The Study of Philosophy
" The great virtue of philosophy is that it teaches not what to think, but how to think."
- "Think On," The Times, London, August 1998
What is Philosophy?
Programs and Courses
Comments by Recent Graduates
Students' friends and families sometimes advise them against studying philosophy on the ground that it has no practical applications and could have a negative impact on their economic future. Although well-meaning, such advice is misguided. This is well illustrated by the following considerations:
- The median mid-career salary of people with college degrees in philosophy is higher than the median mid-career salaries of those who majored in many other disciplines, including biology, history, business, communication, English, public relations, psychology, and sociology. For a visual presentation of how philosophy compares with a selection of other majors, see Philosophy Pays. For full data, see Majors That Pay You Back.
- An undergraduate major or minor in philosophy provides excellent preparation for professional training in fields as diverse as law, library science, management, and medicine, as well as for jobs that require critical and constructive thinking.
- Philosophy majors in general tend to register higher scores on objective tests such as the GRE (required for admission to graduate school), the LSAT (required for admission to law school), and the GMAT (required for admission to MBA programs). See GRE Chart, GRE Table, LSAT, GMAT, and Profile of GMAT Candidates.
- There is no publicly available data on the recent performance of philosophy majors on the MCAT, which is required for admission to medical school, but historical information suggests that they also tend to register higher scores on this test. The Association of American Medical Colleges is introducing a new MCAT test in 2015. This test will apply to students who enter college as freshmen in Fall 2012 or later. On the evidence of the sample questions that have been published, pre-med students who take one or more courses in philosophy will be well prepared for questions in the new test on critical analysis and reasoning skills - see questions 5-9 in Sample Questions.
- NC State degrees in philosophy provide a firm foundation for advanced study in philosophy, which can lead to employment in universities and colleges as well as in corporate, non-profit, and government organizations that require skills of research and analysis developed by philosophy.
- In today's rapidly changing world, many people will have several different kinds of jobs during their working careers, and many jobs of the future do not yet exist. Training for specific jobs in fields in which there may not be much demand after ten or twenty years may not serve a student's long-term interests as well as the transferable knowledge and skills that are developed by the study of philosophy.
Many students, regardless of their majors, can benefit from one or more courses in philosophy. It is strongly recommended that students who plan to take a course in philosophy do so as early as possible in their college careers to put themselves in a position to determine in good time whether further work in philosophy would serve their interests. The study of philosophy can be very rewarding in its own right. Philosophy also combines well with many other disciplines ranging from other humanities and social sciences to mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering.
For a useful overview of the value of a humanities degree, see "What Can I Do With A Humanities Degree?" Although this article is about the humanities in general, it includes a lot of information that is specifically about philosophy. See also the University of Southern California's web page on Why Study Philosophy?
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? A QUICK OVERVIEW FOR STUDENTS
The word “philosophy” derives from the Ancient Greek words philo sophia, which may be translated as “love of wisdom.” As this suggests, philosophy is a field of inquiry that aims to advance our understanding of ourselves and of the nature of reality, mind, knowledge and morality. It is concerned with fundamental questions about such topics, and it critically investigates what other disciplines, and other human activities, take for granted.
NC State courses in philosophy provide students with the opportunity to study the writings of major western philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, Leibniz, Hume and Kant, as well as contemporary work on philosophical issues concerning topics such as logic, language, science, identity, psychology, knowledge, value, law, ethics and justice. They are trained to interpret and evaluate such writings, and to think critically, constructively and independently about important issues such as the relationship between the mind and brain, the ethical implications of scientific advances, the justification of moral, political and legal institutions, the relationship between knowledge and reality, and the nature of the logic that structures human language and thought.
The study of philosophy helps students to develop their capacity to understand, criticize and construct arguments, to analyze and solve problems, and to elaborate their ideas and present them in a clear, coherent and well-organized form. Students who have majored in philosophy at NC State are familiar with the history of philosophy, value theory, metaphysics and the theory of knowledge, and they are able to apply philosophy and philosophical reasoning to real-world problems.
For a useful guide to philosophy that was prepared by the American Philosophical Association, see "Philosophy: A Brief Guide for Undergraduates." For an article about some of the reasons why more students are choosing to major in philosophy, see "The Life Examined" (New York Times, April 2008).
PROGRAMS AND COURSES
The NC State Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies offers the following major programs in philosophy:
- Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy
- Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with a Concentration in Ethics
- Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy with a Concentration in Philosophy of Law
- Bachelor of Science in Philosophy
- Bachelor of Science in Philosophy with a Concentration in Logic, Representation and Reasoning
See Degrees Offered.
The following minors in Philosophy and related interdisciplinary fields are also available:
For brief descriptions of the philosophy and logic courses offered at NC State, see Philosophy Courses and Logic Courses.
The Philosophy Prize in Honor of Professor Robert S. Bryan was introduced in 2010/11. The prize, which includes a cash award, is presented each Spring to the outstanding senior in Philosophy. The winners have been as follows:
- 2011: Jefferson Evans Guilford
- 2012: Daniel C. Rowe
- 2013: Kevin J. Blackwell
SOME INTERNET RESOURCES ON PHILOSOPHY
SOME COMMENTS BY RECENT NC STATE GRADUATES IN PHILOSOPHY
- "The value of studying philosophy is that it enables you to break free of the small questions of everyday affairs. Philosophy asks the difficult questions that other disciplines ignore, and although philosophers often have dissonant answers, the study of philosophy does give you an impetus to attempt to come to your own answer, or at least to understand the intricacies involved in coming to an answer.... Too many of us nowadays want to simplify everything and make life as simple as possible when, in truth, life is complex and there are no easy answers - and philosophy helps you to realize that." Saliha Baloch, BA in Philosophy, BA in History, 2004
- "I probably use my philosophy degree more than my zoology degree in the lab. While it is my science background that qualifies me for my job, it’s my philosophy background that far better benefits me, especially when dealing with the grey areas, handling problems in general, staying level-headed and maintaining a decent perspective, as well as understanding and appreciating other people’s points of view." Steve Hume, BS in Philosophy, BS in Zoology, Minor in Genetics,1997
- "My favorite aspect of the NC State philosophy faculty was their lack of pretense.... All the professors I had interacted with students as if they respected their ideas and would consider their questions and ideas as thoughtfully as they would a colleague's." Jimmy Martin, BS in Philosophy, BS in Electrical Engineering, 2004
- "Rutgers has one of the top five graduate philosophy departments in the country. My philosophy training at NC State put me on an equal footing with classmates from Princeton, Oxford and Cambridge. Working with internationally known scholars devoted to teaching undergraduates made the difference." Lee Wentz, BS in Philosophy, BS in Mathematics, 1997
- "I was a double major in physics and philosophy at NC State and am now (2007) pursuing my PhD in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a research concentration in experimental condensed matter physics. Studying philosophy helped me develop a point of view I otherwise would not have. It gave me a better understanding of the history of philosophical ideas, undoubtedly helped me develop a much stronger world view, and left me with a broader perspective that further strengthened my interest in understanding the universe as a whole. I would recommend that anyone who is looking for a career in science consider adding philosophy as a second major. Surprisingly, the two compliment each other nicely." Nathan J. Speer, BS Philosophy, BS Physics, 2002