Rice Unconventional Wisdom

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Why Study Philosophy?


Philosophy has a reputation for being otherworldly and impractical -- some say "philosophy butters no bread." But it doesn't really deserve these labels. The purpose of philosophy is controversial, but at least one thing it involves is the construction and evaluation of arguments. The study of philosophy provides a training in expressing thoughts clearly and precisely, in defending one's ideas, and in evaluating the positions of others. Quite simply, philosophy gives training in critical thinking. And this is a skill valuable in any professional field.

Philosophy has a special affinity with the legal profession, in which argument and the application of general rules to cases play central roles. Many law schools recognize this connection, and are especially receptive to philosophy majors. But philosophical skills are valuable elsewhere as well. In business you must be able to formulate and clarify problems, to analyze potential solutions, and defend your approach in a clear and rational way. All these abilities are improved by exercise in philosophical argument. And finally, medical schools place increasing importance on the ability to reflect on the ethical issues that arise in their practice -- and these are problems treated in moral philosophy.

Some of these practical benefits are reflected in exceptional performance by philosophy majors on graduate admissions exams. Studies showed that philosophy majors scored higher than any other group on the verbal sections of the GRE, and much higher than any other humanities majors on the quantitative section. Philosophy majors were second only to math majors on the GMAT, and third only to math and economics majors on the LSAT. Of course, majors' training in philosophy may not be wholly responsible for these results -- it might also be that brighter students are entering the field to begin with. But in either case, the report suggests that you're not stupid if you join them.

But this still doesn't touch on what surely remains the most important reasons for studying philosophy. College years shouldn't just be professional training. They are the best chance to think about basic human questions -- about personal and social values, about the nature of reality and ourselves. These are questions of lifelong relevance and interest. Philosophy thus can acquaint you with the issues in debates that will always recur, and can help you towards reasoned positions on such issues. 

Some Links About Advantages to Studying Philosophy

1. What Can I Do with a Philosophy Degree?   


2. Many Opt for the Life Examined    


3. Average GRE Scores by Intended Graduate Major     
4.  Josh Daniel '92 is head speechwriter for the Department of State.