The Uses of Philosophy in Non-Academic Careers

[Excerpts from  Philosophy: a Brief Guide for Undergraduates , The American Philosophical Association,   Robert Audi, Principle Author]

It 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 be appreciated by the employer and those benefits need not even be explicitly appreciated in order to be effective in helping one advance.

It 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-philosophical 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 many others. . . .

As 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:

It 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.)

In 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 at least two further points to note. The first concerns the value of philosophy for vocational training. The second applies to the whole of life.

First, philosophy can yield immediate benefits for students planning post-graduate 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.

The 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 ones private life can be incalculable; its benefits in one 's public life as a citizen can be immeasurable. . . .

CONCLUSION

Philosophy 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 existence 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 often 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.

The 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

Wisdom, 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 judgment, a strong sense of relevance and an enlightened consciousness are never obsolete, nor are they subject to the fluctuating demands of the marketplace. The study of philosophy is the most direct route, and in many cases, the only route to the full development of these qualities.