Three Recent Plugs For Philosophy’s Practical Value


In the span of a day or so at least three paeans to the practical value of studying philosophy have appeared online, at…

◙ The Wall Street Journal: “Why I Was Wrong About Liberal-Arts Majors,” by entrepreneur David Kalt:

Looking back at the tech teams that I’ve built at my companies, it’s evident that individuals with liberal arts degrees are by far the sharpest, best­-performing software developers and technology leaders. Often these modern techies have degrees in philosophy, history, and music—even political science, which was my degree. How can this be? It’s very simple. A well-­rounded liberal arts degree establishes a foundation of critical thinking. Critical thinkers can accomplish anything. Critical thinkers can master French, Ruby on Rails, Python or whatever future language comes their way. A critical thinker is a self­-learning machine that is not constrained by memorizing commands or syntax… [I]f more tech hires held a philosophy or English degree with some programming on the side, we might in the end create better leaders in technology and life.

◙ The Chicago Business Journal: The Sword of Damocles: The value of philosophy to a business leader,” by consultant and writer Peter DeMarco and philosopher Chris Morrissey (Trinity Western):

I advise undergraduate students not to seek a business degree. The biggest complaint I hear from executives about their employees is their inability to think (morally and intellectually) through problems and decisions. A real philosophy program taught by good philosophy professors who understand the common sense teachings of the ancient Greeks is a far better path to learning how to think. Business degrees cultivate specific skills. Unfortunately, many modern universities aren’t really unifying anything these days. A well-architected philosophy and great books program will teach your son how to think broadly about how life actually works. The latter provides a far better foundation for learning how to lead.

◙ Crooked Timber: Why Majoring In Philosophy is Less Risky than You Might Have Thought,” by philosopher Harry Brighouse (Wisconsin):

Last year Governor Walker and our legislature added to the mission of the UW that it should “meet the state’s workforce needs”. Some people on the campus were not enthused about this addition. But as a professor loyal to the College of Letters and Science, and especially as a professor who wants to see Philosophy thrive, I was thrilled…. 

Of course there are lots of ways of contributing to society—making it better—other than by serving the state’s workforce needs. But it turns out that Philosophy, more than most disciplines you can study here, equips you with the skills and traits you need to contribute to the state’s—and the world’s—most urgent workforce needs. I had a look at the Forbes list of the characteristics companies most wanted in their graduate hires for 2015. We don’t teach all of them. But we do teach most:

1.Ability to work in a team structure
2.Ability to make decisions and solve problems
3.Ability to communicate with people inside and outside an organization – and here they mean communicate – that is, to say what you mean, and mean what you say, precisely, concisely, and clearly.
4.Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
5.Ability to obtain and process information
6.Ability to create and/or edit written reports
7.Ability to sell and influence others…

How do we teach these characteristics? Through getting students to read complex texts closely, interpret them, discuss them with others, write about them a lot, make class presentations, argue with their classmates.

At some point I will have to add these to the Value of Philosophy Pages. In the meanwhile, if you’ve seen other examples fairly recently, feel free to share them in the comments.

UPDATE: “Experts in philosophy or foreign languages will ultimately command the most interest from employers in the next decade” — according to billionaire Mark Cuban (via Andrew Sepielli)

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