Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with a major in philosophy?

While it is true that people often laugh at the idea of majoring in philosophy, and may even ask, "What on earth are you going to do with that?!" you have to understand that their question is probably sincere, and they may in fact be somewhat awestruck, even if they wouldn't admit it. Most people do have a grudging, perhaps even jealous, admiration for those who choose to do something that does not immediately seem "practical." Their asking you this question is their way of trying to figure out whether it is true that a person can pursue what genuinely interests them and actually find their way to a meaningful life. It turns out that philosophy is a great way to do this.

So, the short answer is: when you study philosophy, you enter a new way of thinking about yourself and the world that equips you to move beyond "making a living" and into "constructing to yourself a meaningful life." Because everyone is different, there is no one clear, concrete answer to "what can a person do with a major in philosophy?" There are as many different answers as there are philosophy majors.

You can, of course, say enigmatic things like this and that might impress (or at least appease -- or, more likely, amuse) some people, but most are looking for something more pragmatic, and so here are some pragmatic thoughts.

* First of all, it turns out that many employers like to hire philosophy majors, because philosophy majors have a reputation for being clear thinkers and good writers. They also have a reputation for being flexible and creative thinkers. Many employers like these qualities. (If your potential employer does not like these qualities, and would prefer, say, unthinking obedience, truthfully would you really want to work for that employer?)

* Some philosophy majors actually go on to a career of academic philosophy. Your professors are living, breathing exampes of this sometimes successful and highly rewarding career path.

* Many philosophy majors go to Law School. The reasoning skills learned in the study of philosophy transfer very well to the study of law. The study of law does lead to a variety of interesting careers and career paths.

* Writing careers are another popular option for philosophy majors. The reading that philosophers do ranges from tightly-constructed logical arguments, to dense and cryptic writing translated from various obscure and untranslatable languages, to engagingly-written witty novels. The writing that philosophy students have to do is to distill out of all of this gems of clearly-expressed insight. When you have learned to do this kind of writing, all other kinds of writing seem easy by comparison.

* Various kinds of applied ethics fields are excellent and interesting possibilities for those who have studied philosophy: some examples include business ethics and biomedical ethics. Yes, this means that some businesses and some hospitals or medical research institutes actually employ professional ethicists.

* Because of the training in logic, some philosophy majors go on to work in computer science or artificial intelligence fields.

* Because the study of philosophy often nurtures and strengthens idealism, and, believe it or not, then grounds it in realism, many philosophy majors work for various nonprofit organizations.

* Because the study of philosophy cultivates flexibility of thought, many philosophy majors are attracted to study abroad, in order to experience for themselves how different systems of thought lead to different ways of life in cultures around the world. Some of these philosophy majors then also find careers that give them opportunities to live and work in other parts of the world.

* And of course don't neglect the possibility of joining the Unemployed Philosophers Guild.

* Here are additional suggestions

This is just a sampling of the diverse options available to those who have studied philosophy. Many philosophy majors are double-majors, which opens up even more possibilities.

Where do the philosophy students hang out?

Unfortunately, there is no student lounge for philosophy students, although we would like to find a way to create one! Meanwhile, philosophy students are often found somewhere in Piskor, where the philosophy department is housed.

Are there combined majors that include philosophy?

There is an Environmental Studies/Philosophy combined major, and there will soon be an Asian Studies/Philosophy Combined Major.

If you are interested in creatively combining philosophy with other disciplines, you might want to consider designing your own major by choosing the Multifield Major option. Here is more detailed information. A recent example: a student created a major she called "Human Epistemology" that combined sociological, psychological, and philosophical perspectives on human knowledge. And there are many more creative possibilities!

If I wanted to double-major, which majors complement philosophy well?

All of them.