Change Society (and Earn a Living) With a Philosophy Degree
Defined in Greek as the “love of wisdom,” philosophy is the practice of studying foundational 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.
All of the laws and policies established in society are, at their core, based on philosophy. When people vote to have a law upheld or struck down, or discuss politics with others, they are, in a sense, practicing philosophy. If you’ve ever joined a public protest or openly supported a particular social movement, you’ve joined a philosophical discourse (most likely concerning whether or not something is good).
How can you know which side of a debate is the right one? Philosophy teaches us that the answer can be found not by having emotional knee-jerk reactions or shouting down other voices, but by carefully examining and engaging in dialogues about all sides of a given question. And having a dialogue doesn’t mean talking to a like-minded person about how you agree; it means having civilized discussions with people who have different perspectives than you. In other words, philosophy requires intellectual work.
The Need for More Black Philosophers in America
Having a solid grasp of essential philosophical concepts and contexts equips us to shape society in ways that are as logical and just as possible. Injustice occurs when marginalized groups are prevented from having equal representation in social dialogues. Black Americans have been at a grave disadvantage in this regard throughout US history, which has been largely governed by white supremacist worldviews.
Even the study of philosophy has tended to be highly Eurocentric: textbooks and curricula have focused on the work of white male philosophers of European heritage to the exclusion or near-exclusion of all others. Yet there have been plenty of accomplished African American philosophers, including Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Dr. Angela Davis, Dr. Cornel West, Kenneth Allen Taylor, and Kathryn Sophia Belle.
How Black Philosophers Can Make US Society More Just
By pursuing a degree in philosophy, Black students can celebrate the work and voices of previously under-recognized philosophers (and other important historical figures) who have come before them. Because a philosophy degree is an excellent foundation for many public service- and law-centered careers, earning one is a great way to prepare you for a career that will empower you to make a real difference in public discourse, the rule of law, and the way social justice is administered in the US.
HBCUs Can Help You Start a Philosophy-Related Career
Given the recent Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in college admissions, more Black students are likely to turn to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for their education. In response, these institutions will do everything they can to meet increased student demand. HBCUs help more students earn college degrees, compete successfully for well-paying jobs in competitive career fields, improve workforce diversity, and achieve upward economic mobility.
People of all ages, races, and life paths can help to improve diversity in philosophy by supporting scholarships and other forms of funding for HBCUs with related programs. You can make a difference in the lives of students in one easy step by making a donation today.
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 professors, students should consider the other ways related skills can be used to launch a successful career. Here are a few careers for which a background in philosophy is helpful:
- Lawyer: Many philosophy students go on to attend 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, rhetoric, and research skills. Further, training in ethics can make philosophers more attuned 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 in a management analysis consultant role. While many business people are capable of 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.
Whatever your interest, if you plan to enter one of these or similar fields, you’ll need to enroll in a degree program. 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.
You’ll also learn that nearly every culture has a philosophical tradition. Within each tradition, thinkers engage with each other through writing, breathing life into ideas in new ways. In general terms, 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.
- 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.
Philosophy students take a wide range of related course subjects, some dependent on their particular concentration, including:
- Ancient philosophy
- Modern philosophy
Want to learn more about this possible career path and college major? Have questions about which UNCF colleges and universities offer degrees in philosophy? Looking for help with financing this degree
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. In high school, you’ll need to excel in history, literature, social studies, and governments classes; you should also consider joining the debate team and reading introductory books about philosophy..
UNCF Schools to Consider
Ten UNCF-member schools offer programs for students wishing to study philosophy, including:
- Spelman College
- Clark Atlanta University
- Xavier University of Louisiana
- Claflin University
- Virginia Union University
- Florida Memorial University
- Bethune-Cookman University
- Morehouse College
- Allen University
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
There’s no better way to start on your path to a successful career in philosophy or philosophy-based fields than with a solid financial foundation. Fortunately, many scholarships are available through UNCF, including some specifically for philosophy majors. Keep an eye on the UNCF website for current scholarship opportunities and announcements.
Search for specific scholarships and view those that are currently accepting applications here! Students should also check with each college or university to see if there are additional scholarships available to study philosophy.
As you explore your options, be sure to use our guide to applying for scholarships and grants. You can also receive guidance by submitting a major interest form if you are interested in a career in or related to 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!
You can also show your support for students pursuing careers and furthering equity in philosophy and related fields by making a contribution to UNCF member schools. Education is the greatest tool we have in creating a just and equitable society in which economic mobility is available to all. Help us achieve this future by donating today!