The Value of a Degree in Philosophy

To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. I’ve been repeating that slogan to my new boss over the last few weeks.
Although I appreciate the value of a specialized education — this whole reflection is prompted by research into pursuing either an M.S. Biostats or a Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Evaluation degree — I think that in the wrong hands, deep knowledge in one domain of knowledge but a superficial grasp of other, cognate domains seems risky.
The real value of a philosophy education is that we understand the difference between hammers and toolboxes, such that we can look at problems from a 50,000-foot level to see what’s really going on. We might not have the best tools to fix the problem, but we’re better equipped to understand the problem in its totality.
A real-life case in point occurred recently in a workplace setting. Having been given a somewhat complex project that didn’t have a lot of antecedent wisdom to inform execution, I asked a few co-workers for suggestions on how to proceed. The results were really quite useful, but they also put my larger point into elegant context. Colleagues who had deep knowledge of database administration and SQL querying framed the project in terms of a data pull. Clinicians focused on variation in performance by licensed providers. Statisticians distilled the whole thing into an experiment-design question, looking for ways to shape the data to support specific statistical procedures.
You know what’s missing? Integration of all these useful domains of expertise.
A philosopher is trained in logic, taxonomy and metaphysics. We seek the assumption behind the question, and we try to both distill individual points into autonomous data points, and then reintegrate them into a coherent whole. We understand which conclusions are valid and which aren’t by virtue of experience in both formal and informal logic. In short: A philosopher knows how to think. We’re the masters of conceptual strategy, even if we lack the in-depth expertise of a specialist who operates on a more tactical level.
Almost no employer advertises for jobs that require a philosophy degree. What a shame. A philosopher is probably better equipped to handle certain kinds of work — information analysis, project management, etc. — than people who may have special training that acts, in some ways, like a worldview blinder. Unfortunately, for the higher-paying jobs, a philosophy degree is counterproductive; employers simply don’t value them, especially at the postgrad level.
For my part, I’m glad I studied philosophy. Makes me a generalist capable of integrating domain-level wisdom into a rich narrative tapestry. Couple a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a master’s degree in a specialized field, though — and you might just find yourself with real advantage.

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