Monday, October 17, 2011

Career Choice

This is an interesting discussion which I intend to re-visit hence, keeping it wholesale.  I made a comment myself which is unusual behavior on my part.

Could it be that people who have been assaulted with the credo of the almighty dollar are having second thoughts.  America was on a roll with ever rising house prices and greed dragged most of the population into a sucker's game.  The real estate boom abruptly ended and foreclosures saw the middle class robbed of thier principle asset which was the home they lived in.  The banks who convinced them of the merit of over extending themselves now wanted the loaned money back.  Surprise!

This is enough to make anyone question the values they absorbed around them and want to take some courses in critical thought and to examine all thier assumptions.  In the case of freshmen in colleges, they witnessed the destruction of thier families wealth and have a need to question the American Dream.  Now the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is gaining momentum, maybe these new philosophers will drop out and join the collective protest.  After all, Wall Street and a number of banks and other institutions duped the middle class, taking thier homes, money and pension plans in one fell swoop.  Who wouldn't be angry and searching for answers?

Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?
Edward Tenner | Oct 16, 2011

One of the many small surprises of the recession has been a significant growth in the number of philosophy majors, according the the Philadelphia Inquirer. It has slightly exceeded the growth of enrollments in the last ten years; many other humanities and social science fields have just kept up. At the University of California at Berkeley, despite or because of the state's economic turmoil, the number of majors has increased by 74 percent in the last decade.

What makes philosophy different? It can seem self-absorbed; philosophers themselves joke about Arthur Koestler's definition: "the systematic abuse of a terminology specially invented for that purpose." But it also is a tool (like history and religious studies) for thinking about everything else, and every profession from law and medicine to motorcycle maintenance.

It's also one of the most competitive disciplines. When I was a science editor I sometimes saw readers' reports on colleagues' philosophy manuscripts. There were often pages and pages of challenges to the authors' arguments, concluding with a recommendation to publish anyway. This could be confusing to faculty editorial boards that approved or rejected books. It had to be explained to them that philosophers honor each other by disagreeing with each other. The number of objections could be a sign of the importance of the arguments. From such experiences I learned the difference between the merely wrong, and the valuable wrong.

Thus philosophy is a demanding major. The chairman of the Villanova University department is quoted as counseling students with mediocre grade point averages away from concentration. Philosophy majors also score highest among disciplines in verbal reasoning and analytical writing on the GRE aptitude test.

Philosophy is also institutionalized beyond academia in ways that history and literature are not, for example in bioethics programs in medical schools and organizations. In one survey, working conditions for philosophers outranked some other prestigious fields like aerospace engineering and astronomy.

It is true that philosophy majors' salaries aren't especially high. On the other hand, when they do set out to make money, they often make lots of it, from George Soros and Carl Icahn to Peter Thiel. In fact, the late tycoon Max Palevsky once told a newspaper interviewer:

Many of us early workers in computers were philosophy majors. You can imagine our surprise at being able to make rather comfortable livings.
This doesn't mean we should replace humanities-bashing with humanities chauvinism. But it does suggest looking beyond the stereotypes.

The statistics aren't that strong. A high percentage increase in a department notoriously small doesn't indicate a significant trend.  Philosophy departments are among the smallest major programs in many universities and schools. 

Even so, calling a degree 'practical' when if offers little value for being hired for most jobs is a mistake. A degree in computer science, or a vocational degree in car mechanics, have directly practical value in applying for specific kinds of jobs.  Philosophy as a degree offers nearly as little value towards a specific career as an English degree does. Sure, this is only one kind of practicality, but to omit it at a time when America has near 10% unemployment is an important oversight.

 Lastly, hand picking Soros, Ican and Thiel, and offering their exceptional wealth as being connected, or caused by, their Philosophy degrees is a very weak claim based on an exceptional sample. We could find 3 people of exceptional wealth with any degree, not to mention having no degree at all. 

Here is a comment that I liked:
  I do agree that knowledge of philosophy is important for anyone that wishes to understand and interact successfully with people in the world. But I am not convinced that the best way to achieve that knowledge is in a philosophy department in a University, where its common for most professors to interact with the rest of the world as little as possible, in favor of obsessive study of estoeric details of particular theories.  Elitism is rank in academic philosophy and its a poison pill against the love of wisdom. You can read a great deal of philosophy books, and have rote mastery of who wrote what, and what ideas lead to what other ideas, and still have absolutely no wisdom at all. And sadly, many philosophy departments are staffed by figures like this, and who wish to train students to follow in their footsteps under the banner of 'Philosophy'.  Socrates is surely turning in his grave.

- Scott Berkun (who has a degree in philosophy)

No comments:

Post a Comment