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Change How You Think

Philosophy majors develop valuable career skills, such as reading and understanding complex materials, making logical arguments, explaining ideas clearly in oral and written form, and thinking about things from multiple perspectives.
Philosophy (B.A.)
Discover the undergraduate major and the degree requirements.
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Philosophy Minor
A minor in Philosophy is also an option.
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“Let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself and others. Life without this sort of examination is not worth living.”  - Socrates.

According to a more modern-day editorial in one of the world’s leading newspapers, The Times of London, “Philosophy is, in commercial jargon, the ultimate ‘transferable work skill’ ”. The editor goes on to note that a very high percentage of philosophy majors find meaningful employment outside of philosophy—employment that calls on the skills and knowledge that philosophy teaches. That might seem surprising to people who think of philosophy as an “up in the clouds” discipline that only deals with “the big questions.”

Philosophy does deal with big questions, but it is also concerned with everyday life. To help illustrate this, let’s divide the questions of philosophy into three groups. First, there are those big questions: for example, What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Are there absolute moral rights and wrongs? But, second, there are practical questions that bear on everyday life, such as what justice is, what makes a good society, how to live a good life, and how to protect ourselves from being victimized by the mistakes, lies, and deceptive practices of other people. Third are practical questions that arise from special circumstances, such as whether to terminate the life support of a family member, whether to assist a suicide, whether to have or perform an abortion, and to whom of several needy people to give the one kidney that is available.

The Times editorial goes on to say, “Philosophy is a quintessentially modern discipline.” The author’s point is that the modern world is more and more an open market of competing and sometimes conflicting ideas. Philosophy helps us live sanely and productively in that challenging environment. It does this by conveying the knowledge and instilling the skills and dispositions listed in the sidebar under AREAS OF STUDY and SKILLS & DISPOSITIONS. In brief, to study philosophy is to cultivate excellent workplace skills while studying some of the most important, compelling, and difficult questions that all of us face. 

The philosophy major requires 36 credits. The philosophy minor requires 18 credits. See the current Ithaca College Undergraduate Catalog for details.

Areas of Study

Epistemology: the study of the nature of truth and knowledge.

Ethics: the study of moral right and wrong, both in theory and as applied to medicine, law, the environment, etc.

Logic: the study of reasoning and argumentation. (Note: the Law Scholastic Aptitude Test includes a section on logic.)

Metaphysics: rational inquiry into the nature of reality, with specific attention to questions regarding God, mind, matter, determinism, freedom of choice, and what a person is.

History of Philosophy: study of the writings of great philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell.

Skills and Dispositions

Philosophy students learn to analyze language for meaning, ambiguity, vagueness, and implications; they learn how to construct a good argument and how to evaluate the arguments of others; they are encouraged to express their own points of view and to be open to the points of view of others; they learn to engage in disagreement respectfully, constructively, and vigorously; they learn how to live with and try to go beyond uncertainty, incompleteness, and disagreement; they are encouraged to question what seems obvious and to think creatively.

Career Possibilities

Philosophy has proven to be an excellent background for any of the following fields: education, law, computers, religion, psychology, social work, business, advertising, and public administration. Philosophy majors who plan to do graduate work in a field other than philosophy should, in consultation with their philosophy adviser, check with graduate schools to see what courses will be required of them at the undergraduate level.