Philosophy & Religious Studies Department

Why Study Philosophy?

“It is -- I take it -- a distinguishing character of philosophy that it is everybody’s business.”-- Clarence Irving Lewis

What is Philosophy?

The term “philosophy” literally means “love of wisdom.” It comes from the Greek words philos (love) and sophia (theoretical wisdom). In one sense, anyone who is trying to make sense of the world, wishes to understand it, and is undertaking activity aimed at expanding her or his understanding of the world is a philosopher. Philosophy permeates all the disciplines of study. So, in a sense, philosophy is everywhere.

As a distinctive field of study, however, philosophy works at a level of generality not often found in other disciplines. Philosophy asks the questions we need to ask in order to justify the assumptions that so often guide our work in other fields of study. For instance, in physics, we assume that there are laws to which objects conform. But what is a law of nature? Do laws of nature simply describe how physical objects actually behave, or do the laws actually determine how objects will behave? Consider another example. In our society, we assume that laws set limits and restrictions on what we can or cannot do. But why should we obey laws? Is it because every law is somehow grounded in morality? If so, then does one behave immorally when one jaywalks on a deserted city street late at night? What if a law says one must behave immorally? Does the law lose its power? These are standard questions taken up by philosophers that bear on work being done in other fields of study (physics and law, respectively).

So, philosophy is both a theoretical and an applied discipline. Philosophers ask questions about what the world is like, what we can know about it, what we should value, how we should act, and how we should govern ourselves. In doing so, they may consider direct applications of their work to various “real world” problems. But it is often those who were trained in philosophy who are employed outside of colleges and universities who discover exciting and new applications of philosophical theories in solving problems in their chosen careers.

Why Major or Minor in Philosophy at Marist?

Philosophy complements any area of study. Philosophy fine-tunes skills that are desirable among employers. Philosophy trains students to become creative problem-solvers. Philosophy encourages questioning accepted dogmas and subjecting them to rational critique. Training in philosophy enables students to look at challenges in new ways, focusing on dimensions of problems others may fail to address. Thus, the study of philosophy engenders habits of thought that are regarded as desirable not only in other academic disciplines, but outside of colleges and universities, in business and finance, government, journalism, law, medicine, and, ministry.

What Can One Do With a Major or Minor in Philosophy?

Philosophy majors pursue a wide range of careers. Very few go on to do graduate work in philosophy and wind up as philosophy professors. Many go on to law school. A growing number are going on to medical school. But philosophy majors can be found in almost any profession. The fact is that the skills acquired as a result of studying philosophy are regarded as desirable in many careers. Especially when joined with majoring and minoring in another field, the combination of experiences makes philosophy students well-positioned to enter an array of careers.

A sample of the diversity of careers in which philosophy majors have been successful include arts and entertainment, broadcasting and journalism, business and finance, law and politics, religion, and many other areas. For instance, did you know that one of the writers and directors of The Big Lebowski (Ethan Coen) has a B.A. in philosophy? Other famous figures who graduated with degrees in philosophy include the poet T.S. Eliot, actor and comedian Ricky Gervais, guitarist for the rock band Soundgarden Kim Thayil, novelist Mary Higgins Clark, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, journalist, Juan Williams, NBC News Anchor Stone Phillips, LA Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, billionaire financier Carl Icahn, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and many others.

Little known facts about philosophy majors

  • On average, both immediately after graduation and 15 years afterward, philosophy majors make more than majors in any of the rest of the humanities. They also make more than business majors over the long term. [1]
  • Philosophy majors tie for second with economics and after physics/math for the highest average scores on the LSAT (the Law School Admissions Test).[2]
  • Philosophy majors average the highest among humanities majors on the GMAT (the Graduate Management Admissions Test).