Within my experience, university life within the United States imbues its students with different sets of emotions that are typically contingent upon the reason they chose to study. As a first-world postindustrial country, many of my colleagues are excited by the employment prospects granted to them through their education. I’ve seen figures thrown left and right about the comfortable salaries of doctors, chemists, and engineers in several iterations of similar charts. STEM fields in particular carry both the pride of a practical skillset, but also the notion of surviving the job market, even when companies need to downsize. Contrary to this, those studying the arts and humanities are frequent targets of ignominy in the shadow of those with degrees demarcated by their practicality.
This stigma becomes the norm for a philosophy major such as myself. People ranging from family to friends to students in other fields toss a surfeit of sayings that include “your degree is not practical” to “your discipline is not valued by many” to my face. Whether the intention is positive, trying to secure work for me, or negative, trying to boast about whatever other degree one claims is infinitely more employable than mine, these claims need to be fleshed out and debunked.
A Sept. 2015 study done by the Atlantic shows that the median salary mid-career for someone with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy is a secure $82K. This is reinforced by a study done by the American Psychological Association in 2008, stating that during my career, I should expect my salary to more than double. This comes with a caveat: the APA states this information comes with the bachelor’s degree alone, and not any advanced work.
While I plan on pursuing a master’s and eventually a PhD in philosophy, it is common for students in the West Chester University philosophy major to do the same. Many of my colleagues plan on going to law school after taking the GMAT, or taking that path that leads to a position as a professor in academia. Regardless of one’s planned path, the APA further supports this career move, finding philosophy students are the top-scorers on the GRE in both verbal reasoning and analytic writing for both 2011 and 2012.
If our scores are so high, this begs the question of precisely what we study in this discipline. Philosophy branches off into several branches and traditions to cultivate a nuanced skillset for its students. For example, the analytic tradition emphasizes logic and its functions. Grounded by the work of George Boole, philosophers can determine the strength of an argument or the truth value of words through a series of symbolic operations. While Boole’s symbolic language also finds itself in computer code, logician C.L. Hamblin’s concept of argument lays groundwork for rhetorical fallacies that are necessities to not just philosophers in their works, but lawyers in a courtroom.
My experience as a bachelor’s student of philosophy develops a toolkit that I can carry with me to other disciplines. My writing process for publications like The Quad, the West Chester Zine, and The Odyssey forces me to repeatedly question myself. Am I clear about my terminology, do the premises of my text create a conclusion that necessarily follows from them, and how can I address opposing viewpoints without bias? These questions develop a shift in focus from myself to others.
It is here that philosophy has me asking whether or not I consider stances and beliefs other than my own. If I find myself in need of defense, I do so through a sound argument and not an attack on the viewpoint I disagree with. No longer the cynosure of my own words, the attentive contemplation toward other people and other ideas develops the open-mindedness that I find to be one of philosophy’s key assets.
As I graduate this semester, I reflect upon the changes I have undergone in my university experience. Choosing to major in philosophy has given me a toolkit to handle issues through rhetoric and logic, but the discipline is far more than that. The diversity of a curriculum that requires I read the social processes of Karl Marx, the considerations on race of bell hooks, and the life-affirming care ethics of Virginia Held furthers my understanding of our world and how we can relate to one another in it.
The grasp on my life philosophy has taken has led me to a lifetime commitment to it, and unlike my attitude upon first entering West Chester University, I wish to make a living teaching this discipline to students one day. Nothing excites me more than knowing that I may be able to move students to the same degree I was moved here by studying philosophy.
Jeffrey Holmes is a fourth-year student majoring in philosophy. They can be reached at JH791223@wcupa.edu.