A few months ago I recorded a podcast called “Why Philosophy”.  In it I talked about why philosophy is important.  What I didn’t talk about was why it was important from a practical standpoint or why, as a student, a degree in philosophy can be an extremely beneficial and sought after commodity.

I remember my parents asking me one night over dinner what I was going to major in.  “Philosophy,” I said.  There was silence at first so I thought that perhaps I hadn’t spoken clearly enough.  Before I could clear my throat and try again my father asked, “What will do with that?”  I was young and my love of philosophy often found me nose deep in a book.  My yhoughts about it didn’t extend too much further than that.  So I answered honestly with, “I don’t know.”  With that simple admission and shrug of the shoulders went my philosophy career.

If you’ve ever been asked the same question by a parent or a peer then you’ve come to the right place.  I have your answer and one that I wish I had given my father on that long ago night when all I was armed with was the phrase “Know thyself” to fuel my thirst for knowledge.  It continues to fuel it to this day.

Before I list the skills that a degree in philosophy will arm you with let me first provide you with a sort of mission statement.  You can use it as a preface to your position or as a means to set the stage when you blow your listener away with all of the wonderful reasons why your choice of philosophy as a major is a stellar one.

Philosophy isn’t only about asking and exploring the large questions in life.  It is also training ground to master critical thinking.  You can set a problem in front of any student of philosophy and, given the facts of the matter, that student will analyze, assess, and offer a solution in a clear and concise matter.  Simply put, the skills attained in the study of philosophy can be applied to a vast array of fields such as law, politics, and even journalism.

As a discipline, philosophy hones those skills necessary to tackle any problem.  Here is a small list of some of those skills.  I like to call them the “4 Horsemen of Philosophy”.

Critical Thinking: This is the perhaps the most important ability one will walk away with the.  The business world, and life, is fraught with problems and issues.  Solutions will present themselves from a variety of sources and they need someone who can identify those that have an ounce of validity and those that need not be considered any further.  Pet theories, even those held by the student himself (or herself), can be carefully considered and discarded if they do not fit the problem at hand.  A great decision maker is one who has the ability to assess and analyze a problem from every angle and to either create or identify the most appropriate solution.

Planning: Once a solution, or solutions, have been identified, the student can then initiate the process of planning.  How will this solution move from the identification stage to the implementation stage?  A course of action needs to be developed in order to move forward and a student trained in philosophy can take a proposed solution for any given situation and plan the best way to bring it to life.  Like a miner with a sifting pan they have discarded ideas that won’t fit the problem at hand, discovered those that might, and now they can decide how best to proceed.

Conflict Resolution: Make no mistake, there will be those who do not agree with the proposed solution.  A lawyer will face arguments from the opposition, a politician will come up against many different voices clamoring for attention, and a sommelier will be faced with expert arguments as to why one wine is better than another.  To combat this the student of philosophy will be able to take these opposing arguments or suggestions, organize them into a coherent structure, complete with premises and conclusions, and then methodically pick them apart.  Their own abilities to develop logical arguments will create an airtight defense  solid enough to discourage the opposition or to persuade them into changing their minds.

Communication: None of these skills will be effective unless the ideas, theories, and/or arguments can be communicated effectively.  The student of philosophy will have the ability to write and speak clearly, and to also summarize their position in a manner appropriate to the situation and audience.  Be it one or one, or to a group, they will be able to break down a complex idea or principle into digestible pieces without allowing the content to suffer as a result.

This sounds all well and good someone might say but can it be proven?  Your answer will be one which confidently states, “Why yes. Yes it can.”  You can explain to them that a study was conducted of 550,000 college students by collecting and comparing their scores on the LSAT, GMAT, and portions of the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), specifically the verbal and quantitative portions.   This study was conducted by the National Institute of Education and the scores were collated with data collected over the previous eighteen years.  That’s quite a lot of data to sift through and the results were revealing.  Students majoring in Philosophy outperformed every undergraduate major except math.  If you’d like to see a wonderful breakdown of how students scored on the GRE I have it here.

Philosophy is a discipline and an incredibly formidable discipline when it comes to applying the skills developed to the ‘real world’, whatever that world may be.  Be it a matrix, a product of the mind, or a collection of particles with determined paths, the student of philosophy will be able to navigate this world at the envy of others.


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