What Can I Do with a Degree in Philosophy?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in philosophy. Find information on philosophy careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in philosophy.

Overview

Since the dawn of recorded history, mankind has posed questions regarding the nature of the universe, the purpose of human existence, and the existence (or not) of God. These questions and the search for answers are the realm of philosophy. The word philosophy comes from the Greek, which translates as “love of wisdom”. From Plato and Aristotle through Descartes and Nietzsche, philosophers probe the limits of human thought. There are many disciplines within philosophy: metaphysics (the study of reality), epistemology (the study of knowledge), ethics (the study of morality) and logic (the study of valid argument). Many questions once posed by philosophers in the past have evolved into their own branches of knowledge, such as economics, psychology or sociology. However, for the individual seeking a major in philosophy, very few go on to a career as a professional philosopher (or even a professor of philosophy). Philosophy is one of the liberal arts traditions, where the process of learning how to think and how to communicate becomes more important in gaining basic life skills that prepare the individual for most any career path. Many philosophy majors go onto further study in law, medicine and business. In searching for the ultimate answer, a philosopher may just find the ultimate career.

Careers

The most logical career choice for a philosophy major is to become a professor of philosophy at a college or university. This is, it should be noted, a very small minority of all philosophy majors. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 21,000 postsecondary philosophy teachers in the United States. Many philosophy majors seek out additional education and pursue career paths in law, medicine, journalism or business. Philosophy is an excellent major for the individual seeking a position in a law school. Lawyers need to be able to both read and understand closely argued material as well as present logical, convincing arguments of their own. A philosophy major with a strong understanding of ethics may wish to pursue a career in medicine. The larger questions of bioethics and morality in life or death decisions can assist the doctor when dealing with difficult medical decisions.

Salary

The annual mean wage for a professor of philosophy at a college or university was, as of May 2010, $69,150. This ranged from a low of $33,420 for the bottom ten percent, to a high of $114,380 for the top ten percent. Lawyers, on the other hand, have an annual wage of $110,590. The majority of lawyers in the United States earn somewhere between $74,980 and $163,320. Many lawyers further go into politics. Rank-and-file members of the US House of Representatives and Senate currently are paid at $174,000 a year. The Speaker of the House is the highest paid, at $223,500.

Philosophy majors seeking a career in medicine can also expect to see significant salaries. As of 2008, the average median wage for primary care physicians was $186,044. Doctors practicing certain medical specialties can earn an average of $339,738. Business is another well-paying career path. Top executives at US firms are among the highest paid individuals on the planet, but the median annual wages for general managers range between $62,900 and $137,020.

Job Outlook

Dedication to philosophy as a career should be coupled with a vow of poverty. Even individuals with a Ph.D. in philosophy will have a difficult time obtaining a tenure-track university position. Individuals determined to pursue careers in higher education will have better chances of success seeking out part-time teaching positions. Additionally, many philosophers need to supplement teaching income with writing or research projects. Philosophy Ph.D.s committed to academia would be better suited to seek out careers as education administrators, where employment is expected to be on par with national average (about 8 percent) in the coming decade. Lawyers can expect to see employment growth an average with the rest of the labor market, but doctors can expect to see better than average job opportunities in the coming decade. One must always be philosophical when seeking a job: the broader one’s outlook, the greater the chance of securing a satisfying job.

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