Why major in Philosophy?

The best reason to study philosophy is because you love philosophical questions. Does God exist? Do humans have freedom, or are they mere cogs in a big machine? Is the mind or soul anything above and beyond the brain? Why should I be interested in the welfare of others? What do we need to consider when we try to act with fairness?

These are important questions, and philosophers try to get them in perspective. Most philosophers are convinced that it is important to grapple with them — even if there may be little hope of getting a final answer!

But there are also other benefits from studying philosophy. If you train your mind to think through these hard issues, you will be in excellent shape to think through other problems. Philosophy is like weight lifting for the mind: it gets you in condition for other kinds of challenges. Many philosophy majors go on to careers in law, business, politics, computer science, and medicine. It is a degree that prepares you to go out and learn just about anything. And in an age when most people will go through three or more career changes, that is a good preparation to have.

Philosophy majors also do extremely well on standard tests like the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT. One should be careful about interpreting this: the high scores probably mostly reflect that many people who do well on those kinds of tests are also interested in philosophy’s abstract questions, and so major in philosophy. But also studying philosophy doesn’t hurt!

Anyway, here’s a chart from 2015 displaying composite GRE scores (verbal + quantitative + analytic), sorted by major (from The Daily Nous, which provides further illuminating information):

Philosophy majors are in 4th place on the GMAT (basically, the test for MBA programs), behind Physics, Math, and Engineering. They are tied for 1st place with Economics majors on the LSAT (for law school).

Philosophy at Utah State University

The Philosophy program at USU answers our students’ interests in philosophy both in the classroom and out of it. Our Philosophy Club hosts events throughout the year, from lectures and films to reading groups and debates. Our Philosophy honor society, Phi Sigma Tau, is a member of the Association of College Honor societies.

Our majors have gone on to graduate study in Philosophy or law school at a range of excellent universities, including Berkeley, BYU, Duke, Harvard, Indiana University, University of Kansas, University of Michigan, Northern Illinois, University of Pittsburgh, Purdue, Texas A & M, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, the University of Utah, the University of Texas, and Yale.

Recent USU Philosophy graduates have gone on to (indicates year of graduation):

  • Fully funded Ph.D. program in Philosophy at Colorado State University (2017)
  • Fully funded Ph.D. Program in Classics and Philosophy at University of Michigan (2016)
  • Fully funded Ph.D. Program in History at Temple University (2016)
  • Fully funded Ph.D. program in Philosophy at the University of Kansas (2016)

7 thoughts on “Why major in Philosophy?”

  1. Are test scores really a good reason to major in philosophy? Seeing such charts used to answer this question leads me to ask if philosophy actually teaches critical thinking.


    1. You’re right: no one should major in philosophy just because they hope to do well on standardized tests! And, as our post says, it’s not clear that phil majors do well on those tests *because* they are phil majors. These charts only show that, by a couple of arbitrary measures, phil majors are widely recognized for their grad-school or law-school readiness.


      1. Does this mean that one should consider the major if they want to have the *appearance* of preparedness (for further education)?


  2. No, of course not. As we say, the best reason to study philosophy is because you love it. There are side benefits as well (training of the mind, etc), but none of them is sufficient to be a good reason to study philosophy.


  3. It is easy to defend the study of philosophy in general. What is a defense for taking a major in philosophy?


    1. Philosophy is a deep and broad journey. We all do it. Most do not do it well. One can read the works of philosophers and those thinkers will become guides through the subject. One might be able to discuss those ideas with others, but many will not be interested or have time. It can become lonely on this life-altering journey of philosophy. Choosing to major in philosophy means that for a few years you will have some companionship through the confusion and awe, and teachers who will help you get unstuck (or stuck) from ideas and will help based on years of experience they accumulated while preparing to teach the subject. Defending the study of philosophy is as easy as the expression of your own interest. Defending the MAJOR means recognizing the value of companionship as one gets into those life changing ideas. Some ideas are so big or strange that they can lead to despair or a sense of meaninglessness. One might give up philosophy or fall into depression. One might simply become confused and discouraged and then abandon what could have been life-changing in a good way. The benefit of companionship for the duration of a college degree can make all the difference in making your studies successful and fulfilling. It could very well improve the quality of your study for the rest of your life.


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