The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Why Philosophy?

Whatever your career aspirations, the study of philosophy can help in strengthening your preparation, through developing your capacities to think and reason well, to deal critically and analytically with the ideas, the concepts, the problems, and the methodologies central to your chosen profession. Yet the study of philosophy equips you not just with skills for a trade or profession; it equips you with an important skill for living. No matter where you go or what you do, you will always live day by day with yourself. One of the things philosophy does is to prepare you for this most important activity of living for and with yourself. This does not mean that it teaches you a selfish activity; rather that it helps to instill self-understanding. Philosophy helps you to learn by doing, by actively doing analysis, questioning, reflecting, and understanding.

The range of topics is broad, encompassing issues of values, knowledge, reality, religion, science, language, society, and more. The core fields in philosophy are logic, ethics, metaphysics, and the theory of knowledge. There are also many specialized fields, such as the philosophy of science, the philosophy of art, the philosophy of religion, and the philosophy of language. A student may wish to develop a special competence in one of the specialized fields, or in the philosophy of a given period (for example, in ancient philosophy or the philosophy of the 17th century), or in a particular school or style of philosophy (for example, in existentialism or in analytic philosophy).

The Philosophy Major: Quick Guide

Philosophy majors…

  • Learn how to think deeply about deep things: human nature and happiness, death and the meaning of life, ethics and morality, society and politics, the existence of God, what constitutes knowledge, the nature of the human mind — and many other evergreen topics that for millennia have occupied the greatest minds
  • Know how to think critically about any issue from multiple perspectives
  • Have the ultimate transferable skill: the ability to solve problems, to communicate, to organize ideas and issues, to assess pros and cons, and to boil down complex data

Philosophy majors at UMass…

  • Learn from faculty and graduate students engaged in cutting-edge research
  • Conveniently accommodate a double major (10 courses, including JYW and IE)
  • Get broad exposure to the areas of philosophy, from Ancient to Modern to Contemporary
    • Logic — the core analytic tool
    • Value Theory
      • Ethics (plus medical ethics, business ethics philosophy of technology)
      • Social and political philosophy
      • Philosophical perspectives on gender
    • Metaphysics (the study of what there is) & Epistemology (the study of knowledge)
      • Philosophy of mind
      • Philosophy of language

Philosophy majors after UMass…

  • Can do anything: not only prepared to do many kinds of tasks, but particularly well prepared to cope with change in their chosen career field, or even move into new careers
  • Earn high scores on GRE, LSAT, MCAT
  • Have high earnings potential: highest in the humanities, comparable with engineering
  • Go on to careers in business, finance, government, law, computer science, medicine, publishing, sales … and, yes, teaching at all levels


Why Philosophy Is the Most Practical Major


It is relatively well known by now that Philosophy majors outperform on entrance exams like the GRE, LSAT, and MCAT (, but it less well know that their income post-graduation is comparable to engineering majors (

Still less known is that philosophy majors thrive in the business world.  Many people do not realize that philosophy actually is the “practical major” they are looking for.  Philosophy is an analytical skill (critical thinking); it involves reading, writing, and speaking clearly (i.e. communication), as well as creativity (thinking outside the box).  Philosophical training is the ultimate transferable skill, and an essential toolkit for leadership.  And those focused on income and the bottom line know it. 

Philosophy is practical according to just abut every measure of success.  For example, if your picture of success is Shark Tank, here’s what cybersecurity CEO Robert Herjavec says about his degree in Classical English Literature:

      “It teaches you to read.  It teaches how to write.  It teaches you how to speak.  One of the fundamental keys in life is communication.            

      “I am a big fan of education.  I have a degree in Classical English Literature.  It teaches you how to learn […] You should get a degree to learn.” 


And here’s what fellow Shark and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban says about the skills you will need to succeed in a world with AI:

Repetitive jobs like accounting and computer program are easily automated, he argues, but the larger human judgment of philosophy cannot be.  It is the “big picture” approach, not programming, that will become the key to success.  “Knowing how to critically think and assess them from a global perspective, I think, is going to be more valuable than what we see as exciting careers today which might be programming or COA or those types of thing.”  

              “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the date is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a   different perspective in order to have a different view of the data.  And so having someone who is more of a freer thinker.”

Nick Miller, co-founder and CEO of the restaurant-software company, Gather, tells Entrepreneur magazine that he attributes his success to his education in Philosophy.  He points out that the same qualities that make a philosopher successful are essential to entrepreneurship.  He lists the top five as follows            

  1. They love debate.
  2. They are comfortable with the uncomfortable.
  3. They see the big picture and the smallest details.
  4. They keep their emotions in check.
  5. The dissect complex problems.

And if you picture of success is rocking Wall Street, here’s what billionaire entrepreneur Bill Miller said when he donated $75 million to the Philosophy Department at Johns Hopkins University:


“I attribute much of my business success to the analytical training and habits of mind that were developed when I was a graduate student [in Philosophy} at Johns Hopkins.”


Of course, if your picture of success goes beyond having a good job to thinking about what makes life successful, then listen to Socrates.   “The unexamined life is not worth living.”