Is Studying Philosophy Economically Useless?

Discussion in 'Seminaries, Colleges & Education' started by Mikey, Jun 2, 2016.

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  1. Mikey

    Mikey Puritan Board Freshman

    G'day Mates.

    I am 17 years-old and I am currently enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts Program at a secular university. The program allows students to major in two subjects. I am currently majoring in Philosophy and have yet to confirm my second major (although, I must say, Classical Languages seems to be the most attractive second major at this point). Ultimately, it is my desire to become a lecturer to teach students Philosophy and/or Theology at seminary/university. Despite my ambition to pursue this career path, people around me have tried to discourage me from pursuing such a narrow career path. They are quick to point out that a degree in Philosophy (and Classical Languages) is not economically valuable. They tell me to "study Mathematics or Economics", but I have little desire to pursue these paths. I started off this academic year majoring in both Philosophy & Mathematics, but I soon realized that Mathematics was holding me back, since my heart was not in it any longer. Hence, I dropped Mathematics for Classical Languages. So my question is actually twofold: "Is a degree in Philosophy (and Classical Languages) economically valuable in and of itself?" & "Is the career path to lecturing in Philosophy/Theology in seminary/univeristy really that narrow?"

    Any help or advice from those with experience/knowledge on the subject at hand would be much valued.
    Thank you in advance.
  2. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    A classical liberal arts education, if used properly, is an investment in the future of society. An economy flourishes when men are well educated.

    I know a Presbyterian elder who has a Philosophy degree and works in IT. Though his degree has no immediate relation to his work, he has expressed that his philosophical education has proven its usefulness to him time and again.

    I think that Philosophy and Classical Languages would be an excellent combination, particularly if you are planning on teaching one or both. If you should become a philosophy professor, your proficiency in classical languages would allow you to read the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers in the original languages.

    If you should go to seminary one day, you will be several steps ahead of your classmates in both Greek and in analytical thought.
  3. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    First off, welcome to the PB from someone a little further south!

    Second, I would agree with Tyler. We need Christians well-trained in all fields, including philosophy. If this is something that interests you, go for it with zeal! If you want an example of someone who put a philosophy education to good use, learn more (if you haven't already) about Dr. Greg Bahnsen.
  4. Logan

    Logan Puritan Board Junior

    Economics can intersect with the practical side of philosophy quite a bit. I would say that not all of us are Bahnsens and unless you plan on teaching or being a professional author for the rest of your life, then a philosophy degree, like a history degree, will be less useful to a wider variety of employer. If you do plan on it, then your career options are yes, more limited but I wouldn't discourage it.

    Note that either way it's not necessarily less valuable to yourself: history and philosophy are both very important and subjects you should definitely pursue these in your personal reading, but it's good to consider that they are also less marketable in the broader job market, should your career change.
  5. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    I can't tell you how many times people asked me this in undergrad and still ask me this question.

    So here are some points.

    1) It's very true that you may get to the end of your undergrad career and think "that was fun, but I don't want to do grad school." Was your time wasted? No. You have a B.A. and you enjoyed the process.

    2) Applying for a job is fairly out of your control as it is. I've talked to hiring people, and they look for resumes that stand out. In this regard, what you majored in matters less than your extra-curriculars. My advice is do debate, join the staff of the newspaper, be in student government. Something like that will matter far more to an employer than what you majored in.

    3) For that matter, after your first job, no employer is going to care what you majored in. The basic skills you will learn (writing, sound reasoning, etc) will be incredibly valuable to you in the long run.
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2016
  6. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    Wish I was 17 and studying philosophy and classical languages. If you have an inclination to pursue theology professionally I've read that a knowledge of philosophy is necessary to really understand commentaries fully. At 67 I'm self studying both philosophy and Koine Greek.
  7. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    I'm a certifiable egghead who loves learning and accumulating academic degrees and certificates. So my sympathies are with you in the Philosophy and Classics track. But for almost 20 years (retired two years ago) it was my job to be CEO of an organization with more than 200 employees. So, in addition to the fine words and advice offered by my colleagues here, permit a different perspective.

    Modern higher education is in a bit of a paradigm shift. Colleges, universities, and seminaries have a surplus of PhDs available to teach the numbers of students who matriculate to their schools. The explosion of online instruction and degree completion programs has exacerbated that trend. Furthermore, schools have discovered that you can either pay a tenure track prof a full professional salary + benefits and end up with a cost of $100k+ or you can hire adjuncts. If the average prof teaches 3 or 4 courses per semester, that is 6-8 in a year. $1,000-$2,000 for adjuncts = $6,000 - $16,000 vs. $100,000+. As a former mathematics major, you do the math. Unless you know something that my information is dated or in error about, that does not sound like a very secure career track.

    Another issue that may impinge upon your decision relates to the fact that undergrads are notoriously changeable in their career direction over the course of a B.A. My wife and I each changed majors in college. Three of our five children also changed their majors and another one dropped out entirely after two years. And, even after completing a B.S. and M.B.A., one of my sons opted to return to school and obtain a J.D. to become an attorney. So, don't put all of your eggs in one basket as you may find it altered before you have completed your schooling.

    Finally, much depends on your future family plans. One of my single seminary field workers informed me that when he completes seminary, his debt will be more than $100k. Another one who worked with me has a wife who is a highly compensated physician. Which would you rather be?
  8. Paul1976

    Paul1976 Puritan Board Freshman

    I would suggest taking a serious look at what career paths are important to you. I broadly agree with other posters. It is possible to get a job with a terminal B.A. in Philosophy, and you can develop some very useful thinking skills that will be helpful in any career (if you take your studies seriously). However, other majors (economics was mentioned and is a good example) use similar skills and have better career prospects. Personally, I am of the opinion you would be better served with a more practical major IF you stop at a B.A. level.

    Academic careers as a University professor can be exceedingly rewarding. I'm a Chemistry professor at a mid-sized state university and am exceedingly thankful for my job. Liberal Arts positions are a bit different than science ones (in much the same extent that Jonathan Edwards' theology is different than lawnmower maintenance). One previous poster is absolutely right. Things are shifting in higher education; faculty positions are becoming harder to get. That doesn't mean impossible. But, it does mean you will likely need to work very hard to excel as a Ph.D. student, and you will need to be VERY good at what you do to have an OK chance at landing a traditional tenure track position. Yes, adjunct positions are easier, but often do not pay anything resembling a decent living, and may not come with benefits. There are a LOT of people out there with Ph.D.s and teaching experience competing for a significantly smaller number of positions. Also, in the liberal arts areas, most newly hired faculty I see tend to do their research (your research abilities are a large part of what gets you hired) in areas that are academically trendy in that field. Classical language is NOT trendy. I don't know the situation at more conservative private seminaries, but I would expect at least some of the same financial and societal forces affecting my university are at work there.

    I'm not saying that you shouldn't pursue an academic career, but count the costs. Are you exceptionally good at your academic area? Are you willing (and financially able) to get a Ph.D. in it? Then, visit a few colleges/universities and see if you can talk to some of the newer faculty in your area. You'll be surprised at how willing most are to give you 30 minutes to tell you about their career path and their perspective on the job market. Ask them what their job is like day-to-day. As I mentioned, I love my academic job, and the vast majority of university faculty do also. But, it is a job that isn't for everyone.

    I hope that helps!
  9. Justified

    Justified Puritan Board Sophomore

    If you truly want to study those fields, go for it. Do not buy into the utilitarian reasoning of your friends. People like that are the reason for the miserable state American education is in right now. I am a philosophy major right now. At one time I was both a classics major and philosophy major. I love the languages, but I have reservations of modern ancient language pedagogy; they teach it a lot more like math rather than a language.

    If you do take classics, do not underestimate the importance of reading out loud (making sure your pronunciation is good), listening to the language (this is so important), composing a little, and speaking a little. This might seem weird, especially when the language is no longer regularly spoken, but this is how normal human beings actually learn language.
  10. brendanchatt

    brendanchatt Puritan Board Freshman

    Economics was a Philosophical area, so no. :p
  11. JoannaV

    JoannaV Puritan Board Sophomore

    My cousin has a degree in Classics and Ancient History, and now works as an ocularist. (In the UK.)
  12. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    Yes, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't study it, if you can afford to do so and it interests you.
  13. Wynteriii

    Wynteriii Puritan Board Freshman

    It's an interesting question. I still think degrees in Philosophy has some weight to it but I might be a little bias since I think critical thinking should be taught to children in home or public school.

    I have an A.A. in Philosophy and I find myself continually using what I learned in the classes. Same thing goes for my A.A. in History and my A.A. in "Behavioral & Social Science".

    I always want to encourage Philosophy majors, particularly christian philosophy majors. Would love to hear your decision and talk more if you want.
  14. SRoper

    SRoper Puritan Board Graduate

    I can't see going into debt for a philosophy degree. If you have the resources, by all means go for it.
  15. Mikey

    Mikey Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you all for your advice and contributions that were posted on this thread. It's always great to hear the pros and cons of making a decision before finalizing the decision, since decisions made in ignorance tend to be bad decisions (I've learned this a posteriori). I have decided that I will go ahead and study Philosophy and Classical Languages. As it has already been alluded in the thread, Philosophy and Classical Languages are ideal subjects for one who wants to live a life of learning. I believe that this is the path God has set before me: a life of learning and teaching God's truth. Whether I will do this by teaching Philosophy or Theology or both or neither I do not know, but I know that this is where I am supposed to be. Whatever I will do with my education, may it be done to God's glory and for His kingdom's sake. Thanks again all for your help and illuminating comments.
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