The usefulness of philosophy

Prof Huenemann presented today on “What is philosophy and why is it useful”.  He sought, wisely I think, to underplay the instrumental value of philosophy and instead to focus on its intrinsic value.  But for other reasons I had been getting data on its instrumental value and I thought it would be worth sharing.  Here is my philosophy “brag” (suitable for use with university administrators, state and federal legislators, and skeptical parents:

Philosophy students get the most portable job skill of all – they learn how to think (analytically and critically) and learn how to communicate.  Very few disciplines are as effective in teaching these skills as is philosophy.  For evidence we can look to a host of graduate entrance exam scores that test verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and writing skills.

LSAT: From the set of majors that most commonly take the LSAT, philosophy majors have the highest scores.  Of all majors that take the LSAT, philosophers score higher than every other discipline other than physics.
GMAC: On the most common test for MBA programs, philosophy majors score higher than every business major (scoring on average 10% better than the average of business majors).  Overall, philosophy students are 5th highest among all disciplines, behind only physics, math, engineering, computer science.
– GRE analytical writing:  Philosophy has the highest scores of any major.
– GRE verbal reasoning:  Philosophy has the highest scores of any major.
– GRE quantitative reasoning: Philosophy has the highest scores in the humanities, and score better than a number of non-humanities disciplines including agricultural science, natural resources, all education majors, and all social sciences except economics.
MCAT scores are not broken down by major officially by the AAMC but instead are broken down by broad major areas.  Humanities students score second highest overall, behind only math and statistics and ahead of physical sciences, biological sciences, and social sciences.

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

6 thoughts on “The usefulness of philosophy”

  1. Dr. Kleiner, I liked your comment today about Socrates having taught the most ‘practical’ things. It would be unfortunate to miss for Plato’s metaphysics the lessons on basic success (to play along with the utilitarian game) embedded in the dialogues. Parents and administrators do well to encourage students to choose philosophy. I’m not disappointed with regard to finding a job after college.

    We enter American universities barraged by the marketing artillery of a hundred ‘majors’. But most of us will have a few careers. Obviously employers who have their eyes on revenue must be attentive to someone’s capacity to learn and communicate more than skills on paper. (Anyone who thinks otherwise is probably out of business.) A valuable employee is one who can rise in the ranks and improvise with new responsibilities and unheard-of tasks, especially in the age of technology.

    Now, business programs inundate their brochures with identical language (from the website, “…ethical leadership, global vision, and analytical rigor…” etc.) But these are qualities actually learned and perfected best in the Socratic approach to philosophy – in the classroom dealing with profound abstractions while weeding out bad comments, poor thinking, and dirty fallacies. The metaphysical topic doesn’t matter nearly so much as the personalities of those involved, which become more and more “employable” thanks to the criticism of the professor.

    So what if philosophy deals in tackling problems of outrageous abstraction? That’s not the only goal. Plato’s arena is a playing-ground for public thinking, and so a proving-ground for ethical leadership. (Since, contra Huenemann, who’s clearly WRONG, knowledge is virtue!)

    Narrow techniques remain narrow through life; learning, listening and desiring the good are universal, affecting all particular actions. So the dialogues are processes by which messy undergraduates become employable in the material world, which is always shifting and changing. If that’s too cute, consider that anyone would rather hire a good listener than a well-qualified windbag puffed up on go-to terms.

    I can’t imagine getting better “employability” and “global vision” and “analytical rigor” et al. from another major.


  2. How could I know!

    In some Nietzschean context we were discussing that criminals often know what’s good but continue to choose to do evil. So Socrates is wrong that knowledge is virtue.

    But can a criminal, who knows that the Universe is organized in such a way that his transgressions damage him more than his targets, rationally choose to do evil for his own benefit? I don’t think so. It’s bad math!

    If the rational part of his soul were in charge, it would never allow him to make the choice…


  3. I agree that philosophy is useful in the sense that you’ve outlined in the original post, but it doesn’t justify the actual philosophizing. I’m not majoring in philosophy so I think it can be argued that I won’t be getting the same skills that people who immerse themselves in philosophy will be getting; I do (or read) philosophy because the subject matter interests me.


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