A few years ago, Wall Street investor Bill Miller donated 75 million dollars to the philosophy department at the John Hopkins University. Miller, who set a record for beating the S&P 500 index for 15 years straight, attributes much of his success in business and funding to the critical thinking and the understanding of mental behaviours that he learnt whilst studying a Ph.D philosophy course at that university.
This was understandably met with some heavy criticism. This all a came at a time where there was a massive push still on practical STEM subjects, and the usefulness of a liberal arts degree like philosophy seemed to have little ‘practical application’, as obvious career paths don’t tend to spring to mind for philosophers, a problem which is never encountered for IT technicians, software developers and engineers and logisticians.
However, for those looking at ‘long term gain’, philosophy doesn’t seem like such a bad investment. Edwin Koc, Director of research, social policy and legislative affairs at the National Association of Collages and Employers (USA) stated that philosophy graduates in 2016 had better job prospects from the year before, and also achieved a 1.5% pay rise, which was more generous than other sectors from the same year. He mentions that philosophy graduates are ‘filling a need’, as employers are looking for individuals with critical and reflective thinking skills, that can communicate across sectors and engage with people of all levels.
Kate Bardaro, chief economist at PayScale reported that philosophy graduates are twice as likely to become CEOs than any other graduates. Although this is quite rare, it does happen. This is because, Bardaro goes on to say, philosophy literally teaches you how to think.
I think that these are the misconceptions when it comes to studying philosophy. In the west, quite commonly the focus of a philosophy degree will be philosophy of God, of big questions like life after death, where is the soul and how was the universe created? What many people seem to overlook, is the philosophy of science, philosophy of language, political or environmental philosophy, cognitive science, and importantly – ethics!
Philosophy doesn’t necessarily mean theology, in fact there is actually very little these subjects have in common, so a philosophy graduate isn’t just well versed in the problem of evil, but in fact, all areas. By teaching students the skills to think the unorthodox, to evaluate and dismantle arguments, and the analyse actions and thoughts against a multitude of positions is vital for the modern working world. The beauty is that these skills aren’t then subject specific but can be applied to almost anything! Just because philosophy is taught through reading philosophy, doesn’t mean that’s what it returns to afterwards. Even then, many philosophers studied in western schools aren’t even philosophers at all. Plato of course was a politician; Pythagoras, well that was taught to us in maths lessons before we ever encountered his philosophies. Kuhn, a physicist; Simone de Beauvoir was a writer and political activist and Sigmund Freud, neurologist.
The philosopher is taught through many perspectives from a variety of fields, and so have much to draw on when it comes to informed ethical decision making. The skills learnt can be applied to whatever the subject need be. Take for instance the rise in AI and automated software. For sure, a philosopher can’t build the thing; that takes skilled technicians and developers to be able to create the product, but there’s a lot that the philosopher can contribute to this. To understand how humans act and relate to the world around them would be essential in the market research and development stages of a product, and equally how it should function to perform how people want it. Philosophers can also act impartially when it comes to discussions, and so this can come of great use when proposing those ‘but why?’ questions when it comes to developing advanced technologies. Again, if you’re looking at AI and say driverless cars, we need people to come to a decision to who would be at fault during the crash – the person inside? The engineer who passed the car during its final tests? The programmer who coded the safety features? The road?
Equally within business and finance, the idea of being impartial to the company, its development, profit or trends in other businesses is essential when looking at the progress of the company. To ask those questions of ‘what happens to them if we move that money somewhere else?’ or ‘Is it financially viable to start producing X if we aren’t yet cutting back on Y?’. And I suppose you’d be right to think that these questions are already being asked within technology and business, these are definitely considerations that have been thought about before, but to offer the viewpoint to someone who is trained to see outcomes from all angles, to think the unthinkable and to sometimes be irrational could bring a dimension to a business that would never happen if all your employees all thought the same way.
My final point, the 2017 Education and Skills Survey by CBI, a business membership organisation stated that employers favour the qualities and abilities of their workers, as opposed to their subject or results from their degree when deciding whether to offer employment. It is more important for an employer to recognise the attitude and drives of an individual, rather than just any academic awards. So, even though someone might hold a degree in Religious Studies or Philosophy, if their interests follow a more scientific route, it doesn’t mean they are less qualified in this area, just differently qualified. They will still be able to apply all those skills of deep analysis, logic, and provocative question making.
By no means am I trying to say that Philosophy or Ethics graduates are more qualified than a software developer to design an app, or a sheet welder to repair a vehicle, only that should there be a willingness to learn, develop and to harbour a pursuit for knowledge, Philosophy graduates could prove to be useful too companies in business and IT in helping further analysing progress and adding an edge to developing a company.