Jobs for philosophers revisited

Jerry asked:

I’m a 22 year old university student, double-majoring in philosophy and computer science, about to enter my senior year. I find my philosophy classes intellectually stimulating and enjoyable, my computer science classes somewhat difficult and tedious. Wary of the job market for philosophers, my original plan was to find work in the computer science field, but this prospect is becoming less appealing with each course. Can you offer any guidance for a would-be philosopher looking to make himself employable in the real world?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

I wrote an answer on this topic a while ago (see http://www.philosophypathways.com/questions/answers_46.html#34). That would have been before the ‘Ask a Philosopher’ WordPress site was launched, around 2011. So it’s worth looking at the question again.

You can compare this answer with the previous one. I said then, ‘There seems to me something very wrong with society. Our values are all screwed up. Materialism is rampant. But if you want to swim against the stream, be aware that it is not an easy option.’ However, let’s assume that you want a decent-sized family, not to mention a nice family car, a good standard of living, in other words a good income.

So far as employability is concerned you’d be surprised to learn that Philosophy is right up there with the wide range of jobs in computing. You’d have to make more of an effort to sell yourself to an employer, make the case why your training in Philosophy is useful to them. An ad agency, for example. Or commodities trading. Could you do it? Do you relish the challenge? All that’s required is self-belief and a modicum of chutzpah.

You’re not seriously considering an academic career, are you? Please, don’t. One of the great scandals of the academic world is the slag heap of wasted talent, Philosophy PhDs hired for a year, or two at the most, then unable to get a job because university departments are on a tight budget and either can’t commit to a longer-term post, or, more cynically, can get the pick of the latest crop of PhDs for less money.

Philosophy and computing looks like a promising combination for the AI field. Problem is, the AI people need ‘true believers’, they don’t want to hear all the reasons why their project might end in abject failure. The mentality, ‘If it walks and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck,’ prevails regardless of the fact that, in principle, a Turing Test can be beaten with a large enough look-up table or Eliza program.

Philosophy has always had a use for logic, but logic worshippers have no place in philosophy. Sad to say, the discipline is dying now because of a lack of imagination and a surfeit of ‘logic’.

I say, stick to your guns but put as much effort as you can into your computer science classes. Don’t look for an easy way out. It’s always good to have a second string!

One thought on “Jobs for philosophers revisited

  1. Possible suggestion; Go into computing. At the very least, you might find that contrary to your expectations you are applying your philosophical and analytical skills to it and getting more satisfaction from it than you expected. You might hate the entry level position but then find other areas in it more amicable to your temperament. But at least it will get you out of bed in the morning, give you an income and supply you with time to think what area you might try next to explore, hopefully with better results. From a psychological point of view try not to end up on the dole because that can be very demoralising for someone of your gifts and that’s a dark path to start treading down immediately after you graduate (not against social security in principle but it can have undesirable effects on morale, especially if it is prolonged and I speak from experience here as well as personal research.

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