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The great virtue of philosophy is that it teaches not what to think, but how to think.

"Think On," The Times, London, August 1998


The Practical Value of Philosophy

What is Philosophy?

Programs and Courses


Philosophy Prize

Internet Resources
Comments by Former Students


The Practical Value of Philosophy

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:

  • People with college degrees in philosophy have better long-term salary prospects than those with majors in many other disciplines, including biology, history, business, communication, English, public relations, psychology, and sociology. See Philosophy Pays and Salary Increase by Major.
  • An undergraduate major or minor in philosophy provides excellent preparation for professional training in fields as diverse as law, library science, management, medicine, nursing, and clinical psychology, as well as for jobs that require critical and constructive thinking - including (among others) administration, consulting, editing, journalism, public service, research, and business, institutional, nonprofit, or political leadership.
  • There are 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 recently introduced a new MCAT test. 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.
  • Students with majors in Philosophy have a better chance of getting accepted to medical school than those with other majors. See Major Anxiety.
  • 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:

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;
  • to understand views and perspectives that they do not share;
  • 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. See also The Pink Guide to Philosophy (Wellesley College)

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.


Director of Undergraduate Advising : Dr. Catherine Driscoll, Withers 434B, 919-513-7846, catherine_driscoll@ncsu.edu
Director of the Philosophy Honors Program: Dr. John Carroll, Withers 457, 919-515-6140, john_carroll@ncsu.edu
Student Services Assistant: Ms. Stephanie Wilson, Withers 340, 919-515-6100, stephanie_wilson@ncsu.edu

Are you considering one of the above programs?

  • If you are now taking a course that counts toward the program, talk to your instructor.
  • Otherwise, contact Ms. Stephanie Wilson (see above).

Philosophy Prize

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:

  • 2016: Arianna Sultana Nasser
  • 2015: Melodi T. Charles
  • 2014: Wilson Gray Maddrey
  • 2013: Kevin J.  Blackwell
  • 2012: Daniel C. Rowe
  • 2011: Jefferson Evans Guilford

Some Internet Resources on Philosophy

Comments by Former Students

  • 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
  • Philosophy provides a basis for structuring and disciplining one's thought. I began studying philosophy because philosophy majors consistently get the highest scores on the Law School Admissions Test. Philosophy proved effective in this regard: the first time I took a practice LSAT without any preparation other than a single philosophy course, I received a perfect score on the analytical reasoning section. Philosophy also helped me in law school at Boston University and in my LLM in finance law at King's College London. But the greatest impact of studying philosophy at NC State is in my daily reasoning. Philosophy has taught me how to think. It has also allowed me to distinguish myself in legal arguments. It has been essential to my personal development and my success. Combining philosophy with study in a practical field provided perfect preparation for my career.
    John Gonzalez, BA in Philosophy, BA in Spanish Language and Literature, 2009
  • In pursuing my philosophy degree at NC State, I was asked over and over (and over) again: What can you even do with a degree in philosophy?? My answer then, and my answer now, is that it prepares me to live my best life - socially, privately, morally, professionally. I have personally found the knowledge I gained at State to be rewarding in all aspects of life; it didn’t simply sate a personal appetite for knowledge, it equipped me to perceive situations from a critical, engaged perspective. My ethics concentration gave me the skills to solidify my personal values, and then motivated me to adhere to them. I also make good use of my philosophy degree in my job as an Executive Assistant at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. The capacity to think critically about, well, everything, is the single most valuable tool I have, and for me, philosophy provides that foundation.
    Ashley Pridgen, BA in Philosophy with a Concentration in Ethics, Minor in Anthropology, 2013
  • 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
  • While working toward a physics degree, before my senior year began I decided to add a second major in philosophy, having always loved the subject. I took courses on symbolic logic and advanced metamathematics that were highly technical and very complementary to math and computer science courses. Courses on philosophy of science, cognitive science and philosophy of mind, and a very interesting class on the metaphysics of time travel provided a fascinating foil to my physics classes. Courses on ancient, medieval and modern Western philosophy can help science students to historically contextualize and understand their chosen discipline within the broader scope of natural philosophy. For centuries, philosophy was a major component of the education of students at every university. Unfortunately that is no longer the case, but philosophy still trains one how to think critically, deeply, and carefully, which are priceless skills. It’s the ‘Ph’ in ‘PhD’! I strongly encourage students of all walks to consider adding philosophy as a second major.
    Jack Rory Staunton, BS in Philosophy with a Concentration in Logic, Representation and Reasoning, BS in Physics, Minor in Mathematics, 2009
  • I started my degree in philosophy at New York University. I was hesitant to finish at NC State, which is not known for the humanities, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a department full of dedicated and intelligent, overwhelmingly supportive and incredibly passionate philosophers. The philosophy classes I took at NC State opened my eyes, challenged me, and changed my life in ways I will be thankful for forever. There is a diversity in viewpoint and method among the many talented professors; taking multiple philosophy courses required a flexibility in thinking that has served me well in my day-to-day life. I came to NC State just hoping to finish my degree - what I discovered was a faculty that understood my passion for learning and encouraged me to grow, and what I left with was an understanding of critical thinking that has made me almost impossible to fool. In truth, I think every person would improve their life by taking as many philosophy courses as possible - especially the philosophy courses offered at NC State.
    Madison Behar, BA in Philosophy, Minor in Linguistics, Minor in Italian Studies, 2013
  • My undergraduate work in philosophy continues to play an integral part in my professional life. The reasoning and problem solving skills I developed in the NC State philosophy program have always complimented my work in mathematics and these skills still influence my artistic work. In addition to pursuing a PhD in mathematics, I’m currently the artistic director and choreographer of a modern dance company. The dances I create all have philosophical influences, and employ logical reasoning and critical thinking skills in their design. Philosophy classes teach you how to ask the right questions, and effectively analyze the solutions set forth by yourself and others; which is a powerful tool no matter what field you are in.
    Ashley Walls White, BS in Philosophy with a Concentration in Logic, Representation and Reasoning, BS in Mathematics, 2011
  • I'm currently in my second year of graduate school in philosophy at the University of Michigan (one of the best departments in the world). My studies in philosophy and physics at NC State prepared me well for graduate work and made me a competitive applicant, among applicants from all over the world with strong backgrounds; many of the other graduate students here studied at very prestigious universities, and several already had master’s degrees from elsewhere before applying. NC State’s philosophy program has several unique strengths. One is a focus on undergraduate education - because NC State has no graduate program in philosophy, you are not vying with graduate students for the time or attention of professors; I found it easy to continue discussions with professors in office hours, get detailed and personalized feedback on papers (which, at many other large universities, would be graded by a graduate student), etc. Another is that it makes it painless to double-major, whether your other discipline is in the sciences or humanities, by offering a variety of BS and BA degrees.
    Kevin Blackwell, BS in Philosophy, BS in Physics, 2013
  • 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
  • We are sense-making beings in what might be a nonsensical world. Studying philosophy at NC State has fostered in me the confidence and the skills one requires to face head-on the philosophical problems that pervade human life; and for that I shall be richer.
    Gray Maddrey, BS in Philosophy, 2014