What is Philosophy?
The word “philosophy” originates from the Greek word φιλοσοφία (philosophia). Literally, "philosophy" means "love of wisdom": “philo” means to love, and “sophia” means wisdom.
As an academic discipline, philosophy is concerned with the study of fundamental problems, such as those about the nature of knowledge, reality, existence, mind, language, science, and morality. It involves the broad and systematic critical questioning of the foundations underlying other disciplines.
Some typical questions philosophers ask are:
- What kind of world do we live in?
- Is there a God?
- Is there an external world?
- What kind of life should we live?
- Do human beings act freely?
- Where do moral obligations come from?
- How do we construct a just society?
- Where does knowledge come from and what are the limitations of our knowledge?
Philosophers are often concerned with specific questions that have direct applications in other fields:
- Do the results of quantum mechanics force us to view our relations to objects differently?
- Do animals have rights?
- What is the justification for using military force?
- Is euthanasia morally wrong?
- What kind of research ethics should medical professionals observe in their research?
While Western philosophers are in general characterized by their analytic ability, Asian thinkers are characterized by their emphasis on self-transformation and their practical concerns for the world they live in. This is particularly the case in Chinese philosophy. Due to the comprehensive concerns of Chinese thinkers, the study of Chinese philosophy is intimately linked with the studies of Chinese literature and Chinese history.
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What can I do with a degree in philosophy?
The unique perspective that philosophy offers makes its students potentially fit for any profession.
Philosophy trains its students to question fundamental assumptions, argue logically, and think through issues as comprehensively as possible. In this way, philosophy shapes the way we think and act. It also heightens our sensitivity towards the nuances of life, and enhances our ability to engage with them. The study of philosophy typically cultivates the following abilities:
- Ask good questions, think independently, critically, and clearly
- Uncover and examine hidden assumptions
- Analyze and critically assess arguments
- Formulate consistent, coherent, and complex arguments
- Conceptualize and articulate difficult issues or abstract ideas
- Examine and justify what we believe in or/and what we do
These skills are extremely useful in a broad range of disciplines such as anthropology, biology, business administration, computer science, history, law, literature, media, physics, political science, psychology, religious studies, and sociology. Many philosophy students have benefited from concurrently pursuing another degree in the above disciplines.
Philosophical training equips students with transferable skills that enable them to adapt to changing circumstances of the world. Students of philosophy have successfully navigated in different career paths such as arts, business, computer science, law, medicine, public administration, publishing, writing, and many others.
For information on non-academic career paths for people with degrees in philosophy, see the following:
The American Philosophical Association has a great guide on philosophy for undergraduates: "Philosophy: a brief guide for undergraduates"
News articles testify:
- "I Think, Therefore I Earn," Jessica Shepherd, The Guardian, 20 November 2007.
- "In a New Generation of College Students, Many Opted for the Life Examined," Winnie Hu, New York Times, 6 April 2008.
- "Study of Philosophy Makes Gains Despite Economy," Jeff Gammage, The Inquirer, 15 October 2011.
- "Is Philosophy the Most Practical Major?" Edward Tenner, The Atlantic, 16 October 2011.
- "That 'Useless' Liberal Arts Degree Has Become Tech's Hottest Ticket," George Anders, Forbes, August 17 2015.
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Other facts about studying philosophy:
GRE scores reflected that from 2012 to 2014, philosophy majors:
- had the highest average score on the verbal reasoning and analytical writing sections.
- had the highest quantitative reasoning score of any humanities or arts major.
LSAT scores indicated that from 2008 to 2009, philosophy majors:
- had the highest score (tied with Economics) of the 12 largest disciplines of students entering law school.
- had the 2nd highest score (tied with Economics and behind Physics) in a set of 29 discipline groupings of students with similar majors.
- had, by far, the highest score of any majors traditionally associated with pre-law preparation.
Some Famous People Who Studied Philosophy:
- In the Arts: Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Woody Allen, 陳綺貞(Cheer Chen)
- In Business / Finance: Carly Fiornia, Chew Mun Yew, George Soros, Ivan Lee
- In Literature: Iris Murdoch, Kazuo Ishiguro, Li Ang 李昂, T. S. Eliot
- In Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi, Bill Clinton, David Cameron, Michael Tay, Paul Martin
- In Sports: John Elway, Phil Jackson
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