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Questions & Answers

Q: Can I make a career out of being a philosopher?

A: Sure, if you have the ability and love for it.

Q: What do philosophers do?

A: Today, most philosophers are professors in colleges and universities. They teach, attend conferences, present papers at professional societies—such as those of the American Philosophical Association—write articles for journals, write books, travel. They enjoy the social and cultural opportunities afforded them by living on and near college and university campuses.

Q: Does it make sense to major in philosophy without going to graduate school in philosophy?

A: Yes, it certainly does. Most jobs and careers in the “real world” are open to college graduates, regardless of their major in college. What employers are looking for is “good people,” i.e., able, responsible, people who can relate well with other people and provide leadership. There is always a need for people who can think, make sound judgements, and communicate in ways that are not merely trivial and superficial.

But let it be remembered here, that “philosophy is first of all a deepening of one’s own self”: philosophy has a role in enriching our lives and making us more human, not merely more employable.

Q: What is it like to go to graduate school in philosophy?

A: It’s tough, but stimulating as well as demanding. It’s wonderful to share the company of people who have similar enthusiasms and concerns. But it calls for dedication and perseverance. It should not be undertaken unless you are really serious about it.

Q: Are there any careers in particular for which it makes sense to major in philosophy?

A: If you persist in supposing that a career must be linked to your college major, then yes, there are some definite possibilities. Philosophy is a good major for prospective lawyers and ministers. Furthermore, neither law school nor seminaries hold that you ought to major in one field rather than another. This makes sense; lawyers need to know about life and so do ministers. Clients and parishioners don’t want to just talk about law or religion.

Q: What is it like to be a professor of philosophy?

A: Quite pleasant, really. You have the company of interesting, cultured colleagues—artists, scientists, literary people, etc. They play a part in each new generation’s “coming of age.”

Q: Why is it important to study the history of philosophy?

A: Unlike the history of, say, theology, the history of philosophy does not proceed from the primitive and inadequate to the more refined and improved. Important and stirring ideas and theories are found throughout the history of philosophy, from the Ancient Greeks to the present. The history of philosophy provides us with a wealth of sources for understanding God, humankind, and the world in our own time.

Q: What should I be learning from courses in the history of Philosophy?

A: You should be obtaining a greater sense of the major issues of human life, and of the marvelous efforts and achievements of people to make sense of our world. You should also acquire greater ability in discerning the difference between arguments and mere claims, and an acquired respect for doing justice to the thinking of others. You should also benefit from having the world “opened up” for you by the contributions of great thinkers and writers.

Q: What is logic?

A: Logic is the science of reasoning. It is remarkable to discover that thinking proceeds in discernable patterns—similar to mathematical thinking, but in words and other symbols.

Q: How will a course in logic benefit me?

A: Logic is the anatomy of thought. It is a skill to be acquired. It has relation and applications to mathematics and to computer science. In everyday discourse, it is crucial to the criticism of claims made by advertisers, politicians, preachers, and journalists.

Q: Why are philosophy curricula divided up into areas, such as philosophy of science, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion?

A: These signify areas of fundamental human interest and concern. A thoughtful scientist will examine his/her own assumptions about the nature of science, scientific assumptions, the nature of knowledge and that of the “real world.” Likewise, we wonder about the grounds of moral obligation, the nature of religious belief, the right order for society. These areas become fields of philosophic concern because they are fields of human concern.

Q: Would it be a good idea to have a major in philosophy along with a major in some other department?

A: Sure. Philosophy is a good complement to your studies in some other major.

Q: Might there be any point in earning a minor in philosophy?

A: There might be. The requirements for a minor in philosophy form a coherent package.

Q: I am a religion major. How would studying philosophy help me?

A: The history of Christian thought is intertwined with the history of philosophy. Theology is merely doctrinaire unless you take seriously the philosophic questions which theology addresses. Moreover, Christian thought employs philosophic concepts and theories. And all world religions concern themselves with questions about knowledge, reality, and ethics.

Q: I plan to go to seminary. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: The Christian faith addresses all areas of human life. The study of philosophy opens up those areas—personal, social, political, scientific, and artistic—enabling the future minister to relate intelligently and effectively to people with varieties of interests, concerns, professions, and occupations. The breadth and variety of philosophic topics affords the college student a good and contrasting preparation for the more specialized theological and pastoral education offered in seminaries. You can go into the clergy or get a staff position with the clergy. Among employers are local churches/synagogues, religiously affiliated schools, colleges, and universities, religious organizations, and local, national, and international missions fields.

Q: I plan on attending medical school. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: Physicians can usefully draw on a number of disciplines in their practice, and need to. Many of these are scientific, but many are not. Possible employers are research organizations, consulting services, health science funding organizations, and environmental agencies. The study of ethics helps to increase the moral sensitivity of future doctors. Philosophy of science deepens their understanding of the disciplines they study and call on. And the entire field of philosophy offers them a more profound grasp of those human beings it will be their calling to help and to heal.

Q: I am majoring in the behavioral sciences. How would studying philosophy help me?

A: Until quite recently, philosophy and psychology were not sharply distinguished, at least in the English-speaking world. There is important justification for this, too, as the study of mind, human nature, and human beings in society has its philosophical as well as its empirical side. To inquire into the nature of the mind, for example, or into the most desirable order for human society is to raise a philosophical question, and in fact these inquiries can be pursued in courses we offer. Philosophical studies complete and deepen their related studies in the behavioral realm. You would be able to work as a counselor at a mental health organization, social service organizations, or public interest research groups. You could also obtain a master's degree in social work or counseling.

Q: I am a political science major. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: Philosophy involves the art of questioning claims, “facts,” and assumptions. These qualities are very needful to the right ordering of a democratic society. Political theory is part of the philosophic task, and this involves not only descriptive political philosophy (how things do go on in the political world) but normative political philosophy (how the political realities ought to be reformed and shaped). Learn the federal, state, and local job application processes. You will then be able to get a job through the various governments, foreign service, energy department, through staff positions in the Congress and in lobbying.

Q: I am a pre-law student. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: The study of philosophy is important to the person considering a career in law in at least two ways. First, in the reading of philosophy, one examines in detail arguments and forms of reasoning. In doing so, one develops substantial powers of reasoning. Such skills of reasoning are crucial in the study and practice of law. (Philosophy majors generally do quite well on the LSAT.) Second, whether through a general consideration of the history of philosophy, through an examination of political philosophy in particular, or through the specific study of the philosophy of law, one begins to develop an appreciation for the prominent but often baffling entity we call “law.” Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas, Hobbes and Locke, Hegel and Marx, Hart and Dworkin have all devoted substantial attention to the question of law and the role of law in our lives. They have explored such issues as the nature of law and the relation of law to morality. In familiarizing oneself with such issues about the law, one becomes aware of both the possibilities and the limitations of the law. Such an understanding is likely to contribute significantly to one’s ability to study and practice law successfully. While obtaining your law degree, you will develop excellent research and writing skills. You will be able to practice civil and criminal law in corporations, state and federal legal offices, and independent and private firms.

Q: I am a business major. How would studying philosophy help me?

A: Philosophy deals with human concerns in a thoughtful way. Philosophy can enrich your education by brining depth of concern and precision in thinking and writing into your college preparation. And since business involves us in many moral issues, it is important to acquaint ourselves with modes of moral reasoning and major theories of ethics. Possible employers would be business firms, insurance companies, real estate companies, advertising agencies, marketing research organizations within the sales, human resources, finance, insurance and lobbying areas.

Q: I am majoring in the natural sciences. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: Philosophy helps the scientist and the student in the sciences to be a more reflective practitioner of his or her discipline. The analysis of the methods and ultimate goals of science, its assumptions and the role of values in it, all indicate areas belonging to the philosophical reflection on science rather than to science proper. Indeed, many of these topics are raised in the course in the philosophy of science offered by our department. Moreover, many important figures in the history of philosophy have been significant figures in the history of science as well, and a study of their thought helps to illuminate the nature and the development of the sciences.

Q: I am an arts major. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: Like all human activities of central significance, the arts provide a wealth of material for philosophical reflection. For the student who wants not only to perform but also to think about the nature and function of the arts, philosophy can e an especially helpful guide. Questions about art and its relation to beauty, truth, and religion are raised by many philosophers and receive detailed attention in the course of aesthetics offered by the department. By addressing these questions philosophy seeks to add reflective depth not only participation in the arts, but to their appreciation as well.

Q: I am majoring in literature. How could studying philosophy help me?

A: Philosophy and literature often address similar issues, because both are engaged (among other things) in reflection on the human condition. Moreover, while the methods of the two disciplines often differ, there have been great philosophers from Plato to Sartre who have been great literary figures as well. Thus, to study philosophy is to deepen one’s understanding of some of the issues with which literature concerns itself, to familiarize oneself with the intellectual background against which much literature has been written, and on occasion to encounter literary figures of the first magnitude.
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