Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Philosophy as Ur-Job Training

Philosophy got a write up in the NY Times on Sunday. Apparently, enrollments are way up at lots of places. My old department chair, David Schrader, gets quoted in his new capacity as executive director of the APA.

This is all good, but...

My one concern with the article is that--except for a nod to the romantic possibilities of existential depth at the end--philosophy is presented largely as a way to do well on the LSATs and/or as a way to bone up on all-purpose skills in a post-career era. This can be given a more congenial spin, also:
Frances Egan, a Rutgers philosophy professor who advises undergraduates, said that as it has become harder for students to predict what specialties might be in demand in an uncertain economy, some may be more apt to choose their major based simply on what they find interesting. “Philosophy is a lot of fun,” said Professor Egan, who graduated with a philosophy degree in the tough economic times of the 1970s. “A lot of students are in it because they find it intellectually rewarding.”
I like the emphasis on the fun to be had. Nonetheless, I tend to be of the opinion that philosophy, far from preparing you to do everything, renders you incapable of doing anything. Philosophy makes you useless. That is precisely why it is enjoyable, and why I think students should pursue it.

4 comments:

jpf said...

The contemplative life is the happiest, precisely because it is useless. Funny.

Will Roberts said...

Funny, perhaps. Definitely true. That's one of the points of Metaphysics I.2--philosophical contemplation cannot be utilized. This is one of the ways in which it resists domination. If you're useless, then you cannot be used.

unemployed negativity said...

The curious thing about the article is how quickly it was embraced as some kind of justification. It spent a day or so on the top of NYT's "most emailed list." I received a copy from my chair and at least one family member sent it to me. Suddenly, we had a reason to exist. The New York Times had declared us "hot."

Will Roberts said...

Yeah, it was distributed about our department, as well. I really can't think of any other profession or discipline that has such a battered sense of solidarity. To write about any philosopher is to write about all philosophers.