Edward Tenner has an article in the Atlantic, where he suggests Philosophy might be the most practical major. He wrote:
One of the many small surprises of the recession has been a significant growth in the number of philosophy majors, according the the Philadelphia Inquirer. It has slightly exceeded the growth of enrollments in the last ten years; many other humanities and social science fields have just kept up. At the University of California at Berkeley, despite or because of the state’s economic turmoil, the number of majors has increased by 74 percent in the last decade.
What makes philosophy different? It can seem self-absorbed; philosophers themselves joke about Arthur Koestler’s definition: “the systematic abuse of a terminology specially invented for that purpose.” But it also is a tool (like history and religious studies) for thinking about everything else, and every profession from law and medicine to motorcycle maintenance…
Having a Philosophy degree, I’ve thought about this often. Here’s my opinion:
The statistics aren’t that strong. A high percentage increase in a department notoriously small doesn’t indicate a significant trend. Philosophy departments are among the smallest major programs in many universities and schools.
Even so, calling a degree ‘practical’ when if offers little value for being hired for most jobs is a mistake. A degree in computer science, or a vocational degree in car mechanics, have direct practical value in applying for specific kinds of jobs. Philosophy as a degree offers as little value towards a specific career as an English degree does. Sure, this is only one kind of practicality, but to omit it at a time when America has near 10% unemployment is an important oversight.
Lastly, hand picking Soros, Ican and Thiel, and offering their exceptional wealth as being connected, or caused by, their Philosophy degrees is a very weak claim based on an exceptional sample. We could find 3 people of exceptional wealth with any degree, not to mention having no degree at all.
I do agree that knowledge of philosophy is important for anyone that wishes to understand and interact successfully with people in the world. But I am not convinced that the best way to achieve that knowledge is in a philosophy department in a university, where its common for most professors to interact with the rest of the world as little as possible, in favor of obsessive study of esoteric details of particular theories.
Elitism is rank in academic philosophy and its a poison pill against the love of wisdom. You can read a great deal of philosophy books, and have rote mastery of who wrote what, and what ideas lead to what other ideas, and still have absolutely no wisdom at all. And sadly, many philosophy departments are staffed by figures like this, and who wish to train students to follow in their footsteps under the banner of ‘Philosophy’. Socrates is surely turning in his grave.
What do you think? How does Philosophy compare to other majors for its practical value?