When I tell people that my son is thinking of studying philosophy at university, their facial expressions say one of two things:
– Cool! I wish I was back at uni, studying something interesting but useless.
– What? Why are you letting him waste time and money on something interesting but useless? He should be studying coding, or business, or plumbing.
So, you’re either in the old-dreamer camp or the hardened cynic (self-identifying as Rational Realist, “telling it like it is”) camp.
And I get it. Higher education is expensive, the workplace is hyper-competitive. We’re heading for a recession; we need to be fully armed to weather the storm. But here’s the thing: a degree in philosophy might be just the key he needs to enter that world.
Here’s my thinking.
My first point is best boiled down to: Who the hell knows anything? That is, he’ll be in school for at least 2 more years. In that time, the workplace will likely change…and as he moves through life, it will continue to grow at a head-spinning rate. So, what exactly does he train for? There are likely excellent careers for him that don’t exist yet, or at best are niche markets. The future is unknowable, unless he wants to be an undertaker, a soldier, or a plumber.
My second point (related to the first) is that it seems to me that what a young person needs to make his/her way in the world is the ability to think; a flexibility in thought and attitude. An ability to learn, quickly. An adaptability. The kind of skills, say, a degree in philosophy might give you.
Taking a business degree might be the right path for him, or it could just as easily take him far away from where the world is heading. A philosophy degree could be a young person’s whim, or it could be exactly the choice that best prepares him for his future as a grown-up in this terrifying world.
As his chief grown-up advisor, I honestly don’t know. And neither does he. And neither do you, even if you think you do.
So, for me, the right path is the one that enthuses him. The path that carries him forward in a definite direction. And that’s the decision that I’ll support.
Happily and coincidentally, I found someone to back me up:
The Israeli General Herzl Halevi told the New York Times in 2013, “People used to tell me that business administration is for the practical life and philosophy is for the spirit. Through the years I found it is exactly the opposite — I used philosophy much more practically.”
So don’t just take my word for it.