Why study philosophy?

Why should I take philosophy courses?

Taking a philosophy class is not like taking a pre-med class or an engineering class. It is unlikely to be a necessary condition for getting a job of a specific sort upon graduation. But taking philosophy courses can improve your undergraduate experience immediately, and also lead to intangible benefits that will enrich and enhance your future experience, whatever field you enter after graduation:

  • Many people are interested in picking up the intellectual skills we have to offer. Philosophy courses offer you the potential of learning how to become more creative, and to think more carefully: to understand texts or chains of reasoning without getting bamboozled; to assemble the data for yourself and draw your own conclusions about what they show. Philosophy courses strive to improve your writing and make you come across as more polished and more authoritative. Benefits of exposure to philosophy seem to show up in a wide range of quantitative measures. For example:
    • On the General Management Admissions Test, over the 2005–9 period, philosophy majors score a 578. This performance is significantly exceeded only by majors in physics (603), math (595), and engineering (589), and effectively ties majors in computer science (579). The performance of philosophy majors exceeds that of majors in economics (572), and the performance of aggregated majors in the sciences (559), the social sciences (554), the humanities (538), and management (510).
    • On the Law School Admissions Test, in 2008–9, majors in ‘philosophy/theology’ score a 157.4. This performance is exceeded only by majors in ‘physics/math’ (160), and ties the performance of majors in economics; it exceeds the performance of majors in engineering (156.2), computer science (154), political science (153.1), and all other fields of science, social science, humanities, and management. This performance reflects a long-standing pattern.
    • On the Graduate Record Exam, over the 2003–2006 period, philosophy majors score on average 590 verbal, 5.0 analytical writing, 635 quantitative.
      • The performance on the verbal and analytical portions are the highest across all fields; only English Literature (561/4.8) comes close. By comparison, in the aggregate, life sciences scores 460/4.2; physical sciences scores 486/4.2; engineering scores 470/4.1; social sciences scores 487/4.5; humanities scores 545/4.7; education scores 449/4.3; management scores 440/4.1.
      • The quantitative performance is exceeded by majors in most fields in the physical sciences (namely chemistry: 678; CS: 696; math: 732; and physics: 735) and all fields of engineering (aggregate: 718); in other fields, it is exceeded only by majors in economics (708) and banking/finance (715). In the aggregate, life sciences scores 578; social sciences scores 563; humanities scores 564; education scores 533; management scores 591.
    • Useful data on philosophy and the Medical College Admissions Test is unavailable, but it seems that humanities majors in general tend to do well.
    • Finally, mid-career salary data suggests that philosophy majors are in demand in today’s economic environment: by this measure, the performance of majors in philosophy is exceeded only by that of majors in fields that are either highly technical (engineering: chemical, computer, electrical, aerospace, CS, industrial, mechanical, civil, construction, management information systems; physical science: physics, math) or money-focused (economics, finance); as well as by physician’s assistants.
  • In less pragmatic terms, taking philosophy courses can be exciting in the present and lead to a more fulfilling life experience over the long term:
    • Many people simply enjoy philosophical questions: they enjoy thinking about ‘deep’ questions, and take pleasure in getting better at it. In that case, ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’, so to speak.
    • Other people like taking classes where they are not told what to think. Philosophy courses offer extensive latitude for working out personal views.
    • Other people want to overcome a difficult challenge, to explore new intellectual territoryand see whether they can make their way in it. Philosophy courses are unlike courses taught in high school.
    • Other people want to explore the fundamental assumptions behind their fields of concentration about how to seek knowledge, or about what the world is like.
    • Other people want to explore the boundaries of knowledge: the issues their fields of concentration set aside as currently intractable.
    • Other people are interested in joining a cultural conversation. A lot of our modern ideas about ourselves and others have come out of philosophy: taking our courses may help you to pull the curtain back and reach a more enlightened perspective on what might otherwise seem obvious.
    • Other people enjoy reading the works of the great minds of the past. A great deal of joy and stimulation can be found in wrestling with a very smart philosopher from the past and trying to get into their head. Many of our courses offer instruction in ‘great texts’.

Why should I concentrate in philosophy?

Our department offers concentrations at three levels of intensity: minor, major, and specialist programs.

Our specialist program is for the student with a very high level of dedication to philosophy. Specialists take 24 half-courses, which works out in practice to between three and four in a typical semester. The specialist can be confident of acquiring a thorough and deep exposure to a great many areas of philosophy.

Our majors take 14 half-courses, which works out in practice to two or three in a typical semester. This leaves room for a major in a second field. A double-major in philosophy and, for example, physics, English, math, economics, neuroscience, or linguistics can provide synergies that are valuable in many ways: one’s philosophical training enables one to look more deeply at the foundations of one’s other field; one’s training in the other field provides one with valuable data against which to formulate or assess philosophical theories.

Both specialist and major programs provide excellent preparation for MA and PhD programs in philosophy.

A PhD in philosophy is for one who wishes to become a professor in a philosophy department at a university: to write philosophy articles of the sort students read in our courses, and to teach philosophy courses at the undergraduate and perhaps also graduate level.

An MA in philosophy can serve many purposes: it can be a bridge to a PhD program for one who does not feel quite ready; the intensive focus and heightened intellectual atmosphere can be valuable in its own right, and can also distinguish one from the field in applications for jobs or positions in professional schools.

Our department has an excellent recent placement record for PhD programs in philosophy. Since 2008, UTSC philosophy concentrators have matriculated in PhD programs at Rutgers (#2 philosophy program globally), Cornell (#17 in the USA), and Western Ontario (#2 in Canada).

Our department offers annual workshops to explain graduate study in philosophy and the applications process, and also intensive personal assistance to students assembling application files.

Further information on graduate study is available from the Philosophical Gourmet Report.

Specialists and majors take a high percentage of their courses in smaller, more intimate C- and D-level courses, where papers are marked intensively by professors.

Our specialists and majors have a very high level of esprit de corps, meeting regularly through the Association of Philosophy Students for debates, talks, movie nights, and other social events, and to put on an annual international undergraduate conference.

Finally, the minor in philosophy requires eight half-courses: one or two in a typical semester. This program is for the student who wishes to do more with philosophy than get their feet wet but who does not have room for our major program, or for the student who discovers philosophy late in the undergraduate career but seeks an intensive exposure as a ‘capstone’ experience. A minor in philosophy can serve as a distinguishing credential for one who pursues a career outside of philosophy, or as preparation for MA study in philosophy.