Why Study Philosophy

What is philosophy? The philosopher Bernard Williams recently characterized philosophy as concerned with "understanding who we are, what our concepts are, what we are up to" – in other words, with coming to terms with the ways we think and live and with thinking about the possibility of alternatives ways of coping. In any case, to study philosophy is to grapple with questions that have occupied humankind for millennia, in conversation with some of the greatest thinkers who have ever lived: What is the meaning of life? What is truth? Why be moral, and how is morality related to law? What are the sources and limits of human knowledge? How do we differentiate between appearance and reality? Does God exist? What is the origin of evil? Do we have freedom of the will? What is the proper scope of governmental authority? What is scientific explanation and why does it work?

Whether they take just a course or two or end up majoring in philosophy, students often find their time studying philosophy to be among the most rewarding intellectual experiences of their college careers. So certainly a good reason to study philosophy is to find intrinsic value in reflection and contemplation.

Nevertheless, many undergraduates who are otherwise drawn to philosophy worry that a philosophy degree is a path to unemployment. In fact, the skills acquired studying philosophy are highly marketable, especially in a volatile and rapidly changing economic climate. Many specialized skills eventually become obsolete, and in any case most people end up changing careers several times over the course of their lives. What skills does studying philosophy develop?

  • the ability to think and write clearly;
  • the ability to bring to light unnoticed presuppositions;
  • the ability to explain complex ideas clearly;
  • the ability to see issues in a broader context;
  • the willingness to challenge orthodoxy. 

These will always be in demand! Philosophy contributes to skills that you can apply to any line of work.

The question to ask yourself is not, "What can I do with a philosophy degree?" but rather, "What can't I do with one?"

Department of Philosophy
318 Old Main
Ed Minar, Chair (eminar@uark.edu)