Why Study Philosophy

Philosophy is the study of fundamental questions about the nature of reality, knowledge, and value. These are questions that everyone asks:

  • What am I?
  • Do I have free will?
  • How can we distinguish good from bad or right from wrong?
  • Can we be sure that any of our beliefs are true?

Philosophers examine answers to these questions systematically and critically.  Philosophers enter into dialogue with traditions of wisdom on these questions, challenging and deepening understanding of beliefs we often take for granted.

Philosophy is also very effective in developing the student's ability to reason clearly, to distinguish good from bad arguments, to navigate through a complicated maze of questions, and to use intelligence and logic in situations often ruled by emotions. Students who have taken a large number of philosophy courses excel in entrance exams to graduate and professional schools. The thinking skills you will develop in your philosophy classes will give you the kind of analytic ability sought by employers in many professions.

8 things you might not know about Philosophy

  1. CMU’s Philosophy program offers small classes for a superior educational experience.
  2. CMU’s Philosophy faculty are outstanding teachers and scholars; many have won awards for their teaching or research.
  3. Philosophy builds practical critical thinking skills that employers seek, such as: logical decision-making; clear, persuasive writing; the habit of questioning assumptions; and the ability to understand complicated texts. Unlike vocational majors that pigeonhole you into one career path, training in philosophy builds skills applicable to any career.
  4. A second major or minor in Philosophy can add value to any other field of study. The PHL major only requires 33 credit hours (11 courses), and the minor only requires 20 credit hours (7 courses). (The majority of CMU PHL majors are double majors.)
  5. Nationwide, philosophy majors do well in the workforce. According to a report by Payscale.com, the average mid-career worker with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy earns more than workers with bachelor’s degrees in psychology, marketing, general business, and accounting, and almost as much as those mid-career workers with bachelors degrees in computer technology and international business.
  6. CMU alumni with philosophy majors and minors are working in such fields as business, law, government, journalism and media, education, public service, and the non-profit sector.
  7. As a group, philosophy majors are among the top performers on the GRE, LSAT, and even the GMAT.
  8. CMU’s Philosophy program sponsors a registered student organization called “The Student Philosophers.” This RSO is completely run by and for CMU students interested in philosophy.

Benefits of studying Philosophy

Contrary to the stereotype of philosophy as an impractical discipline, the skills and techniques that philosophy teaches are extremely useful. The same skills and techniques used to address philosophical questions and solve philosophical problems can also be used to answer practical questions and solve real-world problems.

Studying philosophy improves the student’s ability to think clearly, carefully, and logically about a wide variety of topics. It helps to develop the student’s ability to assimilate and assess new and unfamiliar ideas and information. It teaches sound reasoning methods and problem-solving strategies that work in all sorts of contexts, including new and unfamiliar ones.

Philosophy also teaches students to think creatively and to question conventional wisdom. It encourages students both to seek new and better answers to old problems and to consider how existing techniques might be adapted to solve new problems. Philosophy is the ultimate training for “thinking outside the box.” The following charts illustrate these claims by showing how students majoring in Philosophy compare to those majoring in other fields on the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections of the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

What can I do with a Philosophy degree?

Like other liberal arts degrees, a philosophy degree does not involve training for a specific job; instead, it involves the acquisition of sophisticated critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills that will be useful for whatever career one chooses. These skills are in high demand in today’s society, where success very often depends on one’s ability to think carefully about changing conditions, to solve new problems, and to communicate effectively and persuasively.

Graduate/professional/law school

Graduate Study in Philosophy: Obviously, a degree in philosophy can enable you to go to graduate school in philosophy. Our philosophy advising guide provides detailed guidance on preparing for and choosing philosophy graduate programs.

Graduate School: Many philosophy majors think of philosophy as their second major and choose to go to graduate school in the discipline of their other major. Such students will find that the “second” major in philosophy has helped them develop critical thinking, analytic, and communication skills that will serve them extremely well in graduate programs in almost any discipline.

Law School: A degree in philosophy is one of the very best majors for preparing for law school. In fact, philosophy majors, as a group, do very well on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), as this table illustrates. In addition, studying philosophy will provide you with the skills that are necessary for success in law school, and in the legal profession itself.

Business School/MBA: When supplemented with other coursework, the study of philosophy can also enhance your ability to get into an MBA program. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, Philosophy majors had the third-highest average score on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Of course, if you are considering business school, you will need to do significant coursework in business, as well.

Medical School: The study of philosophy can also enhance your ability to get in medical school. The Association of American Medical Colleges, who administer the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) do not keep data for individual majors. But they do keep data for broad categories of majors, and humanities majors (which includes philosophy majors) do quite well. And again, if you are considering medical school, you will also need to do significant coursework in the life sciences.

Many career options

Philosophy majors who do not wish to attend graduate, professional, or law school still have a wide variety of career options. In general, serious training in philosophy should improve your long-term success at whatever career you choose. This is because the skills and habits of mind that your philosophy education develops are essential to long-term success in almost any endeavor or career.

Our philosophy advising guide provides some guidance for imagining these future careers and preparing yourself during your time as an undergraduate.