Do people burst out laughing when you tell them your major? Do they glaze over at the mention of Kant or Derrida? Do your parents routinely ask you, “And just what kind of job do you think you’re going to get with that?” Then you are probably a philosophy major.
While few employers put out “Philosopher Wanted” ads, there are jobs that your degree uniquely equips you to do. The first and most obvious is teaching. Check with your own professors and contact other colleges and universities to see what they require and what the market is like in your area.
Faith-based Job Search
A close relative of philosophy is religion. If you have a strong specific belief, you can ask your own clergyman how best to prepare for a position in your place of worship. Not all religious workers need to be ordained. There are teaching, guidance, administrative and other lay jobs within most faith organizations, as well as occupations that require some training, but less than a full seminary degree. Those with this preparation can counsel, train other leaders or organize and participate in seminars and conferences, sometimes around the country. As worship encompasses more of the arts and media, some churches need leadership in these areas.
If your interest is more general, belief systems such as Theosophy, Unitarianism, New Age and other broadly based faiths open their doors to a variety of ideas. These groups often use lay leaders exclusively. Unfortunately, most of these positions do not pay a full time salary.
If you are a good communicator, almost any group from the First Community Church to the local Kiwanis Club needs guest speakers. A talent for getting the point across in a way that informs and inspires ordinary people can result in fairly lucrative speaking engagements.
Are You the Great Communicator?
Put to use your logic skills as a political or technical writer. Both these fields are currently growing. With an election coming up there is a demand for writers who can express a candidate’s or party’s philosophy and positions on issues clearly in articles, speeches, newsletters and publicity flyers. Non-profit associations dedicated to the environment, literacy, disease prevention and many others also need this kind of help.
As for technical writing, disciplines from science to computers to bio-technology are formulating and disseminating information on the ethics of their fields. As discoveries in these areas get bigger and more capable of sweeping global changes, the need for guidance and foresight becomes more and more necessary. Philosophy majors can help.
Creative writing is a bit more difficult to break into. But the best writers are those who start with a distinct philosophical point of view. Carrying it through using actions instead of just words is challenging, but might make for a publishable or even award winning short story or novel. Get feedback on your work from a professor, a professional writer or a writers group.
As we read in the papers very day, people and organizations are suing each other at a rapidly increasing rate. Legal, union and commercial disputes often call for a mediator, someone to look at both sides of a dispute and suggest a fair compromise. The philosopher’s analytic turn of mind makes him or her uniquely suited to this task.
Computers and philosophy? You bet! Designing software demands logic, knowledge of statistics and reasoning. A sense of the mechanics of language, structure, semantics etc. is useful in turning language into ones and zeros and back into language.
Harder to get, but unusual and rewarding might be a job at a local historic library or a history or art museum. Jobs in this area include manager, curator, administrator or archivist. Such a person could use his or her study of aesthetics and the organizational techniques learned from philosophy combined with sharp observation of detail.
Back to Reality
Then of course, there are those workaday jobs in business you promised yourself you’d never take. Don’t be too hasty. Upper level administration takes a deep understanding of how people think and what motivates them. A logical mind that is always one step ahead has a distinct advantage. Managing a team project and seeing to that everyone’s talents are used in the best way possible demands careful long-range planning and a rational outlook.
An attorney or even an assistant in a law office can provide special knowledge needed in argument, brief writing and anticipating the opposition. Cases involving ethics, negligence and even capital crimes touch on philosophy at many points. And a tightly reasoned summation for the jury would be invaluable.
See? Now you can explain to your family and friends the value of philosophy in the job market. And get a job yourself, of course.