I am a high school senior who is considering a major in philosophy in college. Everyone is telling me that this would be a horrible mistake, that I’ll never get a job, that I’ll end up flipping burgers, etc. I would like to know what I should tell people when they ask me what I’m going to do with my degree. What have other philosophy majors gone on to do with their lives?
Answer by Helier Robinson
Quite a few organisations seek employees with college degrees because they want people with the qualities that these degrees prove: intelligence, hard work, independent thinking, and the like. And philosophy degrees count in this. That said, the only work in philosophy is teaching, usually in a university, and getting that is a dodgy business: years of study to a PhD, and no guarantee of a job at the end. However another way of looking at this is that the study of philosophy is a luxury that few people get to enjoy, and if you can afford the luxury, in time and money, go for it. If you find that you are mistaken, you can switch to another subject; or else you can finish up with a fascinating education. I might add that there is an urban legend about people with PhD’s in philosophy driving taxis; if true, all I can say is that if you are going to finish up driving a taxi, then doing it with a PhD is much better that doing it without.
Answer by Geoffrey Klempner
It’s funny you should give the example of making burgers, because I remember eating the most wonderful quarter pounder burger with aioli dressing at a local takeaway in Oxford back in 1979, after seeing Christopher Pettit’s film ‘Radio On’ at the Phoenix, Walton Street. Two unforgettable experiences. The proprietor, so I’d been told, had a doctorate in Philosophy. Of course there were a lot of PhDs about in Oxford, and not nearly enough jobs to go round. (Nothing’s changed.) I liked to think that the extra finesse this particular Doctor of Philosophy put into his burger recipes showed a greater intelligence than the average burger flipper, so the philosophical studies were not altogether in vain.