Philosophy For Its Own Sake (Not Necessarily What It Will Do For You)

I suppose many people who major in philosophy are simply drawn to thinking about the big picture, discussing theories, learning new theories, trying to develop new theories and so forth.

It’s interesting, then, that recently there’s been various arguments, including by yours truly, about the market value of philosophy. It started about ten years ago for me, when I read an article stating philosophy majors can do whatever they want once they graduate.  I got caught up in the arguments and various evidence that philosophy majors are indeed employable, that they make more than average salaries, and that various technology and entrepreneurial enterprises seek out philosophy majors.

I documented these things and spread the information around on Facebook and other places.

There was only one problem: I didn’t think in terms of my employability and marketability when I decided to study philosophy. I was merely interested in the subject matter. I figured that college was a place to learn. Not a place to get employable skills and training. Maybe both can co-exist at the same time, but I feared that some of the push for demonstrating the marketability of the philosophy major came from, in part, administrators, who wanted to justify having this major on campus.

So, as an undergraduate, when people asked me, “What are you going to do with that? Sit under a tree and think?!” I defiantly and somewhat playfully said, “Yes!”

When people joke, “Do you want fries with that?” I don’t need to, these days, to point out that there are many “successful” people with philosophy degrees because, to be honest, I worked at a restaurant while I attended undergrad and it actually wasn’t so bad. And, besides, who are we to judge someone’s labor as less than?

What I have become concerned with more recently, however, is the kind of people we are making in our society. The skills many people gain are mere marketable skills. People devote much of their time to their work and, as Aristotle says, “We are what we repeatedly do.”

What are people doing? What are they becoming? Would a different take on education and the market give us different kinds of people? Quite possibly.

My modest proposal is to not necessarily reject the business assumption that we should be marketable. But we should begin to argue for philosophy—and other areas—for its own sake. Our very souls—the very people we become—depend on changing our attitudes toward marketability and employability.


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