While the total number of undergraduate philosophy majors in Canada is down since 2010, a recent bump and some anecdotal evidence has University Affairs reporting that “philosophy is having a moment.”
There has been a small bump in the number of philosophy majors, from 4,656 to 4,723 in the period from 2017/18 to 2018/19, reports Ian Coutts. That’s the latest period for which there is data, but Coutts reports on some developments at particular schools, including:
- 17% increase in philosophy majors at the University of British Columbia since 2009
- 23% increase in philosophy honors and majors students at the University of Alberta between 2014 and 2020
- 16% increase in philosophy majors at McGill University between 2014 and 2019
- 12% increase in the number of students taking philosophy courses in the last year at Athabasca University
Some schools have not seen an increase in philosophy students, such as the University of Calgary and the University of Montreal, but have been “holding steady” during a period of general decline in humanities enrollments.
The article does not specify whether other humanities disciplines at Canadian universities are also experiencing recent enrollment increases, so we don’t know if philosophy’s current “moment” is unusual among the humanities. Coutts, who has an MA in philosophy, thinks that there is something particularly appealing about philosophy to students today:
More than any other humanity subject, more than perhaps any other academic discipline, philosophy seems to match most successfully what might look like the seemingly incompatible concerns of young people today: the desire for material security, which has gotten a whole lot harder in the last couple of decades, and a deep-seated anxiety about the future of our world.
It may be that increased efforts by philosophy departments to counter stereotypes about the career prospects of philosophy majors (with information such as this or this or this or this), or perhaps philosophy’s increased visibility in popular culture (tv, podcasts, etc.) are helping philosophy’s image with students, but that is speculative at this point. Professional market research (“For philosophy?!” Yes.) might be useful.