers are generally competent to speak informatively on certain important aspects of these issues, particularly the normative aspects, which are often the most important. Under various different sorts of auspices many philosophers have addressed public audiences on such issues. The results have often enhanced public understanding both of the issues under discussion and of the relevance of philosophical reflection to questions of public policy.
Continuing Education and Alumni Relations
Heightened demand for classes has resulted in a new emphasis on “continuing education” courses. These courses are designed mainly for adults over the typical college age who want enrichment or wish an extension of their post-secondary education. Often, such people want to reflect on normative issues, to discover or return to some of the perennial questions, or simply to try something new. Philosophy has much to offer them. This fact needs wider recognition by administrators, academic advisors, and philosophers themselves. In many cases, a school’s alumni would be interested in programs or short courses in philosophy. Philosophy departments can contribute significantly to satisfying the needs of alumni and many others above the usual college age, whether they seek mainly the intellectual enrichment of philosophy or some of the conceptual and other general skills that the study of philosophy can help to develop.
Many philosophers have been consultants to institutions, agencies, businesses, and the like, but we suspect that their use in the capacity of consultation could be successfully extended. Philosophers have helped to frame policies in the medical, business, and legal fields, as well as with respect to scientific experimentation. Hospital ethics committees often include a professional philosopher. In addition, philosophers can frequently give useful testimony at hearings on proposed legislation or on projected public policies, and they can often advise groups of citizens who are trying to accomplish various projects through seeking grants or government funding. Such activities by philosophers are becoming more common. We believe that the record of their success to date confirms the value of philosophical skills in assessing public policy options and in guiding both the formation of large scale plans and the solution of non-academic problems.
In the first half of the Twentieth Century, American thought was heavily influenced by two philosophers, William James and John Dewey, whose distinctive views affected not only philosophy but also psychology, education, political thought, religion, and aesthetics. James and Dewey were prototypes of the so-called public intellectual, scholars whose thought attracted an audience beyond the walls of ivy. Their views contributed to the public understanding of, and public debate about, pressing contemporary questions. With the ascendancy of electronic media and the increasing complexity of knowledge, the importance of the public intellectual has been magnified. There are outstanding examples of physicists, biologists, economists, and political theorists who have made their respective fields of inquiry intelligible to the educated layperson and who have not shied away from defending their distinctive positions amid intellectual controversy.
The population of philosophers in the United States is small compared to the populations of many other academic disciplines. Yet over the past few decades philosophers have had at least their share of influence on public thought and debate. To cite some examples:
- John Rawls on justice and political liberalism
- Richard Rorty on knowledge and reality
- Martha Nussbaum on education in the humanities, global justice, and liberty of conscience
- Peter Singer on the ethics of food consumption
- Sissela Bok on lying and public officials
- Ruth Macklin on the ethics of health care decision making
- Daniel Dennett on evolutionary naturalism
- Ronald Dworkin on the nature of law and its interpretation
- Kwame Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism
- Arthur Danto on aesthetics and art criticism
- John Searle on minds and machines
Philosophers frequently articulate and defend positions that are controversial. Philosophy tends not to flourish in oppressive regimes. In this way many philosophers still emulate Socrates, who took himself to be the gadfly of Athens.
5. SERVICE, MAJOR, AND GRADUATE PROGRAMS IN PHILOSOPHY
Depending on an institution of higher education’s size and educational aspirations, there are five levels of philosophy program to which it may be committed, namely, service courses, an undergraduate minor, an undergraduate major, a masters degree, and a doctoral degree.
An institution that offers only service courses in philosophy offers philosophy courses without providing for a minor or major in the discipline. The institution may thus not have a free-standing philosophy department. It is important to stress that service courses must be taught by faculty with adequate formal training in the discipline. An adequate presentation of philosophical positions quite often requires knowing the history of the discipline and knowing how arguments are developed. For that reason philosophy courses taught by those without professional training in philosophy at the graduate level are no more suitable in the context of higher education than economics courses taught by those without high level training in economics. If an institution cannot staff such service courses with properly trained philosophers, it would be better not to offer them at all.
The way in which philosophy can effectively serve an institution depends to some extent on the educational mission of the institution: one would not expect to find the same philosophy course offerings, for example, in an institute of technology as in a military academy. Contingent upon an institution’s academic mission, a good service program might have some combination of the following components: (1) A basic introductory survey course; (2) an introduction to logic by way of either critical thinking or more formal techniques; (3) some appropriate “philosophy of” courses, for instance, philosophy of art, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of law, or philosophy of education; (4) some courses in ethics, including applied ethics, for example, medical ethics, environmental ethics, business ethics, or values and technology; and (5) some courses in social and political philosophy.
Undergraduate Minor and Major Programs
Given a strong core of service courses, the addition to it of courses such as history of ancient philosophy, history of modern philosophy, metaphysics, and theory of knowledge would meet the minimum requirements for an adequate undergraduate major. With a sufficient diversity of courses to offer a major, a department can tailor an undergraduate minor to fit the needs of its home institution. Such a minor might, for example, be interdisciplinary. Until recently institutions have enjoyed a “buyer’s market” vis-à-vis faculty recruitment, especially with respect to new Ph.D.’s in the humanities. The profession of philosophy, largely under the leadership of the American Philosophical Association, has taken steps which, together with a pattern of a significant number of faculty approaching retirement, have gradually moved the market toward equilibrium between supply and demand of Ph.D.’s. Although the job market remains stringent for candidates, it is also becoming more difficult for employers to hire their top choices. Institutions that aspire to offer an undergraduate major in philosophy will find themselves in a stronger position to recruit better teachers.
The value of philosophy graduate programs must be understood differently. At least three points should be added to what has already been said about philosophy programs: that teaching is not the only activity for which advanced philosophy training can prepare a person; that, in part for reasons indicated above, advanced work in philosophy is important to various non-philosophers, both in the academic world and outside it; and that M.A. programs in philosophy can effectively serve certain people preparing for a non-academic profession, such as law or public service. We must also emphasize that for many universities, graduate programs in philosophy “pay their own way” by generating more tuition revenue to the university than it costs to pay for departmental salaries, stipends, and overhead. It is true, however, that because of the writing-intensive nature of many courses in philosophy, the faculty-student ratio is even more important than in many other disciplines.
There are at least two other reasons for the value of philosophy graduate programs. They are needed in order to prepare the next generation of the professoriate in both research and teaching. Moreover, in philosophy, the relation between teaching and research is especially close, and reducing or eliminating a graduate program is very likely (in some cases certain) to weaken undergraduate teaching. It would almost certainly hinder research that supports undergraduate teaching. Philosophy is unlike many fields in that the content even of beginning courses is greatly affected by the instructor’s research. Controversial issues like the relation between mind and body come into introductory courses, and what a teacher has to say about the issues depends heavily on a grasp of sophisticated argumentation that may underlie – indeed, may be necessary for giving – a clear and simple presentation, even though it may never enter the class discussion. This observation implies no negative attitude toward any other field; the point is to emphasize that philosophical research supports and is often necessary for good teaching in philosophy, even at the lower levels.
6. MEASURES OF PROGRAMMATIC SUCCESS
The following remarks suggest ways in which the success of a philosophy program can be measured. One such internal measure is provided by an institution’s outcomes assessment policies and procedures. (The American Philosophical Associations’s statement on outcomes assessment can be found at its web site: www.apaonline.org.) In this section we address two different issues. We begin by expressing some skepticism about overly simplistic quantitative measures. We then turn to the issue of success from the student’s point of view, in particular, how a background in philosophy contributes to a student’s employment prospects.
Enrollments and Grants: Cautionary Remarks
It would be a mistake to assess the value of a philosophy program by its enrollment figures. Few students entering college have had much exposure to philosophy. The same is true of such disciplines as economics, anthropology, and sociology, but students can quickly see the practical application of these disciplines to the study of human behavior. Philosophy can seem initially to be more esoteric, especially in light of its invisibility in most secondary school curriculums in the United States. With the exception of church-affiliated institutions, which often require multiple philosophy courses of all students, very few colleges or universities have any formal philosophy course requirement. Students thus quite often enroll in a philosophy course simply to fulfill an institutional requirement or to sample an intriguing elective. Moreover, philosophy can be a demanding discipline. In most colleges and universities the number of biology majors exceeds the number of physics majors. One should not infer from that phenomenon that physics is therefore less central than biology. For these reasons the importance of a philosophy program to an institution’s academic mission is not apt to be measured accurately by total course enrollments or total number of majors.
Because research in philosophy is relatively inexpensive to conduct, and because large grants comparable to those in the sciences are not available in humanities disciplines, philosophy departments run the risk of being marginalized within institutional priorities. Rather than in terms of grant-generating capacity, philosophy programs are better assessed in terms of their capacity to train a next generation of culturally literate, articulate, critically-minded, and well-informed citizens prepared to engage responsibly and creatively with the global social, economic, political, and cultural problems of the future.
Because the cost of a college education continues to rise, quite often more rapidly than inflation, students want their investment to pay off by improving their prospects for employment. It may be surprising at first to discover that the discipline of philosophy confers a number of marketable skills.
Unless a student majors in a pre-professional area, such as education, engineering, or nursing, or plans to parlay an undergraduate major (for example, mathematics or English) into a career in primary or secondary school education, no major directly prepares students to enter the workforce. Students are not likely to make significant use on the job of the information acquired as an undergraduate. What students will find most significant to their future employment prospects, other than the sheer possession of a college degree, are the transferable skills acquired during their undergraduate career, skills in writing, analytical, critical, and creative thinking, public speaking, and the like. Such basic skills are portable across many job areas.
That the discipline of philosophy trains students in highly transferable skills is evidenced by the fact that philosophy majors perform exceptionally well on the Law School Admission Test, the Graduate Management Admission Test, and the Graduate Record Examination. During the most recent period for which results are available, philosophy majors had the highest average scores of all majors on both the verbal and analytical writing sections of the GRE. On recent LSAT results, philosophy students performed better than any other discipline. *
Philosophy teaches students how to think well, a quality prized by many employers. Philosophers are good at
- Summarizing and logically organizing complex information
- Prioritizing questions and issues
- Evaluating opposing views
- Determining the morally relevant features of situations, actions, and policies
- Taking principled approaches to problem-solving
- Thinking of alternative approaches and solutions
- Writing in a clear, focused way
- Reasoning persuasively, both in writing and orally
- Offering and accepting criticism without personalizing it, and tolerating uncertainty
Given the marketability of these skills, it is perhaps no surprise that philosophy is becoming an increasingly popular area of study.
Far from being an academic luxury, philosophy should play a central part in any well balanced college or university curricula. The study of philosophy contributes distinctively and substantially to the development of students’ critical thinking. It enhances their ability to deal rationally with issues of value and ethical responsibility. It extends their understanding of interdisciplinary questions. It strengthens their grasp of our intellectual history and of our culture in relation to others. It increases their capacity to articulate and assess world views. And it improves their skills in writing and speaking.
Philosophers themselves can contribute substantially to rational decision making both on their campuses and in their communities. Because of their breadth, their analytical skills, their interdisciplinary perspective, and their training in dealing with normative questions, they can contribute cogently to resolving public policy issues;and they can offer out-of-school adults, whether in public lectures, in workshops, or in continuing education courses, a unique approach to important topics. Philosophers can also serve as consultants on a variety of problems. Philosophical reflection can be brought to bear on any subject matter whatsoever; every discipline raises questions that philosophical investigation can help clarify; and every domain of human existence confronts us with problems on which philosophical reflection can shed light. The study of philosophy can help students in all the ways this suggests, and the philosophical techniques they assimilate can help them both in their other academic work and in their general problem solving over the years. If higher education in America is to fulfill its functions, it is essential that the contributions of philosophy as a central branch of learning be fully understood.
*The Educational Testing Service reports that on GRE scores covering the three-year period ending June 30, 2006, Philosophy ranks first (of 50 fields) in both Verbal and Analytical Writing sections, and fourteenth in the Quantitative Reasoning section. If the 50 fields are ordered according to the average of their three rankings, Philosophy is first. (See the Educational Testing Service publication, 2007-2008 Guide to the Use of Scores, at http://www.ets.org/Media/Tests/GRE/pdf/994994.pdf, pp. 17-19.)