Thursday, November 11, 2010

5 Degrees of Uselessness...


Philosophers on Strike cartoon
Will they still be on strike
if we ignore them?
I couldn't resist clicking on an article with the headline "How to Succeed with a 'Useless' Degree" not to learn how to succeed, but rather to find out what degrees were deemed useless.

It was not much of a surprise to learn that the five featured "useless" degrees includes one of mine--Philosophy. While I recall no one asking me to what use I could put my Philosophy degree, there's no doubt that many think discussions of philosophy to be pointless and recondite—navel gazing where no one cares about the navel.

The article, however, does a good job in explaining that people are still employable even with degrees in such things as Theater, Foreign Languages, History, Literature or English. As anyone with one already knows, there was real work, learning, and skills development involved in earning such degrees, and these can be applied to other fields. Explained Andrea Wolf, director of the Career Education Center at Boston's Simmons College:
The key issue isn’t what you major in but what you decide to do with your career. A liberal arts degree rarely restricts a student to one career path.
So what use use is a degree in Philosophy?
“The value of the degree in philosophy is less obvious, so it doesn’t automatically translate to a job,” says Wolf. “But the value of the degree is how the student uses it.” ... Ashley Howard, director of marketing for an ecommerce company, says her philosophy degree, “taught me to genuinely be able to argue any side of an issue, which gave me the ability to understand and foresee objections that may come up in respect to my proposals.”
I've said for years, half jokingly, that I'm not certain which of my degrees has been more helpful--Philosophy or Applied Mathematics. Sure, understanding engineering, scientific principles and being numerate are all important, but that's not where I spend most of my time and effort. In recent years, however, it's clear to me that the humanities, not the sciences, have provided more of the preparation and key insights necessary to being an effective executive—critical thinking, business analysis, relationship building, negotiation, written and oral expression, ... and many others.

While I don't remember much of Kant (for example) the training in using language precisely to disambiguate fuzzy ideas has been enormously valuable. It's a key tool in handling chaos constructively, and creating something productive from it.

It's not the navel, it's the techniques of gazing. Think of it as Applied Philosophy.

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