Value of Philosophy:
of what is learned in philosophy can be applied in virtually any
endeavor. This is both because philosophy touches on so many subjects
and, especially, because many of its methods are usable in any
Problem Solving. The study of philosophy enhances, in
a way no other activity does, one's problem-solving capacities.
It helps one to analyze concepts, definitions, arguments and problems.
It contributes to one's capacity to organize ideas and issues,
to deal with questions of value, and to extract what is essential
from masses of information. It helps one both to distinguish fine
differences between views and to discover common ground between
opposing positions. And it helps one to synthesize a variety of
views or perspectives into a unified whole.
Skills. Philosophy also contributes uniquely to the development
of expressive and communicative powers. It provides some of the
basic tools of self-expression----for instance, skills in presenting
ideas through well-constructed, systematic arguments----that other
fields either do not use, or use less extensively. It helps one
to express what is distinctive of one's view; enhances one's ability
to explain difficult material; and helps one to eliminate ambiguities
and vagueness from one's writing and speech.
Powers. Philosophy provides training in the construction
of clear formulations, good arguments, and apt examples. It thereby
helps one develop the ability to be convincing. One learns to
build and defend one's own views, to appreciate competing positions,
and to indicate forcefully why one considers one's own views preferable
to alternatives. These capacities can be developed not only through
reading and writing in philosophy, but also through the philosophical
dialogue, in and outside the classroom, that is so much
a part of a thoroughgoing philosophical education.
Skills. Writing is taught intensively in many philosophy
courses, and many regularly assigned philosophical texts are unexcelled
as literary essays. Philosophy teaches interpretive writing through
its examination of challenging texts, comparative writing through
emphasis on fairness to alternative positions, argumentative writing
through developing students' ability to establish their own views,
and descriptive writing through detailed portrayal of concrete
examples: the anchors to which generalizations must be tied. Striker
and technique, then, are emphasized in philosophical writing.
Originality is also encouraged, and students are generally urged
to use their imagination and develop their own ideas.
Uses of Philosophy in Educational Pursuits
general uses of philosophy just described are obviously of great
academic value. It should be clear that the study of philosophy
has intrinsic rewards as an unlimited quest for understanding
of important, challenging problems. But philosophy has further
uses in deepening an education, both in college and in the many
activities, professional and personal, that follow graduation.
Other Disciplines. Philosophy is indispensable for this.
Many important questions about a discipline, such as
the nature of its concepts and its relation to other disciplines,
do not belong to that discipline, are not usually pursued
in it, and are philosophical in nature. Philosophy of science,
for instance, is needed to supplement the understanding of the
natural and social sciences which one derives from scientific
work itself. Philosophy of literature and philosophy of history
are of similar value in understanding the humanities, and philosophy
of art is important in understanding the arts. Philosophy is,
moreover, essential in assessing the various standards of evidence
used by other disciplines. Since all fields of knowledge employ
reasoning and must set standards of evidence, logic and epistemology
have a general bearing on all these fields.
of Sound Methods of Research and Analysis. Still another
value of philosophy in education is its contribution to one's
capacity to frame hypotheses, do research, and put problems into
manageable form. Philosophical thinking strongly emphasizes clear
formulation of ideas and problems, selection of relevant data,
and objective methods for assessing ideas and proposals. It also
emphasizes development of a sense of the new directions suggested
by the hypotheses and questions one encounters in doing research.
Philosophers regularly build on both the successes and failures
of their predecessors. A person with philosophical training can
readily learn to do the same in any field.
Uses of Philosophy in Non-Academic Careers
should be stressed immediately that the non-academic value of
a field of study must not be viewed mainly in terms of its contribution
to obtaining one's first job after graduation. Students are understandably
preoccupied with getting their first job, but even from a narrow
vocational point of view it would be short-sighted to concentrate
on that at the expense of developing potential for success and
advancement once hired. What gets graduates initially hired may
not yield promotions or carry them beyond their first position,
particularly given how fast the needs of many employers alter
with changes in social and economic patterns. It is therefore
crucial to see beyond what a job description specifically calls
for. Philosophy need not be mentioned among a job's requirements
in order for the benefits derivable from philosophical study to
by the employer, and those benefits need not even be explicitly
appreciated in order to be effective in helping one advance.
should also be emphasized here that----as recent studies show----employers
want, and reward, many of the capacities which the study of philosophy
develops: for instance, the ability to solve problems, to communicate,
to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons, and to
boil down complex data. These capacities represent transferable
skills. They are transferable not only from philosophy to
non-philosophy areas, but from one non-philosophical field to
another. For that reason, people trained in philosophy are not
only prepared to do many kinds of tasks; they can also cope with
change, or even move into new careers, more readily than others.
current trends in business, a writer in the New York Times
reported that "businessmen are coming to appreciate an education
that at its best produces graduates who can write and think clearly
and solve problems" (June 23, 1981). A recent long-term study
by the Bell Telephone Company, moreover, determined that majors
in liberal arts fields, in which philosophy is a central discipline,
"continue to make a strong showing in managerial skills and have
experienced considerable business success" (Career Patterns,
by Robert E. Beck). The study concluded that "there is no need
for liberal arts majors to lack confidence in approaching business
careers". A related point is made by a Senior Vice President of
the American Can Company:
with any academic background are prepared for business when they
can educate themselves and can continue to grow without their
teachers, when they have mastered techniques of scholarship and
discipline, and when they are challenged to be all they can be.
(Wall Street Journal, February 2, 1981.)
all this suggests, there are people trained in philosophy in just
about every field. They have gone not only into such professions
as teaching (at all levels), medicine, and law, but into computer
science, management, publishing, sales, criminal justice, public
relations, and other fields. Some professionally trained philosophers
are also on legislative staffs, and the work of some of them,
for a senior congressman, prompted him to say:
seems to me that philosophers have acquired skills which are very
valuable to a member of Congress. The ability to analyze a problem
carefully and consider it from many points of view is one. Another
is the ability to communicate ideas clearly in a logically compelling
form. A third is the ability to handle the many different kinds
of problems which occupy the congressional agenda at any time.
(Lee H. Hamilton, 9th District, Indiana, March 25, 1982.)
emphasizing the long-range benefits of training in philosophy,
whether through a major or through only a sample of courses in
the field, there are a least two further points to note. The first
concerns the value of philosophy for vocational training. The
second applies to the whole of life.
philosophy can yield immediate benefits for students planning
postgraduate work. As law, medical, business, and other professional
school faculty and admissions personnel have often said, philosophy
is excellent preparation for the training and later careers of
the professionals in question. In preparing to enter such fields
as computer science, management, or public administration, which,
like medicine, have special requirements for post-graduate study,
a student may of course major (or minor) both in philosophy and
some other field.
second point here is that the long-range value of philosophical
study goes far beyond its contribution to one's livelihood. Philosophy
broadens the range of things one can understand and enjoy. It
can give one self-knowledge, foresight, and a sense of direction
in life. It can provide, to one's reading and conversation, special
pleasures of insight. It can lead to self-discovery, expansion
of consciousness, and self-renewal. Through all of this, and through
its contribution to one's expressive powers, it nurtures individuality
and self-esteem. Its value for one's private life can be incalculable;
its benefits for one's public life as a citizen can be immeasurable.
is the systematic study of ideas and issues, a reasoned pursuit
of fundamental truths, a quest for a comprehensive understanding
of the world, a study of principles of conduct, and much more.
Every domain of human experience raises questions to which its
techniques and theories apply, and its methods may be used in
the study of any subject or the pursuit of any vocation. Indeed,
philosophy is in a sense inescapable: life confronts every thoughtful
person with some philosophical questions, and nearly everyone
is guided by philosophical assumptions, even if unconsciously.
One need not be unprepared. To a large extent one can choose how
reflective one will be in clarifying and developing one's philosophical
assumptions, and how well prepared one is for the philosophical
questions life presents. Philosophical training enhances our problem-solving
capacities, our abilities to understand and express ideas, and
our persuasive powers. It also develops understanding and enjoyment
of things whose absence impoverishes many lives: such things as
aesthetic experience, communication with many different kinds
of people, lively discussion of current issues, the discerning
observation of human behavior, and intellectual zest. In these
and other ways the study of philosophy contributes immeasurably
in both academic and other pursuits.
problem-solving, analytical, judgmental, and synthesizing capacities
philosophy develops are unrestricted in their scope and unlimited
in their usefulness. This makes philosophy especially good preparation
for positions of leadership, responsibility, or management. A
major or minor in philosophy can easily be integrated with requirements
for nearly any entry-level job; but philosophical training, particularly
in its development of many transferable skills, is especially
significant for its long-term benefits in career advancement.
leadership, and the capacity to resolve human conflicts cannot
be guaranteed by any course of study; but philosophy has traditionally
pursued these ideals systematically, and its methods, its literature,
and its ideas are of constant use in the quest to realize them.
Sound reasoning, critical thinking, well constructed prose, maturity
of judgement, a strong sense of relevance, and an enlightened
consciousness are never obsolete, nor are they subject to the
fluctuating demands of the market-place. The study of philosophy
is the most direct route, and in many cases the only route, to
the full development of these qualities.
by the American Philosophical
Association's Committee on the Status and Future of the Profession
(Jaegwon Kim, Chair, 1976--1981; Robert Sleigh, Chair, 1981--1986),
and Committee on Career Opportunities (Robert Audi, Chair, 1980--1985).
Principal Author is Robert Audi.