A Degree in Philosophy: How to Know Thyself and Yet Earn a Living from It
Socrates said that “Wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.” Defined in Greek as the “love of wisdom,” philosophy is the practice of studying basic questions. If you’ve ever asked questions about what something is, how we can know something, or whether something is good, you’ve participated in philosophy. Asking questions of the world has been part of the Black experience in the United States. Some of the most renowned American philosophers have been and are African Americans, people such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Angela Davis, Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Study in philosophy is marked by intensive reading and writing. Classes are often held as seminars, where students and professors engage closely with dense philosophical texts. Education in philosophy means you’ll develop critical thinking skills as well as sharp analytical reasoning.
Nearly every culture has a philosophical tradition. Within each tradition, thinkers engage with each other through writing, breathing life into long-dead ideas or engaging with live ones in new ways. In broad strokes, here are a few of the broadest fields of philosophy that exist throughout many traditions:
- Ethics is the study of the good and the right. Philosophers in this field argue about whether various human practices are good and for what reasons we ought to continue them. Common questions include: Is abortion morally permissible? Is it good to sacrifice one person to save one hundred?
- Metaphysics concerns itself with the basic elements of any given thing. While modern science has taken many of its traditional roles, metaphysicians are experts at identifying meaningful differences between things.
- Epistemology is the study of knowledge. Epistemologists discuss how knowledge is gained and the nature of justification. Common questions include: Must we be certain in order to know? What’s the difference between knowing and believing?
- Social and Political Philosophy is concerned with how human societies interact with each other. Often, this field engages with social sciences like psychology, sociology and economics in order to debate the effectiveness or justification of various institutions. Common questions include: What is justice? In what ways are women affected by patriarchy? What does it mean to say an institution is racist?
- Aesthetics is the philosophy of art and beauty. Philosophers in this field debate the properties of art pieces, how those properties manifest in perception, and standards of beauty.
Careers in Philosophy
Like many fields in the humanities, a degree in philosophy equips students with specific skills rather than a ready-made career path. While philosophers are often employed at universities as academics, students should consider the other ways philosophical skills can be used to launch a successful career. Here are a few careers that benefit from a philosophical education:
- Lawyer: Many philosophy students end up going to law school. This is advantageous because philosophy majors perform well on the LSAT exam, giving them an edge in a competitive admissions process.
- Grant Writer: Many nonprofits have humanistic missions, attracting professionals who are passionate about socially-minded causes. However, they’re often reliant on grant funding in order to remain operational. Philosophers make excellent grant writers due to their writing and research skills. Further, training in ethics can make philosophers sensitive to the problems nonprofits often try to solve.
- Consultant: Philosophy trains the mind to think analytically and to write clearly. These skills can be employed as a management analysis consultant. While many business people are capable at quantitative analysis, they often use consultants to handle the more qualitative analytical duties. This is a growing field, anticipating 11% growth over the next decade.
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How to Prepare for Success
All philosophers need to have basic proficiency in reading and writing. Knowledge of your tradition’s major figures will also be beneficial.
UNCF Schools to Consider
Ten UNCF-member schools offer programs for students wishing to study philosophy, including:
- Clark Atlanta University
- Florida Memorial University
- Morehouse College
- Paine College
- Philander Smith College
- Rust College
- Shaw University
- Spelman College
- Tuskegee University
- Xavier University of Louisiana
There are numerous organizations in various fields of philosophy that offer more insight into working in those fields. A sample list includes:
- American Philosophical Association
- Society for the Study of Africana Philosophy
- Philosophy of Science Organization
- American Society for Aesthetics
Several scholarships are available through UNCF. The UNCF General Scholarship Awards are an excellent opportunity for any student going to a UNCF-member college, regardless of their major. The UNCF/Koch Scholars Program offers scholarships, mentorship, academic support and networking opportunities to undergraduate African American students. The Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Scholarship Program awards a $10,000 scholarship to one exceptional HBCU senior each year who has demonstrated high academic achievement, strong leadership skills, commitment to community service and unmet financial need.
Scholarships are also available to students of specific geographic areas. For instance, the Angela and Reginald Goins Foundation Scholarship is available to students in the NYC, Chicago or Detroit metro areas.
Students should also check with each college or university to see if there are other scholarships available to study philosophy.
Reach out for guidance by submitting a major interest form if you are interested in a career in philosophy. Submit the form on our website to get started. And follow us on UNCF social media channels to receive notifications about our scholarships and member HBCUs. Reach out today!