School of Humanities

Reasons to study Philosophy

Philosophy is an attempt to understand some fundamental and important issues in our lives.

These include questions about the existence of God, whether we can ever get the truth about the world, and whether we are able to know the right thing to do. In trying to find answers to these questions, lots of other problems emerge. These include: Is time travel possible? Could time come to an end? Are moral values objective? Do non-human animals have rights? Do computers think? Can we tell whether other people’s experiences are like our own? If our actions can be explained scientifically, does this mean that we lack free will? Does science reveal how the world really is?

Anyone who has ever asked questions like these has already started to do philosophy.

Philosophy is one of the world’s oldest subjects of study, and has given birth to many others. For example, during the sixteenth century, physics became a separate subject, and in the nineteenth century psychology gradually developed a separate identity.

New disciplines continue to emerge from work in philosophy, such as cognitive science, in which philosophers, psychologists and computer scientists work with other experts to try to unravel the nature of intelligent systems and to understand consciousness, thinking, speech and reason.

Learning outcomes

Philosophy cannot be learnt by rote or from a text book. Studying philosophy in depth develops reasoning powers by requiring focus on some of the most difficult, abstract and persistently worrying questions that engage reflective people. Philosophical studies provide intellectual virtues in demand beyond the university.

Transferable skills and personal characteristics include:

  • reasoning skills: logic; analysis and synthesis; handling of concepts; critical ability; identifying and questioning assumptions; arguing a case; problem solving and decision making
  • handling symbolism: formal systems; statistical arguments; computer literacy
  • communication skills: clarity, relevance, and succinctness in written and oral presentations
  • comprehension: mastery of difficult and complex texts; listening to what others say, and appreciating different points of view; coping with a high level of uncertainty
  • depth and breadth of view: seeing beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries; identifying first principles and practical applications; tracing connections; objectivity
  • reflexivity: handling of second-order questions; awareness of one's own thinking and use of language; ability to assess one's own strengths and weaknesses, and those of others
  • originality: independence of thought; flexibility of approach; adaptability to a changing environment; inventiveness in producing examples and counter-examples
  • co-operativeness: ability to work in teams in different capacities; constructive contribution to group discussion and joint products
  • responsibility: ability to act autonomously and to learn independently; awareness of ethical implications.

Employers of graduates generally ask academic referees to assess candidates under the above headings. US studies have shown that philosophy majors consistently outperform graduates of all other disciplines in reasoning and verbal aptitude tests. Among Arts and Social Studies graduates, they come behind only economists on quantitative skills (see Peter Ratcliffe and Martin Warner, Philosophy Graduates and Jobs, Royal Institute of Philosophy and the University of Warwick, 1986).